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Panel Discussion: "Responses to the Challenges of War, Political Violence, and Terrorism in the 21st Century"

Jerry Lanier, Office Director, Regional and Security Affairs, African Affairs
The Blackburn Center, Howard University
Washington, DC
April 5, 2007

As Prepared

Good morning, and thank you, Ambassador Dawson, for your kind introduction. I am pleased to join you today for a timely discussion about the Global War on Terror. It is important to consider how we respond to new challenges that we face at the start of the 21st century, with regard to political violence and terrorism.

Those of us who have worked on Africa for some time have experience working on conflict resolution. And if there is one overriding truth in this field it is this: the best way to resolve conflicts is to prevent them in the first place.

As this panel's lone representative from the Department of State, I would like to devote my remarks to the non-military aspects of the United States' foreign policy in the Global War on Terror and those programs that we see as our best chance to defuse tension at the source.

The United States is now engaged in battle for people's hearts and minds. While the War on Terror may involve conflicts involving combatants, in many ways, this is a battle of ideas. The United States says to people across Africa - and indeed, the rest of the world - democratic governments and freedoms are ideal. While we may have these privileges in the United States, these are universal values.

THE VIEW FROM AFRICA

So, you might ask, how are we doing? There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about whether we have witnessed an erosion of American soft power and moral authority in recent years.

Last November, the respected polling firm Gallup, conducted a survey of Africans in 19 sub-Saharan countries. Fifty-nine percent of those interviewed expressed approval of American leadership. Only 17% of those polled disapproved. So, while we may have fences to mend elsewhere, the United States continues to enjoy a positive relationship with the people of Africa.

Within Africa, the Global War on Terror is mostly about preventing Africa from becoming a hotbed of radicalism and allowing extremism to take root. We would cite Somalia as an example of the dangers inherent in withdrawing from international engagement.

For nearly 15 years, Somalia has had no effective governance, and the international community paid little attention as the country lapsed into conflict. This benign neglect helped to create an environment where individuals, both foreign and Somalis, holding extremist/radical views could find safe haven.

In contrast, our present effort is one of intense interest in communicating and engaging with Africa. The American response to this challenge can largely be seen in our outreach programs targeted at African civilians.

PEACE CORPS: THE MODEL

The Peace Corps is probably the longest running example. Since it was established in 1961, the Peace Corps has trained 187,000 Americans to serve in 139 different countries. At present, Americans are serving the needs of people in 73 countries.

These service oriented individuals, many of them young people in their twenties, volunteer their time and their energy to help improve the level of education or health care in the farthest pockets of Africa. Every day, they have direct contact with Africans.

Through their various projects, they carry out the Peace Corps' mission of helping to promote better two-way cultural understanding and helping the countries in which they serve meet their need for trained men and women, who can lead their own countries from strength to strength.

EDUCATIONAL & CULTURAL PROGRAMS

Art and education are based in a universal language that transcends politics, ethnicity, and religion. For that reason, some of our most successful outreach programs are rooted in culture. This offers individuals a view into the United States that is welcoming and not intimidating.

The U.S. Embassy in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, has established an English club that meets weekly. This group meets at the embassy and attracts well over 200 people on each occasion. American musicians perform, Embassy staff members speak, and every effort is made by the small embassy staff to get to know members of the club on an individual basis. The number of those attracted to the club continues to grow.

Two weeks ago, American rapper Fifty Cent performed at the U.S. embassy in Luanda, Angola. His audience included music school and university students, and as part of this cultural exchange, the rapper spoke candidly with students about health. He underscored the importance of condoms as a method of HIV/AIDS prevention.

In Nigeria, the U.S. Mission has contributed to preparations for the first ever transfer of civilian-to-civilian power in government by conducting two one-week workshops on election reporting entitled "The Role of the Media in Promoting Free and Fair Elections." Three American and three Nigerian journalists taught this course, with a goal of developing intellectual and analytical skills helpful in reporting. More than 70 press reports were filed as a direct result of the workshop, representing all the prominent Nigerian print and electronic news outlets.

MAURITANIAN ELECTIONS

Another way that Americans are helping is through large-scale voter education efforts. The West African country of Mauritania recently held the country's first truly democratic election since independence, and I had the privilege of observing this budding democracy in action.

This was a remarkably mature process. No significant irregularities were reported, and voter turnout was noticeably high - 70% in the first round and 67% in the second round of balloting.

There was little to no electoral violence; all parties involved have accepted the results, and both the winner and the loser were gracious and promised to cooperate on important national issues. International observer groups -- including the UN, the EU, the AU, and NDI - uniformly praised the electoral process.

The United States helped by providing about $1.5 million in electoral assistance to support the elections, primarily for political party training and voter education. The Voter Education Caravan, was a bus supported by the U.S. Embassy that toured Mauritania in the weeks leading up to the election was wildly successful; it drew participation by more than half of the electorate. Themes highlighted by the Caravan included encouragement to participate and practical instructions on the logistics of casting a vote.

As one of just a handful of Islamic democracies in the world, Mauritania's success has symbolic resonance.

CONCLUSION

We are hopeful that Mauritania will inspire its neighbors. The Nigerians are on their way to an historic election, and each opportunity that Africans have to choose their own leaders only reinforces the depth of a society's commitment to individual and electoral freedom.

The Global War on Terror is likely to continue for some time, and it will require great energy on our part. We must convince millions of people, one by one, that we are a credible, moral authority in the world. We must convey our optimism for the future of Africa, and we must be clear that the values Americans cherish are not uniquely American; they are universal.

By reaching out to individuals through cultural exchanges, language classes, and training for both political journalists and voters, the United States is contributing to the hopeful future of Africa. By laying the foundation for peaceful, inclusive societies, we are taking the strongest possible stand against terrorism and extremism - we are standing with the Africans.

Thank you.


Released on April 26, 2007

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