Johnnie Carson was officially sworn in as assistant secretary of state for African affairs this month, making him the Obama administration’s top official charged with directing U.S. policy toward Africa.
Carson is a career diplomat, and a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania (1965-68), and a lifelong friend of Africa. His 37-year Foreign Service career includes ambassadorships to Kenya (1999-2003), Zimbabwe (1995-1997), and Uganda (1991-1994); and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs (1997-1999). Earlier in his career he had assignments in Portugal (1982-1986), Botswana (1986-1990), Mozambique (1975-1978), and Nigeria (1969-1971). He has also served as desk officer in the Africa section at State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (1971-1974); Staff Officer for the Secretary of State (1978-1979), and Staff Director for the Africa Subcommittee of the US House of Representatives (1979-1982).
In the mid-nineties in the Clinton Administration Carson was offered the deputy slot for the Peace Corps, under Carol Bellamy, but elected to stay an ambassador in Africa.
In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee April 29 prior to his confirmation by the full Senate, Carson told the lawmakers that Africa is enormously important to the United States. He remains optimistic about Africa’s long-term future and believes the continent has the capacity to overcome its past problems and meet its current challenges.
During the past decade, he told the lawmakers, Africa has made advances in three important areas: democracy and governance, economic development, and conflict resolution.
On democracy and governance, Carson cited the recent elections in Ghana and South Africa, saying those events are not unique and represent a positive aspect of Africa?s unfolding democratic history. Africans support democracy, and since the early 1990s, dozens of African countries have embraced democratic rule.
On economic progress, Carson said African countries have made measurable strides in liberalizing their economies, embracing free-market reforms and adopting pro-business policies. Prior to the onset of the global financial crisis, he said, Africa enjoyed nearly a decade of steady economic growth.
And on conflict resolution, Carson said the number of violent conflicts in Africa has declined in the past 10 years. The bloody and often barbaric civil wars that ripped apart Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s have ended. The hot war that erupted along the Ethiopian-Eritrea border has gone dormant, and the massive intervention that threatened to cripple and divide the Congo has now faded away. African leaders, he said, “recognize the negative impact violent conflicts can have on their region and many of them have demonstrated a willingness to assume greater responsibility for preventing and responding to conflicts.”