Greater Engagement with Africa

April 6, 2010 By Jordan Smith

Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs Johnnie Carson described the Obama Administration’s approach to increasing foreign assistance to Africa yesterday.  In remarks at Harvard, Carson said engagement with Africa is in our national interest: “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.” Noting the need for increased resources for civilian tools of foreign policy, Carson said that one of his personal goals is to expand the U.S.’s diplomatic presence in Africa. “I am working with the Administration and Congress to increase resources – both funding and people – at our embassies and consulates.” Aware of the importance of diplomats’ individual contact with countries, and of U.S. global engagement with the world, Carson said that he simply “want[s] more American diplomats living and working in Africa. An increased diplomatic presence is important for our mutual progress on all of these pressing issues.” Aside from more personnel, he also wants to simply open more consulates in Africa.

Carson said U.S. policy toward Africa is based on five principles: strengthening democratic institutions, improving economic growth, increasing public health levels, resolving and preventing conflicts, and contributing to Africa’s capacity to deal with trans-national problems.

Carson laid out several instances of the Obama administration prioritizing the African continent—The President’s visit to Ghana last July was the earliest by a sitting U.S. President to Africa; he hosted a lunch with 26 African heads of state at the UN last September, he has met in the oval office with President Kikwete of Tanzania, President Khama of Botswana, and Prime Minister of Zimbabwe Morgan Tsvangarai.   And last August, Secretary Clinton and Carson visited seven African countries.

The United States has a long history of humanitarian assistance with African nations, highlighted by signature programs such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.  And as developing countries account for forty percent of all U.S. trade now, it is critical for the United States to continue to support African nations.  The humanitarian need, the economic benefits and the national security aspects of the African continent make U.S. engagement with African nations money well spent.