Friday, April 19, 2024

Washington, D.C Drama

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By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.

Emeritus Professor of Sociology

The African, African American, and the Diaspora Studies Center and James Madison University held the 14th Annual AAAD Interdisciplinary Conference from February 7-10, 2024 in downtown Washington, D.C. A friend of mine, who was one of two conference conveners and is Assistant Professor in Political Science at JMU invited me to attend the conference. The theme of the conference was “Reckoning” in Accountability in African Public Policy and Administration. In non-academic speak, the conference was going to explore the impact of public corruption on national and international development on the massive African continent which has 55 countries and is more than 3 times the size of the United States. I was keen to attend the conference as the theme was familiar as I am still deeply involved in international development projects in my native African country of Zambia since 55 years ago in 1969 when I was in High School in Zambia.

I learned a great deal from numerous experts on the symbiosis and nexus between international political and economic development and financial corruption during the three-day conference. The most basic is street corruption. There is money laundering, tax and other fraud in national and international development agencies, corruption in procurement, effectiveness of anti-corruption measures, complex cross-cultural differences in the perceptions of corruption, the history of corruption across continents, and a panel of ambassadors’ assessment of corruption from 3 African countries. There was a panel of 3 experts from the US government accountability office who shared the best practices in the fight against corruption.

I had not attended any large annual academic conferences since many years before the Coronavirus pandemic which forever dramatically changed many things. For example, there were so many international conference participants on virtual panels. What created the most drama was what I experienced on the physical ground attending a conference in the heart of the tiny geographical confines of the American capital of Washington D.C.

Don’t get me wrong. I have walked in downtown Boston, Chicago, and Toronto. I have been downtown London, Amsterdam, and even Zambia’s capital city of Lusaka. One time many decades ago, I even spent a week in north Manhattan in New York City. Washington D.C seems to have its own unique challenges,

First, unless you are super rich, you cannot get a cheap hotel room or park your car all day downtown DC. I knew I had to find a motel room outside the Beltway in distant Arlington. I had to park my car and take the metro. On the first day, for a complicated reason, I had to take the Orange Vienna Metro. I got off at Farragut-West and turned right on the street. I was going to 1400 16th Street, NW. I was carrying a 40 lb. or 19Kg backpack of copies of my four books I wanted to hawker at the conference. At 16th Street, I saw Constitution Avenue and the Lincoln Memorial on my right and turned left. After I walked for 15 back breaking minutes, I arrived at a small traffic circle or roundabout where all hell broke loose.

I stopped and saw them converging on the small traffic circle, 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th streets with some streets in alphabetical letters M. N, O, P, Q. Suddenly I didn’t know where I was going. The conference proceedings were going on without me. I whipped out my cell phone to consult my GPS. The GPS did not offer quick immediate solutions as it assumed I was driving and not walking. I resorted to the tried-and-true solution I had used all my life – a human. The first woman I asked said she was also a stranger and couldn’t know the directions. The second young woman was walking a dog. I was relieved to see her because it meant she lived in the neighborhood. She looked around and did not know where 1400 was either. I walked up and down the streets telling myself: “Don’t pass out. An ambulance bill taking you to some emergency room hospital will cost you mortgaging your small house in the Shenandoah Valley!”

On the second day of the conference, I decided to take what I thought would be a short cut. Big mistake. This time I arrived at the Dupont Circle where all hell broke loose again. I did not establish the quickest way to walk to the conference until the third day.

The moral of the story is that the founding fathers may not have known what the nation’s capital would look like in 2024. I humbly propose that Congress should move Washington DC to Wyoming or Montana where I understand there is a lot of open space called big sky country. Then all the streets would be straight on a clean rectangular grid like Manhattan in New York City, in Amsterdam and downtown Lusaka. My delusions of grandeur did not pay off as I did not sell a single book. I was thrilled that my conference goody bag gave me my own copy of the great US Constitution with hard covers in JMU purple color.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Why did I miss that conference, but my ex is in picture? Was that the reason?
    Anyway, she is not “ex”, she still a good friend, and we do whatever. Beautiful and very humble person.

  2. I’m not even close to rich but l do get room great hotels for as low as $250 & below that are inclusive of overnight parking. That’s reasonably affordable Dr. Tembo.

  3. My blazar, even if the capital city Washington DC moved to Wyoming, Montana, the environment is ever changing and the solution lies coping up with the novelty ever on the horizon. According to Complex Management principle, if you are unable to match up with the everchanging landscape of any entity, you die off. The solution, in your case, was not to opt for a cheaper accommodation away from the complexities of Washington DC. Results were the dram you experienced. If you cannot cope and keep up with the novelty of today’s trends, you miss, loose, fish out of water, and die.

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