Strengthening the United States Relationship With Africa

Johnnie Carson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
Africa Society's Ambassador Andrew Young Lecture Series
At The Embassy of the Republic of Ghana
Washington, DC
February 25, 2010

Thank you all for your kind invitation to come and speak at The Africa Society’s Ambassador Andrew Young Lecture Series. I would like to thank the sponsors of tonight’s event: MARS Incorporated, the Africa Society, and the Embassy of Ghana. Ambassador Agyekum, thank you for that thoughtful introduction, and congratulations to you on the presentation of your credentials to President Obama yesterday. I hope you will enjoy your tour of duty in Washington, and I look forward to working with you over the next several years. I also want to thank Bernadette Paolo, the President of the Africa Society, and the many other members who are here, including Chairman Noah Samara.

I also wish to extend warm greetings to the other distinguished members of the African diplomatic corps here this evening, as well as the members of the press, academia, NGOs, and others interested in Africa. Thank you all for being here this evening.

It is a real pleasure for me to join you today to talk about a topic that I have devoted much of my professional life to – strengthening the United States relationship with Africa.

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. I am honored to be serving as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in this administration.

President Obama has a strong interest in Africa and has prioritized Africa among our top foreign policy concerns. This has been evident throughout his first year in office.

The President’s visit to Ghana last July, the earliest visit made by a U.S. president to the continent, underscores Africa’s importance to the U.S. Last September, at the U.N. General Assembly, the President hosted a lunch with 26 African heads of state. He has also met in the Oval Office with President Kikwete of Tanzania, President Khama of Botswana, and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai. And the President invited dozens of people to the White House to see him give a Zimbabwean women’s group the Robert H. Kennedy Prize for Political Courage.

All of the President’s senior foreign policy advisors have followed his lead—many of them traveling to Africa as well.

The U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations -- my former boss and close colleague Ambassador Susan Rice -- visited five African countries last June, including Liberia and Rwanda. Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew traveled to Ethiopia and Tanzania in June 2009.

Last August, Secretary Clinton and I embarked on an 11-day, seven-country trip across the continent. And last month Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero headed the U.S. delegation to the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, where we discussed a range of issues including democracy and governance, climate change, and food security.

From Ethiopia, I traveled to Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria where I met with senior government officials and members of civil society. We discussed the need for free, fair, and transparent elections. We also talked about other issues such as regional stability, economic development, and responsible use of resource revenues. I stressed the need for governments, particularly those that have discovered large quantities of oil like Ghana and Uganda, to use their new found wealth responsibly.

How these governments manage these resources and the money they receive from them will have a major impact on future political and economic development in those countries.

President Obama has said repeatedly 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, the President and Secretary Clinton are confident that Africa and Africans will rise to meet and overcome these challenges.

Last June when the President was 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 the President’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 a positive and forward-looking policy in Africa.

It is committed to substantial increases in foreign assistance for Africa, but we know that additional assistance will not automatically produce success across the continent. Instead, success will be defined by how well we work together as partners to build Africa’s capacity for long-term change and ultimately the elimination of the continued need for such assistance. As Africa’s partner, the United States is ready to contribute to Africa’s growth and stabilization, but ultimately, African leaders and countries must take control of their futures.

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 family ties to the continent are a 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 success of Africa.


We will work with African governments, the international community, and civil society to strengthen democratic institutions and protect the democratic gains made in recent years in many African countries.

A key element in Africa’s transformation is sustained commitment to democracy, rule of law, and constitutional norms. Africa has made significant progress in this area. Botswana, Ghana, Tanzania, Mauritius, and South Africa are a few examples of countries showing that commitment. But progress in this area must be more widespread across Africa.

Some scholars and political analysts are saying that democracy in Africa has reached a plateau, and that we may be witnessing the beginning of a democratic recession. They point to flawed presidential elections in places like Kenya, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe; the attempts by leaders in Niger, Uganda, and Cameroon to extend their terms of office; and the re-emergence of military interventionism in Guinea-Conakry, Madagascar, and just last week in Niger.

Moreover, democracy remains fragile or tenuous in large states like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and arguably Africa’s most important country, Nigeria.

Nigeria continues to experience political tensions caused by the prolonged illness of President Yar’Adua. The United States welcomes President Yar’Adua’s recent return to Nigeria. However, we remain concerned that there may be some in Nigeria who are putting their personal ambitions above the health of the President and more importantly ahead of the political stability and political health of the country.

Nigeria is simply too important to Africa and too important to the U.S. and the international community for us not to be concerned and engaged. Widespread instability in Nigeria could have a tsunami-like ripple effect across West Africa and the global community.

During my recent visit to Nigeria, I was encouraged by the steps Nigeria’s elected officials at the national and state level had taken to elevate Goodluck Jonathan to Acting President. But today Nigeria may be marching towards a crossroads and it is critically important that all of Nigeria’s leaders act responsibly, that they stay on the democratic road, and that they choose constitutional rule over the uncertain path of conflict.

Nigeria and other African countries need civilian governments that deliver services to their people, independent judiciaries that respect and enforce the rule of law, professional security forces that respect human rights, strong and effective legislative institutions, a free and responsible press, and a dynamic civil society. All of these things are needed for a stable and prosperous Africa. All of these things are needed to secure Africa’s future.

