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2014-02-26 19.25.07

Yesterday, the Africa Society hosted Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, at the Embassy of Nigeria.  The event was originally slated for December, but postponed when the Secretary traveled to the Central African Republic to deal with the crisis there. Although I was fatigued from a new job and illness I ventured out in the evening after work to hear if there would be any interesting observations given the recent suspension of Nigeria’s highly suspected Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi, state criminalization of homosexuality in Nigeria, and the appearance of increasing autocracy from Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.

Predictably, all these issues were avoided.  Bernadette Paolo, the President and CEO of the Africa Society observed that the US – Nigeria relationship ‘is in a good place’ while the President of the Society’s board spoke of the values that the US and Nigeria share (like democracy and good governance).

The Nigerian Ambassador, expressed pan-Africanist sentiments, as he did the last time I heard him speak at an Africa Society event.  He must be quite a reggae fan, as he went from referencing Bob Marley on that occasion, to his band mate Peter Tosh yesterday.  In what I found to be an awkward attempt to praise Secretary Thomas-Greenfield and explain her Yoruba nickname, Omowale, the Ambassador noted that the Trans-Atlantic slave trade ensured that black Americans ‘are descended from people with very strong genes.’

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The beginning portion of the Secretary’s remarks were the most interesting.  In lamenting that media outlets have such little positive coverage of Africa, she cited CNN and and Al-Jazeera as illustrative offenders.  She briefly discussed US – Nigeria relations, noting that she had just returned from the country where she participated in a meeting of the US – Nigeria Bi-national Commission (her third time there since taking office).

Her remarks on US-Nigerian relations, while highly nuanced, were much more candid than I would have expected. She focused on:

  • Need for credible national elections in February 2015
  • US support for corruption reduction efforts
  • US support against domestic security threats while encouraging Nigeria’s armed forces to respect the rule of law, civilian rights, and for the Nigerian government to address legitimate concerns of minority groups.

The remainder of her remarks focused on:

  • Power Africa (she echoed its Coordinator in noting that it is only a ‘drop in the bucket’).
  • Trade Africa – which I know next to nothing about.  It seems to involve promotion of intra-African trade among the member states of the East African Community (wonder what the US has to offer in that regard).
  • The Young African Leaders Initiative.  The Washington Fellowship Program recently received 50,000 applications for 500 places.  Nigerians submitted 15,000.  She spoke of being distressed by a YALI alumn in the Central African Republic who at one point spoke ill of Muslims in the CAR, only to change positions after she ‘chastised him like [she] was his mother.’

Thomas-Greenfield closed her remarks by noting that the summer of 2014 would be a summer of Africa in DC, concluding with a US – Africa head of state summit in August.  She noted that conflicts in CAR and South Sudan emerged not from religious or ethnic tensions, but the struggle for the spoils of political power.  The Secretary stated that ‘we must push back’ against those who seek to manipulate constitutions to stay in power.  Is my disdain for the regime in Burkina Faso finally gaining traction?

Paolo closed the event by introducing us to the members of the Society’s Youth Advisory Committee.

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A rapt audience.