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Africa "Vital" to U.S. Security, Defense Conference Says

16 November 2005

State Department's Jendayi Frazer sees "positive dynamics" at work

By Jim Fisher-Thompson
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer was in the vanguard of top defense officials, military officers, diplomats and scholars who hailed Africa as vital to U.S. national security interests at a conference hosted by the National Defense University (NDU) November 15-16.

Frazer, who was U.S. ambassador to South Africa before she took over as chief formulator of Africa policy at the State Department two months ago, gave the keynote address at the two-day meeting, which examined the growing importance of Africa to America.  The conference, co-sponsored by the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) and the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS), was held at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington.

The assistant secretary captured the general tone of the gathering as she asked: "Is Africa vital to U.S. security interests?" and then responded: "The answer is yes."

Ambassador Johnnie Carson, NDU senior vice president, said the gathering was meant to showcase "the U.S. desire to help African nations strengthen their own national security policies" while exploring partnership possibilities between America and the continent.

The NDU, INSS, ACSS are government-operated policy research facilities that function on an independent academic basis fostering intellectual inquiry among defense officials and military officers from the U.S. armed forces and from foreign countries.

Frazer, a former Harvard University professor and top Africa adviser at the National Security Council, told the more than 300 attendees, including several admirals, generals and two former assistant secretaries of state for African affairs -- Chester Crocker and Herman Cohen -- that she was "excited" to be in her new position during "a period of exponential positive trends across the continent."

These include "an upward trend in democracy," as well as "a growing focus and consensus on private-sector-led, trade-based investment" as the engine for economic development and prosperity, Frazer said.

Based on such dynamic and positive political and economic movements, Frazer said, "I'm very pleased to have been part of an administration that does indeed see Africa as vital to U.S. global interests" and therefore is keen on expanding U.S.-African partnerships.

Central to those partnerships, she told the NDU gathering, is a focus on "conflict prevention and conflict remediation," which means that America's diplomats actively work with African subregional organizations and "leading African mediators" in key hotspots like Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Liberia.

Frazer has gained a reputation for being an indefatigable diplomatic traveler and troubleshooter -- she visited all of South Africa's provinces during her brief tenure in Pretoria, and indicated she planned to travel the same way throughout Africa in her new role as assistant secretary.  She also said she expects all U.S. ambassadors on the continent -- whom she is currently hosting at a meeting at the State Department -- to get out into the countryside as much as possible.

In Sudan, Frazer said, "U.S. leadership was absolutely important in ending the North-South conflict and is continuing to be important in addressing the situation in Darfur."  Having visited Sudan twice in the past few months, she said she plans to travel there again within days.

Working with subregional groups like the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and lead mediators like Kenya to hammer out the landmark Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan, Frazer said, "The effort has been to transform the government of Sudan so that it can become a legitimate government that protects the interests of all its citizens."

In Liberia, Frazer said, America worked closely with Ghanaian President John Kufuor and the government of Ghana, as the African lead country, and with the subregional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on recent national elections that were "free and transparent … clearly a success."

"The U.S. is a major ‘player’ in Liberia and will continue to be," Frazer told her audience.

South Africa played the lead mediator role in helping resolve conflict in the DRC, she said, noting, "Twenty-two million Congolese have now been registered to vote [in upcoming elections], which is really an amazing feat."

Despite more work to be done, Frazer said, "serious progress has been made."  She concluded that with the "very positive dynamics" at work on the continent and with recent renewed commitments by President Bush to help Africans resolve conflict and fight disease and poverty -- U.S. aid was about $3 billion last year -- "we're going to see a day when there are no conflicts in Africa."

For additional information on U.S. policy in the region, see Africa.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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