Sunday, November 28, 2021

Summary of “The Dissent Channel: American Diplomacy in a Dishonest Age”

Book Summary from Fadji:

The Dissent Channel chronicles Elizabeth Shackleford's last few years in the Department of State, a career marked by her year-long tour in South Sudan. In Juba, she finds herself at the forefront of the US' diplomatic outreach with a country it had helped create, but whose government had turned increasingly authoritarian and been accused of gross human rights violations. The situation creates a conundrum for the diplomat who struggles to reconcile her day-to-day functions with values espoused by the department and the US government--values that pushed her to join DoS in the first place. Following the tough tour, Lizzy and a colleague decide to draft a dissent cable: an act that doesn't lead to any substantial policy debate regarding US engagement with Juba. 

In retrospect, she admits a certain level of naivete in thinking she was aware of all factors affecting her leadership's decision making processes and in also thinking she could bring about change from the inside.
The portion of the book dealing with her public resignation is disappointingly short. She makes it known, however, that what she perceived as the previous administration's lack of commitment to diplomacy and American values accelerated her exit from the department.

Her drive and idealism are to be admired, so is her unapologetic belief in the primacy of American values and ideals: causes that are worthy of being propagated by a professional diplomatic corps enjoying the full support of the US government and the American public. Lizzy would argue that American power and greatness lie in its values and ideals, as written and professed. She might add, however, that failing to abide by them calls into question our true intentions abroad, and especially in Africa.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Session 6 with Hilltop Global Group: Connecting US Academic Institutions and the African Continent (8 May 2021)

For our next webinar on 8 May (VE Day), we will host Osa Imohe and Phil Agbeko. Phil and Osa founded Hilltop Global Group, a small education consulting firm in DC, focused on assisting U.S. academic institutions implement experiential learning programs in Africa. 

Our discussion will center on the following themes:

  1. Accurately conveying an African narrative to an audience interacting with the continent for the first time.
  2. Soft Power via private enterprise responding to a need from academic institutions.
  3. Role of the diaspora in facilitating exchanges between the US and the African continent.
  4. Challenges and opportunities doing business in Africa before/during/after COVID.
Previous FRAG Sessions:

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Summary: "The Last Hunger Season" by Roger Thurow

Fadji wrote this summary in preparation for our upcoming session with Roger this Saturday, 10 April.

"The Last Hunger Season" is an account of a year Roger Thurow spends in a Kenyan farming community on the brink of change through the adoption of hybrid seeds, fertilizer, training, and a credit system provided by the US-based “One Acre Fund” non-profit social enterprise. The author is absent in the narrative, which focuses instead on the farmers’ lived experience as they adopt new techniques.

The book reemphasizes some of the themes discussed in his first publication, “enough,” mainly the need for US humanitarian and development assistance to provide sustainable and lasting programs that would improve yield, prevent crop failure, and ensure food security locally. As he points out, it costs five to six times more money to deliver one ton of American grown maize to Africa than to provide smallholder African farmers with the seed and fertilizer needed to produce the ton of maize themselves.

In that vein, Roger highlights the US government’s Feed the Future program and the recent creation of the Bureau for Food Security within USAID as positive steps in that direction. The book also points out that other geopolitical actors such as China have started investing in agricultural projects across the continent, setting the stage for Beijing reaping the fruits of the upcoming African green revolution.

In a prelude to his last book, “The First 1000 Days,” Roger notes that hunger and food insecurity, especially in expectant mothers and young children leads to a lifetime of physiological issues, which directly translates into lower health outcomes, unrealized productivity, all of which hindering a country’s economic growth and development prospects.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Session 5 with Roger Thurow: Food (In) Security and Its Role in Sub-Saharan Conflict (10 Apr 2021)

 A recording is available at our Facebook Group Page. Alternatively, members can contact Fadji or Jack for a link to the YouTube recording.

Roger Thurow Biography:

So we’re proud to have Mr. Roger Thurow from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs where he has served as its senior fellow on global food and agriculture since 2010 after spending three decades at The Wall Street Journal. For 20 years, he was a foreign correspondent based in Europe and Africa. His coverage of global affairs spanned the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the release of Nelson Mandela, the end of apartheid, the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and the humanitarian crises of the first decade of this century–along with 10 Olympic Games.

In 2003, he and Journal colleague Scott Kilman wrote a series of stories on famine in Africa that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting. Their reporting on humanitarian and development issues has also been honored by the United Nations. Thurow and Kilman are authors of the book ENOUGH: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty. In 2009, they were awarded Action
Against Hunger's Humanitarian Award. He is also the author of The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change, and his most recent book, The First 1,000 Days: A Crucial Time for Mothers and Children—and the World, was published in May 2016.

