REVIEW: Article

The US and Africa: Strong Ties Growing Stronger

The United States (US)-Africa relationship has grown exponentially in recent years. The First Lady’s July trip to South Africa, Rwanda and Tanzania, including Zanzibar, and Secretary Rice’s July trip to Senegal and Sudan just two weeks after Gleneagles where Africa was the primary focus of discussion, underline the importance we place on the relationship. Here in the United States we see a broad bipartisan consensus on our Africa policy. Indeed, I believe we are moving towards a global consensus on the key issues affecting Africa, as reflected at successive G8 dialogues.

The United States and Africa have a historic opportunity to deepen our relations and advance freedom, peace, and prosperity across the continent. Although Africa faces many challenges—and they are significant—in the 25 years that I have worked on Africa, there has never been a more auspicious time to consolidate the progress and the promise of the continent. Democracy in Africa is growing, with more than 50 democratic elections in the past four years. Africans increasingly are taking control of their own destiny with the African Union (AU) and its New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) Program of Action contributing to better governance across Africa. Economic growth on the continent is at an eight-year high. There are 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa that have registered growth in each of the past five years. In the last four years we have seen important progress toward ending conflict in areas that suffered through six major wars—Angola, Burundi, Congo (DRC), Liberia, Sierra Leone and southern Sudan. Sudan is just one area where the United States has demonstrated the depth of its commitment to Africa.  The President, Secretary Rice, and Deputy Secretary Zoellick are committed to ending this lengthiest and most tragic of wars, including the tragedy in Darfur.

The United States is working closely with Africans across the continent, and many African leaders clearly recognize and reciprocate our commitment to strengthened relations.  Looking at the big picture, we and Africa also now have a unique opportunity to work together to reform and improve the operation of a number of global institutions including the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the United Nations (UN), and to help strengthen such new institutions as the AU. By doing so, we can help create a level playing field and opportunities for Africa’s advancement.

We need to take advantage of this window of opportunity by acting boldly to actually transform these global institutions, avoiding old stereotypes and false polemics. Africa is no longer a continent ruled mostly by one-party states and military governments, but many here in the United States do not yet fully recognize the great change that has taken place. Misconceptions also exist in Africa. Some people, for example, start from the premise that the United States was a former colonial power in Africa, even though in fact we were never a colonial power there. If we can avoid a debate based on false premises and old stereotypes, and instead can keep the big picture in mind and act boldly, I believe we can build strong relations for the long term, based on mutual respect and common interest. I know that is Secretary Rice’s plan, and it certainly is my goal as Assistant Secretary for African Affairs.

There is a clear relationship between America’s well-being and Africa’s progress, as Secretary Rice made clear in July in Senegal, when she spoke of the mutual benefits of open trade—creating jobs and advancing development in Africa and giving American consumers greater choice and better value. Africans also are sharing the burden of maintaining international peace and security by supplying 30 percent of the United Nations peacekeeping forces worldwide. Four African countries—Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa—are among the top ten UN troop contributors. As the United States faces the threat of terrorism and of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, we also have found willing partners and ready models in Africa. South Africa proved that abandoning nuclear weapons can enhance a country’s global standing and influence. As Africa embraces freedom, and projects its own tradition of religious tolerance, it also offers hope to the greater Middle East. Clearly Africa is playing an increasingly important role on the global stage, and that role is largely positive. American and African interests coincide, both in terms of what we see as the vision for sub-Saharan Africa, and in terms of sharing the burden of international responsibilities globally.

My priorities for our Africa policy are derived directly from President Bush’s charge to make the world safer and make the world better, and the Secretary’s guidance that the State Department will pursue its goals via “transformational diplomacy.” This is an activist foreign policy, and indeed, our Africa policy is integrated within our global US foreign policy.  It is not just a humanitarian interest, but is comprised of all of the interests that we have around the world—promoting freedom and democracy, fighting contagious diseases, promoting economic growth, development and trade, and fighting terror and ending conflicts. We will work tirelessly to support our African friends in their efforts to transform Africa to make it safer and better for Africans.

As we review the trend lines, it is clear that freedom and democracy have spread through much of the continent. The AU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) demonstrated their commitment to democracy by their actions to ensure Togo’s succession via constitutional means. Similarly, the AU and ECOWAS have shown strong leadership in insisting on an expeditious return to constitutional government in Mauritania.

Over the next few years, we need to move beyond elections as the measure of freedom and towards supporting the efforts of African people to achieve real democracy through government accountability, and effective, independent institutions, thereby solidifying the democratic momentum the continent is enjoying. At the global level, we support the effort of the Community of Democracies to build an international system based on our shared values and the rule of law. Mali, as the current chair of the Community of Democracies, is simply another example of how Africa is ready to play a leading global role. We, in our role, will speak out for democracy, and our Millennium Challenge Account will help build the institutions that are essential components of democracy in a decent society—a free press, an independent judiciary, sound financial systems, strong labor unions and vibrant political parties.

There remain, of course, some sad exceptions to this democracy trend in Africa, most notably in Zimbabwe, where a leader who originally brought democracy to Zimbabwe 25 years ago has turned on that legacy, destroying his country’s economy and ruining his people’s hopes for prosperity. The international community must work together to return democracy to Zimbabwe. We hope to see African institutions take leadership in that effort.

