Multilateral Cooperation Is Key to Peace & Development in Africa
Good morning! I thank the organizers of this gathering for inviting me to talk to you about a favorite subject: How African countries and their partners can best work together to advance peace and development for the people of this continent.
I will suggest some basic principles for such cooperation, review the United States government’s top policy priorities in Africa, and discuss how multilateral cooperation in Africa may develop in the coming years.
First, here are some basic facts to consider. Africa has six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies, according to the World Bank. Three of these nations are in West Africa: Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, and Senegal. The other three are in East Africa: Ethiopia, Tanzania, and our host, Djibouti, whose real Gross Domestic Product increased by 7% over the past year. Africa’s cultural dynamism has an increasing presence on the world stage. African regional organizations are growing in sophistication and capability. The majority of African states are moving toward more open markets and stronger rule of law. Africa is on the move. Africa is the future.
At the same time, parts of the continent suffer from persistent maladies that generate immense suffering while holding back Africa as a whole from taking its rightful place in the world. These maladies include disease, hunger, unresponsive governance, and various forms of insecurity, including crime, communal violence, and terrorism. The success or failure of African efforts to cure these ills, while spreading the positive trends noted earlier, will influence the security and well-being of the rest of the world. This realization draws foreign partners to the continent. Over the thirty-five years I have worked in Africa, I have noted an accelerating pace of countries from outside the continent investing in their relationships here by opening new embassies and dispatching more trade delegations.
Basic Principles of Cooperation
Let’s first consider the simpler case of bilateral cooperation, and then see how the same principles work in a multilateral context. Successful cooperation begins with an honest, frank review of the policy priorities of all partners. The African partner and the foreign partner may each have several top policy priorities, but they may not all be shared. The best way forward is to honestly recognize this, and then proceed to work together to advance the shared priorities. In the meantime, continue honest dialog on other issues, with the goal of expanding cooperation to those priorities that were not initially shared.
This may sound obvious. It should be obvious. But sadly, these principles are often not practiced. It happens at times that the foreign partner insists on implementing a cooperation project to address an issue that is only a minor priority of the African partner.
The African partner is asked to reallocate scarce resources from a top priority to a minor priority. The project is then only half-heartedly implemented, if it proceeds at all. It also happens at times that the African partner, seeing that a top priority was not backed by the foreign partner, will accept support for a lesser priority with an intent to redirect the resources of the foreign partner to the higher priority.
Both of these outcomes may be disappointing to all involved, and can lead to a breakdown in a partnership. In contrast, my experience shows that when both sides identify common areas of priority, the result is usually strong cooperation, leading to success.
So how do these principles apply to the multilateral context? When multiple partners are involved, then the honest discussion of policy priorities ideally takes place in an inclusive, transparent, coordinated fashion. I served at our embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone, toward the end of that country’s devastating conflict and during the beginning of its remarkable recovery. The Government of Sierra Leone coordinated multilateral cooperation, with considerable technical assistance from the United Nations. Each foreign partner had a different recovery plan to recommend to the Sierra Leone government. Each foreign partner wished to support specific sectors. Each partner had different processes and requirements. Consequently, some sectors had far too many would-be partners. Some sectors had none. It was difficult, but, over time, after many long donor conferences, these differences were mostly resolved. In the end, the Government of Sierra Leone’s most essential recovery priorities were met. Flexibility was required on all sides. Coordination was ultimately achieved by referring to the supreme shared policy priority of all partners: Sierra Leone’s rapid recovery from a decade of brutally destructive conflict.
The commitment to inclusive, transparent discussion to coordinate partner efforts continued during the implementation stage. Each month the Government of Sierra Leone convened a donor forum to consider progress in a particular sector. The discussions were co-led by the relevant minister and the lead donor for that sector. The resulting rapid recovery astonished many.
