More and More Americans Speak Out on Africa

December 30, 2008
Darfur Protest on The Mall

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.

Comments

Comments

Nelima
|
Minnesota, USA
December 30, 2008

Nelima in Minnesota writes:

Gregory you sound optimistic, but all I can think of is 'Never Again' after Rwanda and 'Genocide Again' in Darfur. People can talk all they want, but at the end of the day it's economic gain and not human plight that moves governments to action.

DipNote
|
District Of Columbia, USA
December 30, 2008

DipNote Blogger Gregory Garland writes:

@ Nelima in Minnesota -- Thanks for your comment Nelima. Business interests obviously are a factor in foreign affairs, one which historically tends to trump in the absence of other forces. But I would argue that the reason why Darfur has become a cause on campuses and in churches and synagogues around the country is the spectre of genocide -- the fear of repeating Rwanda. Save Darfur is a remarkable coalition of Christians, Jews, African American organizations, students, and NGOs that has put Darfur on the policy screen in the White House, in Congress, and at the UN. This a grassroots movement the likes of which Africa has not seen from America since the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s. Hundreds of thousands are alive today because of American food, medicine, and supplies. If we're talking about preventing genocide, saving lives has to be goal #1, and saved lives have been been the direct result of America humanitarian assistance -- despite the failure to end the conflict.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
December 30, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

The day a former U.S. Treasury Secretary and Bono stepped off a plane in Africa with matching sunglasses, looking for all the world like the Blues Brothers "on a mission from God" (having been given the blessings of the Pope on their previous stop), I realized I was looking at the face of what is now commonly referred to as "Transformational Diplomacy".

Attitude is everything.

Joe
|
Tennessee, USA
December 31, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

3. Increased missionary work, mostly from the US.

4. Increased Diplomatic work from many civilized countries...also: Remember, America has been there in the forfront in a proactive manner feeding, building and making more attempts at peace than any other Nation on earth.

We can give and give, but until we help develop a positive identity for Africa and use the resources in a democratic manner nothing will change for decades to come.

Money is a tool and the best VOICE any nation can have is the development of its resources in a proactive manner for the citizens.

That is the voice Africa needs...development leading to unity.

Takashi
|
Japan
January 2, 2009

Takashi in Japan writes:

I am planning to visit a seminar given by a South African diplomat, about its history, culture, nature, and environments.

I hope I can actually get the ticket and take a seat on that day. And above all, be on the place on that day.

James
|
Connecticut, USA
January 2, 2009

James in Connecticut writes:

Africans need all the help and support from Americans we need to reach out more and help.

Guillermo
|
California, USA
January 3, 2009

Guillermo in California writes:

I'm so glad to hear that United States is working to help Africa with their situation there. One of the greatest problems facing the planet at this time is the epidemic of world hunger. Haiti, only a few hundred miles from the Gulf Coast of this country, is one of the worst suffering areas in the world. Citizens there have taken to literally eating dirt -- they pack dirt, salt, and shortening into a cookie shape and eat them, and feed them to their children as well. Just recently, there was a vote on a resolution of the United Nations, over whether or not food was a basic human right. The measure passed 180 votes to 1 against. The solitary nation to vote it down was the United States. The richest nation in the world, home to some of the greatest agricultural resources in the world, doesn't think that every human being should have access to food. The reason claimed by the government was that the resolution wasn't well worded, which seems a little paltry. So, this season, if you have the option to go to Albertson's or Safeway, or during a cash crunch you can get a payday loan, be thankful, because you are one of the lucky few.

Susan
|
Florida, USA
January 3, 2009

Susan in Florida writes:

@ Guillermo in California -- I am stunned by your entry. What has happened to the country I have loved all my life? The country that has a Statue that invites the poor, the downtrodden, the desperate, to come here for opportunities and for liberty? When did we become a country "for the money, of the money, by the money" only? I wish I could say that I am optimistic about 2009 but after reading about our vote in the UN, I am only saddened.

Peter C.
|
California, USA
January 4, 2009

Peter in California writes:

The present Regional Topics of Africa are as follows:

* African Education Initiative
* African Growth and Opportunity Act
* Malaria Initiative
* HIV/AIDS Initiative
* Policy Overviews
* Women's Justice and Empowerment Initiative
* Confidence and Security Building Measures

Absent from this list are the following:

* African Ecology & Climate Change Initiative
* African Energy & Power Initiative
* Child Welfare Initiative
* African Peace Initiative (incl. pluralism, arms control, SALW provisions)

The Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), when tied to the United Nations Millennial Development Goals (MDG) provides a good vehicle for incentives to friendly governments with a track record of moving towards compliance with international standards. However, it may make "rich nations richer" if managed incorrectly. We must take care to ensure that some portion of this grant system is there as an incentive for governments teetering and in need of the support. Not just those who are already well-on-their way towards achieving these goals regardless. This program should provide a public grade for the world on the effectiveness of the grants, given objective ways to measure the impact of the grant to the recipient nation. Part of the grant making process should ensure that the recipient find a way for accounting for the funds and to measure the effectiveness of the program.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) needs to likewise provide a public grade of its effectiveness, in terms of GDP and GDP per capita impacts, numbers of jobs created or improved because of the program, and so on. While uncertainty exists in global markets, targets may be hard to achieve, and programs need time to gain the traction that planners envisioned. Yet over time, progress should be measurable and objectively monitorable by the US-tax-paying public.

The Agriculture and Food Security (AFS) program should provide status reports as to the amount of acreage under plow, or crop yields increased. The program should also be able to ensure that food crops remain on the lands, as opposed to replanting with non-food cash crops (tobacco, cotton) over time.

PEPFAR needs to remove the ban on condom distribution. The abstinence/fidelity-only program has slipped over the Bush administration in containing HIV/AIDS. Condom distribution should again be supported, taking the onus off other NGOs, and removing the stigma from NGOs and health departments who do provide condoms to stem the tide of the disease.

The President's Malaria Initiative (PMI) has been successful and can be sustained until the crisis is sufficiently contained to permit African nation's own health care budgets to cover treatment and prevention.

Africa Education Initiative (AEI) is woefully underfunded to cover the need of education in Africa. It also needs to provide a longer-term strategy to make sure that teachers are not driven away from their assignments, threatened or killed, or forced to discriminate in their teaching (by the expulsion of minorities or women).

Peacekeeping and Terrorism combined should be planned in conjunction with U.S. Africa Command to ensure that there is a combined regional strategy dealing with the different areas of the continent. In most cases and in the more stable nations, the State Department should lead relations with African nations. In others, or in cases of failed states or pseudo-states which are in states of conflict and crises, the Defense or Intelligence departments may be asked to take a more active role, or even at times take lead on determining strategy and policy.

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