Remarks before the Council on Foreign Relations

Johnnie Carson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
New York City, NY
June 25, 2009


Thank you very much for this warm welcome. The Council on Foreign Relations is the premier non-partisan foreign policy institution in the United States. Your programs, your publications, and the collective influence of your impressive membership place you on the front row of policy debates. I am indeed honored to be here tonight so early in my tenure as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs to discuss current U.S. Africa policy. I will focus on three broad areas: first, democracy and governance; second, the economics; and third, conflict prevention and resolution.

B. Inclusive approach to policy

Let me begin by saying that in recent years there has generally been a broad bipartisan consensus on U.S. policy towards Africa. I intend to continue that approach and seek out dialogue with members of both major parties and Congress, as well as stakeholders outside of the government. The Council of Foreign Relations is and will be very much of part of that process, and that is one reason I am here tonight.

C. Africa then

I started out in Africa four decades ago as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania. I have devoted my career to that great continent ever since, and have had the honor of holding a series of jobs that I might have only dreamed about during those first years in Tanzania.

In four decades, I have witnessed Africa’s ascent towards its rightful place in the world and in American foreign policy. In the 1960s, Africa had only just begun to emerge from the shadows of colonialism. Memories of powerlessness at the hands of Europeans were fresh wounds in countries that had recently won independence, such as Tanzania. The southern third of the continent still endured white minority regimes, including a recalcitrant Portuguese fascism that was determined to hold on to its colonies at all costs. Dar es Salaam hosted African liberation groups and embassies from the East Bloc, the Western powers, and members of the non-aligned movement. It was an exciting center of action and intrigue.

For the America of the 1960s, at least for the U.S. Government, Africa was an open question, a new factor in the world. But it remained on the margins in terms of U.S. foreign policy, which focused on the Cold War, Europe, and East Asia. We were most uncertain about the very leaders of African liberation who knew America best, men such as Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Mozambique’s Eduardo Mondlane. These were men who had been educated in and lived extensively in the U.S., who had imbibed at the sometimes contradictory well of American values and had experienced personally as black men the humiliations of America’s own Jim Crow-style racism.

D. Africa now

Well, I can safely say that things have changed! Today, Africa has moved from the margins to the mainstream (if not center) of U.S. foreign policy. Sub-Saharan Africa’s voice has long been heard at the United Nations, where its four dozen member-states cannot be ignored in the General Assembly. The Organization of African Unity, born of dreams of pan-Africanism, has evolved into the very pragmatic African Union. More and more African countries have had thriving sustained economic growth and strengthened their democratic institutions.

Of course, not all the news is good. But it reminds us that we cannot afford to consign Africa to the margins of policymaking. Three years before the tragedy of 9/11, Al Qaeda bombed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, painfully awakening many to the reality that in today’s world, a vulnerability anywhere can and will be targeted by an enemy unbound by ethical concerns. Meanwhile, the pandemic of AIDS struck hardest in Africa where defenses were weakest. What public health professionals had long taught became increasingly apparent: a pandemic on one continent threatens all continents. We could no longer pretend that Africa was less important than elsewhere.

E. America and Africa: a shared legacy

Nevertheless, the change has happened also because we as Americans have changed. Americans and Africans are linked by a common heritage, a common history, and common values. The blood of Africa flows in the veins of America. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine the dynamic, multifaceted America of today without the contributions of Africans and their descendants to every aspect of our national life. It is not coincidence that as African Americans have entered into the mainstream of American life, Africa itself has entered into the mainstream of foreign policy.

In fact, it is not just foreign policy that has driven our relationship with Africa. It has been a much broader mutual engagement of Americans and Africans in education, academic and cultural exchanges, religion, media, literature, tourism, business, and all the way to the level of communities across this country reaching out to African communities at their own initiative. In this exciting context I am pleased and honored to address the outlines of U.S. Africa policy under the administration of a president whose Kenyan father came to America on a scholarship.


