Sunday, November 22, 2015

US Policy Toward Africa:Why It's Important in Today's Global Context

Dr. Sanders answering Questions
on Global Issues

 U.S. Policy Toward Africa: What is it & Why It is Important in Today's Global Context
Speech by
Ambassador Robin Renee Sanders
 Benedictine University, Chicago,  October 29, 2015

The New Global Community
-- Today we are in the midst of a global environment quite different than it was 10 years ago, 5 years ago, or even from last year. We also live in a global context that is a dichotomy: one with opportunities offered through technological advancement that help us live our lives better, longer, and differently, but we also live in a world with great insecurity, extreme poverty and many of humankind living in desperate conditions.  

-- Coming with this dynamic, global context is also a sense of uncertainty as there are more challenges,  an uptick in more unintended and intended consequences to geo-political actions, and new state and non-state actors, who see the world not only differently, but have a different playbook, and play by different rules.  Many, of which, we do not understand here in the West.

-- If you are following the international news today you can see how much the world has changed just this year with the continued surge of the Islamic State (or IS); the massive influx of refugees and migrants into Europe as a result of conflicts in Libya and Syria; the continued tensions in eastern Ukraine; ongoing conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan; and what I call the "Sahel extremism belt," running from Tunis-to-Northeastern Nigerian, Mali, and Niger-over to-Kenya, Somalia, and parts of Tanzania.   

-- Even though we are living in extraordinary times with these extraordinary, daunting world challenges, the U.S. can still make a positive difference. What I mean is despite the challenges in the current global context; the U.S. can have …. and nourish positive relationships.

-- Yes, there is a segment of the world population, in some quarters, particular within extremists groups, that see our values and way of life as a negative, or what I believe and have seen first-hand and  would describe as "the essence of a clash of civilizations" – were our values, way of life is contrary to their socio-political views and actions Unfortunately in the last few years these differences have manifested themselves into horrible acts of terrorism.

-- That being said, the good news is ….. that there are new partners out there, politically, culturally and economically with which the U.S. can further engage for the long term, despite these turbulent times. I would argue that Africa is one of those world regions. 

Africa Emerging Continent, African Leader Nations:

-- So let’ start with answering these questions – why is this region important, and what does this region mean for and to the United States of America as a strategic political, economic, investment and cultural partner. In other words: What are the elements of a US-Africa relationship?

-- If we look at the main themes of current US-Africa relationship, I believe you will see why the Region is vital to the U.S. now and for the foreseeable future:

-- The overarching themes of the current U.S. Government -Africa relationships are:

-- Investing in Africa’s future;

-- Peace and Regional Stability; and,

-- Governing for the Next Generation (meaning focusing on Africa's youth and its future leaders);

-- It's all about demographics, really. But let me be clear when I say demographics I am not talking strictly about population figures (although key), but I see regional demographics as a national security issue and a national strategic foreign policy issue. Thus, what I mean by demographics is – everything measurable and non-measurable (e.g. perceptions) that impacts outcomes and geo-political relationships – this includes in addition to population sizes and breakdowns by age and gender:

·        world resource quantities and where they are the region in the world they are located (i.e. where the oil, timber, jobs, lack of jobs, etc., land and water resources are to;

·        In-country regional and religious differences or groups that might impact world views, encourage conflicts, affect perceptions of an action or statement/cartoons (French, Danish examples); and,

·        The “Singularity” of individual influences (e.g. Pope Francis=positive, Putin=challenge)

Overall, these are the basket of demographic elements that require the U.S. to see Africa today as an important Region to engage with properly and to cultivate positive partnerships.

A Closer Look @ SSAfrica's Geo-Political Demographics:

Taking a closer looks at the specific figures here are some to help put the basket of Africa's demographics into perspective as to the …. what, … the why, …. the needs, and the good news. (Need to note that when I talk about Africa, primarily highlight the 48 countries in Sub-Saharan Region)

 Let's start with the population figures in more detail and go from there:

-- Africa’s population today is reportedly 1.1 billion people and it is on course to reach 2.4 billion people by 2050Its current average yearly growth rate is 2.45 per cent, which will likely be higher than that over the next decades.

--The most significant sub-figure, in the population numbers I just cited, is the figure on youth/young people (ages 10-34), representing about 50 percent  (or 600 million people). This figure will continue to grow over the next two decades. I am emphasizing this sub-figure because I see it as Africa's "population dividend." Meaning for me it is a positive (but of course it has the potential to be problematic if certain development sectors are not addressed more).

