TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

Why the US is 'boosting ties with Africa' - official

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Source: The Guardian (Nigeria)

African-American relations appear set for a more beneficial phase as the Barack Obama administration has unfolded its economic, social and political agenda for the continent.

Citing historical linkage, trade, especially in oil between America and Africa, Washington says that it is determined to assist African leaders develop the region.

The U.S. particularly singled out the resolution of the protracted conflicts in the bloc as a priority of the Obama government.

At a gala reception in Washington to mark the beginning of "Africa Week", a meeting was held between American officials and African envoys in Washington DC last week.

American Assistant Secretary of State for Africa in the State Department, Johnie Carson, who presided at the meeting, said besides the ancestral connection between U.S. and Africa, the continent now accounts for 17 per cent of U.S. imports.

According to him, Nigeria alone supplies eight per cent of America's oil import while Angola and Algeria share the balance of nine per cent.

Speaking on U.S. ties with some African nations, Carson said Nigeria remains a strategic partner of his country as it supplies almost 50 per cent of oil imports from Africa to the U.S., and also a big time supplier of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) imports into America.

Carson hinted that Nigeria, Angola and Algeria provide 98 per cent of LNG imports for the eastern part of the U.S.

Carson said: "High-level engagement has already started" between the Obama administration and Africa with the President's proposed visit to Ghana in July and last week's talks in the White House between him and the visiting President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete.

He said to further boost the two blocs' ties, the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, would visit the Angolan Minister of Foreign Affairs soon having a met her Nigerian and South African counterparts.

Carson said Clinton would also travel to Kenya to participate in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) forum early August, "and possibly visit other countries as well."

He said: "Most of the Obama administration's African teams are 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."

The American official pledged that the Obama administration would in the next four years "be focusing its efforts on strengthening democracy, promoting sustainable development, resolving or mitigating conflicts, and dealing with transnational issues such as climate change and agriculture.

"Today, approximately 17 per cent of America's oil imports come from Africa, with Nigeria supplying some eight per cent of America's needs, followed by major imports from Angola, Algeria and Equatorial Guinea," he said.

African ambassadors, business executives, Africanists and friends of the continent attended the event.

Carson told the audience that "Africa has played and continues to play a major role in the life of the United States and now one of America's most important friends and global partners.

"The ties that bind the United States and Africa are stronger and more enduring now than they have ever been," he said, adding that the ties "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 continued, are built on a "rock-solid foundation," noting that more than 13 per cent 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.

"Volunteer opportunities like the Peace Corps, which sends thousands of Americans to Africa each year, and education opportunities like the Fulbright Programme 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," Carson said.

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 that Ghana had 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 wind of change sweeping across 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."

With his visit on Thursday last week, Kikwete has become the first African head of state to the White House after Obama's inauguration as the first U.S. black president in January.

Obama had told his guest that he was ready "to solve some of the most pressing conflicts in the African continent."

A White House statement released last weekend said the leaders enjoyed "a valuable discussion on a range of issues."

The statement said Obama expressed his appreciation for the close bilateral relationship the United States shares with Tanzania, adding that he was ready working with other partners in the African region to tackle the problems confronting the continent.

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