A. Progress

During the past decade, Africa has made advances in three important areas: democratization, economics, and conflict prevention and resolution. The first broad policy area I will discuss is democracy and governance. The greatest progress has been in the area of democratic governance. On April 22, 14 million South Africans of every color went peacefully to the polls to elect a new president, Jacob Zuma – South Africa’s fourth president since the end of the apartheid era. No country anywhere in the world exemplifies than South Africa the possibilities of peaceful transition under democratic rule. It stands as a shining light for the rest of the continent, a model of stability, economic progress, and justice. On January 3 of this year, voters in Ghana went to the polls and chose John Atta Mills as their new president – the fourth successful presidential election in Ghana in the past 15 years, and the second time that a ruling party has been replaced by the opposition. Malawians peacefully went to vote on May 19. We are looking forward to free and fair elections in Mozambique and Namibia this fall.

These elections have not been exceptional. They both represent what is possible, and demonstrate a positive aspect of Africa’s unfolding democratic history. Africans yearn for democracy, and in the last two decades dozens of Africa countries have embraced democratic rule of law in one form or another.

B. More to be done

But there aren’t enough successes. While some countries have moved forward and sustained their progress, others have not. Many of Africa’s largest states have not made the transition to democracy. They remain under autocratic control with what are at best fragile institutions, countries including Sudan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Zimbabwe. Citizens there cannot hold their leaders accountable, and they suffer under institutions that are at best fragile and too often predatory. It is no coincidence that several of these same authoritarian and semi-authoritarian countries are afflicted with protracted conflicts or are at serious risk of lapsing into violence.

C. DG status

The United States needs to do more to support the democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Since 2001, the U.S. investment worldwide in what we call democracy and governance (DG) assistance has roughly quadrupled. That includes Afghanistan and Iraq. Africa presents a somewhat different story, however. If you separate out Sudan, which is by far the largest DG program in Africa (with 53 percent of the total in FY 2008), then the level of USG resources provided to advance DG in Africa has stagnated. If you separate out Sudan plus Liberia – the second largest recipient of DG funding – resources devoted to DG actually declined between 2001 and 2008. Our DG assistance is highly concentrated in a few countries, and funding increases in recent years have been largely confined to Sudan, Liberia, and the DR Congo, which together account for 72 percent of all DG budgets for sub-Saharan African.

The loss of focus on democratic governance results in part from an imbalance in our overall foreign assistance approach to Africa, which now is weighted heavily toward health. As I will explain later, we have accomplished much in public health, but part of the cost has been to starve assistance to the other sectors necessary to Africa’s long-term development. We must begin to reverse this trend, and find a balance consistent with our own and Africa’s long-term interests.

D. Ideas for DG directions

What specifically can and should the United States do to support democratic governance? First, we can play a more active role in strengthening democratic institutions such as legislatures, courts, local governments, regulatory oversight bodies, and civil society. We have done some of that in the past, but not on a sustained, well-funded basis that reflects central policy priority. Second, we can try to find ways to contribute to the development of civil society and identify reform-minded elements –if they exist – within host governments. Third, we can build on what we have learned on the ground and what has worked: training, running elections, voter registration, and voter education, access to media by candidates and parties, and the need for independent election commissions.

Take, for example, judicial systems. While we aspire to the ideal of an independent judiciary, the reality is that in most of Africa the courts are weak and an extension of the ruling party. There is good reason to think, however, that programs that encompass training of judges or individuals likely to serve as judges, expanding criminal investigative capacity, criminal procedure, and non-violent conflict resolution for police may contribute to our long-term democracy goals in countries where it may not be possible to work with other institutions. These kinds of decisions need to be made carefully.


A. Good news until last year

The second broad area I want to discuss is economics and trade. Until the global economic crisis that started late last year, Africa had enjoyed a decade of sustained economic growth. African governments were making measurable strides in doing the right things – conceiving and implementing sound policies toward the goal of more open and pro-business economies. Throughout the region, growth averaged more than 5 percent per year – just about the same as world-wide growth. Oil-based economies, such as Angola, had some of the highest growth rates in the world, upwards of 20 percent. And the growth was spread around, with almost every country shared in this growth. In 2007, the only country in Africa that suffered negative growth was Zimbabwe – due in large part to poor governance.

