I want to thank all of you for the warm welcome here. I am a longtime District resident, so I have walked the streets around Howard University, but I’ve never had the opportunity to come inside and see the building, so thank you. The buildings are impressive, but it’s the spirit of the people who have been here and who are here which is so encouraging and inviting. So, thank you for having me here today. I also want to thank you, Dr. Johnson, the Provost, Dr. Camara, for the thoughtful and informative introductions. I learned a lot listening to you, and I hope that the students who are here with us in-person and virtually also enjoyed those discussions.
Today I’m really excited to have an engagement with you as we think about the future of U.S.-Africa policy. I’m of course really excited to come first to Howard University so early in my tenure and my assignment because Howard is truly one of the Capital’s jewels. The Center for African Studies and the African Studies Department at Howard are, as was discussed, among the best in the nation. And we at the State Department and I personally have long admired your tradition of debate and dialogue and the scholarship of Howard students and faculty. And I think many of you know that Howard alumni play an important role in U.S. foreign policy in the U.S. government. And I hope, as the provost said, that my presence here today will encourage some Howard graduates to think about a career in the State Department, and I would be delighted to talk about that.
As was also mentioned, last month I joined Secretary Blinken on his first trip to the continent as Secretary of State. We traveled to Kenya, and to Senegal, and to Nigeria. And when the Secretary was in Abuja you may have seen the speech that he delivered at the headquarters of ECOWAS. ECOWAS is a group of 15 western African countries that focuses on political and economic challenges in west Africa. In his speech, Secretary Blinken articulated a principle that defines the fresh approach of the Biden-Harris Administration to U.S. policy in Africa. Simply and directly, he acknowledged that the United States can no longer expect to advance our global foreign policy priorities without the partnership of African governments, institutions, and peoples. He said, and I quote: “Africa will shape the future—and not just the future of the people of Africa, but of the world.”
That’s an exciting proposition, and it’s my responsibility in partnership with my extraordinary team at the State Department and across the U.S. government to try and ensure that U.S. policy meets that challenge. In my remarks this morning, I’d like to discuss how what happens in Africa matters to the United States, and how what we do together affects our shared peace and prosperity. I’ll focus on activities in five sectors.
First, health. At home and in Africa, one of our most urgent shared challenges is ending the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthening health security so that we are better prepared to respond to future outbreaks. The African Union and Africa CDC have been global leaders in developing a comprehensive plan to purchase and distribute COVID-19 vaccines across the continent. In support of that plan, the United States has sent more than 90 million doses to 48 African countries, along with more than $1.8 billion in COVID-19 assistance to prevent virus transmission, to improve case management, and to distribute emergency food and humanitarian assistance.
But we share the goal of Africans who want to move from recipient of vaccines to manufacturing powerhouses. That is why through the Development Finance Corporation, the United States is now supporting efforts by South Africa and Senegal to produce the first African-manufactured COVID-19 vaccine. We look forward to seeing these countries and others develop into thriving pharmaceutical hubs.
The recent outbreak of the Omicron variant illustrates that what has been done so far is important, but not nearly enough. We all benefited from the quick action by South African scientists to identify and report the new variant. Their work and transparency are a model for the world. Out of an abundance of caution, the U.S. government imposed temporary, country-based travel restrictions to buy time to conduct a scientific review of the severity and spread of the Omicron variant. We understand that these restrictions are causing real difficulty for those in South Africa and nearby countries and look forward to a timely adjustment of our travel policies. We are learning from this pandemic. We know that viruses don’t respect borders and that the only long-term solution is to vaccinate people everywhere across the world. We will continue to work with our African partners until we can put this pandemic behind us and improve the collaboration between our health systems.
Second, the economy. The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a health crisis; it has caused an economic crisis here and abroad. Many African countries experienced their worst economic downturn in more than 25 years due to the pandemic. Although GPD growth for the continent as a whole is projected to hit 3.7 percent this coming year, we will continue to look for ways to support Africa’s economic recovery. One important example is American backing for the decision to suspend the debt of 32 African countries.
After his trip to the region and exposure to the priorities of our partners, Secretary Blinken charged us with strengthening our commercial diplomacy so that American and African businesses—small and large—do more business together, across all sectors. He urged us to accelerate efforts to fill the infrastructure gap that holds back many African economies by mobilizing foreign investment capital through the Development Finance Corporation, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the U.S. private sector. We are also working to expand opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises, women-owned businesses, and diaspora investments.
