Gregory Warner

Michael Sharp believed in the power of persuasion. The 34-year-old Kansan with the round face and a penchant for plaid shirts would walk, unarmed, deep into rebel-held territory in the Democratic Republic of Congo, sit in the shade of banana trees with rebels and exchange stories.

Inevitably, those stories would turn to the past. "Rebels love talking about the past," Michael once told me.

As part of the project A Nation Engaged, NPR and member stations are exploring America's role in the world heading into the presidential election.

Everyone knew President Obama would say something about gay rights when he visited Kenya last summer. Many American activists were pressing him to publicly condemn Kenya's colonial-era law making homosexuality a crime.

Editor's note: This post is an adaptation of the latest episode of the Invisibilia podcast and program, which is broadcast on participating public radio stations.

In high school, Mireille Umutoni Sekamana aspired to be a club president rather than just secretary. And why not? She lives in a country where women seem to face no barriers, no discrimination.

In the Parliament, for example, women hold more than half the seats. No country has a better record than that.

What's red and gold and hailed by most economists?

The new African Union passport, unveiled this week at the African Union Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, promises a solution to a major drag on African trade: the red tape that makes it harder for African businesspeople, tourists and workers to travel around their own continent.

More than half of the 54 African countries require entry visas for other Africans, according to the Africa Visa Openness Report.

In 2010, 12-year-old Nathan Eyasu became one of the first skateboarders in Ethiopia.

He bought an old board off a guy on the street for a dollar, learned some tricks off YouTube, and proceeded to shock his neighbors like Marty McFly in Back to The Future.

"They'd be like, 'Is there a magnet in there?' " Eyasu says, laughing. "Nobody knew what skateboarding is."

The Oromo Federalist Congress, an opposition party in Ethiopia, represents the largest ethnic group in the country, the Oromo.

Yet its office in the capital Addis Ababa is virtually deserted, with chairs stacked up on tables. A chessboard with bottle caps as pieces is one of the few signs of human habitation. In a side office, the party's chairman, Merera Gudina, explains why the place is so empty: Almost everyone has gone to prison.

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Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

To burn or not to burn? That is the question facing African countries in their fight against the multimillion-dollar illegal ivory trade.

Kenya, which introduced the world to burning ivory in 1989, still thinks it's a good idea. On Saturday morning, it hosted the most spectacular burn event yet: The tusks of nearly 7,000 elephants — 105 metric tons' worth — were set alight in 11 separate pyres in Nairobi's National Park.

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Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

There's a stealthy nighttime battle taking place on the African savannah. It's a place where poachers stalk their prey — the animals that graze there. And they, the poachers, are in turn stalked by rangers trying to bring them in.

Now those rangers are trying out some new equipment using the kind of technology pioneered by the military.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Employers want to hire the best and the brightest to get the job done.

So do terrorist groups.

In Africa, terrorist groups are actively recruiting well-educated boys and girls. The groups want recruits who can be leaders, who know how to give orders, who can boost the brand on social media.

One Kenyan teacher is fighting back — and his efforts have made him a candidate for the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, which comes with a $1 million award.

It's known as the only national park in the world with a skyscraper skyline. Nairobi National Park, in the Kenyan capital, boasts elephants, giraffe, rhinos and lions roaming freely across a savannah a mere 4-mile drive from downtown.

But last night, the proximity of urban and natural environments got a bit too close.

It may not sound like a reward, being a soldier chosen to fight as a peacekeeper in war-torn Somalia or Central African Republic. But for soldiers from one of the poorest countries in the world, Burundi, it's seen as an opportunity of a lifetime. Soldiers angle to wear the blue helmet — and to pull an international salary and other benefits, covered by the United Nations.