RIGA - One of Latvia's newest and most unique clubs owes its existence to a civil lawsuit. Spurred on by a complaint lodged by African-American George Steele against the Freedom Party in the summer of 2002 for racist advertising, Amadu Kulibali and Christopher Ejugbo set out to create an organization whose chief aim would be to enlighten Latvians on the richness and diversity of African culture.
It took over a year, but finally in October 2003 the two managed to register Afrolat, or the African Latvian Association. The event marked a personal triumph for the men, because anyone who has the chance to speak with either Kulibali and Ejugbo will immediately see that these men feel close ties to Latvia.
An accomplished musician, Ejugbo has a master's in avionics and is the president of Afrolat. Kulibali, a close friend of Ejugbo and association member, has lived in Riga for 15 years and received his doctorate in mechanical engineering at Riga Technical University, where he currently lectures.
Yet it was the blatantly prejudiced advertisement that motivated the two.
"After this advertisement, one problem was that there was a perception we were staying here illegally," Ejugbo said. "We wanted to show that we're living here legally, we're not doing anything wrong and that we have nothing to hide. We wanted to register our presence."
Officially, there are 30 registered members in Afrolat, but Ejugbo says that there are many more participating members. It's much more than just a social ex-pat group. The members meet almost once a week and hold official meetings monthly. Afrolat has a specific agenda, motivated by a constructive mission and goals that keep its members in constant involvement and discussion with respected local institutions and organizations.
"We have very good contacts with the Ministry of Education," the president said. "Last year there was a seminar on intolerance that we participated in. We also have good contacts with SUSTENTO, the association of disabled people, The Latvian Youth Organi-zation and the Center of Human Rights and Ethnic studies."
Ejugbo feels that Afrolat has much to add to Latvian society. He emphasized that nearly every member has at least a bachelor's degree and others, such as himself, are masters and doctorates who received scholarships in the early 1990s to study at Riga's Technical University and the Aviation School.
Although more than 80 Africans have studied in Riga's universities since the 1980s, there still exists a phobia among Latvians of African residents. Musgrave believes that this is a fear of the unknown.
"There are a lot of people who think that Africa is just one country," Musgrave said. "We want to exchange our culture with the Latvian people and introduce them to our countries."
Internationally, May 25 is African Day. Last May, Afrolat organized its own celebration and invited many dignities to join the festivities. According to Ejugbo, the event was very successful and the organization is planning to make this a much larger annual tradition.