Romanoff and Dia at Carte Blanche
Andrew Romanoff and Papa Dia at the Carte Blanche African Leadership Group

It is well-known that former two-term Colorado House Speaker, Andrew Romanoff, is challenging Republican Rep. Mike Coffman for Colorado’s 6th congressional district. But while the elections are about a year away, POLITICO has already named the race as potentially the nation’s toughest House battle of 2014.

“Romanoff has long been seen as an up-and-comer in Colorado democratic politics,” according to Meghan Verlee, who covers politics for Colorado Public Radio.

For news junkies that may be old news. But for casual observers of the increasingly diverse district, which encompasses much of Aurora, anything the candidates say or do in the lead up to the elections could be significant, one way or another.

On May 16, just a few weeks after the announcement that he was running for Congress, Romanoff met with the African community in the metro area at the Carte Blanche Restaurant and Lounge in Aurora. Except for Africa Agenda, the usually prying eyes of the media were nowhere to be seen.

Inside a building that was once a driver’s license registration office, the hall became a “business-after-hours” gathering place, with African community leaders, Colorado business people and restaurant staff either standing or seated and eager to hear what Romanoff had to say.

While he took the time to answer a few political questions, it did not seem the primary reason for the gathering was to discuss politics or to solicit votes from the huge presence of African immigrants in the area. Following a rosy introduction from Papa Dia, founder of Denver-based African Leadership Group, Romanoff said, “My body is in the United States, but my heart is in Africa.”

He described the purpose of the meeting as “an opportunity to find common ground” with the community. Romanoff went on, in a rather energetic matter, to explain his ideas about contributing to African development and growth.

He said he “did not come to the field of international development by way of politics, I came up through politics.” He referenced his efforts, which have led to the transformation of an abandoned horse barn in Denver into what is now called the Posner Center for International Development. The center, which opened on July 13, houses about 30 international development organizations while fostering collaborative work and addressing poverty issues in the developing world.

As a senior advisor at Denver-based International Development Enterprises, or iDE, he said he’s made many trips to sub-Saharan Africa, including Zambia, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana.

What he’s seen during his travels to Africa, Romanoff said, is not poverty, war, disease and suffering, which the Western media depicts all the time.  Rather, most Africans, he said, “are entrepreneurs, business men and women who are struggling just like we are to support our families and increase our income and improve our quality of life.”

He cited the market-based approach to development, which the iDE is using with help from entities such as USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as more effective ways to assist African farmers to grow and get more out of their crops. “Africa has the potential to be a bread basket to the world.”

While a lot of people and businesses have good intentions in attempting to assist developing nations, for the most part “the efforts are not sustainable, worse yet, they are not coordinated,” Romanoff said.




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