Assistant Secretary Carson: Africa’s Development Is Top US Priority

By Africa Center for Strategic Studies
Updated: 06/19/2012

Carson SLS 2012View Photos of the Event
The top U.S. diplomat for Africa told a group of senior African security leaders that development is among the highest priorities for U.S. foreign policy on the continent. “Nowhere else in the world is development more critical to our engagement than in Africa,” Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson told a room full of decision-makers on June 18, 2012, the first day of a two-week seminar hosted in Arlington, Virginia, by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS).

Addressing more than 70 security experts from 40 African countries at the Africa Center’s 14th annual Senior Leaders Seminar, Carson focused his remarks on fleshing out details of the new  U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, announced by the White House on June 14.  The new strategy sets forth four objectives for U.S. engagement in Africa: (1) strengthen democratic institutions; (2) spur economic growth, trade, and investment; (3) advance peace and security; and (4) promote opportunity and development. (See related article: “White House Redesigns the Future of America’s Partnership with Sub-Saharan Africa” )
“Since the 1990s, dozens of African countries have moved quietly from dictatorship to democracy” Carson said, commenting on the first pillar of the strategy. “[It is] one of the most impressive transformations in recent history.”

However, Carson, said challenges still persist, and military coups remain a major threat to democracy on the continent. Flawed elections also weaken governments and emphasize citizens’ distrust. He noted that the current administration voiced concerns over the conduct of elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo in November 2011. On the other hand, he also highlighted recent successful elections in Nigeria, Senegal, and Zambia, as well as Liberia. “African countries need civilian government that delivers services to the people, independent judiciaries that enforce the law, [and] professional security forces that respect human rights and act under democratically constitutional governments,” Carson said.

Speaking on economics and growth, he said there is increasing evidence that democratic governance and improved economic performances are correlated. He also said the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) continues to achieve effective results, opening up U.S. markets for thousands of African goods and services. Carson added that the U.S. government remains committed to AGOA, and believes that the Act has brought substantial economic, commercial, and trade benefits to a number of the countries that have participated. So far, since its enactment in 2000, two-way trade has grown to $ 82.1 billion, and export to the United States has grown to $18.4 billion. “It is a program which is widely valued across the African continent,” Carson noted. “And it is a program which has resulted in a substantial increase in African exports into the United States’ market.”

Carson said the Obama administration’s agenda on advancing peace and security in Africa — the third pillar of the newly articulated policy — includes working with the international community to replace instability and uncertainty by peace and economic progress in conflict-prone regions. He cited U.S. efforts in Sudan and the creation last year of a newly independent South Sudan, as well as U.S. support to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and support to the regional effort led by Uganda to confront the destructive Lord’s Resistance Army militant group. “Insecurity and conflicts rob young African of the opportunity for an education and a better life,” Carson said.

He pointed out that one of the key elements of the new strategy’s fourth pillar — promoting opportunity and development — encompasses improving the health and well-being of African populations, with the U.S. government providing support to African countries in building efficient healthcare systems through such programs as the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the President’s Malaria Initiative. “Sick men and women cannot work or contribute to the growth of a nation’s economy,” Carson said. “They cannot serve in the armed forces or the police, and they cannot provide security for their families or their countries.”

The Africa Center’s Senior Leaders Seminar series has taken place annually since 1999. Featured speakers scheduled for the 2012 session include the Honorable Brownie Samukai Jr, Minister of National Defense of Liberia, and the Ugandan Minister of Defense Dr. Crispus Kiyonga. The keynote address was delivered June 18 by Amanda J. Dory, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Africa Policy. (See related article: “Security Leaders Briefed on New U.S. Africa Strategy at Africa Center Seminar”)

Watch the video of Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson  presentation


During his Africa Center presentation, Carson also spent more than half an hour responding to questions from African security sector professionals, which took place under the Africa Center’s strict policy of non-attribution to ensure free academic discussion.