Thurow is an expert on agricultural development and speaks often on high-visibility platforms related to nutrition, hunger, and agriculture in the United States, Europe, and Africa. In 2013, he spoke about the power smallholder farmers in Africa at TedxChange Seattle event, hosted by Melinda Gates. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa and lives in Washington, DC, with his wife, and two children.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Session 4 with Amb. Campbell: Nigeria and the Nation-State: Rethinking Diplomacy with the Post-Colonial World (6 Mar 2021)

NOTE: This session was held on 6 February.  

A recording is available at our Facebook Group Page. Alternatively, members can contact Fadji or Jack for a link to the YouTube recording. 

Ambassador Campbell Biography:

He is the Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC. He is the author of the new book Nigeria and the Nation-State: Rethinking Diplomacy with the Postcolonial World, published December 2020, and writes the blog Africa in Transition. From 1975 to 2007, Campbell served as a U.S. Department of State Foreign Service officer. He served twice in Nigeria, as political counselor from 1988 to 1990, and as ambassador from 2004 to 2007. Campbell's additional overseas postings include Lyon, Paris, Geneva, and Pretoria. He also served as deputy assistant secretary for human resources, dean of the Foreign Service Institute's School of Language Studies, and director of the Office of UN Political Affairs.

From 2007 to 2008, he was a visiting professor of international relations at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was also a Department of State mid-career fellow at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Prior to his career in the Foreign Service, he taught British and French history at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia. 

Campbell has also written Nigeria: What Everyone Needs to Know, coauthored with Matthew Page and published in July 2018, Morning in South Africa, which came out in May 2016, and Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink, the second edition of which was released in June 2013. He edits both the Nigeria Security Tracker and the Sub-Saharan Security Tracker.

Campbell received a BA and MA in history from the University of Virginia and a PhD in seventeenth-century English history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Italian AMB to the DRC, Luca Attanasio, and two others were killed in the east of the country on Monday. This tragic event highlights one of the central points in your book, namely that post-colonial African states struggle to maintain effective control and security in the far reaches of their territories. In your book you recommend a decentralization of US diplomatic footprint in Nigeria/Africa to better engage with civil society and local leaders, while also acknowledging the risks to diplomatic personnel. Could you talk about how you envision that working?
  2. On 1 March, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala became the first woman and African to lead the WTO. The Nigerian economist and former finance minister has stated that one of her first priorities will be to work on easing export restrictions on COVID vaccines so countries in the global south can access them. How would such a WTO ruling affect the US and its efforts to combat the pandemic? Could her tenure as director general of the WTO usher in a new era for countries in the global south that have historically been marginalized and faced unequal terms of trade?
  3. In your book, you convincingly explain the current predicament of Post-Colonial Nigeria and African states, where fragile national identity, exploitative and predendal leadership, and weak government control in the periphery create the illusion of a nation-state in the Westphalian sense. That description harkens back to Kwame Nkrumah’s warning of what a neo-colonial state, unprotected by a united African Union would look like, when he wrote “ For those who practise it, it means power without responsibility and for those who suffer from it, it means exploitation without redress. In the days of old-fashioned colonialism, the imperial power had at least to explain and justify at home the actions it was taking abroad.” Would you argue that Nkrumah’s vision offers an alternate explanation for Nigeria’s current predicament?
  4. You touched on corruption and illicit outflow of funds as an impediment to development in Nigeria. The US Congress has acted with the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Act to assist US Courts identify and hold accountable those involved in moving stolen assets from foreign governments through the US banking system. Can more be done in this regard? Last year, a UN report revealed that 800 Billion Dollars were illegally siphoned from African state coffers in the last 15 years, not to mention the amount of legitimate capital flight.
  5. In making the case that Nigeria, like other post-colonial African states, might not be viable in the long term, instead of resorting to breakups along national, religious, linguistic, and ethnic lines, a process that could prove violent, do you see the AU and regional bodies’ efforts to accelerate integration as a remedy for the weakness and ineffectiveness of the post-colonial state in Africa. (ie: AfCFTA, AU reforms ushered by Kagame, etc…)
  6. Rapid demographic growth in Africa is often talked about as a tragedy. In the book, you warn about the Malthusian crisis that can arise from unchecked population growth in Nigeria and across the continent. While this assessment is fair and supported by evidence, do you worry that it misses the point that Africa is still one of the least densely populated continents on the planet, while also being the repository for the world’s most arable land and most coveted natural resources?
  7.  In making the case for a rethink of US diplomacy towards Nigeria, “The pretense of treating Nigeria as a Nation-State -- something it is not -- will no longer do,” you pointed to climate change, the environment, demography, migration, changes within the diaspora as variables to be taken into account while engaging with the Nigeria. Could you expound on that?
  8. With issues of Anti-SARS and protests against police brutality in Nigeria that we saw in late 2020, do you see parallels to similar movements in the United States. Are there lessons we can take from this connection on both sides of the Atlantic?
  9. As most of you know we created this group’s name based on a story Nelson Mandela told in several speeches where he shared this idea of having crossed famous rivers in his career and notably how he used these crossings to grow, absorb new ideas and renounce old ones. So as is customary with these sessions, we’d like to ask if you could share some of the famous rivers you’ve crossed in your career or life? And maybe you could also share what struck you most serving in South Africa during its transition from apartheid.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Session 3 with Dr. Tristan Mabry: Nationalism and Pan-Africanism--Challenges and Opportunities Discussion (6 Feb 2021)

