Speaking at a gala reception in Washington marking the beginning of “Africa Week,” last month, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson indicated that “High-level engagement has already started” between the Obama administration and Africa. “Most of the Obama administration’s Africa team is in place, and we are gearing up. We will continue to build on and strengthen the strong bipartisan consensus in Congress and among the people of America that has motivated U.S. policy towards Africa.” he said.
“Over the next four years, we will be focusing our efforts on strengthening democracy, promoting sustainable development, resolving or mitigating conflict, and dealing with transnational issues such as climate change and agriculture,” he pledged.
Additionally, he said, President Obama was expected to meet shortly with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete at the White House. “Secretary Clinton will be meeting with the Angolan minister of foreign affairs, Assunção Afonso dos Anjos. She has already met with her Nigerian and South African counterparts. And in July,” Carson said, “the president will be making his first trip to Africa in his current capacity, when he travels to Ghana.”
Earlier on, Carson told his audience, on the 16th anniversary of U.S.-Angolan bilateral relations, United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk signed the U.S.-Angolan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with Angolan Minister dos Anjos.
Carson said, “It is anticipated that Secretary Clinton will be traveling to Kenya to participate in the African Growth and Opportunity Act [AGOA] Forum in early August, and possibly visit other countries as well.”
Speaking to a capacity crowd made up of African ambassadors, business executives, Africanists and well-wishers, Carson reminded his audience that “Africa has played and continues to play a major role in the life of the United States and today is one of America’s most important friends and global partners.
“The ties that bind the United States and Africa are stronger and more enduring today than they have ever been,” he said. Those ties, he added, “extend from the shores of West Africa, where freed American slaves founded the proud state of Liberia, to the White House, where President Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan father, is now serving as president of this country.”
The links that connect Africa and the United States, he said, are built on a “rock-solid foundation.” He reminded everyone that more than 13 percent of America’s population is of African descent and that that number continues to grow because of immigration laws that have opened the door to a new generation of African immigrants.
“Across the African continent, the trans-Atlantic connections and strong feelings of friendship and good will are kept alive by thousands of African professionals, political leaders and government workers who have been able over the years to travel to the United States to attend our many colleges and universities,” he said.
Volunteer opportunities like the Peace Corps, which sends thousands of Americans to Africa each year, and education opportunities like the Fulbright Program and Humphrey Scholarships, which bring hundreds of Africans to the United States, guarantee that the links that connect Africa and the United States will remain strong well into the future — and may even generate another president of the United States.
Turning to democracy, Carson said, “Africans have always shared U.S. values and principles about democracy, and African governments are in the process of consolidating the democratic gains of the recent past.”
In January 2009, Carson noted, Ghana saw its fourth successful election and second peaceful transfer of power from one party to another, and in South Africa, the election in April of President Jacob Zuma marked the fourth successful election since the end of the apartheid era.
“Ghana’s and South Africa’s elections are two of the most recent marquee events showcasing the winds of change that have swept the continent,” he said, “but they are far from the only ones. The elections also demonstrate that democracy is not a one-time event, but a process.”
America’s ties with Africa are also based on a strong strategic and economic foundation, Carson said. “Today, approximately 17 percent of America’s oil imports come from Africa, with Nigeria supplying some 8 percent of America’s needs, followed by major imports from Angola, Algeria and Equatorial Guinea.”
Nigeria, Angola and Algeria provide 98 percent of liquefied natural gas imports into the eastern United States, he noted.
“In the months to come,” Carson told his audience, “I look forward to getting reacquainted with those of you that I already know, and to meeting for the first time those I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting. Please again accept my congratulations for a successful Africa Week 2009.”