CFR Events Audio
Academic Webinar: African Politics and Security Issues
Michelle Gavin, CFR’s Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies, leads a conversation on African politics and security issues.
FASKIANOS: Welcome to today’s session of the CFR fall of 2021 Academic Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach at CFR.
Today’s discussion is on the record and the video and transcript will be available on our website, cfr.org/academic. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
We’re delighted to have Michelle Gavin with us today to talk about African politics and security issues. Ambassador Gavin is CFR’s Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies. Previously, she was managing director of the Africa Center, a multidisciplinary institution dedicated to increasing understanding of contemporary Africa.
From 2011 to 2014, she served as the U.S. ambassador to Botswana and as the U.S. representative to the Southern African Development Community, and prior to that, she was a special assistant to President Obama and the senior director for Africa at the National Security Council. And before going into the Obama administration, she was an international affairs fellow and adjunct fellow for Africa at CFR. So we are so delighted to have her back in our fold.
So, Michelle, thank you very much for being with us. We have just seen that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken went on a trip to Africa. Maybe you could begin by talking about the strategic framework that he laid out on that trip, and then we have in just recent days—with a new variant of Omicron—seen the travel ban imposed on several African countries and what that means for the strategic vision that he laid out.
GAVIN: Sure. Thank you. Well, thank you so much for inviting me to join you today. And I looked at the roster. There’s so much amazing expertise and knowledge on this Zoom. I really look forward to the exchange and the questions. I know I’ll be learning from all of you.
But maybe just to start out to talk a little bit about Secretary Blinken’s trip because I think that, in many ways, his efforts to sort of reframe U.S. engagement on the continent, trying to move away from this sort of binary major power rivalry lens that the Trump administration had been using is useful, but also exposes, really, a lot of the challenges that policymakers focused on Africa are dealing with right now.
So he tried to reset the relationship in the context of a partnership, of purely acknowledging African priorities and African agency in determining what kind of development partners Africa is interested in, what kind of security partners. I think that’s a very useful exercise. Then he kind of ticked through, as every official has to do in making these big framing statements as sort of broad areas of engagement and cooperation, and he talked about increasing trade, which, of course, is interesting right now with AGOA sunsetting soon, working together to combat pandemic diseases, particularly COVID, working together on climate change, where, of course, Africa has borne more consequences than many other regions of the world while contributing far less to the problem, working together on the democratic backsliding and authoritarian sort of surge that we’ve seen around the world and, finally, working together on peace and security.
So this huge agenda, and I think what’s interesting and what in many ways his trip made clear is that it’s very hard to get to the first four points when the last one, the peace and security element, is in chaos.
And, look, obviously, Africa’s a big continent. All of us who ever engage in these conversations about Africa are always—are forever trying to provide the disclaimer, right, that there’s never one African story. There’s never one thing happening in this incredibly diverse continent.
But it is the case that the peace and security outlook on the continent is really in bad s
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