WASHINGTON—Friends, former colleagues, and family members gathered on Thursday to remember Howard Wolpe, who as a diplomat, lawmaker, and director of The Wilson Center's Africa Program worked tirelessly for peace in Africa, from helping to bring democratic majority rule to South Africa to conflict-prone regions like the Great Lakes.
“Howard was a champion of all the right causes,” said Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, in a ceremony that included addresses from the Hon. Donald Payne (D-NJ), as well as former Representatives the Hon. David Bonior (D-MI) and the Hon. William H. Gray III (D-PA). Also participating in the service at the Ronald Reagan Building was Ambassador Faida Mitifu, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Dean of the African diplomatic corps, Jim Margolis and Steve Weissman, former staffers of Wolpe, and Jane Harman, President of the Wilson Center. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) paid tribute via video, as did Rep. John Dingell (D-MI). Wolpe died in October 2011. Present at the celebration of Wolpe’s life were a large number of Senators and Representatives, active and former, and several other African ambassadors and embassy representatives.
Friends and colleagues remembered Wolpe for a life devoted to public service, first in Michigan where he entered politics as a state assemblyman and later in Washington, from 1979-1993, where his congressional tenure included ten years as chair of the Subcommittee on Africa of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Holding a Ph.D. in African Studies from MIT and drawing on his experience studying in Nigeria in the 1960s, Wolpe quickly became a leading voice in Congress on Africa policy. With Gray and the late Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-NY), he formed a tight-knit team that rallied congressional support for the Carter administration’s sanctions against the Ian Smith regime in what is now Zimbabwe and that, in the 1980s, shepherded through Congress the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act against South Africa.
After Congress, Wolpe was named by President Clinton to serve as the administration’s Special Envoy to the African Great Lakes Region, where he served as the chief U.S. negotiator in peace talks to end civil wars in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He then came to the Wilson Center as the Director of the Africa Program from 2003-2009. He left the Wilson Center to rejoin the State Department, at the invitation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and to reprise his role as Special Representative to the Great Lakes Region. He retired from State in 2010, due to ill health, and was excited to be working on his memoirs of the peace process in Burundi, doing occasional consultancies, and enjoying his retirement with his wife, Julie Fletcher, his extended family in the creative atmosphere of Western Michigan.