Organized by:

Africa Program, Woodrow Wilson Center;  School of Advamced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University;  Foundation for World Wide Cooperation

"Africa: 53 Countries, One Union - The New Challenges" is a follow up to last year's Conference in Bologna. This Conference aims to bolster African initiatives toward unity, integration, and prosperity. Also, at issue will be the role of actors such as the United Nations, African Union, European Union, and the United States and China governments.


Ambassador Michael Battle, U.S. Ambassador the African Union

Ambassador Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa

Jessica Einhorn, Dean of SAIS; Johns Hopkins University

Obiageli Ezekwesili, Vice President; World Bank

Ambassador Ahmed Haggag, the Secretary-General of the African Society in Cairo

Jane Harman, Director, President, and CEO of The Wilson Center 

Victoria K. Holt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs

William Krist, Senior Fellow; The Wilson Center

Peter Lewis, Director of African Studies at SAIS

Ambassador Guijin Lui, Special Representative for African Affairs; People’s Republic of China

Susana Malcorra, Under-Secretary-General; Department of Field Support of the United Nations

Zachary Muburi-Muita, Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union

H.E. Ngwazi Prof. Bingu wa Mutharika, President of the Republic of Malawi

H.E. Romano Prodi, President; Foundation for World Wide Cooperation

Valentine Sendanyoye Rugwabiza, Deputy Director-General; World Trade Organization

John Sewell, Senior Fellow; The Wilson Center

Ambassador Guilio Terzi di Sant’Agata, Italian Ambassador to the U.S.

Congressman Chris Smith, Chairman, Africa Subcommittee in the House of Representatives

Koen Vervaeke, European Union Special Representative to the AU

Ambassador Mary Yates, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Africa; National Security Council

On June 15th and 16th, the Wilson Center’s Africa program in partnership with the Foundation for World Wide Cooperation and the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of Johns Hopkins University hosted the 2nd conference on, “Africa: 53 Countries, One Union - the New Challenges.” The conference brought together over 100 representatives from the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), the United Nations (UN), the United States and Chinese Governments along with academics, experts, and African ambassadors to discuss and debate international coordination in responding to the new challenges facing Africa in the areas of security, development and trade/investment and how to encourage regional integration in meeting these challenges.

The conference launch, sponsored by the Wilson Center, took place at the International Trade Center, and was hosted by Jane Harman, Director, President and CEO of the Wilson Center.  The Keynote address was given by H.E. Bingu wa Mutharika, Presdient of Malawi, and focused on the need for food security and his African Bread Basket Initiative.   Other speakers included Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chair of the African Subcommittee; Romano Prodi, co-sponsors and former Prime Minister of Italy; and Ambassador Guijin Lui, Special Representative for African Affairs of the People’s Republic of China.

The conference was held the next day at SAIS and was opened by Jessica Einhorn, the Dean of SAIS.  She cited infrastructure, poverty alleviation, education, health, and human resource issues as the key economic challenges to the continent.  Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata, the Italian Ambassador to the U.S., outlined climate change, energy, food security, employment, migratory flows and democratic governance as matters of paramount significance to Africa’s development.

Zachary Muburi-Muita, Head of the UN Office to the AU, and Ambassador Guijin Liu, Special Representative for African Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, emphasized the importance of regional integration in tackling issues of conflict and poverty in Africa. Ambassador Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, stressed the necessity to have multilateral international cooperation in order to ensure a common and efficacious policy with respect to trade, poverty, and conflict. Obiageli Ezekwesili, Vice President for the World Bank’s Africa Region, called on African political leaders to create strong institutions that induce and cultivate private investment and trade opportunities on the continent.

Peace, Security, Democracy

The first roundtable discussion session featured panelists who focused on the need for cooperation among regional organizations, the AU, the UN and the U.S. government as vital to bringing stability and peace to Africa. Ambassador Mary Yates, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Africa of the National Security Council, stated that democracy is enhanced by regional organizations and highlighted the Obama Administration’s national security strategy of placing primacy on global governance and international order.

