Washington, DC — The top Africa policymaker in the U.S. Department of State, Constance Berry Newman, has submitted her resignation, according to several government sources who asked not to be identified.
The sources said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has chosen her former Africa aide at the White House, Jendayi Frazer, to succeed Newman as assistant secretary of state for African affairs. Frazer is currently the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa.
There has been no official announcement or confirmation of Newman's departure, which is not expected to occur immediately. Her replacement will face urgent issues of conflict and disease in Africa but also increasing pressure from Britain, Washington's closest ally, to do more to promote African economic development.
When Rice succeeded Colin Powell as Secretary of State in January, there was speculation that she would name Frazer to a senior position. Frazer served for nearly four years under Rice as special assistant to the President and senior director for African Affairs at the National Security Council (NSC) in the White House, before becoming ambassador last August. She is a long-time Rice protégée, earning a PhD. in political science from Stanford University, where Rice was professor of political science and later provost. Fraser also holds a B.A. and two master's degrees from Stanford.
When Rice became secretary, Frazer had been on the job in South Africa only five months, and friends said she had much that she wanted to accomplish in the post. She has pursued an active agenda as ambassador, traveling to schools, opening HIV/Aids treatment programs and making speeches to a variety of gatherings across the country.
In a February address to the South African Institute for International Affairs in Johannesburg, Frazer said she expected Africa policy in President Bush's second term to be "characterized by continuity," which she said "is great news for the African continent." Outlining the policy she helped to shape while at the National Security Council, Frazer said: "Under President Bush's leadership, the U.S. has developed serious partnerships with African countries, more than doubled our development assistance and expanded our trade relationships. This deep engagement reflects the President's personal commitment to Africa, and his understanding that what happens in Africa matters to the U.S. It is key to our own pursuit of our global strategy."
Because of her lead role in formulating and implementing that strategy, as well as her close personal association with Rice, many Africa watchers believed Frazer would be back in Washington sooner rather than later, despite her obvious relish for the South Africa post. "When I saw Jendayi, with her mother and her sister, seated right behind Condi Rice during the Senate confirmation hearings in January, I thought something must be up," said Melvin Foote who heads the Constituency for Africa, a Washington advocacy organization. "To me it was a sign that Jendayi might again be playing a bigger role in U.S. policy towards Africa," he said.
Rice's confirmation marked the second time - in successive administrations - that women simultaneously occupied the offices of secretary of state, assistant secretary of state for Africa and senior director for Africa at the NSC. Susan Rice served as assistant secretary and Gayle Smith was at the NSC while Madeleine Albright was secretary of state during President Clinton's second term. Rice's tenure is the first time that African American women have held all three posts, and that will continue to be the case when Frazer replaces Newman later this year.
Newman, who became assistant secretary last June after heading the Africa bureau at the U.S. Agency for International Development, returned late last week from a visit to West Africa, with stops in Nigeria and Cote d'Ivoire, where she met President Laurent Gbagbo to underline U.S. support for the African Union's mediation effort, led by South African President Thabo Mbeki.
Last month, she traveled to Malawi to underscore American backing for the government's reforms by announcing a $200,000 grant for the country's anti-corruption agency. She also visited Mozambique for a meeting with the newly installed president, Armando Guebuza. In February, Newman convened a meeting of foreign ministers from Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in an effort to ease mounting tensions that threaten the Congo peace accord.
"I hate to see Connie go," said Anthony Carroll, a Washington attorney with extensive Africa experience. "She has managed to do a lot in a short period."
However, Newman's friends say she felt she couldn't be totally effective without the close working relationship with the Secretary that she had when Powell was in office. "She wanted to know that they wanted her to stay, and she never got that signal," said one associate. Government sources said that last month, just before Rice's departure for Asia, Newman submitted her resignation, and it was accepted.
Word of Frazer's return to a senior administration job have elicited generally positive responses from many of those actively engaged in African issues here. She is widely praised for both her energy and her intellect, and she is known to have a good personal relationship with President Bush as well as with Rice. "It is obvious that having an assistant secretary with political clout and high-level access is going to be helpful to Africa." Carroll said.
"Jendayi is respected by Republicans and Democrats alike for her insights and actions during the first Bush term," Foote said.
Frazer told her Johannesburg audience in February that the Bush administration's National Security Strategy for Africa emphasizes "a very strong strategic approach" rather than a policy that is primarily crisis driven. She reiterated the central importance assigned to Africa's sub-regions, which includes giving support to regional organizations and spotlighting key countries in each region, based on population size, economic clout and "projection of diplomatic influence through peacekeeping and conflict mediation," to bolster the policy goals, she said.
Democracy is the administration's first priority, she said, followed by security, the fight against HIV/Aids and support for expanding economic opportunity. Citing the president's focus on promoting democracy in his State of the Union speech this year, she said: "This is good news for Africa, because over the last 15 years, freedom and democracy have spread across the African continent."
During the Clinton administration, Fraser was a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow, serving as a political-military planner with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon and as director for Africa at the NSC, before becoming assistant professor of public policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
At the White House she worked under Gayle Smith, who as NSC senior director for Africa experienced first hand the difficulties of pushing African affairs onto a crowded foreign policy schedule. Smith says Frazer will step into a job with multiple competing demands, several of them requiring immediate attention. But Smith also sees the transition as a moment of opportunity.
"There's a spotlight on Africa right now," she says. "The crisis in Darfur [Sudan] and the need for an effective U.S. policy has - rightly - captured the attention of the public and is high on the congressional agenda." In that climate, she says, "the real challenge for the assistant secretary will be to act on the political, moral and policy imperatives of deeper engagement with Africa."
Currently the U.S. administration is preparing for President Bush's attendance at the G8 Summit - seven nations with the most developed economies plus Russia - meeting in Scotland July 6-8. The meeting will be chaired by Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom, which in July also assumes the six-month rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union, composed of the heads of government of the 25 EU member states plus the presidents of France and Finland. Britain has made the future of Africa a centerpiece agenda item for both meetings.
In addition, the British leader last year established the Commission for Africa, commonly called the Blair Commission, a year-long study project to recommend strategies to lift Africa from its extreme poverty. The commission's report, Our Common Interest, released in March, urges that African reforms be accompanied by two doublings of G-8 member states' aid to Africa during the next five years, 100 percent forgiveness of Africa's foreign debt, a phase-out of loans to Africa in favor of grants, an end to agricultural subsidies that favor western producers, and the return to Africa of billions in stolen assets held in western banks.
Smith says that Frazer must work adroitly within the administration and with congress to help craft an effective U.S. Africa policy in the wake of the substantive plans for the continent that will be discussed at the international meetings. "There's an opportunity and a necessity," Smith says, "to work on a bipartisan basis to bring more attention and resources to the table, and I hope she'll seize that opportunity."