NOTE: This session was held on 6 February.  

A recording is available at our Facebook Group Page. Alternatively, members can contact Fadji or Jack for a link to the YouTube recording.

Professor Mabry Biography:

Tristan is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of National Security Affairs, School of International Graduate Studies, at the Naval Postgraduate School. Dr. Mabry came to NPS in 2009 from the Department of Government at Georgetown University. Previously, Dr. Mabry taught in the joint Peace and Conflict Studies Program at Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College.  His first career was in journalism, as a writer and producer for CNN, and as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal.  Dr. Mabry is a specialist in the comparative politics of nationalism, ethnic conflict, and identity politics across Eurasia, including Central, South and Southeast Asia. He is the author of Nationalism, Language and Muslim Exceptionalism, a comparative study of Muslim minority separatist movements based on field research in Iraq, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and elsewhere.  He is also the lead editor of Divided Nations and European Integration, a collected volume on the politics of regional integration affecting national communities separated by state borders. His work has appeared in a plethora of highly regarded journals.  Dr. Mabry received his B.A. in Canada from McGill University; his M.Sc. (with Distinction) in the United Kingdom from the London School of Economics and Political Science; and his M.A. and Ph.D. in the United States from the University of Pennsylvania.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define nationalism in the context of ethnic conflict?  
  2.  What parallels can be drawn from the manifestation of nationalism in the African context and what we are currently seeing happening at home?
  3.  Could you please discuss the concept of identity in the 21st century and how modern technology and social media is being used to mobilize groups?
  4.  I still vividly remember a map of the world you had in your ethnic conflict class in 2013. The continents on your map were sized, relative to their wealth. I believe the message you were trying to convey with the map was that inequality and relative deprivation can fuel nationalist movements. Fast forward to 2021, and with inequality reported to still be on the rise, what prognosis do you have when it comes to the occurence of violent nationalist movements?
  5.  With the advent of widespread DNA testing ( 21 and met, etc..) a growing number of African Americans are looking towards Africa to reconnect with their lineage. In return, some African countries are also marketing themselves as an attractive destination for returnees (Ghana with the year of the return, Kenya etc...) How do you see this phenomenon playing out?
  6.  Is Nationalism always a bad thing?  If not, where has it been used productively?  What are the ways that states have productively dealt with nationalism?  
  7. How has violent nationalism been addressed and grievances addressed in other countries (e.g., in Africa, in Rwanda and other places)?  What would resolution/reconciliation mean in the U.S. context (how is it different from the African conception of this)?  
  8.  As most of you know we created this group’s name based on a story Nelson Mandela told in several speeches where he shared this idea of having crossed famous rivers in his career and notably how he used these crossings to grow, absorb new ideas and renounce old ones.  So as is customary with these sessions, we’d like to ask if you could share some of the famous rivers you’ve crossed in your career or life?

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Session 2 with Dr. Harry Verhoeven: A Discussion on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Oxford University) 23 Jan 2021

NOTE: This session was held on 23 January 2021.

A recording is available at our Facebook Group Page. Alternatively, members can contact Fadji or Jack for a link to the YouTube recording.

Doctor Harry Verhoeven Biography:

