US Policy Priorities for Africa

Published on 18th April 2011

Amb.Johnnie Carson                             Photo courtesy
Some of you might already be familiar with the five focal areas of our [US] Africa policy: strengthening democracy and governance; helping mitigate conflict; promote economic growth and development; assist with addressing its health issues; and focus on prevailing over certain transnational problems.

Over the past two years, Africa has made gains in some areas, maintained the status quo in others, and in experienced a few setbacks. The recent referendum in Southern Sudan was a great achievement for that country and for Africa as well. Over a year ago, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) appeared at risk of unraveling.

In response, we stepped up our diplomatic engagement and increased our human and material resources. Our international partners, particularly the United Nations and African Union, led the negotiations and referendum mechanics, but our interventions at critical moments helped sustain the progress and momentum. It is one of our greatest achievements in the past two years.

Smaller scale but equally intensive diplomatic efforts, in collaboration with ECOWAS, our European partners, and Guinean leaders, helped avert the outbreak of war in Guinea-Conakry and steered that country through a transition that led to credible elections last year. Likewise, our collaboration with ECOWAS facilitated the eventual transition back to a democratically elected rule in Niger.

I wish that I could include Zimbabwe and Madagascar on this list of countries that made progress last year, but clearly the situation in both remains paralyzed as their hard-nosed leaders continue to try to manipulate the democratic process in their favor. Increasing political repression and economic stagnation in Eritrea has put that country on par with North Korea.

Over the next year, we will continue to work in close collaboration with our African and other international partners to address the many challenges ahead while capitalizing on the great opportunities that already exist in Africa. The most historic event for Sub-Saharan Africa this year is likely to be the emergence of Southern Sudan as an independent nation on July 9, 2011. The referendum was only one component of a still incomplete process. The North and South must still negotiate and implement a wide range of agreements, and South Sudan must begin building the foundations for a stable government and growing economy. The United States has already committed hundreds of millions dollars to the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and we must remain engaged in the coming months and years.

The 17 national elections scheduled for this year across Africa are also noteworthy. Although there’s more to democracy than just elections, they do serve to be seen as an important barometer of overall governance, and we must remain proactive in encouraging success. The election scheduled to take place in the Democratic Republic of Congo in

November will be critical for consolidating the still fragile peace and building public confidence in that government. The Congolese people and international community are increasingly concerned with the government’s performance in areas such as the rule of law, corruption, human rights, and security sector reform.

Tough and unresolved conflicts in Darfur, Somalia, and the eastern DRC are likely to remain among our greatest preoccupations over the next year. We recently appointed a senior diplomat, Ambassador Dane Smith, to intensify our efforts on resolving the Darfur conflict. And Ambassador Princeton Lyman was named last week as the President’s Special Envoy replacing Scott Gration. We are seeing signs of some progress in Doha, and urge the parties to continue to negotiate in good faith. We are encouraging the armed movements that are not participating in the Doha Peace Process to send a delegation to Doha to try to resolve this problem. The prospect of normalized relations between Khartoum and the United States, as laid out in the road map presented by Senator Kerry to the northern Sudanese leadership several months ago, also provides a new context in which to develop a constructive diplomatic relationship between Khartoum and Washington.

Regarding Somalia, last year we rolled out a revised approach to this twenty-year-old crisis. We call it a “dual-track strategy” because it provides for continuing support of the Transitional Federal Government and also recognizes the potential role that other actors can play in ending conflict and establishing basic governing institutions. Without question, the TFG remains weak and highly dependent on the African Union Mission to Somalia, AMISOM, for its security and survival. Its mandate expires in August, and its members will need to find a credible way to build legitimacy moving ahead. For the other part of our dual track strategy, we are looking to continue our support for AMISOM and increase our engagement and support for Somaliland, Puntland, and local administrative entities and civil society groups in south central Somalia such as the current local administration in Galguduud.

Secretary Clinton’s visit to Goma in 2009 underscored the importance we attach to seeing an end to the violence in the eastern DRC. We are planning to reinvigorate our diplomatic efforts in the coming months, to include the presentation of a revised strategy. We have heard numerous calls for the appointment of a roving special envoy, but we believe for a variety of reasons that our ambassadors and their embassy teams in Kinshasa, Kigali, and other capitals are in a strong position to tackling these problems.

The UN peacekeeping operation MONUSCO also has a vital role to play in the Congo, and we will explore ways to improve its capacity and strengthen its mandate. Security sector reform is vital for building the professionalism of the DRC military and weeding out those responsible for past atrocities. Recent U.S. Dodd-Frank legislation on conflict minerals provides us with still another tool to improve the situation in the DRC.

In the course of my forty-year career, I have seen many situations considered “intractable” that have come to resolution to the surprise of the pessimists. For this reason, I have learned to be persistent and use the tools at our disposal. Despite lack of progress in Zimbabwe, Madagascar, and Eritrea, we will not slacken in our efforts. You don’t win a basketball game with a single fancy dunk or jump shot from mid court. Those baskets only make a difference if you’ve kept your score up with mostly repetitive, boring layups and ordinary shots from inside the lane. That’s what diplomacy is about.

The Obama administration is committed to recognizing Africa’s strategic importance and drawing more attention to its enormous promise and potential. This is especially important in the economic arena, where there is growing awareness of Africa’s potential as a high-growth market and investment destination. We remain committed to a strong and revitalized AGOA, and look forward to participating in this year’s AGOA Forum in June in Lusaka, Zambia. But we must do more in the business arena to remain competitive.

I have only touched on a few of the priority issues and events anticipated for the coming year. My staff will also be working on a variety of other “normal” diplomatic tasks of a trans-global nature, such as preparing for the next United Nations climate change conference in South Africa; implementing programs to improve food security and health; promoting regional economic cooperation; becoming more attentive to the welfare of women and girls; engaging more with civil society and youth; promoting the rights of disabled persons. But we are also engaging in dialogue to address the many challenges facing Africa.

By Johnnie Carson,
[US] Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Affairs.
Excerpted from his remarks at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, DC. 

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