Seventeen African journalists toured Gilbert on Monday as part of a nationwide trip to learn more about the American way of government.
Though their three-week journey took them from Washington, D.C., through Atlanta and the Grand Canyon, some were more impressed by the intangible things they found in the country.
When asked what most impressed him about America, Paris-based freelance journalist James Ngumbu said, "Your open minds. I like your open minds."
Ngumbu is a correspondent for a private TV network out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire. The nation has come out of a five-year civil war, which followed the 1997 overthrow of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, but it is still facing a violent rebellion in the eastern part of the country.
All 17 reporters are from French-speaking nations in Africa and make up one of several groups touring the United States as part of the State Department's International Visitor Leadership Program. They came to Gilbert through the World Affairs Council of Arizona, which hosts guests of the State Department.
In Gilbert, one of the final stops in the three-week journey, the group visited a police station and the town jail, had lunch at Joe's Real BBQ, and had a question-and-answer session with two Town Council members, Linda Abbott and Dave Crozier.
Crozier fielded questions about numerous topics, including council salaries, the effects of illegal immigration and the possible military applications of nuclear energy. He was caught off guard by the nuclearquestion, which came after the journalists were told he works at the civilian Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.
A translator relayed the information to the reporters in French, but many spoke at least some English. Many visitors said they were impressed by the accessibility of local public officials, as they often have to make appointments a week in advance to see their African counterparts.
Koffi Amega, director of the Le Canard Independent newspaper in the west African nation of Togo, said he was impressed by what he saw in the town's jail and police facilities. The American justice system overall seems less "violent" than what he's seen in his nation, Amega said.
"I was most interested in the investigating journalists," he said of his time in the United States. "We need more of them. There are some things going on in Togo. People are doing things that we have to get out, so people can be stopped," he said.
Amega's impressions of Gilbert beyond the halls of government were also generally positive. "First thing was I thought it was a very calm town," he said. "I didn't see very many black men. I haven't outside of Washington, D.C., and Phoenix. In general, it is a clean and beautiful town."
"Calm" was a word many others used when it came to Gilbert, and Hortense Tabaku, a Congolese radio journalist, said the American landscape overall was much less violent and "complicated" than television in her homeland had led her to expect.
"On TV it looks like you have gangsters everywhere, but I didn't see any," she said.
The journalists are now headed to a final stop in New York before going to their respective homes. Thirteen nations are represented in the group.