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, 27 countries in sub-Saharan Africa will hold elections. We encourage those governments to get it right. To level the playing field, clean up the voter rolls, open up the media, count the votes fairly, and give democracy a chance.

Although elections are but one component in the process of democratization, there is a strong correlation between electoral processes, including strong and independent electoral institutions, successful elections, and efforts to consolidate democracy. And there is strong evidence that suggests that democratic governments perform better economically.

The U.S. will continue to work with Africans, as partners, to build stronger democratic institutions and to advance democracy in Africa. It is a major priority.


Africa’s future success and global importance are dependent on its continued economic progress. Working alongside African countries to promote and advance sustained economic development and growth is another Obama Administration priority. Africa has made measurable inroads to increase prosperity. Countries like Mauritius, Ghana, Rwanda, Botswana, Tanzania, Uganda, and Cape Verde have made significant economic strides. Yet Africa remains the poorest and most vulnerable continent on the globe.

To help turn this situation around, we must work to revitalize Africa’s agricultural sector, which employs more than 70 percent of Africans directly or indirectly.

The U.S. is committed to supporting a new Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, focusing predominantly on reducing hunger, poverty and undernourishment.

This $3.5 billion Food Security Initiative will also supply new methods and technologies to African farmers. The initiative was developed to help enhance Africa’s ability to meet its food needs and reduce its reliance on imported food commodities. It will also enable African states to further develop their agricultural industries, and by doing so it can spur economic growth across the continent.

Now is the time for a Green Revolution in African agriculture. Through innovative approaches and nontraditional technology, we can improve the lives of millions of people across the continent.

I was encouraged by Malawi’s election as the next chair of the African Union.

Malawi has made great progress in the field of agriculture and has indicated that it plans to use its chairmanship of the A.U. to advance agriculture in Africa. Countries that can feed themselves are stronger, more stable, and better able to weather economic downturns.

The U.S. also wants to strengthen its trading relationship with Africa. We already have strong ties in energy, textiles, and transportation equipment. But we can and should do more. The Obama Administration is committed to working with our African partners to maximize the opportunities created by our trade preference programs like AGOA. And we hope more African nations will take advantage of AGOA.

We also continue to explore 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 the critical role African women play as producers and agricultural traders – they must take part in this economic growth. We must ensure that African women are an equal part of Africa’s economic future and success.


Historically the United States has focused on public health and health-related issues in Africa. We are committed to continuing that focus. We will work 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 endure and suffer a multitude of health pandemics that weaken countries on many fronts.

Sick men and women cannot work and contribute to the economy. They cannot serve in the armed forces or police and they cannot provide for the security of their counties.

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 must ensure that there are good jobs and well-paying opportunities in their own countries for doctors and nurses once they are trained. We must also focus on maternal and infant health care, which are closely related to several Millennium Development Goals.

The Obama Administration will continue the PEPFAR Program and the Bush Administration’s fight against HIV/AIDS. In addition to combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, and polio, the Obama Administration has pledged $63 billion to meet public health challenges throughout Africa.


The U.S. is committed to working with African states and the international community to prevent, mitigate, and resolve conflicts and disputes. Conflict destabilizes states and borders, stifles economic growth and investment, and robs young Africans of the opportunity for an education and a better life. Conflict sets back nations for a generation. Throughout Africa, there has been a notable reduction 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 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 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, Niger and Madagascar create both internal and regional instability. Furthermore, we must not forget the extreme harm inflicted by gender-based violence and the recruitment of child soldiers. The Obama Administration is working to end these conflicts so that peace and economic progress can replace instability and uncertainty.

President Obama has demonstrated his commitment to work with African leaders to help resolve these conflicts through the appointment of the Special Presidential Envoy for Sudan, General Scott Gration, whose mandate is to ensure the full implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The Special Advisor for the Great Lakes former Congressman Howard Wolpe is also working to bring peace and stability to the Eastern Congo.

We will also continue our cooperation with regional leaders to look for ways to end Somalia’s protracted political 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. As we pursue these avenues of promoting stability and peace in Somalia, we are also shouldering the lion’s share of humanitarian assistance to the people of Somalia.

The United States consistently has been the largest single country donor of humanitarian assistance to Somalia, providing more than $150 million in humanitarian assistance in 2009.


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, 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, “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 a fraction of 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.

Narco-trafficking is a major challenge for Africa and the world. If we do not address it, African countries will be vulnerable to the destabilizing force of narcotics trafficking 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.

I would now like to turn to our new programs and initiatives, which work to implement our policies to move our partnership with Africa forward. We are establishing in-depth, high level dialogues with South Africa, Angola, Nigeria, and with the African Union.

We are increasing our cooperation with other countries interested in Africa such as Canada, the U.K., France, China, Japan, and multilateral bodies like the E.U.

We also hope that increased funding for projects and programs in Africa, as requested in the 2011 budget, will be approved by Congress. With enhanced resources we can further strengthen our partnership with Africa.

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.

We must also do a better job of using our diplomatic presence on the continent to listen to the people of Africa and learn from them how we can better work together on the challenges they face.

The Obama Administration believes in and is committed to Africa’s future. As global citizens interested in Africa, 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 now I turn it over to you for questions.