Susana Malcorra, Under-Secretary-General, Department of Field Support of the UN, lauded the relationship between the AU and the UN with the assertion that “the AU and the UN have without any doubt a strong partnership that is here to stay.” In spite of differing opinions and strategies, she reminded the audience that the organizations have consistently worked together to find solutions to various problems. In broaching the controversial topic of financial support Malcorra said, “in these times of difficult financial reality that we are all faced with, it is unlikely that we will be able to fix all the problems in one go,” and called on the international community to unite to develop pragmatic and practical methods in addressing the urgent needs on the ground.

The Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, Victoria K. Holt, championed the encouragement and the maximization of multilateral engagement saying that no organization can meet all the development challenges singlehandedly. As for peacekeeping, she cautioned that conflict zones are more difficult to operate in, peace agreements are all too often weak and incomprehensive, the challenges associated with post-conflict environments are prevalent, and security provisions are not to be underestimated. She affirmed that mandates must dovetail with capacity. However, Holt went further in asserting that ‘capacity’ has to go beyond simply deploying troops into the field and it must encompass a  “willingness to take on the task [and] to know the background” of a conflict. Human capacity and leadership are vital to successful peacekeeping missions, and thus the challenge exceeds matters of funding.

Ambassador Ahmed Haggag, the Secretary-General of the African Society in Cairo, discussed his paper, “A Challenge: The Arab Spring in North Africa and it’s Ramification on the Continent,” with the admonition that “what happens in North Africa has everything to do with what is happening in the rest of Africa,” because those who are in revolt are trying to correct for human rights violations that have gone on for generations in their countries - a feat that Sub-Saharan Africans have been striving for. Attributing the successes of the Arab Spring to the youth and their ingenious ability to manipulate social media and information technology to organize, Haggag maintained that other regimes are taking note and recognizing that without reform, they will fall victim to a similar fate as those deposed leaders.  To the Sub-Saharan Africans, Haggag said that these revolutions should not be exported to the letter, but that the models to ensure a respect for human rights in their nations are relevant and applicable.

“We are two unions, so we believe in integration and effective multilateralism,” Koen Vervaeke, European Union Special Representative to the AU, asserted to demonstrate the EU’s commitment to capacity building efforts in Africa. The EU, he charged, seeks to promote African ownership at all levels and that the biggest obstacles to operational capacity of the AU and a deeper partnership with the EU are centered on issues of financing and political will.  Vervaeke said that at a certain level this lack of financing on the part of the AU is “the result of political decision and ownership of AU member states.”  In response to Haggag’s work, Vervaeke said that “what happened in North Africa was a governance and democratic uprising, not a coup d’état” differentiating it from prior social and political upheavals since the people were demanding a democratic transformation. He advocated for a layered approach to issues on the continent where complementarity between regional and local dynamics prevail.

In the same vein as Ambassador Haggag, the U.S. Ambassador to the AU, Michael Battle, declared that it would be “a gross error in judgment to think that [the Arab Spring] is somehow limited to North Africa.” Africa’s future, he charged, is for the African people to determine; the international community should not presume that it is capable of determining Africa’s future. It will never solve Africa’s problems in isolated discussion and partnership with African leadership. Instead, the international community must work with Africa as a partner with an equal stake in its future.

Economic Development: Infrastructure and Trade

In the second session, participants discussed the burden of weak infrastructure – including energy capabilities customs procedures and infrastructure maintenance – and how it weighs down Africa’s trade potential. The inaccessibility of finance and investment impede progress, but can be overcome by public-private partnerships as well as south-south cooperation. If African nations harness the potential of the informal market, diversify their economies, and boost regional integration to enhance their competitiveness in the global market, economic growth will witness a corresponding increase.

Peter Lewis, Director of African Studies at SAIS, contended that better infrastructure in the critical sectors of power and ICT would enhance trade on the continent substantially. Sound infrastructure, he posited, will be the result of the articulation of regulatory and innovative frameworks, which attract private sector investment. Lewis concluded his remarks by listing the key impediments to infrastructure development before providing policy recommendations available in detail in the discussion paper “Africa's Infrastructure Regional Challenges and Opportunities”.

