Grave shortcomings in US Africa operations

by Scott A Morgan

While most advocates of African issues and observers were focused on other things such as the visit to Africa by Secretary Clinton and the Comprehensive Policy Review towards Sudan, an internal investigation of the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs had very interesting revelations.

Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson: Current head of the Bureau of African Affairs

Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson: Current head of the Bureau of African Affairs

What did this report reveal about what the Bureau that will shape the next likely test in US foreign policy?

The Bureau of African Affairs is underfunded, facing staffing shortfalls, burdened with demands and has a public diplomacy program that in the words of the report is “failed.” There are questions regarding the priorities of long term planning. Despite these shortcomings the report by the State Department’s Inspector-General praised the work of the Bureau.

The evaluation into the Bureau took place between April 20th and June 9th of this year. It should be noted that Johnnie Carson who was nominated by President Obama to this post assumed this position while review was underway. Before Mr. Carson took over, Philip Carter III was the acting Undersecretary. The review saw that the time under the stewardship of Mr. Carter as a time of “renewal”. The report sees Mr. Carson as a strong leader for this position.

Some of the lowlights revealed in this report were that several US Embassies have significant morale, staffing and leadership issues. There was also a lack of communication from the regional desks to the front office and disinterest in all posts except those that deal with crisis situations. All in all, this does not bode well for the Secretary of State but could adversely affect decisions made by the President as well.

The lack of foresight in planning affects several aspects of US policy in Africa. One glaring example was in food aid. Quoting the report, “The United States feeds Africa, it is not focusing as it should on helping Africans feed themselves.”

Another example was in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The US provides funds to programs that focus more on medication than on preventing the spread of this deadly disease. Little, if any, resources were allocated for education and combating HIV/AIDS.

Another point of controversy is AFRICOM. This newest command of the US military was resented by members of the Bureau. More often than not, the reason was that the military was getting more money allocated to it then their State Department Counterparts. For example, a military information support team dealing with Somalia received $600,000 while the State Department got $30,000. It should be noted that the military has resources that State either dreams about or resents. The Inspector-General also suggested that the Peacekeeping Training and Support Programs be transferred to AFRICOM if the funding does not increase.

The Inspector-General’s report found that AGOA (Africa Growth and Opportunity Act) has had marginal success due to several factors including poor infrastructure, lack of credit and not meeting the goals imposed by Washington. It also found that within the Bureau, Somalia is the hot button issue but militia activities are a rising concern as well in the US.

This report is both good news and bad news for the Administration. Africa has high hopes and expectations from President Barack Obama. The military Command is better funded for some missions. Morale at the State Department is low but the job is increasingly become more and more crucial on a daily basis.

Nothing improves morale like having some successes. Clearly the State Department needs some when it comes to Africa.

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The author comments on US policy towards Africa and publishes Confused Eagle on the Internet.
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