“[Working] together, we can all make a substantial difference in the improvement of our relations with Africa and also improving conditions on the ground for Africans themselves,” said Ambassador Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, at an event last Tuesday at the Center for American Progress on U.S. policy toward Africa.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton separately visited Africa this summer, and Carson said these trips were only the beginning of the administration’s relationship with the continent. He stressed that this was the first administration to visit the continent within the first nine months of office. He has spent his entire professional career working in and on Africa, and was proud that the administration was making Africa a major foreign policy focus. He thought that with cooperation, mutual respect, and mutual responsibility, the United States and African countries could strengthen the region.
He spoke of the changing global environment and how this related to Africa policy, saying, “The world of geostrategic politics continues to shift … and move toward a future that is more global, more resource conscious, more affected by issues that know no border.” In this new world, a strong relationship with Africa is important for African and U.S. prosperity.
Carson praised the United States for being one of the top donors to Africa over the past decade, but added that Africa needs to take the lead on its U.S. partnership. It is important that “[the United States’] success … not be determined by remaining a source of perpetual aid only, so that people can scrape by, but we should be seen by how we can build partnerships and local capacity to help transform and reduce the need for assistance in the future.”
The administration, according to Carson, has identified five areas for African development to help the region move forward:
- Democracy. The administration will work with African governments and organizations to increase and strengthen Africa’s emerging democracies.
- Economic growth. Sustained economic growth and development is necessary to ensure Africa’s success. Africa is behind Asia and other emerging markets in growth rates and income levels. To ensure prosperity Africa needs to be competitive in the world market.
- Health care. Obama and Clinton plan to maintain the United States’ focus on health care and delivery of health systems in Africa. The United States will continue its commitment to HIV/AIDS programs and tackle diseases such as malaria and cholera.
- Conflict reduction. To stabilize the continent, the administration is working to decrease interstate and internal conflict in Africa.
- Global challenges. U.S. foreign policy will treat Africa as a global partner; therefore, the administration will look at what Africa can do to help curb international challenges like narcotics use and climate change.
Carson hoped that U.S. policy would help Africa prosper, but he was also realistic about the challenges. One of the biggest challenges is the Sudan conflict. Carson explained that a policy review on Sudan was ongoing when prompted by a question from the audience. The administration plans to work aggressively to enforce the Darfur Peace Agreement and end the political and humanitarian crisis in the region.
Another point of Carson’s was that media coverage of Africa left a lot to be desired. In his opinion, the media focused so much on fighting, poverty, and disease in the region that it was hard for people to see that progress was being made. He wanted to publicize African advancements and encourage commitment to the region.
Carson was optimistic about his work with Africa, and he planned to live up to the high expectations of his office. He ended by telling the audience, “the Africa bureau has a long and distinguished record of service … [It] is my responsibility not only to help shape and guide and direct the policy but also to manage the bureau, its personnel, and its resources in the most effective and thoughtful manner, and I will try to do that.”
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