Good as the sustained growth has been, Africa’s needs are still great. It remains the least connected, least globalized part of the world, despite a spectacular rise in cell phone use that has seen Africans completely bypass landlines. Africa’s share of world trade is anemic – around 1.5 percent, even with three of the world’s top oil exporters included.

If Africa is to break out of its economic doldrums, it has to break into international trade in a big way. The establishment of thriving financial markets and stock exchanges in Ghana and elsewhere shows that Africans can do the job, given sound policies and investment. Another crucial long-term factor is an improvement in educational levels – investment in primary and secondary education that lifts up entire populations, not just elites.


The centerpiece of U.S. trade policy since the late 90s has been the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). Launched as a Clinton administration initiative, the Bush administration embraced and expanded it. It has been a powerful vehicle for the expansion of bilateral trade with the U.S. It must continue and it must be expanded to take into account African capabilities and potential. And Africans themselves must be more aggressive about take advantage of AGOA’s benefits. In August, the Eighth AGOA Forum will take place in Nairobi. The purpose of this forum is in part for us to listen to African perspectives, as well as to find better ways of encouraging Africans to learn how to benefit from AGOA. Clearly, we need to open more opportunities in apparel, agriculture, crafts, and textiles.


An innovative program to emerge from the previous administration is the e Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which intends rewards countries that have set into place sound policies. MCC Compacts are designed and owned by eligible countries to respond specifically to their challenges. Moreover, the MCC indicator category “Economic Freedom” focuses on fiscal policy, trade policy, land rights and access, inflation, business start-up, and regulatory quality. To date, 10 of the 18 MCC Compacts have been signed with sub-Saharan African governments (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ghana, Lesotho, Madagascar (currently suspended), Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, and Tanzania) totaling approximately $3.9 billion and representing nearly 70 percent of all MCC Compacts. As a case in point, as part of its $547 million Compact, the Bank of Ghana has registered 40 “Participating Financial Institutions,” including commercial banks, savings and loan banks, and rural banks to lend to credit recipients. To date, $5.3 million in credit has been provided to farmers and agri-businesses. Two of the three MCC indicator categories are “Ruling Justly” and “Investing in People.” They focus on civil liberties, political rights, accountability, girls’ primary education rates, and public health expenditures to name a few. These political and human security areas are linked directly to the MCC’s third indicator: “Economic Freedom.” Firmly rooted democratic governance and open markets will buttress security by providing economic opportunities and possibilities, and a better quality of life. In short, the implementation and application of all of any MCC efforts must be African-developed and African-owned.

D. Agriculture

Much of Africa’s economy remains centered on agriculture. Some 70 percent of all households depend in one fashion or another on agriculture for income. Yet, the Green Revolution still has not arrived in Africa. Yield per acre for corn -- the primary food in Southern Africa -- is the lowest in the world. Brazil, with environmental conditions similar to those of South Africa, manages to outstrip that country’s yield by more than a third. And most of the continent produces less than half what South Africa does. A major reason Africa lags is that so much of Africa’s agricultural production remains at the subsistence level.

The fact is that Africa has a comparative advantage in agriculture. Yet, it has failed to take advantage of it with policies, such as an emphasis on exports, commitment by governments that agriculture can be a way out of poverty, and facilitating the distribution of inputs. Moreover, we and the Europeans have a role in promoting African agriculture by opening up our own markets.


A. Fewer conflicts

The third broad area I want to discuss is conflict prevention and resolution. To much of the world, Africa is synonymous with conflict. This is a case of the perception lagging behind the reality. The reality is that since the 60s and 70s, there has been a rise in the number of stable, democratizing states, paralleled by a significant decrease in conflict. We have witnessed the end of several conflicts that only a few years ago seemed hopeless: Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, Burundi, and Southern Sudan. In some cases, U.S. involvement has made a positive difference, such as in Liberia and last year in Kenya. But several countries remain mired in strife.

