Launch of New Africa Dialogue

New York, 27 September 2018


I just want to state how happy I am to be invited to CSIS for this very useful discussion.

Let me say that the main lines of U.S. policy toward Africa have hardly changed since the end of the Cold War. To be very frank, if I could remember how many times I have had discussions with distinguished leaders in the United States and across Africa, talking about how we could relate to each other. There have been so many meetings over so many years, and we always keep coming back more or less to the same thing. We keep asking what is it that we could do, and yet we end up not doing much about that.

But Africa has changed tremendously, and so has America and the rest of the world. It is therefore very important to rethink how Africa and the United States relate to one another.

Dr Kissinger, your presence signals the weight and promise of this initiative. The conclusions of your analysis of the “Central Issues of American Foreign Policy” in 1968 are as fresh and relevant today, as 50 years ago. I wish to highlight three of them this morning.

First, in all advanced countries, political stability was a precondition for industrialisation rather than an outcome. Technical and economic factors alone cannot offer a sufficient moral foundation for good politics.

Business and trade should rightly constitute the day-to-day subject matter of enhanced relations between Africa and the United States. But it would be a mistake to avoid frank exchanges about values.

Second, the core challenge in developing countries is the consolidation of political legitimacy. Even two generations ago, the futility of a strategy based on transferring or imposing American institutions on others was clear. And I was glad the other day to hear President Trump say something about it: imposing on people is not going to be very helpful.

Too often, political structures in Africa are evaluated against abstract notions of process, almost on auto-pilot. This is done without reference either to the objective outcomes, or to the views of the citizens directly concerned and affected. When innovative forms of democratic stability are undermined, nobody’s interest is served. The tendency to elevate abstractions about democratic process into a precondition for engagement, rather than a basis for discussion, is counterproductive.

Third, America succeeds whenever it is able to generate willing cooperation, based on a sense of shared purpose. This brings me to recent developments in Africa, particularly the Continental Free Trade Area that Dr Kissinger referred to earlier, which was signed in March in Kigali. We view this is a historic step. It will transform trade within our continent, while requiring the world to relate to the fastest-growing continent as a single bloc for trade purposes. In fact, this again consolidates the efforts that have already been underway for continental integration.

But this agreement should be understood in a wider context. The CFTA heralds a new political reality in Africa. We also signed an agreement on the free movement of people within Africa, for example, as part of that. Africa is currently undertaking coordinated action in the United Nations Security Council to use U.N. assessed contributions to fund necessary African Union-mandated peace support operations that the United Nations cannot conduct on its own.

In addition, we have made major reforms to the financing and institutional functioning of the African Union. The United States initially responded to this obviously positive development by a discussion as to whether this new financial levy violated or contravened World Trade Organisation provisions. We had discussions back and forth, and I think most of the misunderstandings have been found to be inaccurate and therefore done away with.

But the confusion served to highlight the need for improved dialogue about how Africa and the United States can better collaborate—because this is the main objective—to enhance each other’s prosperity.

The New Africa Dialogue can be an effective platform for these efforts, and I look forward to working with you on this matter. Once again, thank you very much for inviting me and for listening.