Remarks To The African Diplomatic Corps

Johnnie Carson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
Washington, DC
November 25, 2009

Thank you all for your kind invitation to come and address the African Diplomatic Corps this morning. And thank you, Ambassador Olhaye, for that thoughtful introduction. It is a pleasure to be here, speaking with all of you today.


As many of you know, I have spent much of my career working in and on Africa, from volunteering for the Peace Corps in Tanzania to holding the position of U.S. Ambassador in Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Uganda. Now, I am privileged to serve as the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. I am excited and energized by the interest that the Obama Administration has shown, in both words and actions, toward making Africa an integral piece of the Administration’s foreign policy.


President Obama has a clear and continuing interest in Africa and has prioritized Africa among our foreign policy interests. The President’s visit to Africa, the earliest visit made by a U.S. president, emphasizes Africa’s importance in U.S. foreign policy. Many of the President’s senior foreign policy advisors traveled to Africa as well. The U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, who happens to be my former boss and close colleague, Ambassador Susan Rice, visited five African countries in June. Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew traveled to Ethiopia and Tanzania in July. And this past August, Secretary Clinton and I embarked on an 11-day, seven-country trip across the continent. In September, at the UN General Assembly, President Obama hosted a lunch with 26 African heads of state. On the margins of the UN General Assembly, I met bilaterally with many of you and your counterparts, as well as a number of our shared international partners.


The President stated that the United States views Africa as our partner and as a partner of the international community. While Africa has very serious and well-known challenges to confront, President Obama is confident that Africa and Africans will rise to meet and overcome these challenges. In Ghana he said, “We believe in Africa's potential and promise. We remain committed to Africa's future. We will be strong partners with the African people.” Africa is essential to our interconnected world, and our alliance with one another must be rooted in mutual respect and accountability. I echo President Obama’s sentiment that U.S. policy must start from the simple premise that Africa’s future is up to Africans.


The Obama Administration is committed to substantial increases in our foreign assistance, but as the President noted, this will not be the marker of success across the African continent. Instead, success will be defined by how well we work together as partners to build the capacity for revolutionary change and ultimately eliminate the need for such assistance. African countries must take control of their futures. As your partner, the United States is ready to share in the mutual responsibility of Africa’s growth and stabilization.


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 familial ties to the continent are testimony to this. But the significance and relevance of Africa reaches far beyond ethnicity and national origin. It is based on our fundamental interests in promoting democratic institutions and good governance, peace and stability, and sustained economic growth across Sub-Saharan Africa. All of these interests affect the United States. The U.S. will focus on these areas and others that are critical to the future and success of Africa.



Through our partnership with African governments, the international community, and civil society, we will work together to strengthen democratic institutions and to protect the gains that have been made in recent years in many African countries. A key element to Africa’s transformation requires sustained commitment to democracy, rule of law, and constitutional norms. Botswana and Mauritius are prime examples of countries showing that commitment; but progress in this area must be more widespread across Africa. Countries such as Kenya and Mozambique are at critical points in determining whether they will move ahead to deepen democracy and improve governance or slide backwards as we have seen in troubled countries such as Guinea, Niger, Eritrea, Zimbabwe, and Sudan. We must all foster and support honest and professional security forces that respect human rights, civilian governance, an independent judiciary, strong and effective legislative institutions, a free and responsible press, and a dynamic civil society.


Going forward, the political and economic success of Africa depends a great deal on the effectiveness, sustainability, and reliability of its democratic institutions. Over the next two years, 30 countries in sub-Saharan Africa will hold elections. Although elections are but one component in the process of democratization, there is a strong correlation between electoral processes, successful elections and efforts to consolidate democracy. Successful conduct of elections stitches together strands of political legitimacy and social consensus. Elections which are not free and fair destroy the fabric of political legitimacy and raise the likelihood of violence.



Working alongside African countries to promote and advance sustained economic development and growth is an Obama Administration priority. Africa is an important U.S. trading partner, across many sectors, such as energy-related products, textiles, and transportation equipment. One major opportunity for increased growth is enhanced trade between African countries. The Obama Administration is committed to working with you, our African partners, to maximize the opportunities created by our trade preference programs.


