Washington — Democracy has advanced across Africa, most visibly in Somalia and South Sudan, during the past four years, according to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson.
Carson said that when President Obama took office in 2009, few people thought Somalia and South Sudan were on the cusp of a democratic transition.
U.S strategy for Somalia "has turned one of Africa's most enduring, intractable and seemingly hopeless conflicts into a major success story and a potential model for the resolution of other conflicts," Carson said January 16 at the Wilson Center's "Africa Rising" program. The Wilson Center is a think tank in Washington.
Somalia fell into chaos in 1991, resulting in the deaths of more than 1 million people and the creation of a haven for terrorists who attacked the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in August 1998.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Carson traveled to Nairobi in early 2009 to meet with the then-president of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. After the meeting, Clinton gave Carson two instructions: "Don't let the Transitional Federal Government fall and don't let al-Shabaab win," according to the assistant secretary.
The United States partnered with the African Union Mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, to train African peacekeepers from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya and Sierra Leone to rebuild the Somali National Army and defeat al-Qaida in East Africa and al-Shabaab, Carson said. At the same time, the United States joined with East African partners to advance the political track in Somalia, where a popularly elected government took office in Mogadishu in 2012.
"Now, for the first time in more than two decades, Somalia has a representative government with a new president, a new prime minister, a new parliament and a new constitution, and the Somali people have ... an opportunity for a better future," Carson said.
The methods used to stabilize and democratize Somalia are a model that the United States will use in other African conflict zones, such as in Mali, Carson said. "This effort was led by Africans, but it enjoyed significant U.S. support," he said.
A second major accomplishment of the first Obama administration, according to Carson, was to see through a peace process that resulted in the creation of Africa's newest state, South Sudan, and an end to the continent's longest-running civil war. With forceful U.S. backing, a referendum on South Sudan's independence was held in 2011, and independence was celebrated in July that year.
In Carson's assessment, the United States advanced the cause of democracy in less dramatic ways in Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal, Guinea-Conakry, Niger, Mauritania and Côte d'Ivoire.
"Our message to those across Africa who have attempted to derail the democratic process has been very clear," Carson said. "The United States will not stand on the sidelines when legitimately elected governments are threatened or democratic processes are manipulated."
Carson said prosperity is accompanying democracy across the continent.
"Non-oil-related growth has averaged over 5 percent in Africa over the past five years, and over the next five years, Africa's average growth rate is likely to surpass that of Asia," he said. The U.S. government is encouraging U.S. companies to take advantage of the enormous opportunities that exist across Africa and assisting them in doing so, he added.