Released by the Bureau of African Affairs, October 21, 1998
(Text as delivered)
U.S. Interests in Africa: Today's Perspective
Thank you, Professor Bond, for the kind introduction. Dean Anderson,
members of the faculty and Columbia community, students, Your
Excellencies: It is a pleasure to be with you this afternoon. I thank
Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs and especially the
Institute of African Studies for the invitation to be with you today.
I understand Columbia's Institute--with its distinguished faculty--has
been designated a National Resource Center in African studies by the
Department of Education. Moreover, Columbia students come from over 30
African countries. I hope we can have a lively exchange on a range of
I'm sure many of you would agree that this has been a momentous year in
U.S.-African relations. It is the year we heralded Africa's substantial
progress during the first-ever comprehensive visit to the continent by a
sitting American president. But, more recently, it has also been a year
tinged with skepticism, regression, and even by mourning.
The bombings of our East African embassies just 2 months ago were a
sobering reminder of the real and continuous threat Americans and
Africans face from international terror. The blasts in Nairobi and Dar
es Salaam left over 200 dead, 51 of whom--Africans and Americans--were
working on behalf of American interests in the region.
Some may point to these cowardly terrorist attacks as evidence of
Africa's fragility. When viewed in light of recent conflict in the Horn
of Africa, Congo, and Angola, cynics argue that the U.S. ought to give
up on Africa or, rather, never give it a chance. Recurrent instability
has led a number of commentators to conclude rather hastily that the so-
called "African Renaissance" has been a hallucination. Others maintain
we are witnessing the "birth-pains" of a new Africa.
Time will tell, but it may be relevant to recall that the European
Renaissance lasted over two centuries. Bloody, protracted war--and often
plague--dominated at least half that period.
But, analogies aside, Africa's future is, in fact, uncertain. Still, our
stake in Africa's success has never been clearer. I believe the logic of
the defeatists--the so-called Afro-pessimists--is both flawed and
shortsighted. Dismissing Africa's promise as well as its problems is
detrimental not only to Africa but to fundamental U.S. national
Today, Africa stands at a crossroads--a decisive time when its future
hangs in the balance. The challenges and opportunities facing the
African people stand in stark relief. Africa can overcome its troubled
past or lunge back into self-destructive conflict. The United States can
stand on the sidelines, or we can recognize and act upon our growing
interest in a thriving Africa that can take its rightful place on the
Despite today's headlines, there is considerable reason for optimism
about Africa's future. Economies that were growing at less than 2% at
the beginning of the decade are registering growth at more than twice
that level. Some countries are recording double-digit growth rates. The
citizens of over half of all Sub-Saharan African nations are choosing
their own governments freely and holding their leaders accountable.
Indeed, the number of democracies has more than quadrupled in less than
Regional organizations such as ECOWAS and the Organization of African
Unity are intensifying their efforts to prevent and resolve conflicts.
Others, such as the Southern African Development Community and the
revitalized East African Community, are moving toward the establishment
of regional common markets that can become economic engines for the
future. From the resurgence of war-torn Mozambique to the demise of
apartheid in South Africa; from the budding democracies in Benin, Mali,
and Namibia to a fresh start for the great people of Nigeria, there is
reason for real hope for the people of Africa.
Indeed, a politically reconciled, economically strong Nigeria would pay
huge dividends for the entire African Continent. We thus hope Nigerians
will stay the course. Let 1999 mark not only new South Africa's second
democratic election but the true beginning of a lasting democracy in
Yet, clearly, in Nigeria as elsewhere, Africa's progress has been
neither linear nor universal. In recent months, we have witnessed
significant setbacks in several regions. Some countries which were
beginning to recover from conflict have picked up arms again; some
societies which were rebuilding are tearing down; and some governments
which had taken fragile steps toward democracy and reconciliation are
drifting back toward tyranny and repression.
At least eight African nations are involved in a bitter war in the
Congo--potentially one of the most serious conflicts in the world today.
Humanitarian crises in Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan; resumed
fighting in Guinea-Bissau, the face-off in the Horn of Africa; and the
faltering Angolan peace process all must be of significant concern to
the United States.
Indeed, whether the challenge is adversity or opportunity, the reality
is that the end of the Cold War calls for a new paradigm for U.S.
policymakers in Africa. We must resist the temptation to dissipate our
energies in responding solely to the crisis of the day. Our horizons
must be longer term.
First, as one of our two major policy goals, we must work in concert
with Africans to combat the many transnational security threats that
emanate from Africa just as they do from the rest of the world. These
include not only terrorism but weapons proliferation, narcotics flows,
the growing influence of rogue states, international crime,
environmental degradation, and disease. Continued and closer
collaboration with Africans to counter these threats to our mutual
security should be an important priority for U.S. policymakers.
