Kwame Clement: The Voice of Africa
During an interview on his popular television show, "The African World,"
Kwame Clement, J.D. '98 (right), shakes hands with the President of
Botswana, H.E. Seretse Khama Ian Khama.
As a journalist in Liberia during his country’s civil war in 1989, Kwame Clement, J.D. '98, realized he was wearing a target. So the 29-year-old fled with his wife in July 1990 and received political asylum in the United States.
Living with his brother and sister-in-law in the Washington, DC, area, Mr. Clement, who had already received an economics degree from the University of Liberia, sought employment as a broadcast journalist. But he couldn’t land a job in his chosen field.
"It was heartbreaking. I had to do a lot of menial jobs. I worked in a factory, where I swept the floor," he remembers. "At one point, I did three jobs at one time. I delivered The Washington Post in the morning; then I went to a data-entry job; and then I went to work at a warehouse, where I was sterilizing medical equipment."
Mr. Clement realized that the American professional market was devaluing his Liberian degree and experience. He scoured the newspaper for ads, and after spotting a notice about paralegal training, he applied and gained entry to a paralegal program at GW. He graduated at the head of his class in 1992 but still had trouble finding a job. He paid the bills by working as a data-entry clerk and doing a stint in telemarketing.
He caught a break when a fellow GW alumnus, who was working at a small law firm, decided to join the Marine Corps and recommended Mr. Clement for the position. Mr. Clement enjoyed the work but realized there was no room for upward mobility. So, he decided to apply to GW again for a J.D., which he earned—working full time all the while—in 1998. "I was hungry trying to move up the professional ladder," he says.
As a J.D. student, Mr. Clement decided to undergo a mock interview at Arnold & Porter, a huge international law firm based in the District. Although his goals were simply to improve his interview technique, Mr. Clement followed his gut instinct and brought along a copy of his transcript. When he showed the interviewing partner his grades—which were all As—the partner asked him where he was working. When Mr. Clement mentioned the small firm, the interviewing partner asked whether he’d consider working at Arnold & Porter.
"I looked at him, stunned," Mr. Clement says. "He called downstairs to find out what the salary was, and it was double what I was making at the small firm. I was just stunned, looking at him. He said, 'Say something. I’m trying to open the door for you.' So I said, 'I accept.'"
After graduating from GW, Mr. Clement won a clerkship with Carlos Lucero, J.D. '64, a federal judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Colorado. Mr. Clement returned to Arnold & Porter after clerking for the judge, and worked in antitrust and securities law until 2006.
"GW Law School was a fantastic experience for me," he says. "My classmates were all bright, engaging, and challenging, and there were wonderful, wonderful professors."
In 2006, Mr. Clement finally achieved the dream he'd pursued when he first arrived in Washington as a political refugee. He launched a television program called "The African World," which, he says, responds to the “often unflattering coverage” Africa receives in American media.
"Our focus is not to hide the problems in Africa, but to provide some context, perspective, and analysis, so that people really understand the forces at play in Africa," he says. "Our focus was also to highlight the positive things that people rarely hear about."
As host and managing editor of the program, which is shown in the DC metropolitan-area, Mr. Clement says some of his most memorable stories came from trips to Botswana and South Africa. The show, which broadcasts on the independent television station MHZ out of Falls Church, Va., provides an outlet for African leaders and representatives who otherwise don’t have media access in the United States.
In 2007, Mr. Clement, who is known as Liberia's Dan Rather, was invited by former President Bill Clinton to moderate a panel at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2007. He has also moderated panels at the Global Health Council’s annual conferences.
Mr. Clement says he hopes in the future to broaden his show's reach and to cover more markets. He has a few stringers in South Africa and Ghana, he says, but he’s hoping to expand those numbers so he can report timelier stories. He also intends to beef up the show's web presence, so that Africans can log on and follow the channel.
In 2008, Mr. Clement went back to Liberia for the first time since he’d fled his home country. The political climate had softened a good deal, and he was able to return in 2009 as well. He hopes to go back again later this year to report from the ground.
"It was shocking to see the kind of destruction the country has been through physically," he says. "But it was also a little bit gratifying to see they are on the path to recovery."
- Jaclyn Schiff