B. Sudan

The hope generated by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Sudan in 2005 remains, but the violence of Darfur continues to overshadow and threaten its full implementation, including elections scheduled for February, 2010, and the plebiscite on independence for the south in 2011. Let me note the influence of the well-organized U.S. domestic campaign that has helped concentrate our attention on this conflict. A remarkable coalition of religious activists from all major faiths, students, NGOs, and African Americans has combined to press for American action. The U.S. continues by far to be the leading source of humanitarian assistances keeping many Darfurians alive. We must find a way to bring an end to the terrible conflict now.


For more than a decade, the Eastern Congo has been a killing field, the deadliest armed conflict in the world since World War II, with deaths counted in the millions. Just as horrible has been the use of mass rape as a weapon of war, humiliating and traumatizing tens of thousands of Congolese women and destroying the fabric of Congolese society. The origins of this conflict are often identified with the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the escape of Hutu “genocidaires” into the Congo, but its roots also go deeper, into the 30-year dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seku. We have strongly supported the United Nations peacekeeping presence there, the largest peacekeeping force in the world. We are encouraged by recent efforts by President Kabila, cooperating closely with his Rwandan neighbors, to take action against several of the armed groups in the east (most notably the Democratic Forces for the liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR), as well as by political agreements reached in March between the Congolese government and domestic militias. The key now is to resist backsliding and actually execute what has been agreed to.

D. Somalia

Somalia presents the most intractable of conflicts. For 19 years, Somalis have lacked a central government able to provide security, rule of law, and the basis of economic activity. It represents a classic example of a weakly governed space and the consequences that result from it. Piracy is a symptom of weak governance and the absence of effective state control of its territory and weak or non-existent law enforcement and judicial structure. Straddling one of the world’s busiest waterways, piracy offers Somali’s young men the opportunity for easy profit from ransom payments. It is a temptation all the more alluring for the lack of alternative employment possibilities in a shattered economy.

The international response to piracy stems from the threat it poses to the major oil transport route between the Persian Gulf and Europe. Well-coordinated and with contributions from a host of countries, including Russia, China, Japan, NATO, the European Union, as well as the U.S. Navy, the response has been timely, substantial, and successful. It has not been easy coordinating a multinational presence, but let me emphasize that cooperation among the countries has been excellent at all levels. This is a superb example of how nations can work together for a common purpose.

But let’s not deceive ourselves that the presence of a multinational task force off the shore of Somalia is a lasting solution to piracy. Our expenditures on maintaining all those warships off shore addresses symptoms, not causes. Establishment of effective governance throughout Somalia will do more than a host of advanced warships and highly trained sailors. Furthermore, I submit to you that it is far cheaper to pay for prevention and a lasting solution on shore, than for a costly band-aid off shore. The commitment of the African Union to the Transitional Federal Government is encouraging – the only peacekeepers on the ground there are African and under AU auspices. I should note that they got there thanks to U.S. logistics, training, and financial support.

In fact, Somalia gives us an example of the staggering costs of conflict. There are various indicators of this cost, both where a conflict actually occurs and elsewhere in the international community. Seven of the 16 United Nations’ peacekeeping operations are in Africa – the largest, as I have noted, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The United Nations spends more than two-thirds of its time on African issues. In the 1994, the Africa budget for the U.S. Agency for International Development totaled about $800 million. The U.S. spent about that much in three months just to respond to the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. With more resources invested prevention, we could have avoided not only the financial costs of dealing with conflict, but the human costs as well.


