Youth and Visions for the Future of Africa - A Follow-Up to the President's Young African Leaders Forum
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs
(As Prepared Remarks)
Thank you, Karen, for that warm welcome.
Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen.
It's always an honor to be at the White House, and to be here today with such a diverse and dynamic audience.
We draw energy from the excitement and commitment you embody as we move forward in working together with Africa, and the international community, to address the common challenges of peace and security, and meeting the Millennium Development Goals. You represent a new generation of emerging African leaders – a generation engaged and connected as never before.
As Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations – I oversee U.S. interaction with a host of international organizations, especially the United Nations. I am thrilled to work for a President and a Secretary of State dedicated to multilateral engagement and determined to address global challenges with global means. The Young African Leaders Forum is a significant example of the strengthening bonds between the United States, African nations and the wider international community.
President Obama made that point while in Ghana last year, when he said, "I do not see the countries and peoples of Africa as a world apart; I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected world."
We realize that many of Africa’s most pressing challenges – water, child and maternal health, food security, economic development – are most effectively addressed in conversation and cooperation with neighbors, regional organizations, and the international community as a whole.
However, when President Obama spoke to the Young African Leaders Forum in August, he spoke not only about Africa’s challenges, but its opportunities as well. He spoke eloquently about a vision of Africa on the move -- "An Africa that’s modernizing and creating opportunities – agribusiness, prosperity, political progress and pursuing a broadband revolution that could transform the daily lives of future generations."
You may know that the UN’s International Year of Youth began last month. Nowhere is such a designation more important than in Africa – a continent where sixty percent of the population is under the age of 25. Indeed, this fact alone demands that we expand our interaction with African youth, whether future business and political leaders, or the next generation of media figures, athletic heroes, or community advocates.
And so, we are eager to find new avenues, new venues for that interaction, and among those venues is the United Nations and other international organizations, such as the African Union. The United States has a long history with the UN: We hosted the birth of the UN, and have remained its largest funder for the last 65 years.
These facts notwithstanding, Americans are not always entirely aware of the scope and scale of the UN’s role in the promotion of global peace and security, development, health, and a host of other issues. In many African nations, as you well know, the UN is a visible presence, deeply involved in development efforts, peacekeeping operations, and democracy promotion.
So, one of the Administration’s goals is to remind Americans of the crucial utility of the United Nations. This is an effort that complements the President’s larger vision of an era of engagement - an era focused on ensuring that multilateral diplomacy is central to U.S. foreign policy. That means playing a leading role at the UN, a constructive role, framed by U.S. goals and objectives.
At the end of the day, we invest in this process because multilateral diplomacy provides a system to engage the widest range of actors and to share the cost of action on a host of transnational and global issues.
We know that working with international organizations enhances the tools of diplomacy by providing a central place to find common solutions to complex problems. It allows the international community to set global standards, and provide support necessary for states to meet these standards and abide by norms. Finally it enables us to quickly rally a global response to critical needs and crises.
We engage because international organizations, including the United Nations and regional organizations like the African Union, offer unique opportunities to advance the world’s shared aspirations. Having committed to an era of engagement in 2009, the President has been busy:
- He has put nuclear nonproliferation at the top of his global agenda, and has pledged American leadership in support of a world free of nuclear weapons.
- He has reasserted U.S. leadership in support of universal human rights, including by seeking and winning election to the UN Human Rights Council.
- He has energized U.S. leadership on environmental issues including climate change.
- He has called the Millennium Development Goals "America’s Goals," and has committed expanded U.S. support toward the full realization of the Goals by 2015.
These actions and many others demonstrate the U.S commitment to address 21st century challenges. At the root of this commitment is the understanding that we as people, as states, as regions are more connected, interconnected, and inseparable with each passing day.
Given this global proximity, we must find means of acting together to tackle thorny transnational problems.
- For example, we must strengthen global UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities.
- On climate change, that means concerted action by all nations. President Obama spoke about the responsibility of the U.S. and major emitters last September stating, "we have a responsibility to provide the financial and technical assistance needed to help nations adapt to the impacts of climate change and pursue low-carbon development."
- On development, it means investment, innovation, and accountability.
- On terrorism, it means speaking as one to condemn acts such as the Kampala bombings during the World Cup.
The United States understands the importance of human security. That is why we have elevated and integrated development as a core element of U.S. national security policy, and fully embraced the Millennium Development Goals.
The Millennium Development Goals represent a global commitment to promote development. To complement these goals -- the United States has launched two major initiatives that highlight our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, the Global Health Initiative and the Feed the Future Initiative.
Today, more than one billion people – nearly one-sixth of the world's population – suffer from chronic hunger. This crisis has devastating and far-reaching effects. Each year, more than 3.5 million children die from undernutrition.
To help address this burgeoning problem, the United States recently unveiled the "Feed the Future" initiative to promote improved food security by investing in actions that address the root causes of chronic hunger and poverty. This new strategy recognizes that food security is fundamental for economic security, development, education, etc.
Reaching millions of people across the world, the United States will commit an unprecedented amount of funding – and a minimum of $3.5 billion over the next three years – to help select countries make progress and meet hunger related Millennium Development Goals.
The same is true on health issues, where the United States recently launched the Global Health Initiative. The initiative, is a six-year, $63 billion strategy to help partner countries improve measurable health outcomes by strengthening health systems and building upon proven results The initiative is rooted in an understanding that today’s major health challenges are global by definition, and thus require a global response.
As a result of this initiative, the United States will make new investments in strengthening health systems in Africa and elsewhere - with a particular focus on improving the health of women, newborns and children.
At a recent speech, Secretary Clinton highlighted the Global Health Initiative stating, "It represents a new approach, informed by new thinking and aimed at a new goal: To save the greatest possible number of lives, both by increasing our existing health programs, and by building upon them to help countries develop their own capacity to improve the health of their own people."
I’m sure you would agree that these are important goals, important initiatives. But I also hope you hear in what I am saying today a qualitative difference in the U.S. approach to global issues. Yes, the United States is back at the multilateral table, and very happy to be back. But the U.S. is also back with vigor; focus and a purpose that I believe are unprecedented.
I’ve gone on long enough and will end there. I look forward to hearing your voices and answering your questions. Thank you very much.