Therefore, we must invest in new strategies in partnership with African
countries, the G-8, and others to combat global threats effectively
before they become more pernicious and pervasive.
We have made a start along this path but, in truth, we have a long way
to go. Two years ago, the U.S. signed the Africa Nuclear Weapons-Free
Zone Treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons now and forever in Africa, but
too few African countries have ratified the agreement. We have cleared
thousands of acres of land mines in Africa, but thousands more acres
remain. We have provided modest amounts of anti-terrorism training to
African countries as well as information on the activities of terrorist
groups, but we need congressional support to do much more.
We have been working with law enforcement authorities from Nigeria to
South Africa to interdict illicit drugs before they hit American
streets. But the U.S. must go further to craft, fund, and implement a
continent-wide counter-narcotics strategy. We have urged concerted
international action to stem the flow of arms, ammunition, and
explosives into Africa's conflict zones. But weapons sales, including
from the United States, continue unabated.
Finally, the Administration has recognized the risk to U.S. citizens and
soil from inadequate aviation safety and security systems in Africa.
Thus, we are launching an innovative "Safe Skies for Africa" initiative
to increase the number of Sub-Saharan nations that meet international
aviation standards. The initiative seeks to make air travel safer for
Africans and Americans and to strengthen airport security to help
interdict would-be criminals and their contraband. The United States
also is sharing our medical expertise through our Centers for Disease
Control (CDC) to combat deadly diseases, like malaria and AIDS, that
know no borders. For the protection of people everywhere, we cannot
allow Africa to remain the world's soft and most accessible underbelly
for terrorists and others determined to do evil.
At the same time, we must press ahead to achieve our second principal
policy goal in Africa; that is, accelerating Africa's full integration
into the global economy. Increasingly, the U.S. economy is fueled by
exports. As we grapple with the consequences of turmoil in both our
traditional and emerging markets from Asia to Brazil to Russia, the
United States cannot afford to write off any potential new export
market. A vast and growing market of 700 million potential consumers,
Africa is in many ways the last frontier for U.S. exporters and
For, despite areas of instability, Africa's economic trends remain
positive. Two-thirds of African nations--roughly 3 dozen countries--have
implemented economic reforms to open markets, stabilize currencies, and
reduce inflation. African governments have privatized over 2,000 state
enterprises in the past few years, raising over $2.3 billion in
government revenue to invest in infrastructure, education, and
healthcare. The U.S. relies heavily on the African Continent for
petroleum and strategic minerals. In volume terms, nearly 14% of U.S.
crude oil imports come from the continent, as compared to almost 18%
from the Middle East. Within a decade, Africa is projected to be the
source of well over 20% of our imported oil.
America's commercial interests in Africa will deepen as U.S. companies
continue to tap this nascent market. American businesses exported over
$6 billion worth of goods last year to Africa and imported more than $16
billion. The U.S. is now Africa's second-largest industrial supplier.
U.S. companies have edged out European and Asian competition to complete
major deals in the region. Examples abound: Coca-Cola recently made a
$35 million investment in a production and distribution facility in
Angola; a consortium comprised of Enron and the Industrial Development
Corporation signed a $2 billion agreement to construct a steel plant in
Mozambique; and, in West Africa, Ghana's stock exchange--although tiny--
is one of the top performers in the world.
A visionary economic policy toward Africa is in our own long-term
interest. Thus, we must continue and intensify our efforts to pass the
African Growth and Opportunity Act. This landmark legislation remains
key to establishing a mature trade and investment relationship with
Africa just as we have with trading partners in other emerging markets.
At the same time, we are implementing the President's own Partnership
for Economic Growth and Opportunity in Africa. We are providing
technical assistance to help liberalize trade and investment regimes,
launching an anti-corruption initiative, extinguishing bilateral
concessional debt, and organizing the first-ever U.S.-Africa Economic
Cooperation Forum. This ministerial level consultative group is
scheduled to meet for the first time late this year. These various steps
are important because sustained economic growth is key to eradicating
Africa's endemic poverty--and the civil unrest which often accompanies
it--and thus key to moving Africa toward lasting peace and prosperity.
Democratic governance and respect for human rights are also crucial to
the goal of integrating Africa into the global economy. Recent history
has taught us that governments which safeguard human rights as well as
political and economic freedoms can more effectively establish the
conditions for sustainable economic growth.
Therefore, the Administration is actively supporting emergent
democracies in Africa. We do so in full recognition that elections--
although necessary--are not sufficient to sustain democratic change. As
a result, we are investing also in the institutional foundations upon
which lasting democracy thrives. We are helping to train legislators,
foster independent judiciaries, encourage constitutional reforms, and
establish genuine respect for human rights. We are active in newsrooms,
universities, churches, community centers, and even army barracks to
bolster press freedom, build strong civil societies, and teach African
militaries the virtues of subordination to civilian leadership.
