Princeton Lyman Interview (2006): Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

A Strategic U.S. Approach to Africa: Conversation with Princeton N. Lyman, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; by Harry Kreisler; February 16, 2006

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Educating the American Public

As an ambassador, you have devoted your life to working with political groups to make them understand that their ideas don't always go with their action. This is a theme that runs through this [report] again and again. Talking a little about the West, what do you see as the most compelling way to make these issues known to the American public, that you're biting the hand that feeds you, in some sense?

There are two things. First of all, it's to recognize what's happening in Africa, that Africans are working on these issues. [The report addresses] this -- and it's a little unfair, because they're very good people, but Bono and Bob Geldof's Live Aid concert, a big thing last year, focused on ending poverty in Africa. You didn't see a single African on the stage. You wouldn't know that African doctors, nurses, lawyers, statesmen are working on these problems. We have to recognize that we have partners, it's not just charity, because when it's just charity people really don't think anything can be done.

Second, we have to understand that we have a stake in it. We talk a lot in the report about the energy issue, that we're already getting 15 percent of our oil imports from Africa. It'll grow in the next five to ten years. We know from our relationships to the Middle East, if we don't pay attention to what that means, we pay a price in the long run. Terrorism is a real issue in Africa. So, it's important for Americans to say Africa's important. It may not be as important as Europe, may not be important as China, but it is important in foreign policy, and therefore we have to allocate it the right amount of attention.

Let's take a second to show the report again, the cover, More Than Humanitarianism: A Strategic U.S. Approach Toward Africa. I believe it's on the Council on Foreign Relations website, so people can download it.

Yes, it is. And hard copies can be ordered.

As we talk about this trade issue, what you're telling us that we have to put the problem of African trade and its consequences for a people in a strategic context, but one should emphasize that as you say in the report, some 34 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is undernourished, double that the rest of the developing world. And we have promised to double aid from $25 to $50 billion in five years.

All the G-8 countries.

All the G-8 countries. So, there is an effort under way to recognize the problem, but we always have to think about these long-term solutions versus emergency aid, because you get famines, we send in the grain, the food, whatever, and then we pull out. But long-term solutions are required.

Right. That's one of the things we talk about. If we're going to increase foreign aid that substantially to Africa, let us make these long-term investments, not go into a sector, then come out of it. There's a need for significant investment in new agricultural technologies for Africa, and we've got to do that, we've got to build up the scientific capability to do that, and in the health field as well, and opening up opportunities for the private sector, trade facilitation and infrastructure.

Infrastructure's very important. The UN did a study on the landlocked countries of Africa. They said transportation costs are so high for those countries to get to the coast that if the workers worked for free they couldn't compete. So, there are lots of good long-term investments that can be made and we've got to do that.

You have a statistic in the report that says by 2015, 42 percent of sub-Saharan Africa will be under fifteen years old, so this is a long-term ticking bomb. Trade means jobs and investment means jobs, and this is a problem you're going to want to address.

The jobs problem is one of the most serious ones, and it raises the issue of population. The report talks about how population and family planning programs are going out of favor in the United States for a combination of ideological and political reasons. That's a mistake. Population's growing very rapidly in some of the poorest countries. We have to come back to family planning programs in collaboration with African countries. This youth bulge is a potentially destabilizing one.

In the context of your report's argument about the strategic importance of Africa, energy is a place to look. Why is that?

Within ten years we may be importing as much oil from Africa as we now do from the Middle East. Africa is one of the main contributors to the increase in world supply. Big producers like Nigeria and Angola will double their production. For big American oil companies like Chevron, Africa's their biggest worldwide exposure. Exxon-Mobile's going to put something like $24 billion into it. Yet this area, this major producing area, which is the Gulf of Guinea, is one of the most unstable areas of any oil producing area in the world, because there is a stealing of oil, it's feeding arms groups, there's a lack of capacity in the area to protect the facilities. So, what we've said is, "Look, we've got to be serious about this, we've got to shift attention. There's no real policy attention toward this. We've got to create a U.S. - Africa energy forum, we've got to work with countries on this, we've got to encourage more transparency in the oil sector so the benefits are going to people, we've got to come in on the security questions of why these armed gangs are getting away with this."

If we've learned anything from the Middle East, we have to care about how the money's used. Billions of dollars are going to pour into Africa from energy. We're going to be drawing on that energy and we need to pay attention to all those implications.

So the report is suggesting that energy development cannot be isolated from the broader context of all of our policies and our goals, because if it's one-sided, then you're going to get a one-sided effect in Africa which will have repercussions. Energy policy can't be just left to the energy companies, in the same way that a policy in the Middle East can't just be a military solution. Is that fair?

That's exactly right. And it's important to differentiate. Energy-producing companies in Africa are not going to be big aid recipients. We have to have a different strategy for dealing with countries for which billions of dollars are going to be rolling in, in terms of oil revenue, and that takes a different kind of diplomacy and a different kind of interrelationship than you'd have, let's say, in poor countries that don't have those resources. But you can't look to the oil companies to address all these issues. They're part of it but it's going to take a lot of government-to-government work, a lot of government-to- civil society work, to do this.

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