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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The Future of U.S. Policy toward Africa

One of the most important challenges in a document like this is addressing the American institutions and the American constituencies. What do you hope to achieve with this report with regard to elevating American consciousness?

Well, it's interesting, Harry, that there has been a growing number of constituencies concerned with Africa, and we see this as an important strength. I mentioned before that Africa isn't a partisan divided issue, which is important. You have a tremendous growth within the religious communities focused on Africa, the evangelical community, which played a big role in getting the Bush administration to focus heavily on the Sudan civil war, which is a Muslim/Christian conflict, but then they've [also] turned their attention to HIV/AIDS and have been a major influence on having more done on that. And then you have the religious groups which worked on debt relief in Jubilee 2000, which has resulted in more debt relief. You have a large involvement now of the public health community across the United States in not just HIV/AIDS but TB and malaria.

And so, with these growing constituencies, along with the more traditional constituencies for Africa, the African-American community which has been active, and other religious groups and NGOs, what we're hoping is that they will come together, to see that when we say "more than humanitarianism" [it's not] that we're playing down the importance of the humanitarian issues but that seeing them in this broader context is a basis for getting a better Africa policy.

What about the argument that in the present environment the U.S. government is losing the structural capacity to come up with a coherent strategy? In the report you point out that there are three military commands to deal with Africa. If you're talking about energy policy, you're talking about bringing in [many different] parts of the federal government, and so on.

It is a challenge. One of the ironies of this administration is that they've created more different entities to give foreign aid than we've ever had before. They created the Millennium Challenge Account, which is separate from AID, they created the AIDS Relief and put it in the State Department, and now you see Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying, "Wait a minute, I can't coordinate these things." She's now created a new position for the head of AID to be a coordinator for aid assistance, to try and get some cohesion.

I think the only way you can do this is to give real authority to people working on Africa and say, "Look, you have the backing of the president and the secretary of state to pull in the people necessary to get people working together around these problems." I've been in the government long enough, or was, to [know that] formal reorganizations are not often the answer. But you can create cohesion of different entities and agencies around a problem when the senior people in the administration from the president on down say, "This is important and I want it done, and this is my person -- " whether it's the assistant secretary for Africa, or the NSC advisor on Africa, " -- [who is] speaking for me, and we want it done." And then you get the kind of cooperation necessary. If we get that, then the Secretary of State doesn't have to do everything, but she can make sure it's being done.

How do you deal then with the problem of the overemphasis on one region and one part of the world? At the height of the Cold War, when we had a lot more resources, where we weren't challenged by as many other actors, such as China and India, we were able to focus on the Middle East, on Asia, think about Africa. But now we seem to have gone in a uni-regional direction. How do we right that balance? Is this report part of that effort?

I hope it helps in this regard. Of course, we're having conversations with the administration on the report, and with Congress. I'm very happy to say that two of the senators who lead the Africa sub-committee in the Senate, Senators Martinez and Feingold, have sent this report under a personal letter to seventy-five other senators and said, "This is an important report." It's going to be hard, and it's going to be a tough battle for resources. The president says we're going to double aid to Africa but that's going to be very tough to do. But when the secretary of state talked recently about transformational diplomacy, moving away from some of the focus in just some regions and not in others, and shifting resources, including Africa, it was in our view a step in the direction.

I also have a feeling that there is sympathy in the administration, and in parts of Congress, to say, "We do have to look at Africa strategically, not just as a charity case. We do have a lot of interests there." They may not take the place of our interests in the Middle East, or someplace like that, but they are important, they have to be done.

You allocate, within reason, responsibilities. We say if you're really going to increase aid to Africa that much, or even half that much, think about how we're going to use those resources strategically, rather than just doing it in response to emergencies.

The report seems to be suggesting that we've got to focus on these problems now so that we don't have to turn to a military solution in some long-term response, because that won't solve the problem then anyway.

That's right. Look at the situation in the delta region of Nigeria, one of the big oil-producing areas, which has for a combination of [reasons including] neglect, environmental damage, discrimination, etc., deteriorated from a deep environmental social problem into one now where there's an armed insurgency, criminal gangs and corruption at a major scale, which is creating a whole new dimension of security problems. That could get worse and disrupt the supply of energy out of West Africa. You want to get in on those problems before they deteriorate to that level, or deteriorate worse.

Our program will be watched by a general audience, and also by students, so I have two final questions for you. One is, how can a general audience make a difference beyond obviously reading this report?

Two ways. There are a lot of opportunities to be involved through a lot of organizations. Some are advocacy organizations, some are religious organizations, some are NGOs involved in programs related to Africa. They are not just charity organizations. These are programs that are building capacity, supporting women in Africa -- some of the women in Africa are phenomenal in the peace process and in the political process. There's a wonderful organization called Women Waging Peace. There are lots of organizations that people can get involved in.

But it's also communicating with our leaders in Congress and saying, "We think Africa is important," when they come home. book coverI've talked to congressmen about issues like this and they say, "I agree with you, but when I go home nobody ever asks me about them." So, that's important.

For the students, there's quite a movement across the country on the Save Darfur Coalition, which is very strong, grew out of the students and now is playing out across the country, and it's having an impact. I know more students are studying African affairs. I teach a course on Africa at Georgetown and it's full. My colleagues around the country who teach courses on Africa are finding a growing interest among students, and that's a very healthy thing.

Ambassador Lyman, let me show your report again. It can be downloaded from the Council on Foreign Relations website. I want to thank you very much for doing the report, coming back as a former graduate of Berkeley to be on our program today, and helping us think about these very important issues. Thank you very much.

Well, thank you, Harry, in turn.

And thank you very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.

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