Building capacity to help Africa trade better

U.S.-African partnerships: Advancing common interests


U.S.-African partnerships: Advancing common interests

U.S.-African partnerships: Advancing common interests
Photo credit: AZRainman | Flickr

Remarks by Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., Under Secretary for Political Affairs, United States Institute of Peace (USIP)


Good morning. Thank you President Lindborg for your very kind and generous introduction. To you and to Ambassador Carson I am grateful for the invitation to participate in this important and timely symposium.

USIP has proven itself to be a unique and vital institution within our policy landscape. It is not only the keeper and dispenser of remarkable expertise in the practice of peace building and conflict resolution, but is also a convener and convoker of first category. USIP brings together some of our best strategic thinkers and most interesting organizations to discuss, debate, and shape American foreign policy.

Today is one such occasion. I am honored to help open this symposium on the relationship between the United States and Africa, with a special focus on the emerging partnerships that will define that relationship in the 21st century....

Today, change has velocity, driven by technology and connectivity. My experience has taught me that American power and American values can have a transformative impact on global change. I believe this is especially true for Africa. The partnership that we offer is especially relevant for countries in the midst of profound transitions from authoritarian to democratic governments, from exclusive to inclusive societies, from autarky models of development to ones based on open markets and regional integration, and from global isolation to intense participation in world events.

Setting the Global Stage

As we consider the purpose and nature of our relationship with Africa, it is important to note two things. First, Africa’s emergence as a point of global interest and strategic convergence. What happens on the continent over the next few years will shape the world’s economy, security, and well-being. Africa is no longer an addendum to global geopolitics. Instead, it is a bridge from the Indo-Pacific region to the larger Atlantic community, while also connecting directly to Europe and the Middle East. In the State Department it touches every geographic bureau, and at the Defense Department it connects to every geographic combatant command. In short, Africa’s centrality makes it immediately relevant to our success and demands attention and engagement.

Second, as far as the United States is concerned, Africa is already a continent of allies and partners. With a few notable exceptions, the vast majority of African states share our commitment to free markets, equitable trade, democracy and the rule of law, secure borders, and effective responses to global terrorist threats.

African states’ progress towards open markets and free trade have spurred economic growth, development, and tremendous opportunity across the continent. Indeed, six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies are in Africa. By 2030, Africa will represent almost a quarter of the world’s workforce and consumers, and by 2050 Africa’s population is projected to double to two billion people.

And our balance of trade with Africa is near parity – thanks to booming demand for infrastructure investment, aircraft, consumer products, and services. African states consistently attract strong investor attention from American companies.

Democracy and the rule of law are also advancing on the continent. Competitive, participatory elections are becoming the norm. Just two weeks ago, we witnessed the Supreme Court of Kenya’s decision to overturn the August 8 Presidential elections, and President Kenyatta’s mature decision to respect that ruling. The independent legal process, and broad support and respect for the Court’s decision, reflect the strength of Kenya’s democracy.

Finally, African allies and partners are stepping forward to lead regional initiatives to address long-running conflicts and humanitarian crises. In the Lake Chad Basin, Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon formed the Multinational Joint Task Force to fight Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa, and are coordinating military operations, civilian security, and humanitarian assistance. The United States is proud to support this and other regional initiatives to bring security and stability to citizens affected by conflict and food insecurity.

Strengthening our Relationship: The Path Forward

Though there is much to commend in recent developments on the continent, we all know that African states continue to face significant challenges. And any relationship, however strong, requires care and nurturing if it is to grow. As President Trump, Secretary Tillerson, and our national security team engage with our African partners, they will be guided by four strategic purposes.

Advancing Peace and Security

First, advancing peace and security. Doing so, yields dividends for citizens in Africa, and advances our own national security.

We are looking to African partners to take the lead in resolving regional conflict, and we will continue to partner with the African Union and regional organizations that lead successful efforts to end violence and prevent mass atrocities. While our hope and commitment to seeing an end to the devastating man-made crises in DRC, South Sudan, and other locations is enduring, the long term sustainability of our financial commitment requires continuing contributions from our assistance partners. We will also require greater political commitment from African leaders who want peace and stability in their countries and in their region. This will ensure that our support and investment is effective and enduring.

On the continent, we are working to build the capacity of regional peacekeepers, whose numbers continue to increase in Africa. In the past year, we have provided training to peacekeepers from over 20 African countries actively engaged in UN and African Union (AU) peacekeeping operations. This engagement has allowed more than ten battalions to deploy more effectively into some of the world’s most dangerous operations in Somalia, Mali, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Generously, Africans now comprise over 70 percent of the peacekeepers in Africa, up from 40 percent ten years ago. We acknowledge that peacekeeping comes with a tremendous risk. We both mourn and honor those Africans who have given their lives in peacekeeping operations.

