Friday, February 19, 2010

Assistant secretary of state for African affairs speaks at GW

Image: Ambs. Shinn and Carson. Photo by Jessica McConnell/GW. Ambassador Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, addressed some 200 students and members of the public at the Elliott School of International Affairs on February 18, 2010. The Elliott School is just a short sprint from the State Department. Ambassador Carson had a 37-year career in the Foreign Service that included ambassadorships to Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda and as principal deputy assistant secretary of state for African Affairs. Following an introduction by the dean of the Elliott School, Michael Brown, Ambassador Carson focused his remarks on U.S. policy towards Africa in the Obama Administration. He identified five priorities in U.S. policy towards Africa.
  1. To help build strong and stable democracies on the continent. Sustainable economic development and the prevention of armed conflict must be coupled with the development of accountable government institutions.
  2. To support economic growth and development. This must include the full inclusion of women in all areas of the economy. The centerpiece of this policy is the Millennium Challenge Account and the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. In addition, the Obama Administration has pledged $3.5 billion for a food security program that will provide critical tools to African farmers to build local capacity.
  3. To strengthen public health systems so that they can deal with the ravages of HIV/AIDS, malaria, cholera, tuberculosis and hepatitis. The Obama Administration has pledged to continue the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
  4. To help prevent, mitigate and resolve armed conflicts. There are new special envoys for Sudan and the Great Lakes Region to focus attention on these two especially troubled areas. The United States will work closely with the African Union in this effort.
  5. To work with America’s African partners to address transnational challenges such as narcotics trafficking, trafficking in persons, climate change and violent extremism. Extremist groups include local movements aligned with al-Qaeda.
A lively question and answer period followed. The summary that follows constitutes my recollection of the discussion. It has not been vetted with Ambassador Carson. Image: Ambs. Shinn and Carson and Michael E. Brown, dean of the Elliott School. Photo by Jessica McConnell/GW. Several of the questions dealt with the coup in Niger that removed President Mamadou Tandja from office fewer than 24 hours before Ambassador Carson gave his remarks. While Ambassador Carson condemned the extra-legal overthrow of the government in Niger, he also strongly criticized the manner in which Tandja extended his time in office. Tandja not only ignored the term limit provision in Niger’s constitution but then refused to abide by decisions of both the legislature and judiciary that upheld those term limits. The best solution now, Ambassador Carson said, is for a speedy return to civilian rule and an early free and fair election. One participant asked why the United States had taken a prominent role in urging the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions against Eritrea and why it had not done more to ensure implementation of the Algiers Agreement that defined the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Ambassador Carson responded that Washington’s door remains open to Eritrea. The United States would like to have better relations with Eritrea, and it also stands by implementation of the Algiers Agreement. He said he personally had reached out to Asmara on several occasions but was rebuffed each time. He emphasized that Eritrea’s actions in the region, especially Eritrea’s support for spoiler groups in Somalia, were hostile to several of its neighbors and in conflict with U.S. policy. In response to a question about the crisis of governance in Nigeria, Ambassador Carson was generally optimistic. President Umaru Yar’Adua has been ill for months and is being treated at a hospital in Saudi Arabia. His prolonged absence from Nigeria raised questions about his ability to govern the country. When the president becomes incapacitated, the Nigerian constitution calls for the vice president to become acting president. Although Nigeria’s institutions delayed in taking this action, they ultimately did so. As a result, former Vice President Goodluck Jonathan is now acting president of Nigeria. Ambassador Carson explained that the constitutional process worked in Nigeria as it should. A number of persons who asked questions expressed concern about setbacks in the democratic process in Africa. Ambassador Carson acknowledged that there had been some backsliding as underscored most recently in Niger and has also occurred recently in Guinea-Bissau, Guinea-Conakry, Madagascar and Mauritania. He was quick to point out, however, that there are also many governance success stories. He cited the cases of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Mali, Benin, Ghana, Tanzania and Mauritius, among others. One questioner asked what has happened to the Africa Command (AFRICOM). The United States announced it with such fanfare and suggested it would be a very different kind of military command with significant policy engagement. In the meantime, it seems to have disappeared from view. Ambassador Carson responded that until the creation of AFRICOM, Africa was the only large region of the world that did not have a separate military command. The European Command in Stuttgart had responsibility for Europe and most of Africa. The Central Command in Tampa, Florida, watched over much of the Middle East and Northeast Africa and the Pacific Command in Hawaii had responsibility for the Pacific region and several Indian Ocean Islands that are part of Africa. AFRICOM placed all of Africa except Egypt, which remains with the Central Command, under its jurisdiction. U.S. foreign policy is, however, the purview of the State Department. The military commands support U.S. policy and bring some additional resources to those parts of the world where they have responsibility. In the case of Sub-Saharan Africa, the African Bureau of the State Department has primary policy responsibility.

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