This week the Secretary General of the African Continental Free Trade Area is visiting Washington for his first time. Africa is expected to become the fifth largest trading bloc in the world, and we want to be their partner of choice. I want to stress that we do not seek to limit African engagement with other countries. Our goal is to offer better deals that reflect America’s competitive advantages and our values—and deals that create new opportunities for U.S. businesses. Expanding Africa’s economic power is good for Africans and for Americans. We also need to look around the corner, when Africa’s young people will be the global workforce of the future.
Third, the environment. Another area of common challenge is responding to the climate crisis. We understand that the catastrophic impact of the climate crisis is not an abstract concept in Africa but a physical reality affecting lives and livelihoods now. Deforestation, drought, food insecurity and rising sea levels are just a few of the effects Africa is experiencing from the climate crisis they had little to do with creating. These phenomena in turn are affecting the vitality of the earth’s air, water, and ecosystems.
We intend to partner with the African Union, African governments, and African societies to support climate adaptation projects to help Africans respond to these dangers—seeking to help those directly endangered on the continent as well as those of us indirectly affected. To reduce emissions, we will continue to support renewable energy and what is known as green tech. We are proud of the Power Africa program, which has brought electricity to more than 88 million people in Africa since its launch in 2013—and 80 percent of that power generation is based on renewable energy.
Fourth, conflict. The United States plays an important role in promoting peace and stability in Africa. We recognize that millions of Africans grapple daily with growing insecurity—from crime, violent extremism, and internal armed conflict. We engage diplomatically with African, regional, and international leaders and institutions to reduce or end conflicts in African countries such as Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Mozambique, Cameroon, and Mali, because violence in these places steals the future of Africans. These conflicts have given rise to terrible atrocities such as gang rape and ethnic targeting and created humanitarian disasters like child stunting from malnutrition and forced displacement of millions of people. These conflicts set back development and fuel cycles of grievance that perpetuate insecurity.
We also provide assistance designed to professionalize African security forces so they can better protect their citizens, secure their borders, and cooperate with neighbors to combat common threats. When providing our African partners with training and equipment, we stress the need for concrete action to meet human rights standards and to ensure accountability for instances of abuse.
We are mindful of the root causes of conflict, which include marginalization, exclusion, and lack of economic opportunity. To address these conditions, we partner with African governments, the private sector and civil society to promote good governance and expand economic opportunity, especially for youth, women, and minority populations. The absence of peace and prosperity drives migration that is destabilizing to neighboring countries and regions.
All of these sectors—health security, economic growth, climate sustainability, and peace and stability—are underpinned by democracy. Last week the Biden-Harris Administration hosted a global Summit for Democracy. We didn’t host a summit because we think that our democracy is perfect. We know that there is work to do at home and abroad and we wanted to consult with other democracies about how to renew and expand inclusive, accountable, and equitable political systems that unlock potential and prosperity for their citizens. President Biden said, “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it.”
This is a shared struggle. This year in Africa for example we have been witness to the courage and determination of Sudanese civilians standing up to military pressure and to the steadfast commitment of the people of Zambia who refused to allow widespread government restrictions on the opposition, the press, and the freedom of assembly to undermine the credibility of their Presidential election.
When promoting democracy, President Biden has tasked us with fighting corruption. Over his lifetime of public service, he has become convinced that trust in governance is eroded when leaders misappropriate public assets, engage in bribery, or undermine the rule of law. We are now working to identify how best to use government tools from the United States to support anti-corruption policies and practices.
In addition, the Biden-Harris administration seeks to revitalize the importance of human rights in our foreign policy. We embrace this emphasis with the understanding that the United States also struggles with these challenges, especially intolerance. We do not have all the answers but we seek to find solutions together with our African partners and other friends across the globe.
I want to close by admitting to you that at times I find it challenging to talk about U.S. policy in Africa. The continent is so vast and diverse; the history, traditions, and peoples are so complex; the countless challenges and opportunities are at once exhilarating and overwhelming. The five sectors I have outlined today offer one way to organize our efforts and engagement.
Another way is to focus on people, especially the youth, women, civil society, entrepreneurs, traditional and religious leaders, academics and journalists, artists and activists. As Africans strive for safety and security, demand political freedom and economic opportunity, we want to be a valued partner in their struggle and their success.
From my perspective, what is new in our approach to Africa is the recognition—you might argue a belated recognition—of the strategic value to the United States of the political, economic, and cultural power of African countries and peoples. As Secretary Blinken said last month, the United States believes that it is time to stop treating Africans as the subject of geopolitics—and to start treating them as the major geopolitical players they have become.
Thank you very much for coming today, and I look forward to your thoughts and questions.