The Continent's population stats will move Africa, in the next decade, from the third most populated region in the world to the largest. But,  most of its people could remain below the poverty or extreme poverty level if current development efforts do not  triple.

-- Here is some additional context for you to consider:

-- 75 million – current number of young Africans looking for work now, out of the 1.2 billion working age population world-wide also looking for work; Unemployment is also a world-wide youth issue.

 -- 10 million – number of young Africans of working age added yearly to the 75 million already seeking jobs[/employment according to the African Union (Political Body of African States)];

 -- 547 million – number of Africans living without electricity and energy;

 -- $1.25 – average amount many Africans live on per day, with no hopes to change this[, and few opportunities to improve the quality of life for their families, have access to education, clean water, and face challenges of poverty every single day;]

 -- 847 million/1.2billion – is the current number of hungry people and/or people living in fear of hunger in the world today (this includes those in the U.S.);

-- 239 million of those who are hungry everyday live on the African Continent. (A bit of good news is this 847 million figure is 209 million less than two years ago);[i]

 -- 3 per cent number of African adults with credit cards; only a quarter of young African Adults have accounts at a formal financial institution;

[I was at the United Nations this session, as many of you who were in class session with me this week, heard me talk about how critical this year was for the 197 countries at the UN as they reviewed where development efforts where as a result of the Millennium Development Goals which ran from 2000-2015 and the transition to the new Sustainable Development Goals or SDG's, running from 2015-2030, which hope to further cut these pillars of extreme poverty. There are five overarching SDG goals covering many of the extreme poverty issues I have just mentioned]

 This being said, I want to remind you that I am providing the context as to why Africa is important and that comes with explaining the challenges, which I have just done, but also sharing with you the positives

Here are Some of The Positives:

 -- 7 out of the 10 fastest growing economics in the world are in Africa, although these economic gains are yet to reach a lot of the masses. however, the lives and prospects of some have changed, are changing and producing a growing middle class). However trickle-down economics must come into play more to change the lives of the masses;

-- 31 of the top 1000 Banks in the World on the “This Is Africa,” list are African Banks;

-- 39 African countries are democracies or evolving democracies, using U.S. Government's  AGOA guidelines, out of the 48 countries in the Sub-Saharan Region;

 -- 90 million people in the middle (or consuming) class, largest number the region has ever had, up by 31 million in last 10 years;

-- 736 million – represents the number of mobile phones in Africa of which Nigeria has 100 million.  Africa is the most mobile-ly connected region in the world.

(One billion mobile phones on the Continent (NB: World Bank notes six billion mobiles world-wide of which 5 billion are in the developing world, combining Asia, Africa, and Latin America);

 -- 18 countries have GDP’s of 3-5 per cent on par or higher than the U.S which is estimate to reach about 3.6 per cent;

-- 250 million Africans have bank accounts; and,

 -- Last but not least, the region has collectively and potentially a $50 trillion[iii] dollar economy – making it one of the largest potential markets for U.S. goods, services, investment, trade, and business relationships.

-- In addition, today there are key Africa nations that see the U.S. in a positive light, particularly key economic and political powerhouse leader nations such as South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique, and many others.

-- As noted above, I am arguing that these demographics are strategic issues for the United States as it looks forward in the 21st Century. Because ….the types of relationships that the U.S. forges with the Continent over the next decades will be increasingly more important given the global context we live in today. Why? Because we will need:

·      New  and Strong Allies,

·      Partners on Policy, Partners to build coalitions;

·      Support International arenas such as the United Nations, World Trade Organization, Organization of Islamic States, African Union, APEC, G-77, and G-8;

·      New markets for business and investment

·      Expand and deepen cultural and educational ties

-- Africa is one of the new frontiers now for our policies for these important elements of geo-politics, diplomacy, counter-terrorism, emerging markets, and partners in international fora.

 -- Thus, the U.S. leadership is now focusing more on the region in a way that it never did before – comprehensively and strategically but most importantly in partnership. Actions and steps over the last 10 years - in my estimation – have truly laid a better foundation for the positive footing between the U.S. and Africa Today.

-- Today we have a range of U.S. programs, strategic partnerships, and educational program, economic and investment relationships laying the foundation for greater and more comprehensive relations.

So much so that the President hosted in summer 2014 the first-ever U.S. Africa Summit (never done by any U.S. President, sitting or otherwise), inviting all the African heads of State to the United States for a comprehensive forum to discuss democracy, economic, human rights, and investment issues. He will also hold another business summit with African nations in 2016.


