About the Author: Gregory L. Garland serves as Media and Outreach Coordinator for the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of African Affairs.
You could list Donald Payne, Russell Feingold, Christopher Smith, Teresa Whalen, Bobbie Pittman, and Jendayi Frazer. Then, your list could include Franklin Graham, Billy's son; Pastor Rick Warren, scheduled to give the invocation for the presidential inauguration; Stephen Morrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Stephen Hayes of the Corporate Council on Africa; Mel Foote of the Constituency for Africa; Zain Verjee of CNN; or David J. O'Reilly of Chevron-Texaco. What about Angelina Jolie, Danny Glover, Quincy Jones, Will Smith, and Mia Farrow? Hollywood celebrities and their publicists have taken a liking to Africa in recent years. Speaking of Hollywood, there's a good case for the ghosts of Alex Hailey (Roots), Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan of the Apes), and Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca and The African Queen).
The U.S. Constitution isn't clear on the matter, either. It's easy enough to say that the president makes foreign policy; we at State naturally tend to take this position, since we work directly for the president. Yet, the Constitution itself doesn't say exactly that. Congress has a role; most important, it has the power of the purse. No program, including the very salaries of ambassadors, can continue without funding controlled by the Congress.
And who does Congress listen to? The voters, naturally. And thus any group or individual who might influence the voters. Until recently, scholars tended to categorize the role of citizens in foreign policy as "special interests" or "lobbies". There was the "China" lobby in the 1950s and 60s, which supported Taiwan. Now we have the "Cuba" and "Israel" lobbies. And we are witnessing the rise of an "Africa" lobby.
Take a good look at who in the U.S. is paying attention to Africa. Christian churches have supported missions there for more than a century; it should come as no surprise that Pastor Warren and Rev. Graham, among many others, have spoken out about HIV/AIDS in Africa. American business has a growing stake in Africa. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the Corporate Council on Africa has emerged as a player. Recognizing this trend, states and cities have rushed to set up international trade agencies with Africa-focused programs. Hollywood celebrities have sought to associate themselves with great social and humanitarian issues since Charlie Chaplin took on European fascism. It should come as no surprise that some stars might mix sincerity with public relations to draw attention to Africa.
Where does that leave the State Department? It's still the center of formal state-to-state communications, aka the old diplomacy. Yet it's not even the lone U.S. federal entity dealing with Africa. The U.S. Agency for International Development operates bigger missions than State in a number of African countries. The Department of Health and Human Services maintains a large presence in many countries as part of the fight against AIDS and malaria. Peace Corps has been a symbol of a benign America since 1961. And the military has brought attention upon itself with the launch of the Africa Command.
As American citizen engagement with Africa expands, it will become ever more necessary for our own Washington-based foreign affairs professionals to look beyond the world of demarches, foreign ministries, and embassies to understand what is really going on inside our own country. It means, also, getting out from behind our security guards, thick walls, and addiction to computers to actually listen to Americans live and in person, not just via the internet. The modern foreign policy of a democratic government demands no less of those of us who have the privilege of serving the taxpayers.