While Africa has made inroads to increased prosperity and countries like Ghana and Cape Verde have made significant strides, Africa remains the poorest and most vulnerable continent on the globe. We must work to revitalize Africa’s agricultural sector, which employs more than 70 percent of Africans directly or indirectly. It is time for a Green Revolution in African agriculture. Through innovative approaches and non-traditional technology, we can improve the lives of millions of people across the continent.


The U.S. committed at least $3.5 billion to support a new food security initiative, focusing predominantly on reducing hunger, poverty and under-nutrition as well as supplying new methods and technologies to African farmers. Within sub-Saharan Africa this initiative will focus on Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Zambia, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda. The initiative was created to help enhance Africa’s ability to meet its food needs and to further develop its agricultural industry, and by doing so, it can also help to propel the economic growth of the continent as a whole.


The United States is currently exploring ways to overcome barriers to trade. We are also investigating ways to promote African private sector growth and investment, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. In the midst of these efforts, we cannot forget Africa’s women – they must take part in this economic growth. We must ensure that the training and jobs created by this revamping of Africa’s economic sector will benefit women and men equally.



Historically the United States focused on public health and health-related issues in Africa. We are steadfastly committed to continuing that focus, working side-by-side with African governments and civil society to ensure that quality treatment, prevention, and care are easily accessible to communities throughout Africa. From HIV/AIDS to malaria, Africans endured and suffered a multitude of health pandemics that weakened countries on many fronts. To help solve the health crisis that is occurring throughout the entire continent, Africans as well as the international community must invest in public health systems, in training more medical professionals, and we must focus on maternal and infant health care. Continuing President Bush’s strong efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS, the Obama Administration will carry forward the fight against HIV/AIDS. In addition to combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, and polio, the Obama Administration pledged $63 billion to meet public health challenges throughout Africa.



The U.S. is committed to working with African states and the broader international community to prevent, mitigate, and resolve conflicts and disputes. Conflict destabilizes states and borders, stifles economic growth, and results in large numbers of deaths and displacement. Throughout Africa, there has been a sharp decrease in the number of conflicts over the past decade. 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 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.


However, areas of turmoil and political unrest such as Guinea, Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Madagascar create both internal and regional instability. Furthermore, we must not forget the extreme harm inflicted by gender-based violence. Thus, there is a need for a sustained regional and international response to these situations. The Obama Administration is working to help mitigate these conflicts so that regional stability, the internal security of these countries, and the welfare of their citizens can be improved. One way that President Obama demonstrated his commitment to work with African leaders to help resolve these conflicts was through his appointment of the Special Presidential Envoy to Sudan, whose mandate is to ensure the full implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The Special Advisor for the Great Lakes is also working to bring peace and stability to the troubled region.


We will also continue our cooperation with regional leaders to look for ways to end Somalia’s protracted nightmare of political instability 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.



We will seek to deepen our cooperation with African states to address both old and new transnational challenges. The 21st century ushered in new transnational challenges for Africa and the world. Africa’s poverty puts it at a distinct disadvantage in dealing with major global and transnational problems like climate change, narcotrafficking, 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, “...while 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. The effects of climate change are clear: the snow cap of Mount Kilimanjaro is melting and Lake Chad is half the size it was 35 years ago. 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. There is no time like the present to face this issue as it carries tremendous consequences for the future of our children, grandchildren and our planet.


Narcotrafficking is another large obstacle and, if not addressed, will become a severely destabilizing force in the years ahead. As Africa faces the impact of these new transnational problems, the United States will actively work with leaders and governments across the continent to confront all issues that are global in nature.


Finally, one of my personal goals is to expand our diplomatic presence in Africa. I am working with the Administration and Congress to increase resources – both funding and people – at our embassies and consulates. I want more American diplomats living and working in Africa. An increased diplomatic presence is important for our mutual progress on all of these pressing issues. It is my sincere desire to open more consulates in Africa, which will enable us to reach your citizens beyond the capital cities. We must be in Mombasa as well as Nairobi, we must be in Goma as well as Kinshasa, and we will be in Kano as well as Abuja.


The Obama Administration believes in and is committed to Africa’s future. As members of the African Diplomatic Corps, I appreciate your commitment to this shared vision and your willingness to work together toward a future that brings better governance, expanded democracy, and greater prosperity to Africa’s people.


Thank you very much for your time, thank you for this invitation, and I’m looking forward to the discussion.