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Remarks by Chairman Donald Payne at 'An Overview of US Policy in Africa' hearing

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Source: United States Congress (Washington, DC)

The following remarks were issued by Chairman Donald M. Payne at a hearing of the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health titled 'An Overvìew of U.S. Polícy ín Africa'.

As the title suggests, the purpose of this hearing is to discuss the Administration's policy on the continent of Africa - to gain an understanding of both the overall policy towards the region and the United States' position on key and pressing issues of the day. To that end we have two distinguished panels which I will introduce following Members' opening statements. Let me thank the witnesses for coming, particularly Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson and USAID Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator Earl Gast as well as our private panel consisting of Ambassador Princeton Lyman, Almami [all-MOM-mie] Cyllah [SILL-uh], Witney Schneidman, and Gregory Simpkins. As someone who has followed and worked on Africa for nearly 40 years, I have seen sweeping changes in recent years in U.S. policy in Africa. The continent has gone from being a region of little strategic significance in the view of policymakers to one that holds critical strategic, economic, and national security interests in just the last twenty years.

Tami Hultman/AllAfrica

Indeed, the U.S. has moved away from a policy in Africa hinged on containing the,Soviet sphere of influence during the Cold War, a policy which too often led to U.S. support for dictatorial regimes on the continent with disastrous results which are still felt today.

During the tenures of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, U.S. interest in the continent greatly increased and the focus began to shift away from solely humanitarian interests. The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) -- a preferential program designed to spur increased African imports to the U.S. and build African trade capacity -- and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) - the landmark $15 billion, now $48 billion treatment program -- were created by Presidents Clinton and Bush, respectively. Both dramatically reshaped the discourse and the depth of U.S.-Africa policy.

The Obama Administration showed keen interest in African early on with a brief visit by President Obama himself to Ghana, and an eleven-day trip to seven countries in Africa by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I accompanied Secretary Clinton on part of her trip and must say that the response was overwhelmingly positive and hopeful in terms of closer bilateral relations and partnership.

In 2009 the President unveiled two new programs that will change the landscape and deepen U.S. support for long-term sustainable on the continent'

The Global Health Initiative (GHD is a six-year $63 billion program to help partner countries improve health outcomes through strengthened health systems - with a particular focus on improving the health of women, newborns and children.

The U.S. Global Food Security Initiative is a welcome paradigm shift back to strong investments in agricultural development both as a means to increase food security and as a critical element of long-term, sustainable development in poor regions of the world, particularly in Africa. Both programs will have significant impact on the continent.

While these initiatives and ongoing support for PEPFAR are very strong signs of U.S. focus on Africa, many challenges remain, particularly in the areas of democracy and govemance and conflict which warrant an ongoing discussion of U.S. policy.

My concerns over Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria, and elsewhere are well known. So I will instead highlight troubling issues in three other countries - Ethiopia, Somaliland, and Djibouti.

I am deeply concerned and troubled about the deteriorating conditions in Ethiopia. The EPRDF regime is becoming increasingly totalitarian.

A few weeks ago the government began to jam the Voice of America (VOA) Amharic program and the Prime Minister compared the VOA to the hate Radio Mille Collines; the radio station used by those who committed the Rwandan genocide.

My concern continues for the deteriorating condition of Ms. Birtukan [bun-TOO-can] who testified before this Committee and continues to languish in prison in Ethiopia along with hundreds of others, without access to medical care. I hope to learn more today what our policy is toward Ethiopia.

The Government of Somaliland in February handed over a woman named Mrs. Bishaaro [bih- SHAH-ro], a registered refugee in Somaliland, to Ethiopian security forces. A few years ago she was arrested and tortured by Ethiopian security and her husband was executed. I understand there is a delegation visiting from Somaliland currently and hope to learn what the U.S. position is on this case and on Somaliland more broadly.

I am also concerned about the lack of Development Assistance funding for Djibouti; a strong ally of the United States which plays an important role in the promotion of peace in the Hom of Africa. I will speak more detail on all three countries during the question and answer portion of this hearing.

The Committee looks forward to this very important hearing and all the witness testimonies. Let me once again thank the witnesses and all of you for being here today. I will now turn to Ranking Member Smith for his opening statement.