The United States also addresses peace and security through humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations such as refugees and internally displaced people. In 2016, we provided more than $1.5 billion to UNHCR’s humanitarian operations. With the support of USAID and the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration – for example – an estimated 1.8 million people in South Sudan receive life-saving humanitarian assistance every month.

Our work to advance peace and security is not just regional. Increasingly, it is global. African states are partnering with us to address the danger that North Korea presents to the world. We asked African countries to join us in restricting political and economic engagement with North Korea, shutting down North Korea’s illicit trade networks, and publicly opposing North Korea’s reckless missile and nuclear tests. Numerous African partners have taken concrete actions, but more needs to be done.

Countering the Scourge of Terrorism

Second, countering the scourge of terrorism. This Administration seeks to partner with African allies to confront and counter terrorism in Africa, including defeating Boko Haram, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, and ISIS-West Africa. In recent years, African countries have intensified their regional and domestic efforts to take greater ownership on this front, often with great success. In Somalia, the African Union and Somali security forces are driving out al-Shabaab. Working through AU leadership, regional peacekeeping partners such as Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Burundi, and Djibouti are helping to lead the way in this effort.

Military, law enforcement, and intelligence tools are vital to defend against these threats, but military force alone is not enough for a sustained peace. We must work with our partners, including civil society, traditional authorities, and religious leaders, to address the root causes of conflict, combat marginalization, and create economic opportunity. There is no long-term solution to terrorism absent this comprehensive approach.

Any progress in our counter-terrorism efforts, however, will be undone by abusive and illegal behavior by security forces. We will continue to hold our allies to the highest standards and ensure that individuals who fail to respect human rights in this important fight are held accountable.

The challenge now is for our African partners to complement their successes on the battlefield with trained law enforcement personnel to provide civilian security and economic policies to kick start moribund local economies.

Increasing Economic Growth and Investment

Third, promoting prosperity through economic growth and investment. This Administration seeks to do business not just in Africa, but with Africa, moving the focus of our economic relationship with the continent from aid to trade and investment. Trade will be free, fair, and reciprocal, and our investors will be more competitive. This is about creating jobs for both Americans and Africans throughout the continent.

One of our most important bipartisan endeavors in the economic arena is the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA. AGOA has been the cornerstone of U.S. economic engagement with countries of sub-Saharan Africa since 2000.

To highlight a few of the achievements:

  • U.S. investment in sub-Saharan Africa increased from $9 billion a year in 2001 to $34 billion in 2014 and created over 300,000 jobs across Africa.

  • U.S. exports to Africa rose at an even faster rate, from $6 billion in 2000 to $25 billion in 2014.

  • U.S. imports from sub-Saharan Africa under AGOA totaled almost $11 billion in 2016, a 14% increase from the previous year alone.

These successes, and the knowledge that trade helps strengthen democratic institutions and reinforce regional stability, are prime reasons the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly approved legislation in 2015 to re-authorize AGOA for ten more years.

We remain committed to our economic partnerships with Africa and will continue to seek opportunities to strengthen two-way trade and investment. USAID, for example, has established three trade hubs to help the African private sector take advantage of AGOA and expand exports to the United States. Additionally, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, or MCC, provides economic assistance to governments that have already established good policy environments. Most of the MCC’s work has been and continues to be in Africa.

Promoting Democracy and Good Governance

Finally, promoting democracy and good governance. Efforts to secure enduring peace are undermined when governments fail to provide good governance and uphold the rule of law – the foundation for security and the driver of inclusive economic growth in free societies.

We see the corrosive effects of corruption as fundamentally detrimental to the future success of African societies. An AU study estimated corruption costs the continent roughly $150 billion per year. Bribes and low-level corruption worsen poverty and inequality, and harm citizens’ faith in government. Corruption – particularly at the highest levels – deters foreign investment, foments instability, and diminishes the capacity of security forces and other institutions to deliver basic services.

The United States will continue to partner with regional organizations to advance good governance and the rule of law. In The Gambia, when President Jammeh reneged on his commitment to accept the results of the presidential election in December 2016, the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, stepped up with other regional leaders and took a principled stand for democracy. ECOWAS and regional leaders organized a strong diplomatic campaign to influence President Jammeh to give up power. He ultimately stepped aside, peacefully ceding power to his democratically elected successor, President Barrow. This was an excellent example of an African-conceived and African-managed effort in strengthening democracy, and one that we were proud to support.


Africa is a place of trusted friends and partners. We must continue to journey together in our quest for peace and security, inclusive democracy and good governance, a trained work force with economic opportunities, and an empowered civil society. As an old African proverb says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We plan to go together with our African partners.

Thank you again for the opportunity to be here today and for your commitment to advancing the longstanding ties between the United States and Africa.


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