-- So what are the next steps?  How do we expand the elements highlighted above and  build on the current US-Africa relationship to secure a positive relationship with Africa’s  large "basket of demographics," particularly since half of the Continent will be under the age of 35  – in prime education years, prime wage-earning years, prime years to be influenced by new partners.

-- -- Keep in mind, however, my introductory comments as to the current challenges the U.S. faces with some in this age group in certain parts of the world. Let us not also forget that there are similar sentiments of disenfranchisement right here at home, in the United Kingdom, France, and Australia given some of the terrorist incidences that have happened this year where there has been an attraction to join –even in a "lone wolf capacity" - the Islamic State, Somalia’s Al Shabaab, or Al Qaeda inspired groups like AQIM in North Africa or AQAP in the Arabian Peninsula).

-- Given that Africa has this growing "population dividend" that I described above, we have a role to ensure as much of a "quality of life level playing field" on issues – such as reducing extreme poverty, providing educational opportunities, adequate health care, food security, and affordable housing. (many of these adopted at this September's UN Sustainable 2015-2030 Development Goals Sessions) – so that we can expand our ability to not only have new allies, strong partnerships, and policy and economic relationships,

--But because our efforts in this regard will also "help" (but will not totally stem) the possible attraction of people in the (10-34) age range to extremist groups, but more importantly it is the right thing to do and in line with U.S. values, and our historical posture of caring about the well-being of people all over the world.

 -- Rest assured I am not diminishing the need for us to address our own domestic issues of extreme poverty right here at home. (which, includes things  from adequate healthcare-to-unemployment-to-education-to-food security and affordable housing, as we should probably have a similar SDG initiative focused just on our domestic poverty challenges.

So, I want you to keep these 4 things in mind:

·      Appreciate the range of demographics I have shared on Africa's "population dividend," and the positives on economics, political and natural resources areas;

·      Note that ….how the U.S. is viewed is connected to the assistance we provide to Africa's development issues [and having new allies, coalition partnerships, and support in international arenas.]

·      Ensure that the next generation of young Africans sees the U.S. as a friend even if differences may arise on some policy points from time-to-time.

·      Remember that there are 1.6 million Africans in the Diaspora here in the United States, who are here because they believe in our values and our system.

Thus, these are the "why's" as to Africa's importance to the United State.

-- However, I do not believe we need to be constant allies on every single issue, but we need to understand and respect their human cultural differences and their “new global think” enough so that when we do need their allegiance on key international issues, we have a better idea of how to achieve our goal, or handle it, if we don't get their support.  We have to keep in mind it is a two-way street --meaning we also need to listen better to Africa's perspectives in times of policy disagreement.

U.S. Help on Africa's Development?

In order to truly capitalize on the dividends and continue to build a stronger US-Africa relationship, I think the U.S. can continue to do the following, but also put more emphasis on few things:
-- Combating Poverty and Hunger, Improve Health Systems; we have programs such as FEED the Future, Ebola, Pepfar (HIV) and Malaria Initiatives; particularly for at-risk groups such as women, girls, youth, the disabled, and elderly, internal displaced person from conflicts.

-- Using Information Technology to develop more “work around solutions to social, health, financial literacy(see Operation HOPE), and educational access  using IT innovation as well as the 736 million mobile phones on the Continent to do so; Africa Region has the largest number of mobile phones in the world;

-- Assist with climate smart agricultural/food security solutions, and developing climate smart energy answers to bring electricity and energy to the 547 million Africans without it today; Power Africa, and solar solutions are efforts in this area;

-- Work with governments to continue to improve transparency in political and economic processes to ensure good governance, reduce corruption efforts, and the capacity of government institutions to handle their nation's social sector needs; 

-- Assist with access to education (includes vocational and other training); we have the "Young African Leaders' Initiative, Yali, other educational exchange and training programs;

Where we could do more:

-- Help with the housing deficit (if you are poor you are also likely not to have good shelters);

 -- [One of my biggest issues] Expand the number of Small and Medium Size Enterprises (SMEs) as this will help build the Continent’s middle class from its current 90 million, and increase the number of SMEs from the current 331 million.

-- We all have heard that there are 280 million SMEs in the US, which help make up our middle class and are the backbone of our society; for Africa that role would be no different. We do some SME, entrepreneurial training, through the President's Entrepreneurial Initiative, African Diaspora Market Place (ADM), Global Development Lab, and some other on-ground programs, but think we need to do more in these areas, and restart providing vocational training.

