Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson spoke about U.S. policy towards Africa at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC on April 5, 2011. Before providing an overview of major issues and policies related to the continent, Assistant Secretary Carson addressed the upcoming elections in Nigeria and the situation in Cote d'Ivoire. Assistant Secretary Carson said, "Nigeria is one of the two most important countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and what happens in Nigeria has consequences for Africa, the United States, and the global community. This past weekend Nigeria was to have held the first of a series of elections that will shape the direction of Africa's most populous country and second-largest economy."
He continued, "Nigeria has not had credible national elections since 1993, and overcoming this negative legacy remains a significant challenge. This challenge was manifest on Saturday, as Nigeria's independent electoral body, INEC, intervened a few hours into the polling to postpone the first round of voting for the National Assembly. The postponement was due to a variety of logistical problems, notably the failure to deliver voting materials to numerous polling stations across the country. We share the disappointment of INEC and of the Nigerian people that this important electoral event had to be postponed, and we renew our call for credible and transparent elections in this critically important African country."
Assistant Secretary Carson then focused on Cote d'Ivoire. He said, "The situation in Cote d'Ivoire is frequently compared to that of Libya in terms of the international community's responsibilities to protect innocent civilians. That notion is simply wrong. For the past four months, the United States has been working closely with its African and other international partners to achieve a peaceful outcome to the Ivorian crisis. A robust international peacekeeping force has been on the ground since 2002, beginning first as an ECOWAS operation and then converting in 2004 to a U.N. led effort. The peacekeepers prevented what many analysts believed could have turned into another prolonged bloody civil war like what had occurred in the previous decade in Sierra Leone and Liberia."
He continued, "Over the past four months, the peacekeepers have helped deter and contain violence while ECOWAS and the African Union tried to achieve a diplomatic solution to this crisis. French forces have also played a key role in preventing Cote d'Ivoire's civil war from escalating over the past decade, and, as we see this week, are taking action with U.N. forces to take out Gbagbo's heavy weaponry and thereby reduce the risks to the civilian population in Abidjan. I think these actions demonstrate the willingness and ability of the U.N. and French forces to adapt to the changing circumstances in what has become a highly volatile situation. Without the presence of the peacekeepers, there is no doubt the situation in Cote d'Ivoire would be far worse than it is now."
Assistant Secretary Carson also spoke about the five focal areas of our Africa policy: strengthening democracy and governance; helping mitigate conflict; promote economic growth and development; assist with addressing its health issues; and focus on prevailing over certain transnational problems. Assistant Secretary Carson said, "Over the next year, we will continue to work in close collaboration with our African and other international partners to address the many challenges ahead while capitalizing on the great opportunities that already exist in Africa. The most historic event for sub-Saharan Africa this year is likely to be the emergence of Southern Sudan as an independent nation on July 9, 2011. The referendum was only one component of a still incomplete process. The 17 national elections scheduled for this year across Africa are also noteworthy. Although there's more to democracy than just elections, they do serve to be seen as an important barometer of overall governance, and we must remain proactive in encouraging success."
Assistant Secretary Carson concluded by saying, "The Obama Administration is committed to recognizing Africa's strategic importance and drawing more attention to its enormous promise and potential."
Assistant Carson will travel to Nigeria April 8-11 to observe the country's National Assembly elections scheduled for Saturday, April 9. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) postponed the National Assembly elections on April 2 due to delays in the delivery of voting materials to polling stations across the country. You can learn more about this trip here and read the full text of the his remarks at the Woodrow Wilson Center here.