U.S. policy toward Africa is always much more about continuity than change, according to a panel of American diplomats, including the director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, who spoke July 31, 2012, at the Heritage Foundation in downtown Washington, D.C.
The speakers reviewed factors of continuity, change, and shifting policies toward an emerging Africa as part of discussion during a conference titled “An Assessment of the Obama Administrations’ Africa Strategy.”
Panelists included Ambassador (ret.) William M. Bellamy, director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS); Ambassador Tibor Nagy, vice provost for international affairs, Texas Tech University; and Ambassador Richard Roth, senior advisor for the Bureau of Africa Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
Bellamy said that even though the recently released U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa rendered an appearance of continuity rather than change in U.S. Policy, the document contains strong commitments to U.S. principles that might not be welcomed by all African leaders. For example, he pointed out that the new Presidential Policy Directive (PPD), released June 14, insists on reinforcing good governance in Africa, and, Bellamy added, “obviously, everything else depends on good governance.”
The new strategy also highlights building civilian capacity, a goal that African militaries have long voiced. Bellamy added that weak civilian power often leads to failed governance.
“Building civilian capacity is a very important task,” Bellamy said at the event. “Not easy, not always effective… [However], we need to find ways to focus on areas where there is a real desire for strong civilian capacity building.”
Bellamy also warned the current administration about challenges ahead in the constantly changing African political landscape. “We are entering a new period of uncertainty,” he concluded.
Ambassador Nagy in his presentation identified long-standing issues concerning U.S. Diplomacy toward Africa.
“The African Bureau has always been the lowest priority for the Department of State, while facing the more complex issues” he said. “Moreover, there has always been a tension between short-term crisis management and long-term policy in this bureau”
Nagy served as U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia and Guinea and, in an October 2011 media release was named as an advisor on African affairs for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Nagy said the Obama administration’s new strategy voices excellent intentions but still contains lingering questions such as: What are the U.S. priorities? Where will the government find the resources — both in manpower and financial means — to implement the strategy?
“The U.S. does so little for Africa, that when we issue such a document our African audience is very attentive,” Nagy said. He also noted that no mention has been made of China “who is eating our lunch in Africa.”
Ambassador Roth, who was part of the team that crafted the PPD, agreed with Nagy about the understaffing of the African Bureau and the implicit message it sends to African audiences. He acknowledged that so far, there are no major threats to U.S. interests or security on African soil, even with the rise of extremist groups such as Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
“Terrorism in the Middle East is more threatening for the homeland security than in Africa,” Roth said.
However, he said, the sub-Saharan strategy released in June expands beyond the points made by President Obama during his seminal address in Ghana in 2009. Roth said there was a greater need to come out with a document to capture all the elements of U.S. Policy toward Africa. Also, several initiatives have been launched since 2009. Overall, he pointed out, the Obama administration, through the Department of State, is fully committed to helping African countries implement long-term democratic regimes.
During discussions with the audience, the panelists agreed that there is a need for a paradigm shift in U.S. Policy towards Africa. The State Department’s Africa Bureau needs more staff and more skilled diplomats, because Africa is not a problem but an opportunity, they said. The ambassadors also insisted, on a greater role that African Diaspora can play. The “Africa Diaspora in the U.S. has a lot of power,” said Bellamy. “Use that power to weigh in politics, both here and in your countries of origin.”
The Africa Center is the pre-eminent Department of Defense institution for strategic security studies, research, and outreach in Africa. ACSS offers a range of academic symposiums, workshops, and programs throughout Africa, the United States, and Europe. Since 1999, more than 12,000 African and international leaders and security stakeholders have participated in ACSS programs.
By Serge Yondou, ACSS Communications Specialist