Harry is the Convenor of the Oxford University China-Africa Network. He is an Associate Member of the Department of Politics & International Relations of the University of Oxford and the editor of the Cambridge University Press book series on Intelligence and National Security in Africa & the Middle East. He is the author of Water, Civilisation and Power in Sudan: the Political Economy of Military-Islamist State Building and Why Comrades Go To War. Liberation Politics and the Outbreak of Africa's Deadliest Conflict. Harry is a Senior Adviser to the European Institute of Peace.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In your opinion, how have recent political and security developments in Sudan (Bashir’s ouster) and Ethiopia (Tigray) affected appetite for energy-driven regional integration? Specifically, how do you anticipate the conflict in the Tigray region will affect the strength of Ethiopia’s negotiating position with regard to the GERD? What role could Eritrea play in all of this?
  2. An interesting data point for me was the contrast between energy consumption in the UK vs Ethiopia (5,500 vs 37 kWh per person). Against the backdrop of climate change and with efforts by countries such as Ethiopia to develop/industrialize, I think this raises important questions over global efforts to address greenhouse gas emissions. How have projects such as the GERD construction factored into international efforts to address climate change (I am talking specifically about the Paris Climate Agreement, which the new administration just rejoined)? Shouldn’t the international community be more supportive of this project and support an energy-driven regional integration approach? From an infrastructure perspective Is Ethiopia prepared to harness the potential power output from the dam when finished? What will be the power benefits to the region at large?
  3. Are there cautionary lessons that can be gleaned from other major dam projects applicable here?
  4. Do you have any sense as to how the new current administration will view the ongoing negotiations, particularly with regard to the current US-Egypt relationship, and the recent suspension of ongoing aid to Ethiopia under the previous administration? At least in Ethiopia, the U.S. stance on the GERD visibly turned the tide of public support towards the U.S.
  5. Is there an authoritative international governing body or legal framework that governs the use of water resources from rivers traversing multiple countries--akin to the UNCLOS: UN Convention on the Law of the Sea? How is the approach being used in other nations?
  6. Has Egypt been using its water responsibly for the last few decades? What does responsible water management look like for a downstream riparian country?
  7. Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, and the AU? What are the alliances playing out and with the potential to play out?
  8. What are the GPC-related concerns with regard to the Chinese financing associated with the GERD's turbine equipment, etc. ?
  9. You've had an impressive, widely-traveled career already? Aside from surviving the winter in Buffalo, what have been your famous rivers in your career?


Saturday, January 9, 2021

Inaugural Session: China in Africa Discussion with Professor Jennifer Cooke (GWU Institute of African Studies Director) 9 Jan 2021

NOTE: We held our first session on 9 January 2021. We had some technical Zoom problems so only the audio version of the event is available for our members. The recording is available at our Facebook Group Page.

Professor Jennifer Cooke Bio:

She is director of the Institute for African Studies at The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs. The Institute serves as central for research, scholarly discussion, and debate on issues relevant to Africa. She is a prolific writer and professor of practice in international affairs, teaching courses on U.S. Policy Toward Africa and Transnational Security Threats in Africa.

FRAG Introductory Remarks:

As Americans, it is hard for us to proceed without thinking about the events that unfolded this week in DC. Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin declared that “"The post-9/11 era is over. The single greatest national security threat right now is our internal division. If we don't reconnect our two Americas, the threats will not have to come from the outside." In this context, we believe forums such as these are more important than ever in creating the space for having frank and honest debates about geopolitical issues in our field. We hope these webinars will inspire our group to think creatively for ways to work together, as one, to address issues that, if unresolved, could have serious ramifications here at home. With that said, let’s proceed with the Q&A session.

  1. So many in our group have daughters and sons growing alongside of us in locations across the African continent, can you share with us some memories and/or lessons growing up in Côte d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic and how they shaped you?  
  2. All too often, we gloss over someone’s CV or Bio in the introductory remarks but perhaps you could share a little about your professional journey: what were the “famous rivers” that you crossed since graduating from Harvard? In particular, perhaps you could speak a little on the National Academy of Sciences in the Office of Human Rights--that’s an organization that some may not have heard but which has an important mission.
  3. How important is Africa to American national security and economic prosperity?
  4. Too often, US-Africa policy is framed through the lens of foreign aid, humanitarian assistance, and support for peacekeeping operations. Does that view miss the mark? If so, how do we change the narrative to allow Americans to view Africa as an asset instead of a liability? The underlying assumption here is that with a reassessed importance, Washington would be more apt to prioritize engagement with Africa. 
  5. What are the People’s Republic of China’s ultimate actual goals in Africa? Are those goals beneficial to Africa? Are those goals compatible with U.S. objectives? If so, are there areas for cooperation or is the GPC narrative a permanent one for the foreseeable future?
  6. What are your views on US economic policies in Africa to counter Chinese influence in a new administration? Is what we have in place enough? (AGOA, MCC, OPIC)
  7. How have the PRC’s Forum On China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), Infrastructure investment by way of the Belt and Road Initiative, and military basing in Djibouti changed the China-Africa Policy landscape?
  8. Recent Afro-barometer surveys in African countries have shown that a growing number of Africans hold positive views of the PRC’s development model and engagement in Africa. Although Beijing still lags behind the US, the surveys have shown that Beijing is trending up. Do you worry the US will be eclipsed by China in the near future? If so, what would the ramifications of an Africa that looks to Beijing instead of Washington be?
  9. What is the scorecard for American Post-independence engagement with Africa? Have we succeeded or failed? 

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