Equally important, the United States continues to play an active role--
diplomatically and operationally--to help prevent and resolve African
conflicts. Peace and stability are essential to nurturing a civil
society that protects democracy and human rights and fosters an enabling
environment for economic growth and investment. Today, too many of Sub-
Saharan Africa's 48 countries are involved in regional or civil wars,
causing serious humanitarian suffering and destroying the daily lives of
millions of innocent civilians.
U.S. leadership and resources were instrumental in bringing to an end
the protracted conflicts in Mozambique and Liberia. We continue to work
to encourage a peaceful solution to the standoff between Ethiopia and
Eritrea and to avert the resumption of widespread conflict in Angola and
Burundi. We are also pursuing an immediate cease-fire and a lasting
solution to both the internal and external causes of the widening
conflict in the Congo.
As we work to address the crises of the day, we remain committed to
helping Africans over the long-term to build their own capacity for
peacekeeping and conflict resolution. President Clinton's African Crisis
Response Initiative is designed specifically to train rapidly
deployable, interoperable peacekeeping battalions across the continent.
Indeed, African nations have already made important progress in
safeguarding their own citizens and maintaining peace in their own
backyards. West African ECOMOG peacekeepers, for example, helped restore
the legitimate government in Sierra Leone in March and supported
democratic elections in Liberia last summer. Peacekeeping units from
West and Central Africa helped to secure the fragile peace in the
Central African Republic. These are important efforts that we must help
For in Africa, as elsewhere, there can be no progress where conflict is
pervasive. There can be no freedom and respect for human rights where
neighbor is pitted against neighbor. There can be no honest trade nor
honest day's work where government budgets are diverted from development
to destruction, and no serious investment in the future where children
are torn from schoolyards and forced to march in armies.
Ultimately, Africans themselves must determine if their dreams for a
better future will become a reality. We cannot make that choice for
them. Africa is not--and has never been--the United States' own to "win"
or to "lose." But the United States must continue to work in concert
with Africans to help secure the continent's future if we are to be
smart about securing our own. If Africa succeeds, we all--Africans and
Americans--stand to benefit. If Africa fails, we will all pay the price.
Still, we would be foolish to measure Africa's progress in months or
even a few short years. It would be naive to assume that deep-rooted
problems that have plagued parts of Africa for decades will disappear
with the quick wave of a diplomatic wand. Future progress, as in the
present and the past, will be uneven and fitful. There will be rough
patches and occasional reverses. In this regard, Africa's experience
will be no different than that of Europe, Latin America, or Asia. The
difference is: America has never debated whether our interests lie in
remaining actively engaged, even in difficult times, in these other
regions of the world.
The dangers of taking a short-term approach to Africa policy--crisis by
crisis, leader by leader, election by election--are akin to trying to
make a fast buck in today's troubled stock market. If we seek quick
returns over long-term gain, we will never be well-positioned to advance
important U.S. economic and political interests in Africa.
We cannot stand idly by waiting for Africa to achieve perfection before
we engage actively in helping to shape its future. If we temper our
engagement, or hold back until the whole of Africa is on even footing,
we will concede important opportunities to our competitors and worse
still, leave doors open to our adversaries.
Let me conclude with a short story about the problems of taking a
passive approach. A good and faithful man fell upon financially hard
times. Every time he turned around, it seemed another demand was placed
upon him until finally, he owed more and more to his creditors. One
night in his distress, he dropped to his knees, lifted his eyes to
heaven, and prayed, "Dear God, I am in trouble. Please let me win the
The next week he was optimistic his condition would change. After three
months, his faith began to waver, and by the end of the year, he became
angry. "Are you there God?" He pleaded, "I believed you would help me
yet another year has passed and you refuse to answer my prayer."
Suddenly, a dark cloud appeared in the sky, lightning flashed, and a
voice boomed, "I hear you. . .I hear you. In fact, I've heard your every
prayer, but give me a break. The least you could do is buy a lottery
The United States and each of you must do your part. We must invest the
United States' commitment, talent, resources, and energy in Africa in
order to promote lasting peace, security, and prosperity here at home.
We all--especially students of African studies--have a role to play. You
are the next generation of U.S. policymakers, business leaders,
journalists, development experts, and international lawyers. U.S.
interests in Africa will grow deeper still in the next decade--your
Thus, I hope you will remember the words of President Nelson Mandela
spoken just a month ago during his last visit to the United States as
President of the new South Africa. He said, "Though the challenges of
the present time for our country, our continent and the world are
greater than those we have already overcome, we face the future with
confidence. We do so because despite the difficulties and the tensions
that confront us, there is in all of us the capacity to touch one
another's hearts across oceans and continents."
Working with our African partners, we must continue to support
democracy, economic reform, and political stability. Together, we can
and must achieve the great promise of our common future and fashion a
brighter next century for all our peoples. Thank you.
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