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Top State Department Official Affirms US Commitment to Africa

The Obama administration's top official for Africa says the United States intends to have astronger partnership with the continent. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson spoke at the Center for American Progress (9/15) in Washington.

"In the past four months, since I became assistant secretary, it is clear to me that President Obama has a strong, continuing and personal interest in what happens on the continent. And that he intends to give Africa a much greater priority among our foreign policy interests," he says.

Areas of concern

"First, we will work in partnership with African governments and civil society to strengthen democratic institutions. Second, we will work for sustained economic development and growth across the continent. Third, we will also continue to maintain our historical focus on health issues," he says.

The State Department official says the U.S. will also work to "prevent, mitigate and resolve conflicts and disputes" -- and deal with the growing problems of narcotics trafficking, climate change and energy security.

"The world of geo-strategic politics continues to shift as the world community leaves behind the challenges and the chessboard of the global cold war era and moves towards a future that is more global, more resource conscious, more affected by issues that know no borders," he says.

Meet and greet

Carson says the Obama administration has proven its interest in Africa with numerous tripsto the continent by U.S. officials. This includes a seven-day visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as the president's visit to Ghana.

President Obama hosts a luncheon for African heads of state attending the U.N. General Assembly session and will meet with African leaders invited to the G20 summit in Pittsburgh September 24th and 25th.

"The president has made it clear that despite the very serious and well-known challenges that confront Africa today, we remain optimistic and hopeful about the continent. We believe in Africa's potential and its promise," he says.

However, he says Africa is poor, adding that its people are "disadvantaged by poor governments, poor infrastructure, natural and man-made disasters." Many suffer from what he calls a harshness of life that is often daunting.

"We must seek out and publicize the progress that is occurring to give hope to others and encourage the kind of investment in people and countries that is critical," he says.

Asked about the killing of a suspected terrorist in Somalia by U.S. special forces, Carson says it probably makes all those who work in East Africa safer and more secure.

He calls Nigeria the "most important country in sub-Saharan Africa" because of its population,oil and peacekeeping capability. But he says Nigeria, like other countries on the continent, has failed to live up to its potential. He cites corruption and violence in the Niger Delta as some of the reasons.

On Zimbabwe, he says President Mugabe and his party have failed to live up to the agreement that brought about a unity government with the opposition.

Carson says Africa will help shape the 21st Century, adding the United States cannot ignore the role its people will play in the international community.