While news accounts often portray Africa in negative terms, “there is in fact another Africa, an Africa that is an integral part of the global community — politically, culturally, economically and socially” — and one that is of major importance to the United States, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson told the opening session of the “Teach Africa” Leadership Summit.
Speaking June 3 at the U.S. Department of State, Carson welcomed some 300 young student leaders who were interested in learning more about Africa. Ten of those students were chosen from across the United States after writing essays expressing their interest in Africa.
“Africa is important, and I hope that all of you today — throughout the day — will have the opportunity to realize how important the continent is,” Carson told the students. “It does indeed have its challenges … but I think Africa’s future remains bright and in front of it. Its future will be far more important than its history and its past.”
Carson told the students that Africa has “enormous relevance” for the United States.
“It is important that we here in the United States continue to work alongside Africa and African nations to help them to realize the enormous potential that exists across the continent. That potential,” he said, “is reflected in its human capital, in its people, who are resilient, strong and surging forth. Africa has today some 800 million people across the continent, with its numbers increasing.
“With those numbers we are seeing important things happen. We are seeing more education, both at the primary and university level. We are seeing more engagement, more business and more activities,” which signal the continent’s potential and promise. He reminded the students that 18 percent of America’s oil comes from Africa.
Taking questions following his welcoming remarks, Carson was asked about foreign assistance. “I think the United States should [continue granting foreign aid],” he said, “because we remain one of the wealthiest countries in the world. … The peace, prosperity and continued growth in the United States continues in large measure because of the peace, prosperity and continued growth of countries around the world. Those countries that are in crisis and afflicted by poverty cause us concern, and the international community.
“We have to respond to those things. But if, in fact, countries are growing economically, socially and educationally, if they are growing stronger and are more vibrant and more democratic, they are in fact going to be good contributors and good friends in the international community. Our aid helps to do that. Our aid helps countries improve the lives and livelihoods of people … so I think we should be strong contributors.”
He cautioned, however, that aid alone will not develop a country. “Countries must have strong private sectors in which there is both domestic and international investment in which jobs are being generated, products are being produced, items are being sold, domestically and internationally, money is being earned and taxes collected.”
Aid, he said, can be a “contributing factor,” but the private sector will be the engine of economic growth and development.
Asked about sanctions, Carson said, “Sanctions on countries do in fact help alter and change their behavior. Some of those sanctions are economic; some of those sanctions are political.
“I think the sanctions regime that has been placed on Zimbabwe has in fact produced some concessions by the Zimbabwean government,” he told the students. “I think without the sanctions, there would not be a transitional government there today … or a government of national unity.”
Asked about Sudan, Carson told the students that the United States is “intensely concerned” about developments there. “One of the first things President Obama did a year and a half ago when he took office was to name a special envoy … on Sudan” who has been working over the past 18 months to help implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan and to resolve the problems in the Darfur region.
“We have been strong supporters of the mission of the African peacekeeping force in Darfur, which is now a U.N. peacekeeping force there. We support a U.N. presence there and we continue to press very, very hard for political reconciliation between the government of Sudan and the Justice for Equality Movement [JEM].”
Following Carson’s remarks, Bernadette B. Paolo, president and chief executive officer of the Africa Society, which helped organize the summit, told the students they were “change makers” and implored them to take action to help Africa. She singled out several students in the room who are already effecting change: one who has started her own nonprofit organization and raised $6,000 to help educate conflict-scarred youth in Uganda, another who is helping to set up libraries in Africa, and another, of Nigerian ancestry, who believes he can change the way policymakers from the United States and Africa interact. “The future belongs to all those who act on their dreams,” she told the students.
Echoing those remarks, Senegal’s envoy to the United States, Ambassador Fatou Danielle Diagne, called on the students to develop their own vision of what must be done and have the courage to act on those convictions.
Besides student meetings with policymakers, the one-day summit also included an interactive videoconference with students in South Africa, Cameroon and Liberia and workshops on leadership, U.S. Africa policy, women leaders and the media.