In their discussion paper, “Trade and Economic Development”  John Sewell and William Krist, Senior Fellows at the Woodrow Wilson Center, addressed the issue of Sub-Saharan Africa making trade a priority and how African countries and trading partners can leverage the global trade system. Cognizant of the fact that each African country has different sets of circumstances Krist asserted that to expand trade, countries must have vibrant public-private sector dialogue as a means of reducing the costs of trade within countries. According to Sewell, harmonized efforts among the EU, US, and others would increase trade size. By supporting aid for trade programs, African countries would be positioned to build their capacity and to compete in the global marketplace. For Krist, a heightened emphasis on local trade and non-mineral commodities is necessary.

Valentine Sendanyoye Rugwabiza, Deputy Director-General of the World Trade Organization, stated that the absence of effective monitoring and accountability mechanisms prevents regional economic communities from developing. She noted that improvements in physical infrastructure without comparable progress in soft infrastructure will, in the long term, be worthless. She added that the aid for trade program seeks to facilitate access and affordability of trade finance. Rugwabiza also touched on the lack of reliable trade data due to the preponderance of the informal sector which constitutes 70% of trade on the continent causing formal traders to bear greater tax burdens.

Though China has drawn criticism from western nations for its investment strategies in Africa, Ambassador Liu did not hesitate to highlight the initiatives of the Chinese government and firms to build infrastructure on the continent and underscored that Beijing’s presence has, in fact, been welcomed by Africans. Liu maintained that Chinese companies invest in African countries that desperately need the infrastructure financing and are often shunned by foreign investors because they are considered too risky. The Ambassador admitted that China’s trade relations with African countries is based largely on extractive commodities, particularly minerals and oil but stated that China is not unique; as both the U.S. and various EU member countries have similar patterns of economic relations. He called on African countries to responsibly use revenue to diversify their own trade regimes. Ambassador Liu argued that China’s resource backed loan model fights corruption since the cash is disbursed from the bank directly to the Chinese company. Liu also opined that the economic and trade cooperation zones and/or industrial parks financed by Beijing create jobs and change the structure of trade in Africa.  He concluded by stating that China does not want to compete with the West in Africa – not replacing a “Washington consensus with a Beijing consensus” – but rather to seek ways in which to cooperate in meeting the development needs of the continent.

The Future

To conclude the conference, the participants reflected on what ought to be done to move these ideas forward. Rugwabiza said that Africa “is ready for business and we need to change from an approach of charity toward one built on business relations and partnership.” Ambassador Battle reiterated that our future is bound to the African continent and Ambassador Liu said that China and the West could be true partners on issues of trade and security on the African continent. Lewis characterized the identification of institutional, economic and political constraints that prevent the fomentation of stalwart regional relationships as critical for sustainable development. Furthermore, Africa’s external partners have a vested interest in identifying what local capacities need more development, an argument supported by Muburi-Muita, who called for “African nations to be assisted in uplifting themselves” economically and politically.

Looking forward, Ambassador Johnnie Carson asserted that, “In the coming years, Africa’s challenges will only grow more complex and transnational in nature.” He outlined three trends that will require the world’s attention and energy; the proliferation of advanced technologies that are used by criminal and terrorist networks to undermine long-term stability; the global demographic transition which necessitates that “Africa’s economies will have to grow and generate jobs at a significantly faster pace to keep up with population growth”; and global warming which threatens a rejuvenating agricultural sector with the potential to feed the continent’s population. 

Building on Ambassador Carson’s comments, Obiageli Ezekwesili posited that Africa “will need to become a friendlier investment destination and it needs to create opportunities for indigenous, small and medium size enterprises, including those led by women, who constitute 50 percent of Africa’s population.  This means that Africa will need to continue to create jobs in its areas of comparative advantage.  That is why at the World Bank today we say that agriculture is the next big thing that must happen in Africa.”

In conclusion, Romano Prodi said that “the economic and political fragmentation” that has hampered African development could be overcome through a combination of “coordinated interventions, liberalization, and bureaucratic engagement.”