Panel Discussion on Africa, January 22

More than 15 ambassadors posted to the U.S.A. from various countries were present at the stimulating panel discussion entitled: “The Political, Economic and Security Challenges Facing Africa Today,” which took place on Tuesday, January 22, 2019 at the Department of State. In addition to our three distinguished speakers, H.E. Carlos Dos Santos, Ambassador of the Republic of Mozambique; H.E. Dr. Ngosa Simbyakula, Ambassador of the Republic of Zambia; and H.E. Dr. Kerfalla Yansane, Ambassador of the Republic of Guinea, AAFSW was very happy to welcome: H.E. Domingos Sarmento Alves, Ambassador of Timor Leste (East Timor); H.E. Francisco Campbell, Ambassador of Nicaragua; H.E. Sidney Stanley Collie, Ambassador of Bahamas; H.E. Mohamed Siad Douale, Ambassador of Djibouti; H.E. Sankatana Gabriel Maja, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Lesotho; CDA Benjamin Manirakiza of the Republic of Burundi; CDA Amb. Sheku Mesali of the Republic of Sierra Leone; H.E. Monica Nashandi, Ambassador of Namibia; H.E. Mahamadou Nimaga, Ambassador of Mali; H.E. Dr. Thelma Phillip-Browne, Ambassador of St. Kitts & Nevis; H.E. Sooroojdev Phokeer, Ambassador of Mauritius; H.E. Etoundi Essomba, Ambassador ofCameroon; and H.E. Yasser Reda, Ambassador of Egypt.

The three panelists represent different regions of Africa that are faced with varied political, economic, and security challenges as well as complex international political and security agendas. These topics were discussed during the presentations as well as during the question and answer segment that followed the panel discussion.

Ambassador Carlos Dos Santos who most recently served as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom (2011-2015) where he was voted “Best Diplomat of the Year” (2013), mentioned that the African Union (AU) which was founded in 2001, a continental union consisting of 55 countries, is working towards a peaceful, prosperous, and integrated Africa. There is a commitment by all Africans to work towards “the Africa we want,” respecting all human rights and restoring democracy in all African nations without conflicts or military coup d’états. There is a spirit of Pan-Africanism, or, an African Renaissance, which is the strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the African Continent over the next 45 years, otherwise known as Agenda 2063. It builds on and seeks to accelerate the implementation of past and existing continental initiatives for growth and sustainable development. Part of the Agenda 2063 is the strengthening of the intra-African trade (African Continental Free Trade Agreement AfCFTA).

Dr. Kerfalla Yansane, as a Former Governor (Central Bank of Guinea), largely contributed to the restructuring of the Central Bank and the Guinean financial sector bringing inflation from three digits down to one digit, while over the past 20 years, Ambassador Yansane was privileged to be affiliated with the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC), the African Capacity Building Foundation, the United Nations Committee for Development Policy, and the Policy Advisory Group of the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor through the extension of micro finances services — World Bank.

As such, Ambassador Yansane emphasized the fact that politics, economy, and security in Africa are interrelated. African countries often exhibit vulnerability due to lack of resilience in sustaining “shocks,” i.e. rain / drought, debt / unemployment. African nations also exhibit fragility as many of their institutions are weak, i.e. there is not enough trained human capital to manage the natural resources which may lead to “bad economic deals” for these nations. Further, the recent decline in oil and mineral prices has brought about monetary devaluation. Weak institutions can translate in crises in health, homegrown or imported security concerns and terrorism, civil society unrest during elections (violence, conflicts), as well as general unpreparedness and weak capacity to respond to other crises. If the African nations boost farming and invest in their infrastructures such as energy, transportation, and telecommunications, then Africa can become an agricultural export giant. Further, minerals need to be processed in Africa as compared to being exported in their primary state (raw material) as it is the current practice (i.e. bauxite), which is a “bad financial deal” for Africa. Targets of the Agenda 2063 include the strengthening of the African democracies with dependable checks and balances of all powers (executive, legislative, judicial), so that it becomes obvious that the African judicial system is strong enough to protect foreign investments in the African nations where corruption is often an obstacle to the sustainability of such investments. Ambassador Yansane concluded by stating that the 21st Century can be “claimed” by Africa if all African nations work together not just to “win the war” but “win the peace” by promoting strong institutions, economic stability, and introduce concrete projects for sustainable development.

Dr. Ngosa Simbyakula, who is the 16th Ambassador of the Republic of Zambia to the United States of America and is also concurrently accredited, on a non-residential basis, to Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Belize, Haiti, Guatemala and Honduras, marveled at the fact that Africa is blessed with a wealth of natural and human resources and it could become the richest continent in the world. However, Africa has many diverse countries with very different economies, population size, and growth. One of the debilitating issues for the African nations’ governance and stability has been a prolonged culture of no regular elections, no term limits, as well as frequent military takeovers.

At the same time the Berlin Wall fell down in 1989 in Europe, most African nations underwent a demilitarization phase in their governance and the rule of law was firmly introduced. However, lack of strong government institutions and weak judicial system may still lead to corruption in the economic management of several African countries. As 65% of Africa’s population consists of young people, African nations need direct and sustainable investment to introduce jobs and improve the economy. Monetary aid, such as the PEPFAR (U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in Africa) has accelerated the progress toward the control of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. However, monetary aid such as this was not enough to create sustainable jobs for the young Africans.

It is obvious that the Chinese companies are risk neutral and are more willing to invest in Africa than the American companies which are usually risk averse. As agrobusiness can be very profitable in Africa, U.S. companies like the Seaboard Corporation have invested heavily in Africa. Still, the security forces of the African nations need the help of the western countries to combat terrorist groups such as the Boko Haram (West Africa) or Al-Shabaab (all of Africa) by getting the right equipment and training to confront terrorism. Terrorism in Africa has resulted in millions of refugees and displaced persons.

Other issues that Africa faces today include the small percentage of the middle class as compared to its total population (only 300 million people out of approximately 1 billion people comprise the middle class in Africa) which may affect the stability of nations, the brain-drain (the 6th sub-region of Africa is the African diaspora – originally, left Africa on student scholarships), youth and women need to be more involved in all the processes (AU Compact — AU Commissioners: 50% women – 50% men), and the necessity to increase the intra-African trade which today takes place in only 18% of the African Continent and it is mainly regional as well as introduce the concept of one market and the free movement of goods and people.

AAFSW and its Board, as well all the AAFSW members and guests present at this event, would really like to congratulate and thank AAFSW Program Chair Sheila Switzer for preparing such an amazing and informative program and for bringing so many Ambassadors from various African nations together to have an open and frank discussion about the state of Africa today and the hopes its people have for the Continent’s future. AAFSW and its Board would also like to thank AAFSW Office Manager Barbara Reioux for all the reservation arrangements and for all her efforts for the success of this program.

Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, PhD
AAFSW President