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You are here: Home/News/Article/Africa: Obama Administration committed to partnering with Africa - Johnnie Carson

Africa: Obama Administration committed to partnering with Africa - Johnnie Carson

Published date:
Thursday, 17 September 2009

A month after accompanying Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to seven African countries, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson, in a major policy presentation has reiterated the Obama administration's commitment to engage with Africa and its problems.

"We remain optimistic and hopeful about the continent," in spite of "very serious and well-known challenges," he said during an hour-long presentation and question-and-answer session at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC.

The visits to Africa by President Obama, Secretary Clinton, United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew underline the administration's determination to develop "a partnership that is real, that is meaningful and that is built on mutual respect and mutual responsibility," he said. "We can no longer ignore the role Africa and its people must play in the international community."

Noting that he has been on the job for four months and Obama has been in office for only nine, Carson said: "We are just on the takeoff at this point."

After a diplomatic career devoted to African issues, he said the opportunity to serve in the senior Africa policy post in the U.S. government is "the dream of a lifetime." His 37 years in the foreign service have included tours as the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, Uganda and Kenya.

Following is an AllAfrica transcript of Ambassador Carson's prepared remarks and his responses to questions:

It is a great pleasure for me to be here this morning to talk with all of you about Africa, U.S.-Africa policy and the policies of the Obama administration. I will use this occasion to try to have a conversation with you. For those of you who know me, that fits into my style and I much prefer a give and take rather than a more formal presentation.

But let me begin with some very brief remarks, some very brief opening remarks to give you a sense of the direction that the administration's policies towards Africa are likely to take, some observations from Secretary Clinton's recent trip to Africa on which I accompanied her, and perhaps conclude with some specific initial thoughts about changes I intend to make at my level.

I have spent my entire professional life working on and in Africa. And this opportunity to serve as the assistant secretary of state in this administration is virtually a dream come true, a dream of a lifetime. I feel especially fortunate and pleased to have so many others here in this room today who are equally passionate and engaged on issues related to Africa. And I see the faces not only in the front row, but others in the back as well, almost too numerous to name.

This encourages me to believe that working together, we can all make a substantial difference in the improvement of our relations with Africa and also improving conditions on the ground for Africans themselves.

In the past four months since I became assistant secretary, it is clear to me that President Obama has a strong, continuing and personal interest in what happens on the continent and that he intends to give Africa a much greater priority among our foreign policy interests. We are already beginning to see this manifested in the travel by the president himself – his early visit to Ghana being an example of that. Our permanent representative to the United Nations, my former boss, Ambassador Susan Rice, visited five African countries in June. Our Deputy Secretary of State, Jack Lew, visited Ethiopia and Tanzania in July. And, as already noted, Secretary Clinton made an extensive seven-country, 11-day trip to Africa in August.

The president will engage with all of the African delegations at the United Nations General Assembly next week when he hosts a luncheon meeting for the African heads of state who are there. He also will be engaged with the African leaders who are coming to the American-hosted G8/G20 meeting in Pittsburgh later in the month. All of these are clear indications, early indications of a strong commitment on the part of the administration to making Africa a central part of our thinking with respect to America's foreign policy engagement.

The president has made it clear that despite the very serious and well-known challenges that confront Africa today, we remain optimistic and hopeful about the continent. We believe in Africa's potential and its promise. We remain committed to Africa's future. And we will be strong partners with African people and African governments.

The world of geostrategic politics continues to shift as the world community leaves behind the challenges and the chessboard of the global Cold War era and move towards a future that is more global, more resource conscious, more affected by issues that know no border, challenges of health, disease, security, food scarcities, energy needs and uneven preservation of the planet's resources. This is why we believe that the 21st century will not be shaped merely in the capitals of the super and near superpowers, but also by the continent of Africa and its leaders as well.

We can no longer ignore the role Africa and its people must play in the international community. The administration sees Africa as a fundamental part of addressing the challenges we face and a real partner in devising solutions to these challenges, especially the challenges that confront the African continent.

We envisage a much stronger partnership in which cooperation, mutual respect and mutual responsibility are the foundations of success between the United States and Africa and its many diverse nations. We believe that African countries and their people must take the lead, must look to a brighter future and must examine themselves frankly to allow us to be honest and open partners together.

The president has acknowledged that considerable progress has been achieved in many parts of Africa. But he has also noted that a good deal of the continent's potential has yet to be fulfilled.

While some African countries used to have growth rates and per-capita income levels higher than many countries in Asia, they have not sustained this promise and have fallen gravely behind Asia and other emerging markets. We must acknowledge that Africa is poor and its people are disadvantaged by poor governments, poor infrastructure, natural and man-made disasters, as well as a harshness of life that is often daunting.

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