Part of the solution could well rest with new Africa Command (AFRICOM). Let me say first that the State Department strongly supports AFRICOM and its mission of military-to-military engagement in support of the State Department’s strategic goals in areas of peace and security and preventing conflict. The Department of State views the creation of AFRICOM as an important tool for supporting our comprehensive Africa policy and engagement strategy. To be frank, it got off to a bad perceptual start, but now it’s finding its way and its mission. Since AFRICOM’s inception, we have worked closely with the Department of Defense to develop and establish this command and to identify priority areas for engagement. As a result, the process has occurred in a cooperative and collaborative atmosphere, one that we believe has resulted in a more focused and cohesive framework that is supportive of both U.S. foreign policy interests and our regional security objectives. We also are pleased that substantive detailees from State and other civilian agencies are contributing their valuable experiences and perspectives to AFRICOM as it works with the rest of the U.S. government to build the security capacity of our African partners.

F. Regional organizations

A core principle of our policy is to encourage and support African leadership in conflict resolution. We have looked to the African Union and sub-regional organizations (notably ECOWAS) to carry out peacekeeping operations in Liberia, Burundi, Sudan, and Somalia. As I mentioned earlier, they have done so with U.S. logistical and training support. Yet, I ask of these governments and organizations what I ask of ourselves: to focus on conflict prevention, not just conflict resolution and peacekeeping. We need to encourage them to support more aggressively democratic governance and mediation as in their own long-term interest. The AU has taken steps in this direction by imposing sanctions on Mauritania and Madagascar after their recent coups.

G. Innovative thinking about conflict prevention

We must identify more innovative ways to engage in conflict prevention early on. We’ve seen some successes as I mentioned. We have seen failures and a near-miss in Kenya, and coups in Guinea, Mauritania, and Madagascar. And we are coming up on elections in Sudan and in Southern Africa.

Some institutions are already doing this, such as the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Wilson Center. The U.S. Institute of Peace has organized programs on political transitions, specifically looking at Africa. The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, has taken on climate change and food insecurity as early warning factors for conflict. We in the U.S. Government need to support these new and creative approaches for bringing people and parties together. Let’s start the discussion now.


A. Various lessons of 9/11

Various people have drawn different lessons from the tragedy of 9/11. One of those lessons has thrust Africa into the forefront of policymaking. This is because of a new recognition of the importance of transnational threats. These are threats that come not from governments, but rather from organizations that operate in the shadows beyond the law and impervious to borders. Al Qaeda of course is the most infamous of these transnational threats, and has served as a focus of our strategy.

B. Threats to Africa -- Drug trafficking

In Africa, however, we face threats beyond those of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Drug trafficking has expanded rapidly, notably in West Africa. Starting originally as a transit route from bases in South America to market in Europe, drug trafficking mafias have established a beachhead in Guinea-Bissau and are extended their influence up and down the coast to Senegal, Guinea, and Ghana. With virtually unlimited cash resources, they have been able to corrupt many officials in a part of the world where corruption was already a major concern.

In Latin America, the U.S. has supported the extraordinary struggles of two strong neighboring nation-states – Colombia and Mexico – to combat this powerful criminal element. Their efforts have met with mixed success. What can and should we do far from our shores in a part of the world where the market is not America, but Europe, and where governments and national identities are at best are weak?

We cannot take on the drug traffickers alone. We must act jointly with those who share our interest in reining in this criminal activity, one that threatens the entire region. To meet this threat head-on, we should join with the African Union, regional organizations such as ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States), and with partners in Europe and Latin America – notably Brazil, with its deep interests in Africa. If we have learned anything since the 9/11 attacks, we have learned that transnational threats of any kind demand multinational responses.

C. Trafficking in persons

Trafficking takes other forms as well. Trafficking in persons afflicts much of the continent, whether it’s for the purpose of prostitution, child labor, child-soldiering, or simple slavery. During my confirmation hearing, I was fortunate to have shared the table with Luis de Baca, Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Our joint appearance served to underline the importance of trafficking in persons as a policy concern. The annual Report on Trafficking in Persons was issued last week; many African countries are called out for criticism, yet a few others (notably Nigeria) are also making progress in arresting perpetrators and shutting down trafficking rings.

