Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Compton) said Monday that he "routinely" sends letters to African and Caribbean heads of state asking them to employ black-owned firms like that of his friend and campaign contributor Mamadi Diane.
But he strongly denied a report in the Journal of Commerce that he hinted at possible retaliation in a letter to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last August complaining that Diane's Washington-based firm, Amex International, Inc., was not hired as an agent for U.S. food aid sent to Uganda.
As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dymally has a major role in the allocation of $1.5 billion in assistance under the "Food for Peace" program, which provides grain and other commodities to needy nations at concessionary loan rates.
He said he had no apologies for advocating employment of Diane, head of the Zaire American Research Institute, who accompanied him to Zaire on one of two trips last year that were paid for by that African nation. Diane, he said, is a friend he has known since coming to Washington as a member of Congress in 1981.
Diane contributed $1,500 and his wife gave $1,000 to Dymally's 1988 congressional campaign. "A lot of people contribute to my campaign," Dymally said in a telephone interview. "Do you expect (Republican Whip) Newt Gingrich to contribute to my campaign?"
Dymally said he and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus regularly try to help black business firms.
"Who in this country is going to help a black firm in trouble? A white congressman from Louisiana?" he asked. "If a black member of Congress can't do it, who can?"
In a letter dated last Aug. 24 to Museveni, Dymally protested the decision by Uganda not to select Amex, a firm that now is the agent for Zaire and three other African nations in the food aid program. Uganda selected a white-owned firm to handle its shipments of food aid. Agents buy the food, arrange for transportation and are paid a percentage of the cargo's value as a commission, a spokesman for the Agency for International Development said.
"President, it is our hope that you will intervene in this matter and instruct your Ministers of Finance and Foreign Affairs and the Ambassador of Uganda in Washington, D.C., to correct this regrettable situation and consider nominating Amex as Uganda's agent in the U.S. for all food aid-related programs," Dymally wrote.
Urging pan-African solidarity throughout the world, he suggested that hiring Amex would benefit Uganda's cause in Congress and in the executive branch of government.
"It is easy to assume, for instance, that when African-Americans are supported, they in turn are compelled to respond more appropriately to their duty of supporting the efforts of African countries in Washington, through their contacts with the Congress and the Administration," Dymally wrote the African president.
Asked if there was an implication of retaliation if Uganda did not retain Amex, Dymally replied: "Of course not." And he said: "These letters are sent out routinely to heads of state. I met with the President (Museveni) on two occasions and never mentioned it. I never sought any special treatment (for Diane).
"In this climate of ethical hysteria, if you sleep with your wife, it's regarded as a conflict of interest," he said.
Dymally said the letter mistakenly was sent on a letterhead of the Congressional Black Caucus, which he formerly chaired. But he said the caucus also tried to persuade African nations to hire black lawyers and lobbyists, adding:
"We had the entire caucus meet with Les Aspin," chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, "to help a black vendor in my district."