National Security Advisor Susan Rice drew attention to Africa's progress in the past two decades and its possibilities for economic growth, good governance and long-term stability, in a speech at the U.S. Institute of Peace on the eve of next week's U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

susan rice

Previewing the event, which will bring approximately 50 presidents and prime ministers to Washington, Rice announced that President Barack Obama will work with Congress for a "seamless, long-term renewal" of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and that the administration plans to double the number of young African leaders brought to the U.S. each year under the Mandela Washington Fellowship.

America's aspirations for Africa are to help ensure the continent can "ultimately provide fully for its own needs," Rice said in her July 30 speech. Her extensive background on Africa ranges from travels on the continent as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford to negotiating an end to the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict as assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 1997 to 2001 during the administration of President Bill Clinton. She served more recently as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for four years until taking up her post as national security advisor a year ago.

"In less than 20 years, in the space of one generation, even as major challenges remain, Africa has witnessed remarkable change," Rice said. She cited the end of the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone, which now contributes peacekeepers to United Nations and African Union missions. USIP has helped train some of those peacekeepers in skills such as negotiations and communication.

The proportion of Africa's population living on less than $1.25 a day has dropped from close to 60 percent to below 50 percent, she said, and the continent has six of the world's 10 fastest-growing economies. While in 2000, AIDS ravaged the continent, the U.S. program that originated during the administration of President George W. Bush, the President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has turned the tide and now is focused on eliminating the disease, Rice said. The U.S. is also helping African countries establish and improve entire health systems so they have the capacity to care for their citizens on their own.

'Partnership of equals'

"We want Africa to create its own jobs, to feed itself, to care for the health of its people and to prevent and resolve conflicts," Rice said. "We want to help Africa build the human capital that is so crucial for its future."

Alluding to Chinese investments and relationships with African nations, Rice said U.S. ties with the continent are "fundamentally different."

"We don't see Africa as a pipeline to extract vital resources, nor as a funnel for charity," she said, pointing to Obama's characterization of U.S.-Africa relations in Cape Town, South Africa, last year as a "partnership of equals that focuses on your capacity to solve problems and your capacity to grow."

Next week's summit will focus specifically on the potential for investment, advancing peace and stability and good governance. She urged leaders to end the "discrimination and habits of corruption" that "still undermine many countries' ability to govern effectively."

"Leaders must lead, especially on difficult issues, and protecting the human rights of all of their people, regardless of religion, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation is a government's first duty," Rice said. She also said Americans need to shed "outdated mindsets" that too often zero in only on conflict, disease and poverty in Africa.

She illustrated the entrepreneurial and social potential with the story of James Makini, the co-founder and group chief executive officer of the "One Hen Campaign Project" in Kenya. Jame's grandmother gave him a chicken when he was 8 years old, and his sales of eggs to raise money for school uniforms and for his family formed the basis and inspiration for the project that now, many years later, helped provide chickens for 50,000 women over three years. The women generated more than $3 million in income during that time, Rice said.

Makini, who will be 26 next week, is in the Mandela fellowship program and attended Rice's speech at USIP. He plans to expand his project across Africa. The national security adviser was due to address the inaugural group of 500 fellows later today. The group is made up of public servants, entrepreneurs and activists from across Africa, and the Obama administration plans to expand the program, part of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), to bring 1,000 fellows to the U.S. each year.

Obama announced earlier this week the creation of four new regional leadership centers for the YALI program to provide training, support for entrepreneurs and regional networking opportunities in Senegal, Ghana, South Africa and Kenya.

Rice noted the "particularly uneven" progress on peace and security in Africa, where violence continues to break out in countries such as Sudan, South Sudan and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and where militant groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Shabab in Somalia terrorize populations at home and abroad.

USIP Acting President Kristin Lord, in introducing Rice, said such violence "threatens to undermine many of the gains that have been made as well as Africa's great potential."

"While much progress has been made on the continent and several African economies are flourishing, violent conflict continues to restrain growth across the continent," Lord said. "And from Nigeria to South Sudan and Somalia and elsewhere, the task of preventing and mitigating conflict remains an all-too-significant challenge."

The U.S. is supplying American special forces to several African countries to support and train their own troops, but mostly provides training, equipment and financing for African Union and United Nations peacekeeping contingents on the continent. The administration has contributed nearly $9 billion to U.N. peacekeeping operations in Africa and trained almost 250,000 peacekeepers from 25 African countries, Rice said. The U.S. also works with courts and legal systems to strengthen the rule of law.

"Contrary to some claims, the United States is not looking to militarize Africa or to maintain a permanent military presence," Rice said. "But we are committed to helping our partners confront trans-national threats to our shared security."

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