-- We, or any other donor, are not going to be able to provide enough formal jobs for the large number of African youth looking for jobs – remember I said 74 million today, 10 million more young people of working age being added to that figure every year.

-- So I believe having a living wage through being an entrepreneur or owning a SME, or having a vocational skill so that one is able to securely provide for one’s self and/or families are key options for more robust U.S.  Remember this will be 600 million young people in the 10-34 years age group.

So How do We Engage?

--Fundamentally, we must engage differently than we have in the past with foreign partners; we must listen more; understand human cultural differences, and that each country may have its own path to further solidifying its own democracy. The question is how we assist, if asked to help, while also taking care of some of the same issues right here at home.

-- We can seek to share our values and principles without appearing heavy-handed, and unconcerned about the plight that everyday people face with the searing demographics I just mentioned.

-- I do believe that there are global human values that most people hold dear: they want to be able to feed, clothes and house their families; live with dignity and respect for human rights, and earn a living wage. [have access to adequate health systems and affordable housing; provide education for their children; and earn a living wage through job creation or through entrepreneurial expression.

-- They want their governments to also be a voice for the voiceless, support having a free press, demonstrate good governance, and ensure a reduction/elimination of corruption.


-- Being treated with dignity and respect in pursuit of the above. (Global Dignity - percepts by Operation Hope: i.e. Every human being has a right to lead a dignified life; fulfill one’s potential and access to a human level of health care, education, income and security.

Thinking Ahead/Think In Time  on The US-Africa:


-- As we in the United States lean forward on these challenges I have highlighted, or look out ahead… at the "basket of Africa's demographics" and the "array of today’s geo-political issues,"  we need to ensure that Africa continues to move up on our list of key places to be fully engaged at all levels.

So on my "Lean Forward," list I have these four things:

1.    Think about building more relations based on partnerships (country-to-country, community-to-community, people-to-people);

2.   Think about the strategic long term with these emerging African nations, its leaders, and its people, particularly its young people. This also applies locally. As you look at your communities and what long term strategic planning you would/could do?

3.     Think in TimeThink in parallel and also strategically about the times in which we live; [What is happening now that is impacting lives, and if that “what” remains the same or changes are there a long term implications.

And last but certainly not least

4. Think about History - Draw on lessons learned from history in the process [of doing 1, 2, and 3].

Here is a "Quick List Check" of some of the main issues I have talked about this evening. People want to:

-- be able to feed, clothes and house their families;

-- live with dignity and have respect for their human rights;

-- have access to affordable health care, and education for their children;

-- earn a living wage through job creation or through entrepreneurial, SME, or vocational expression;

-- live in a country with political transparency, a free press and good governance within recognized legal and regulatory frameworks, have strong domestic institutions; and, a have reduction/elimination in corruption;

Our Global Context:

-- Does include "a clash of civilizations," or world perceptions different from extremists groups

--Africa is and can further be strong partner to the US given the "population dividend" and other key market and resource demographics

In concluding,

To the Benedictine University students here this evening, I know that your intervening college years here, will provide you with the building blocks to become global, domestic, community or family leaders. I hope in the midst of your time here integrity, fairness, and respect for other cultures are also key “take aways.”  I hope that what I have shared with you tonight about global development needs (all applicable domestically) and human dignity expand your thinking  about both the world stage and the domestic front, and particularly about why Africa is important to the U.S.

It is a complicated, tough global environment we live in today and it is constantly changing. You, as future leaders, will need to understand and try to address these changes without losing the sense of who you are as a person -- if you are working at the domestic community level -- or who we are as a nation if you happen to be on the global stage.

Think Smart about the global context we are in today; Think Smart about the future as you will be part of the new global leadership (at any of these stages -- community, family, world levels),  and Think Smart about shaping the new global environment …  Because you will  will have a role in what it will look like …. and certainly what it will be like!  Thank You

A FEEEDS Blogspot 


[i] 9/19/14 CCTV TV live newscast, Miriam Kalma reporting)

[ii] CCTV 9/19/14 live TV newscast Africa Live Report

[iii] UN Week 2014, McKinsey Session on Nigeria, Remarks by Director Richard Dobbs, New York Palace Hotel, N.Y.

[iv] U.S. Small Business Regional III Advocate Official Speech, July 10, 2014, Gallup Headquarters, Washington, D.C. at the FEEEDS-Gallup & Partners,US-Africa Summit Forum

[v]  2012 speech, Commandant Eisenhower Resources College, National Defense University, Washington, D.C. on occasion of ICAF College name change