The second key priority is economic prosperity, as we seek to help this continent—rich in resources and human capacity—overcome the poverty that has destroyed so many lives. We want to expand economic opportunities and unleash the potential of Africa’s own entrepreneurs. We can do this by opening markets to create jobs, encouraging domestic reforms to support small and medium businesses, leveling the playing field in the global economic arena by transforming international financial institutions, and, where necessary, providing official development assistance (ODA) as a catalyst for growth. As we review ODA and US assistance to Africa, which has approximately tripled in the last five years to $3.2 billion in 2004, we must ensure that it is a catalyst for growth and development rather than a crutch engendering dependence.

One way is through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the center- piece of the United States’ Africa economic policy. AGOA duty-free imports into the US market increased by 88 percent from 2003 to 2004, equaling some $26.6 billion in trade. Our current two-way trade with sub-Saharan Africa is $44 billion representing some 190,000 new jobs in sub-Saharan Africa since AGOA’s enactment. We also are encouraging domestic reforms, seeking to remove regulatory and bureaucratic burdens on small- and medium-sized businesses, and to act decisively to stamp out corruption which chokes the entrepreneurial spirit and turns away potential investors. The administration also has focused on alleviating the debt burden on many countries, urging that all future assistance should be in the form of grants, to help developing countries avoid the debt trap. We also have led the way in pushing for debt cancellation, raised at the Sea Island G8 meeting. At the last G8 meeting in Gleneagles, the US and United Kingdom joined to gain agreement to cancel the debt of 18 heavily indebted poor countries, 14 of which were in sub-Saharan Africa—a $40 billion debt write-off for poor countries.

In terms of reforming global institutions, the United States and Africa can work together to reform the UN to make it a more effective institution, particularly by establishing the Democracy Fund, the Human Rights Council, and the Peacebuilding Commission. Similarly, we need to cooperate with Africa at the WTO to implement the WTO Doha Development Agenda by completing the trade round, with a goal of reducing trade barriers and improving market access, especially by eliminating agricultural export subsidies and substantially reducing trade-distorting domestic supports. President Bush has called for collectively ending agricultural subsidies since he visited Africa in July 2003. We also must work with Africa to develop its infrastructure in partnership with the private sector, the African Development Bank, and the World Bank to promote trade and achieve sustainable economic growth.

The third priority—but the most urgent one—is the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has destroyed the hopes of millions and poses a unique and overwhelming challenge to Africa’s future.  Still, working together with African governments and organizations committed to winning this fight, led by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), we have greatly increased the resources available to address HIV/AIDS. In fact, the US now provides $2.4 billion annually, twice as much toward the global fight against HIV/AIDS as all other donors combined. In implementing PEPFAR we are using a comprehensive approach that demonstrates again that the United States is putting our money where our principles are.  The President’s Emergency Plan has transformed the world’s response to the pandemic and will help build local community capacity and national health systems, and spur the innovative research required to prevail in this battle for humanity.

Africans also know that they will not have to face conflicts alone. The United States will continue to strongly back African conflict mediation and strengthen African capacity to carry out peace support operations. To ensure long-term sustainability we need to build the capacity of the African institutions. We will support the efforts of leading African mediators. South Africa’s President Mbeki and Nigeria’s President Obasanjo, for example, have shown that they can bring two sides together and help to end conflict.   Africa needs other African states and leaders to develop that skill, that reputation, and the capacity and willingness to mediate conflicts across Africa, and to do so successfully.

We also are working very closely with Africa’s sub-regional organizations in peace support operations. ECOWAS has developed a strong peacekeeping capability, and has shown it is ready to address conflicts in its sub-region. Other sub-regional organizations are still finding their way, but we believe they will succeed and we are actively involved in helping them do so as they move to organize and train the AU standby brigades. We also are cooperating with the AU to address peacekeeping and peace support operations, for example in Sudan and Burundi, in concert with the UN. Our Africa Contingency Operations and Training Assistance (ACOTA) program seeks to train 40,000 African peacekeepers in five years. Throughout, we are working closely with the UN, for example in supporting the seven UN peacekeeping operations in sub-Saharan Africa—Burundi, Congo (DRC), Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Sudan—both in implementing the North-South Agreement in Sudan and in ending the tragedy in Darfur.

The United States and African countries also are cooperating closely in the fight against terror on the continent. Although extreme poverty in Africa does not necessarily lead to extremist ideology, weak states certainly create opportunities for terrorists to find safe havens and create operational bases—a problem that can then quickly cross borders.  We and our partners recognize that we therefore need a robust and multi-faceted program that includes all of the elements of economic growth and development, outreach, public diplomacy, and addresses such threats as HIV/AIDS. It cannot be solely a military response. The President’s East African Counter-Terrorism Initiative (EACTI), announced in 2003, has helped assist East African states to build cooperative regional relationships and strengthen their ability to monitor their borders.  Similarly, we are reviewing a Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative (TSCTI) to help the Sahel countries increase their capacity to monitor their borders, to share information and to prevent terrorist organizations from operating in the vast ungoverned spaces of the Sahara.

President Bush has directed his Administration to make the world “safer, better, and freer.” The strengthened ties between the United States and African nations have already helped move us toward that goal. We plan to accelerate our cooperation with the peoples of Africa and their organizations—the AU and strengthened regional economic communities—as well as working even more closely with the European Union, the UN, and others, to support Africa’s development efforts and level the playing field. African and American leaders mutually recognize that the people of both of our continents will benefit by our doing so.

Issue Date


Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs;
United States Ambassador to South Africa, 2004-2005