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July-August 2010
Vol. 35, No. 4

Africa: Priorities of the Obama administration

The remarks of Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of African Affairs, prepared for the Diplomacy Briefing Series Conference on June 15, identified U.S. priorities in sub-Saharan Africa. The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns has been engaged in significant discussion with the administration about several of these programs, particularly the food security initiative (Feed the Future), PEPFAR and the Global Health Initiative, implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Sudan and climate change. Carson described U.S. priorities in the following way:

Strengthen democratic institutions and protect the democratic gains made in recent years in many African countries: Since the 1990s, according to Carson, dozens of African countries have moved from dictatorship to democracy, in one of the most impressive political transformations in history. Democratic elections, including those in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Mauritius, and Ghana, have “served to remind the world of the importance that Africans attach to democracy, as well as the values that underpin it.” Yet, “concerns about democracy and good governance remain in a number of countries” as a result of flawed elections, harassment of opposition groups, and attempts by presidents to extend their term limits, as well as the recurrence of some military coups and interventions.

“[Africa’s] political and economic success depends a great deal on the effectiveness, sustainability, and reliability of its democratic institutions,” he said. “We encourage governments across the continent to get elections right. To level the playing field, clean up the voter rolls, open up the media, count the votes fairly, and give democracy a chance.”

Work alongside African countries to promote and advance sustained economic development and growth: “Despite impressive economic growth in recent years, Africa remains one of the poorest regions of the world, and the continent has yet to be fully integrated into the global economy. Africa’s share of world trade is less than two percent and Africa’s tremendous wealth in natural resources has not translated into greater prosperity for its people. [It] also faces a massive digital divide with the rest of the world, which further inhibits the ability of African companies to compete on the global stage.”

In response, the administration has launched a new $3.5 billion food security initiative, Feed the Future (see related article); it will promote opportunities created by the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and explore “ways to promote African private sector growth and investment, especially for small and medium-sized businesses.”

Work side-by-side with African governments and civil society on public health and health-care related issues, ensuring that quality treatment, prevention, and care are easily accessible to communities throughout the continent: In addition to combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and polio, especially through the continuation of PEPFAR, the Obama administration has pledged to invest $63 billion in Africa’s public health systems, in training more medical professionals, and in helping African countries fight diseases that “simply should not kill people in this day and age.”

Work with African states and the international community to prevent, mitigate, and resolve conflicts and disputes: The brutal conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia have come to an end, but turmoil and political unrest persist in Somalia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as in Madagascar. “These conflicts create both internal and regional instability and undermine Africa’s chances for economic growth,” said Carson. “The Obama administration has taken a keen interest in working with African leaders and African regional organizations to help resolve these conflicts.” In Sudan, focus is on “ensuring the full implementation of the 2005 [CPA], which will permit the people of South Sudan to vote in January 2011 for independence or unity with the North.” In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the U.S. is working to address the extreme violence against women and stem the trade of conflict minerals “which continues to fuel conflict and instability.” In Somalia, the U.S. is calling for “well-meaning actors in the region to support the Djibouti Peace process, and to reject those extremists and their supporters who seek to exploit the suffering of the Somali people.”

Deepen cooperation with African states to address both old and new transnational challenges, including 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. Climate change affects the entire globe; its potential impact on water supplies and food security can be disastrous. As President Obama said in Ghana, ‘[W]hile Africa gives off less greenhouse gasses than any other part of the world, it will be the most threatened by climate change.’ Often those who have contributed the least to the problem are the ones who are affected the most by it, and the United States is committed to working with Africans to find viable solutions to adapt to the severe consequences of climate change… With our international partners, the United States is working to build a sustainable, clean energy global economy which can drive investment and job creation around the world, including bringing energy services to the African continent.”

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