South Africa’s Consul General Honors Twin Cities’ Internationalists


South Africa’s Consul General, the Honorable Yusuf Omar, was in the Twin Cities on April 26 as the keynote speaker at this year’s Twin Cities International Citizens Awards that is hosted annually by the Minneapolis based International leadership Institute (ILI). The Twin Cities International Citizen Awards honor Twin Citians whose work has contributed significantly to international understanding, cooperation, friendship and development. The awards ceremony was held at the Minneapolis Club.


The awards feature three categories: The Immigrant Achievement Award which is given to foreign-born Twin Citians that have worked towards the promotion of global understanding; The International Citizen Award which is similar to the Immigrant award but given to a US born resident. The third award, Corporate International Award, honors local corporations whose activities promote i9nternational understanding.


Dr. Hong Yang, Director of the China Center at the University of Minnesota was awarded this year’s Immigrant Achievement Award. Through his work at the China Center, he established the US-China Bridges lecture at the university which brings noted speakers from either country. He has also developed opportunities for US students to study in China by help establish the China Study-Abroad program for the University of Minnesota students. Charlie Weaver, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Business Partnership in nominating Dr. Yang for the award said “Dr. Yang has provided extensive leadership in the Twin Cities for the University of Minnesota and educators in China.”


The International Citizen Award was awarded to Gary L. Gandrud, an attorney at the law firm of Faegre & Benson in Minneapolis. He has worked to establish more current connections between the United States and Norway. He helped establish the Norwegian American Foundation which is dedicated to strengthening the business and cultural ties between the two countries. Mr. Gandrud also serves as the president of the New York-based Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Gandrud said international contacts are important and both sides have much to gain.


GE Commercial Finance Fleet Services, through its employees, Wendy Bell, Pamela Buchanan, Paul Kewitsch and Michael Peckenschnneider was awarded the Corporate International Award. Under the leadership of the four employees, a vocational training program has been in development for the last three years in Port Elizabeth in South Africa. The people in the township had no access to computer training and the four gathered software programs and 100 computers are being shipped to them via another GE subsidiary GE Water and Process Technologies.


The Honorable Yusuf Omar, who is based at the South African Consulate in Chicago, commended this year’s awardees for their international efforts to bring about global understanding. The Chicago Consulate serves the Upper Midwest. In his remarks during the gala event to honor the winners, he commended the International Leadership Institute for its work in the international arena. He also outlined some of the investment opportunities available in his country. He also said his government has continued to deliver critical social amenities such as housing and water to its citizenry since majority rule came about in South Africa. He argued that the progress Black majority rule has achieved is often underrated.


International leadership Institute (ILI) president, Judge LaJune Lange, who recently retired from the Hennepin County District Court, quipped that she now has more time on her hands to dedicate fully to ILI work and that “you will be hearing more from me”.


ILI can be found on the web at


Visit the gallery for a pictorial on the awards gala.

About Tom Gitaa Gitaa, Editor-in-Chief

Born and raised in Kenya's coastal city of Mombasa, Tom is the Founder, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Mshale which has been reporting on the news and culture of African immigrants in the United States since 1995. He has a BA in Business from Metro State University and a Public Leadership Credential from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He was the original host of Talking Drum, the signature current affairs show on the African Broadcasting Network (ABN-America), which was available nationwide in the United States via the Dish Network satellite service. On the show, he interviewed Nobel laureates such as 2004 Nobel Peace prize winner, Professor Wangari Maathai, the first woman from Africa to win the peace prize and heads of states. Tom has served and chaired various boards including Global Minnesota (formerly Minnesota International Center), the sixth largest World Affairs Council in the United States. He has previously served as the first Black President of the Board of Directors at Books for Africa. He also serves on the boards of New Vision Foundation and the Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium. He has previously served two terms on the board of the United Nations Association. An avid runner, he retired from running full marathons after turning 50 and now only focuses on training for half marathons.

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