On Thursday, February 25th at 1pm EDT, the New York Center for Foreign Affairs held a webinar featuring expert speakers on US-Africa relations and the emerging threat of ISIL.
Featured speakers included:
Michael Olufemi Sodipo, PhD is the Founder & Project Coordinator of Peace Initiative Network (PIN), a Nigerian peacebuilding organization based in Kano, Nigeria.
Michael is an associate of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies – National Defense University Washington DC. Michael has worked extensively on projects related to peacebuilding and good governance in Nigeria. He is a Co-Founder and Project Coordinator of Peace Initiative Network (PIN), a NGO that focuses on peacebuilding, good governance, and development in Nigeria.
Dr. Olajumoke (Jumo) Ayandele is a Research Consultant at The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) and an incoming non-resident fellow at New York University Center for Global Affairs. Her research interests broadly focus on understanding the dynamic relationship and intersection between African conflict, human development, and political stability. She holds a Ph.D. in Global Affairs from Rutgers – The State University of New Jersey, an M.P.A. in International Development Policy and Management and a B.A. in Economics, both from New York University.
Ambassador Arouna Is the former Ambassador of the Republic of Benin to the United States, Mexico and the former Representative of the country to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Organization of American States. He is currently The Managing Partner of US-Africa Cybersecurity Group and the CEO of Global Specialty LLC.
Ms. Johanna Leblanc is a Haitian-American national security law and foreign policy expert. Ms. Leblanc serves as the Senior Advisor to both Haiti’s Ambassador to the United States and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Her portfolio includes, but not limited to, promoting the interests of the state before the United States Congress, White House, and other institutions, and advising the government on intergovernmental relations, immigration, national security, and trade.
In 2017, Ms. Leblanc was appointed to the Commission of African Affairs as a Commissioner by D.C. Mayor Bowser. She was subsequently appointed as the vice-chair of the commission. She advised the administration on how to address issues impacting the African Diaspora through public policy and testified at hearings. Ms. Leblanc currently serves as an Executive Board member of The African Diaspora Development Institute (The ADDI), where she was appointed by the Former African Union Ambassador to the United States.
The discussion was moderated by NYCFPA Principal Director, Justin Russell, who stated that the current status of US-Africa relations is in a dire stage, and that it is the position of the Center for the US government to make fostering the relationship a priority.
Some questions and answers included (responses shortened):
Justin Russell: When we talk about foreign policy in Africa, why is there a misconception that Africa is irrelevant to US foreign policy?
Jumo Ayendele: It is so far away, though there are 54 countries, but we lump them as one even though there are different nuances and cultures, context security crisis. Also, the media plays a role in it. Who are the countries, and why do they show them influences how policymakers view that particular state
Russell: Is America’s either insignificant role regarding Africa, or deplete role – how dangerous is it and is it contributing to the different crises in the region?
Michael Sodipo: Again, because Africa is far away and is lumped as one entity instead of seeing it as 54 different countries. America must get to know the different countries and their nuances.
Russell: To Johanna, as an emerging market, we seem to be losing this ground to China and Russia. Is this a money play?
Johanna Leblanc: Africa is 1.2 billion people – a very young population full of free thinkers, people ready to work, people who see the world through a different lense from the older generation….With that being said and taking this context into consideration, Africa should be a focus. We cannot afford to not engage Africa.
Russell: When we do talk about Africa and national security strategy, we have to talk about Islamic extremism for example, Boko Haram, among others is there a correlation between what we’re seeing in the disinterest of America and extremism on the continent?
Jumo: I don’t think so. I don’t think it has to do with the role of the United States. It has to do with local contacts and local nuances and the ability of islamic insurgent groups utilizing historical narratives to recruiting in vulnerable in local communities. Local governments have to be more responsible and do better.
Dr. Sodipo: Yes, I think that we should consider national interests. In order for the United States to support, they need to express sincerity and consider how to convey genuine interest and share information to deal with Boko Haram.
Russell: Is there a disconnect or lack of a cohesive coalition that could bring in further US involvement and be a deterrence against Islamic extremism?
Ambassador Arouna: One thing that is important is that we need to have stronger cooperation among the African states themselves. Also, we need to understand the goals of ISIS. They tend to go to vulnerable areas or “failed states.” They do not have “foot on the ground” per se. This is an area in which the US can improve, as well as with intelligence sharing. But also, assisting with logistics. The United States could get more involved on the ground and engage countries directly. When you hear it on the ground, the population has mixed feelings about that. They tend to lead from behind. Also, there was less of a relationship with Africa under the previous administration.
To watch the entire webinar click here.