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America’s Top Diplomat for Africa Bullish on the Continent’s Future

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson

At the annual meeting of the African Studies Association in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson spoke on a range of things that make him optimistic about Africa’s future.  One was the movement toward free and open elections in a number of states, including Nigeria.  “Africa’s largest state had elections that, though not perfect, reflected the will of the people.” He said there had been election progress in a number of countries and that the preparations underway for elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the end of this month are headed in the right direction.

Carson was bullish about Africa’s economic growth.  “Africa has enormous promise in its people and resources,” he said. But while praising Africa’s 5.5 percent annual economic growth rate as “a good sign,” he noted that African trade accounts for only 2 percent of global trade. He added that trade between African countries is the lowest of any other region of the world, reflecting that  “development and economic reform continue to struggle.”

Carson also spoke of the Obama Administration’s work with African governments to build better healthcare systems and to improve agriculture through the Feed the Future Program. “I can’t say enough about the need for better agriculture,” he said.  “Seventy percent of the African population depends on agriculture as a primary or secondary source of income.” He acknowledged that African farmers use less fertilizer, have poorer seeds, and rely primarily on rain for irrigation. “We need to bring a green revolution to Africa, “he said.

The African Studies Association, an Aid for Africa member, is the largest organization in the world devoted to promoting information exchange about Africa and the study of Africa across all academic disciplines. ASA has some 1,700 members throughout the world.  About 1,000 individuals attended the annual meeting in Washington, including scholars, researchers and experts on Africa, African ambassadors to the United States, and high-level U.S. officials, including Assistant Secretary of State Carson.