U.S.-Africa Policy Under the Obama Administration
Johnnie CarsonAssistant Secretary,
As many of you know, I have spent much of my career working in and on Africa. I started my career as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania and joined the Foreign Service right after that. I have had the privilege of serving as U.S. Ambassador in Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Uganda and I am honored to be serving as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in this administration.
President Obama has a strong interest in Africa and has prioritized Africa among our top foreign policy concerns. This has been evident throughout his first year in office.
The President’s visit to Ghana last July, the earliest visit made by a U.S. president to the continent, underscores Africa’s importance to the U.S. Last September, at the UN General Assembly, the President hosted a lunch with 26 African heads of state. He has also met in the oval office with President Kikwete of Tanzania, President Khama of Botswana, and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai. And the President invited dozens of people to the White House to see him give a Zimbabwean women’s group the Robert H. Kennedy Prize for Political Courage.
All of the President’s senior foreign policy advisors have followed his lead—many of them traveling to Africa as well.
I echo the President’s sentiment that U.S. policy must start from the simple premise that Africa’s future is up to Africans.
It is committed to substantial increases in foreign assistance for Africa, but we know that additional assistance will not automatically produce success across the continent. Instead, success will be defined by how well we work together as partners to build Africa’s capacity for long-term change and ultimately the elimination of the continued need for such assistance. As Africa’s partner, the United States is ready to contribute to Africa’s growth and stabilization, but ultimately, African leaders and countries must take control of their futures.
Just like the United States is important to Africa, Africa is important to the United States. The history and heritage of this country is directly linked to Africa; President Obama’s direct family ties to the continent are a testimony to this.
Some scholars and political analysts are saying that democracy in Africa has reached a plateau, and that we may be witnessing the beginning of a democratic recession. They point to flawed presidential elections in places like Kenya, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe; the attempts by leaders in Niger, Uganda, and Cameroon to extend their terms of office; and the re-emergence of military interventionism in Guinea-Conakry, Madagascar, and just last week in Niger.
Moreover, democracy remains fragile or tenuous in large states like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and arguably Africa’s most important country, Nigeria.
During my recent visit to Nigeria, I was encouraged by the steps Nigeria’s elected officials at the national and state level to elevate Goodluck Jonathan to Acting President. Although political progress has been made, Nigeria still faces significant political challenges and uncertainty in the run-up to the next presidential and national assembly elections in 2011.
The U.S. will continue to work with Africans, as partners, to build stronger democratic institutions and to advance democracy in Africa. It is a major priority.
The U.S. is committed to supporting a new Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, focusing predominantly on reducing hunger, poverty and under-nutrition.
Through innovative approaches and nontraditional technology, we can improve the lives of millions of people across the continent.
In the midst of these efforts, we cannot forget the critical role African women play as producers and agricultural traders – they must take part in this economic growth. We must ensure that African women are an equal part of Africa’s economic future and success.
The Obama Administration will continue the PEPFAR Program and the Bush administration’s fight against HIV/AIDS. In addition to combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, and polio, the Obama Administration has pledged $63 billion to meet public health challenges throughout Africa.
The brutal conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia have come to an end, and we have seen Liberia transform itself into a democracy through the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state. These examples of what can be accomplished in a short period of time should make us proud and hopeful for solving the problems of seemingly intractable conflicts elsewhere.
We will also continue our cooperation with regional leaders to look for ways to end Somalia’s protracted political and humanitarian crisis. We continue to call for well-meaning actors in the region to support the Djibouti Peace process of inclusion and reconciliation, and to reject those extremists and their supporters that seek to exploit the suffering of the Somali people.
Additionally, the United States is proactive in working with African leaders, civil society organizations, and the international community to prevent new conflicts. We are cooperating with African leaders to defuse possible disagreements before they become sources of open hostility. As we pursue these avenues of promoting stability and peace in Somalia, we are also shouldering the lion’s share of humanitarian assistance to the people of Somalia.
The United States consistently has been the largest single country donor of humanitarian assistance to Somalia, providing more than $150 million in humanitarian assistance in 2009.
Africa’s poverty puts it at a distinct disadvantage in dealing with major global and transnational problems like climate change, narco-trafficking, trafficking in persons and arms, and the illegal exploitation of Africa’s minerals and maritime resources.
Meeting the climate and clean energy challenge is a top priority for the United States and the Obama Administration.
There is no time like the present to face this issue as it carries tremendous consequences for future generations and our planet.
We are increasing our cooperation with other countries interested in Africa such as Canada, the UK, France, China, Japan, and multilateral bodies like the EU.