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Overall Picture of Afrcia Panel Discussion Opening Remarks

Ambassador Ruth A. Davis, Senior Adviser and Chief of Staff to the Assistant Secretary
University of Oklahoma International Programs Center
Norman, Oklahoma
September 14, 2006

Good morning, I am your moderator, Ambassador Ruth A. Davis, and I would like to welcome you to this morning's panel discussion, which is entitled "Overall Picture of Africa."

I would posit that the picture is one filled with reasons for hope. There are numerous developments indicating that we are living during a historic window of opportunity. 

First, I can say that as a member of the United States Foreign Service, I come to this discussion having seen first-hand that President Bush and Secretary Rice have made Africa a policy priority.

This is evident in the various new Africa-oriented initiatives that President Bush has introduced over the last five years, including the Millennium Challenge Account, which aims to encourage economic growth and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which is an immediate response to HIV/AIDS.

On the continent, every day we see that Africans are taking hold of their collective destiny and making strides toward a better, more peaceful future. Consider how much has changed in the last five years alone. War has yielded to negotiation in five formerly contentious settings.

Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have all experienced a tremendous shift.

We have witnessed incredible success stories that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. Liberia has come out of civil war and held democratic elections. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who will address us during lunch, made history by becoming the first woman ever elected as a head of state in Africa. The United States has full confidence in President Sirleaf's tireless efforts to rebuild her country and will no doubt continue to support the President.

This is not to say that Liberia's democracy is unique. In fact, the truth is that sub-Saharan Africa does not suffer a democracy deficit. More than two-thirds of sub-Saharan countries have had democratic elections since 2000.

Power has changed hands in a number of nations, from Senegal to Tanzania, and from Ghana to Zambia.

Liberia recently saw the end of its civil war and the installation of Africa's first elected woman president. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is likewise moving beyond transition, having recently held free elections for the first time since 1960.

In registering to vote in record numbers, in approving a constitution by 84 percent, and in turning out 70 percent of voters for July 30th elections, the Congolese have cast their vote for democracy. We are witnessing an historical shift that should make us hopeful about the outcome of the presidential run-off and provincial elections scheduled to take place on October 29.

So, elections have been a success. Over the next two to three years, the goal is to move beyond elections as the measure of freedom, and toward supporting African efforts to fortify government accountability. Good governance is an essential prerequisite for any other social changes. 

Of course, no nation or continent can be considered truly mighty without a dynamic economy to complement a government built on freedom. By that measure, Africa is a continent on the move. This is an era of mounting economic strength in Africa. 

Across the continent, nations are implementing economic reforms to help their people, as well as international investors. Twenty nations in sub-Saharan Africa experienced more than five percent growth in 2004, according to last year's World Development Indicators. When compared to other developing nations, the 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa look dynamic, and for foreign investors, the business climate is attractive. 

Despite these overwhelming successes, significant challenges remain such as Cote d'Ivoire, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Somalia. 

In the coming years, we can expect African leaders to grapple with three very real challenges, namely: consolidating democratic gains, expanding economic growth, and stemming the spread of HIV/AIDS. However, leaders will be confronting these issues within a context marked by less conflict, better governance, and increased prosperity and opportunity for their citizens. 

In sum, the trajectory of Africa's fortunes is heading upward. We cannot know what the future holds, but the present gives us every reason to be hopeful for the people of Africa. 

And with that, I would like to introduce our panelists.

Released on March 15, 2007

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