Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) delivered an engaging and broad-ranging speech on U.S. policy in Africa yesterday at John’s Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies. Senator Isakson is the Senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, and he has traveled to the continent many times over the last several years. Senator Isakson focused his remarks on three primary areas: 1. U.S. foreign assistance to Africa; 2. U.S. private investment in Africa; and 3. China’s presence in Africa.
Senator Isakson began his remarks by emphasizing that no continent will be more strategically important to the U.S. than Africa in the 21st Century. Senator Isakson went on to praise Presidents Bush and Obama for their commitment to engaging Africa and to investing in development programs, such as PEPFAR and the MCC. Senator Isakson focused on the MCC in particular, explaining that the MCC currently has 11 compacts in Africa and that these compacts are not only creating much needed infrastructure, but are also producing the types of political and economic reforms that are critical to long-term success. Senator Isakson also offered his strong support for the work that U.S. NGOs are performing in Africa, and he cited MFAN Partner CARE USA in particular for the great work that they are doing through microfinance programs in Africa.
Senator Isakson also offered up some broader arguments for how the U.S. should fashion its foreign assistance. Specifically, Senator Isakson said that U.S. foreign assistance programs must have a clear purpose and that they should do more to tackle corruption, to support democratization, and to introduce recipient countries to the principles of capitalism that will help develop sustainable economic growth over the long-term. Senator Isakson kept returning to the issue of corruption throughout his remarks, and repeatedly made the point that we must protect our investments in Africa by developing greater accountability and transparency.
Senator Isakson also spoke about the important role that the U.S. private sector is playing in Africa. He told the story of how Marathon Oil has invested millions in natural gas in Equatorial Guinea, helping the country have one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The Senator also praised Coca Cola, headquartered in his home state of Georgia, for their $30 million investment in purification projects to become a water neutral company and to develop greater access to clean water in Africa.
The last topic that Senator Isakson covered was China’s growing role in Africa. Senator Isakson was highly critical of the manner in which China’s engagement in Africa is focused on the extraction of resources and the deployment of Chinese workers for infrastructure projects, without any consideration for sustainable development solutions . By contrast, Senator Isakson praised the U.S. government for the way that it works with its African partners to plan and execute development programs that serve the needs of the people and that are held accountable.
In the Q&A section that followed the Senator’s speech, he responded to a question on how the current budget environment will impact U.S. foreign assistance programs. Senator Isakson argued that a cost-benefit analysis will have to be applied to U.S. foreign assistance programs, just like the rest of the Federal budget, but he is optimistic that development programs like PEPFAR and the MCC will continue to be funded, (though perhaps not at existing levels), because of the value they continue to demonstrate. The Senator also responded to several questions on the current situation in Libya, the Ivory Coast, and Sudan.
In conclusion, Senator Isakon’s participation and his remarks at this morning’s event at SAIS clearly displayed his passion for U.S. policy towards Africa and the depth of knowledge he has developed in this area during his tenure in Congress. Senator Isakson will undoubtedly be a lead voice in the U.S. Senate on Africa policy issues during the 112th Congress.