US assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson

On April 5, in a speech at Harvard University Secretary of State Clinton’s lead diplomat for Africa Johnnie Carson outlined policy guidelines for sub-Saharan Africa.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Carson is a seasoned, three-time ambassador to Africa with an illustrious career as a diplomat and an analyst of African affairs.   His speech stressed the importance of strengthening African governments and institutions, promoting economic progress, addressing health challenges, preventing and resolving conflicts, and meeting transnational challenges from climate change to drug trafficking.  In short, Carson followed the familiar, consensus-based road map drawn-up by previous Administrations.

Yet, Ambassador Carson failed to mention Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, “genocide” in Darfur,  Sudan’s fragile elections process, the case of Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir before the International Criminal Court, the presence of Islamist extremists Shabab and its linkage with the al-Qaeda in  Somalia, or the ongoing maritime challenge of Somalia piracy.  The Carson policy speech lifted goalposts, but revealed nothing of a genuine game plan.

The Carson’s speech failed to bridge the persistent gap between modest if well-intentioned actions by the Obama Administration and tough, often intractable, challenges faced in the conflictive and uncertain arena of many African states that have either failed as nations or preserve only the most tenuous capacity to govern.  He said little about the need for hardball diplomacy, multilateralism with teeth, and the use of military and intelligence assets in the region.

There is little doubt that the future of sub-Saharan Africa hinges essentially on the will African people to overcome tribal, religious, and social divisions in order to advance within a framework of democracy, free markets, rule of law, and stable national security.

One critical benchmark largely missing in the current policy for Africa is the importance of economic freedom.  Sub-Saharan African places just one country (Mauritius) in the top 20 and twelve in the top 100 in the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, the Heritage Foundation’s data-riven annual policy guide.

Likewise, Assistant Secretary Carson failed to mention that  one of the greatest steps the U.S. can take to assist Africa is the lowering or removal of U.S. agricultural subsidies in order to open the door for more African agricultural imports and for real rural growth in Africa needed to lift millions out of poverty.