Africa: U.S. African Specialists Urge Biden to Make 'Experienced & Respected' Choice for Top Africa Post

President Biden addresses the African Union.
25 February 2021

Washington, DC — The United States needs a top Africa policymaker "who has a high degree of expertise" dealing with African issues and working with Congress and key sectors of American society, a group of U.S.-based Africanists said in a letter sent today to President Biden.

To prioritize U.S.-African relations - "an after-thought" during the previous administration, the letter says – the signatories appeal for the appointment of an Assistant Secretary of State for Africa who is both experienced and widely respected at home and across Africa."This is an important and consequential choice, and we hope you will select someone who embodies your vision of a stronger relationship between the United States and Africa and has the capability to implement that vision," the letter states.

The White House has not announced selections for any of the assistant secretaries at the State Department. These officials head bureaus managing relations with all regions and policy areas.  Nominations have been announced for the two deputy secretary and three of the six undersecretary posts. All of these senior-level nominations require approval by the Senate, which – for the State Department - has only confirmed Secretary Antony Blinken, along with Linda Thomas-Greenfield for the UN Ambassador, a Cabinet-level job. Thomas-Greenfield served as the Africa assistant secretary under President Obama. NOTE: According to Foreign Policy, the likely choice as Assistant Secretary for Latin America is the U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Brian Nichols, a career diplomat and African American who has served as ambassador to Peru and in Colombia, Mexico, and El Salvador. "The Biden administration pledged to reempower career diplomats in a break from Trump, who viewed the State Department with distrust and disdain," FP's Robbie Gramer reported.

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The 40 letter signatories include former UN Ambassador Andrew Young, four former assistant secretaries at State and one at Commerce, ten former deputy assistant secretaries and some two dozen former U.S. ambassadors, as well as heads of U.S.-Africa focused organizations and leading scholars. The text of the letter to the President follows:

We are writing to urge you to appoint an Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs who will fulfill your vision for America.

We urge you to select an individual who reflects America's diversity, who has a high degree of expertise working on a broad range of African issues, and who has experience working with leaders in Congress, business, education and other sectors of American society.

Assistant Secretary of State for Africa is an important and consequential choice

Given the size and importance of the African continent, with its population of 1.3 billion people whose median age is eighteen, we need a leader of the Africa Bureau at the State Department who will be able to translate your vision of Building Back Better into our Africa policy. We need an individual who has stood up for democracy and human rights, has actively supported the African Growth and Opportunity Act and who has worked on health issues in Africa. We also need an Assistant Secretary for Africa who is widely known and respected by African leaders, who will be an inspiration for the continent's youth and who will ensure that women are involved in the continent's growth and prosperity.

We are at an inflection point in U.S.-African relations - for too long a victim of neglect

Mr. President, this is an extraordinary moment in our history and we are at an inflection point in U.S.-African relations. For too long, U.S. policy toward the region has been an afterthought and a victim of neglect given other interests and crises that tend to dominate our foreign policy. The way in which the previous administration denigrated the people on the African continent is a stain on our relationship that we must begin to repair immediately.

With six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world, the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement and programs such as the Young African Leaders Initiative which has connected the American people to the best and the brightest young leaders in Africa, now is the time for the continent to be a priority for the United States. More than ever, Africa is a region of opportunity and the moment for us to seize the opportunity is now.

With six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world, the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement and programs such as the Young African Leaders Initiative which has connected the American people to the best and the brightest young leaders in Africa, now is the time for the continent to be a priority for the United States. More than ever, Africa is a region of opportunity and the moment for us to seize the opportunity is now.

We need a strong advocate of American values to represent you and the United States.

We need a strong advocate of American values to represent you and the United States in our diverse relations with the continent. We need an advocate who will defend democratic governance and human rights, which is supported by the vast majority of Africa's citizens. We need someone who will advocate for American business and best practices related to labor, climate change, the environment and anti-corruption. We need a leader in the Africa Bureau who is widely respected by the African diaspora communities in the United States and who can easily work with African American leaders to broaden their engagement with their counterparts on the continent.

This is an important and consequential choice, and we hope you will select someone who embodies your vision of a stronger relationship between the United States and Africa and has the capability to implement that vision.

We thank you in advance for making U.S.-Africa relations a priority of your Administration.

signed:

Cynthia Akuetteh
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Former Ambassador to Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe

Nii Akuetteh
Former Executive Director, African Immigrants Caucus, Former Lecturer, George Washington University

Patricia Baine
President, Africa Society

Shirley Barnes
Former Ambassador to Madagascar

Dr. Robert Berg
Distinguished Fellow, The Stimson Center

Pamela E. Bridgewater
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Former Ambassador to the Republic of Benin and the Republic of Ghana

Dr. Rueben Brigety
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and Former Ambassador to the African Union

Sue Brown
Former Ambassador to Montenegro

Johnnie Carson
Former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Former Ambassador to Uganda, Zimbabwe and Kenya

Phil Carter
Former Ambassador to Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire, Former Deputy to the Commander for Civil Military Engagements, United States Africa Command

Herman Cohen
Former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Former Ambassador to Gambia and Senegal

Jennifer Cooke
Institute for African Studies, The Elliott School for International Affairs, George Washington University

Ruth Davis
Former Director General of the Foreign Service and former Ambassador to Benin

Vivian Lowery Derryck
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Equal Employment Opportunity and Civil Rights and former Assistant Administrator for Africa, USAID

Harriet L. Elam-Thomas
Former Ambassador to Senegal

Lauri Fitz-Pegado
Former Assistant Secretary of Commerce

Dr. Jendayi Frazer
Former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Former Ambassador to South Africa

Irvin Hicks Sr.
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Former Ambassador to Ethiopia, Former Deputy Representative of the U.S. to the U.N. Security Council, Former Ambassador to the Seychelles

Makila James
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Former Ambassador to the Kingdom of Eswatini

Howard Jeter
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and former ambassador to Nigeria and to Botswana

Mosina H. Jordan
Former Ambassador to the Central African Republic

Jeffrey Krilla
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Delano Lewis
Former Ambassador to South Africa

Florie Liser
Former United States Trade Representative for Africa

Robert Mallett
Former Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Former President and Chief Executive Officer of Africare

Dennise Mathieu
Former Ambassador to Niger and Namibia

George Moose
Former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and Former Ambassador to Senegal and Togo

Bismarck Myrick
Former Ambassador to the Kingdom of Lesotho and the Republic of Liberia

Susan Page
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and former ambassador to South Sudan

Bernadette Paolo
Former President of the Africa Society, Former Staff Director, U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations

June Carter Perry
Former Ambassador to Lesotho and Sierra Leone

Robert Perry
Former Ambassador to the Central African Republic

John Prendergast
Former Director of African Affairs, National Security Council

Dr. Robin R. Sanders
Former Ambassador to The Republic of the Congo and the Federal Republic of Nigeria

Dr. Witney Schneidman
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs

Mattie R. Sharpless
Former Ambassador to the Central African Republic

Don Steinberg
Former Ambassador to Angola, former NSC Senior Director for Africa and former Deputy Administrator at USAID

Charles Stith
Former Ambassador to Tanzania

Andrew Young
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

Johnny Young
Former Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Togo, Bahrain and Slovenia

CC: Antony Blinken, Secretary of State
Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor

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