D. Climate change

Worries about climate change and environmental degradation are not limited to the developed world. To the contrary, climate change will potentially have a more negative impact on Africa than on any other region. Already suffering advancing desertification in the Sahel, loss of rain forest (and watershed), and horrendous pollution in its urban areas, Africans are nevertheless ill-informed and ill-prepared for global warning. A rise of sea levels, which is already happening, can inundate large swathes of coastal land imminently. We need to start thinking about climate change and plan for its consequences.

E. Disease: PEPFAR and PMI

We now know all too well the threat disease poses to all of us. Disease knows no borders and as such historically has been the ultimate transnational threat. It ignores governments, statecraft, and militaries.

Within this context, the previous administration deserves full credit for its accomplishment in the health sector. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is indeed a massive undertaking, a commitment by the United States to save millions of lives. Likewise, the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) has set commendable, practical goals to reduce and ultimately eliminate malaria – something we did decades ago in our own country. In the process, PEPFAR and PMI are providing the means to help build health infrastructures -- hospitals, clinics, trained personnel – that in many cases never existed before. One aspect of PEPFAR I admire most: a pragmatic capacity to learn by doing and learn from mistakes.

In this spirit, PEPFAR can afford a return to one of its original objectives: prevention. Prevention admittedly is both easy and hard at the same time. It’s easy because it’s culture-based and cost-effective. Stop people from getting infected in the first place, and you save the cost of treatment, care for family members, and from a business perspective, loss of investment in employees. It’s hard because it requires the engagement of an entire society to be effective; ultimately, it requires changes in behavior. We can’t even get Americans to drive less and thus use less gasoline when it’s a national security issue. Imagine if foreign specialists were trying to preach to us about changing our most personal of behaviors – sex. That’s what Africans must cope with.

We need to place prevention at the forefront of PEPFAR where it was intended to be and find ways to work with African leadership at all levels to do what works. This will take bold leadership, which is and has been one of the four primary objectives of PEPFAR, along with treatment, care, and prevention.

VI. Cultural policy

I began by noting that Americans and Africans share so much, that our common roots go back four hundred years. These roots have been watered for more than a century not by the policies of government, but by the passion of private citizens and institutions. Just as it took a citizen-led civil rights movement to push the U.S. government to enforce equality before the law, it was these private individuals who blazed the way to a strong U.S.-Africa relationship well before an often reluctant government followed.

Nowhere else in the world are Americans and their government more liked and respected than in sub-Saharan Africa. This is a phenomenon that has held up consistently for years. The fact is that the experience that many Africans have had of Americans and America is benign and positive. That’s not to say that our presence in Africa has always been benign. But we should remember the goodwill that was engendered by generations of American teachers, missionaries, nurses, doctors, and students who tended to live among Africans and learn their languages in sharp contrast to European colonialists. The Peace Corps, where (as I said earlier) I began my African journey 40 years ago, has built on this tradition as well.

U.S. Government cultural programs – part of what we call public diplomacy -- have enriched these traditions. These include cultural exchanges such as the Fulbright program, support for technical and agricultural training by the U.S. Agency for International Development, English language training, and Sister Cities links. Our American libraries linked to U.S. missions are valued more than most us can imagine by people who have never known a public library. These proven and long-term programs have shown Africans a vision of America that is sophisticated, accessible, humane, and that welcomes them with open arms. We should maintain and expand these programs because they have worked and complement all that we seek to accomplish in other policy areas.


To repeat what I said at the outset, Africa and America have changed, and changed for the better over these past decades. U.S. Africa policy has been exceptional in recent years because of bipartisan support and consensus-building by both Democratic and Republican administrations. We intend to continue this inclusive approach. At the same time we will emphasize more support for democratic governance, facing up to such transnational threats such as drug trafficking, and taking a more creative, pro-active approach to conflict prevention and resolution.

These are exciting times to be working on Africa. With the son of an African (as well as a fellow Chicagoan from the South Side) in the White House, I can’t think of a better time to be Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. My team and I look forward to these next few years and hope that my long experience sustained by a deep passion for the continent help us achieve the goals I have just spelled out. Thank you.