Top Priorities for the United States in Africa
The foundation of partnership is shared interests. When all partners have a strong interest in a successful outcome, then all partners deliver on their commitments. For multilateral cooperation to succeed, each partner must openly identify its top priorities so that the terrain of overlapping policy goals can be defined.
So, what are United States policy priorities in Africa?
The United States seeks sovereign African states that are integrated into the world economy, able to provide for their citizens’ needs, and capable of managing threats to peace and security. Improved governance in these states supports economic development and opportunities, diminishes the attraction of illegal migration, and reduces vulnerability to extremists, thereby reducing instability.
We carry out these policy priorities through our foreign policy and foreign assistance, including through the nearly $10 billion in development assistance we offered Africa in 2017. In pursuit of peace and security, we invest in efforts to defeat terrorist organizations, including nearby in Somalia; prevent and resolve violent conflict and respond to humanitarian crises; and end illegal trade in minerals, wildlife, timber, and other resources that sustain armed groups and fuel human rights abuses. To help the continent accelerate and expand its impressive economic growth, we fund programs to reduce poverty and hunger, create jobs, and provide resources and human capital for the expansion of markets and social services. The bulk of our assistance supports public health by reducing mortality and improving the quality of life, which are essential to promoting peace and security, economic growth, and development. In 2017 and 2018, we spent $9 billion for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief alone.
Since other foreign partners share some or all of these goals, we are open to multilateral cooperation when it makes sense to do so. I will cite an example. From 2011 to 2013, I served as the Director of Sudan and South Sudan affairs at the State Department. The policy priority we were directed to achieve was that Sudan and South Sudan would develop into two viable states at peace internally and with one another. Sadly, that vision is still not achieved. One essential element for the viability of both states was that South Sudan’s oil resources reach the international market through Sudan’s pipelines. The governments of Sudan and of South Sudan had a strong interest in reviving the oil sector. So, a specific policy goal for the United States was that Sudan and South Sudan agree on terms for South Sudan’s use of Sudan’s oil transit infrastructure. The Chinese government shared that goal. The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) had a major stake in the oil sector in both countries. Under the direction of our Special Envoy, Amb. Princeton Lyman, my colleagues and I worked closely with senior representatives of the African Union, the United Nations, China’s top diplomat for Africa, and the CNPC director in Juba to achieve an oil sector agreement between Sudan and South Sudan. Our efforts included the provision of technical assistance. We then continued to work together with these multilateral partners to maintain that agreement when renewed conflict between the two countries nearly led to abrogation of their agreement.
There may be some areas where the United States’ interests do not align with other foreign actors. Where this is the case, we are willing to engage in dialogue with all parties to explain our interests, and the values they represent, and why we believe these are the best fit, and worthy of common support. For example, the United States’ approach to investment and development highlights that all initiatives should adhere to international standards and norms, and uphold social, environmental, safety, and labor standards. Not all investments and development initiatives in Africa have done so. This regrettably has in many cases produced harmful results for local communities that are difficult to remediate and also left a legacy of missed opportunities where communities could have benefited more in the process.
The Future of Multilateral Cooperation in Africa: the Increasing Role of Regional Organizations
This leads us to consider the future of multilateral cooperation in Africa, and the role of Africa’s regional organizations.
Most of Africa’s regional organizations have greatly expanded their capabilities in recent years. These organizations promote multilateral cooperation foremost among their member states. They identify shared priorities and implement programs and projects to advance those shared priorities. African regional organizations have long cooperated with foreign partners as well. Foreign partners and international organizations recognize the positive evolution of most of these organizations from mere forums for discussion to effective instruments of collective action to achieve practical results for the betterment of the lives of their citizens.
As these African regional organizations become more productive and beneficial, they attract more foreign partners. Success leads to more success. I predict that the coming years will see the continuation of bilateral partnerships alongside growing multilateral cooperation at the level of individual states, at the level of regional organizations of states, and at the continental level through cooperation with the African Union. Africa is the future. Multilateral cooperation has an important role to play in achieving that better future for all Africans.
I thank you for your kind attention.