On November 8-9, 2007, the Africa Program and the Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity partnered with the Committee on Capacity Building of the Washington-based African Diplomatic corps to host their second two-day orientation for African diplomats at the Wilson Center. The training initiative was designed to strengthen the diplomatic capacity and effectiveness of African Embassies in Washington DC by familiarizing diplomats with the American political system.

H.E. Nabil Fahmy (pictured above, right), ambassador of Egypt to the United States and chairman of the Committee on Capacity Building, and Africa Program Director Howard Wolpe (pictured above, left) opened the meeting. Over the next two days, the participants heard four panels of leading experts speak about different aspects of US government. During the first panel, Wolpe and Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute provided an overview of the American political environment, describing the structure of the government and the law-making process.

Focusing specifically on the executive branch, James Schear, director of Research of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, and Whitney Schneidman, president of Schneidman and Associates and former deputy assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, discussed what diplomats need to know about interagency relations the executive branch. The discussion stimulated a lively question-and-answer session, centering on the role, mandate, and structure of AFRICOM.

In the next session, Donald Wolfensberger, director of the Congress Project, and Adwoa Dunn-Mouton, consulting program manager for Congressional Staff Forum on Africa, provided a detailed examination of Congress—its structure and operations—as well as strategies for effective engagement with the legislative branch.

Lynne Duke, journalist and former African correspondent for the Washington Post, and Bill Black, senior vice president and senior partner of Fleishman-Hillard, enumerated practical strategies for maximizing visibility and communication effectiveness through the media. Duke provided an insider's perspective on techniques to attract positive media attention and, likewise, how to manage and effectively engage an aggressive press corp. The session underscored the importance of maintaining credibility and building personal relationships in cultivating successful media relations.

Providing insight into the operations of the executive branch, Congress, and the media, the panelists drew upon their years of hands-on experience to illustrate strategies for effective navigation of the American political system.