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Congressional Changes Focus New Attention on US Foreign Policy toward Africa


Thursday’s election concession by Republican Senator George Allen in the state of Virginia sealed a Democratic party takeover of control of the United States Senate. Allen, a former state Governor and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, was defeated by former Navy Secretary Jim Webb by a slim seven-thousand vote margin to give Democrats a 51-49 seat majority in the upper house of Congress. Coupled with the Democratic capture of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, the results are expected to affect the way both chambers shape American foreign policymaking.

Chris Fomunyoh, Senior Associate for Africa at the National Democratic Institute in Washington, says that African nations are closely observing committee assignments and upcoming legislative proposals for signs of potential changes in US foreign policy.

“People will be waiting, not just in Sudan, but across the African continent to see what the new Congressional leadership will do in terms of influencing US Government policy towards Africa and especially crisis spots such as Darfur and Sudan,” noted Fomunyoh.

Fomunyoh says Senate committee chairmen and ranking members will provide the driving force behind any new initiatives and changes in Washington’s Africa policy.

“I think that the changes in the Senate will bring to the fore Senators who have traveled extensively across the continent and who know the continent well. I’m thinking about Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) and Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI),” he said.

Chris Fomunyoh notes that the Democratic leaders’ knowledge and solid experience with African issues, as well as that of their Republican counterparts, indicates an agenda of continuity toward the continent.

“Many Washingtonians would say that the Foreign Relations Committee has functioned pretty well together, given the very excellent, cordial relationships that exist between (outgoing Committee Chairman Senator Richard) Lugar (R-IN) and Senator Biden. And I think that with regards to Africa, one must acknowledge that the Bush Administration has made a considerable amount of resources available to the African continent through the Millennium Challenge Account or through the resources that have been put into reinforcing the capacity of militaries to deal with peacekeeping issues on the continent or in the area of HIV-AIDS, for example. So the hope that many Africans see with the change or turnover on the Congressional side is that those Senators or members of Congress will now lend their support to make sure that the initiatives that have been started by the Bush Administration could be fully funded and could leave a sustainable impact on the African continent,” he said.

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