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Africa’s Growing Strategic Importance


More than Humanitarianism: A Strategic Approach Toward Africa, a recently released report on Africa issued by the Council on Foreign Relations, identified four issues of increasing importance to U.S.-Africa relations: energy, competition from China, terrorism, and the growing impact of HIV/AIDS.

Director of Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and project director for the report, Ambassador Princeton Lyman told Carol Castiel, host of VOA News Now’s Encounter program, that a lot of attention was paid to Africa during the 2005 meeting of the world’s major industrialized nations, or the G-8. But the G-8 treated Africa “almost as a charity case rather than as a partner,” and the United States concentrated primarily on humanitarian aid rather than on security and economic concerns.

Stephen Morrison, also a project director for the report, agreed. Mr. Morrison is director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He said that the United States needs a more strategic and comprehensive approach to its policy in Africa.

Even though levels of U.S. assistance to Africa have steadily increased over the past decade, according to Ambassador Lyman, a former envoy to South Africa and Nigeria, half of that help has been in emergency, rather than development aid. Nonetheless, he praised the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR; the Millennium Challenge Account, the innovative foreign assistance program that encourages economic and political reform; and the U.S. commitment to African peacekeeping. Stephen Morrison added that Washington must to do a better job of integrating such disparate, but important, initiatives into a more coordinated, coherent policy. He also advocated for a more robust U.S. diplomatic presence in strategic places such as northern Nigeria, coastal Kenya, Sudan, Liberia, and Ethiopia. Such a shift would be in line with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s goal of redeploying U.S. diplomats from Europe to critical emerging areas such as Africa.

According to Ambassador Lyman, China - a rapidly growing global economic power - has a strong need for Africa’s energy and mineral resources. The communist nation has deepened and broadened its presence over the past decade throughout Africa. Moreover, as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, China is in a position to “back up its partners that might run into trouble on human rights grounds,” such as Nigeria, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, thereby undermining U.S. goals of supporting greater democracy in Africa and exacerbating tensions between the United States and China.

Stephen Morrison said that Washington must do a better job of assessing the consequences of China’s growing role in Africa. At the same time, Washington needs to “expand its dialogue” with the Chinese, who represent a competitive challenge on the continent. In view of America’s increasing dependence on oil imports from Africa - expected to increase from 15 % to as much as 25 % over the next decade - Mr. Morrison suggested that the United States urgently needs to develop a security strategy for the Gulf of Guinea. Ambassador Princeton Lyman noted that the United States should do more to invest in key economic sectors and open up markets to African agricultural products.

For full audio of the program Encounter click here.