US mission to AU shows commitment to Africa

The United States was the first major non-African country to appoint a full-time ambassador to the African Union (AU), and that shows the importance the people of the United States attach to their partnership with the people of Africa, says the US ambassador to the African Union, Michael Battle.
In an October 26, 2009 interview with, Battle said the United States Mission to the African Union is “very significant” for two reasons. First, it demonstrates that the US government sees the African Union as being critically important to the development of its policy toward the African continent.

Second, Battle said, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton see Africa “as having the capacity to function with a single voice on continent wide issues, like the European Union acts as a single voice on issues that affect Europe.”

Once the AU gets beyond dealing with the immediate peace and security concerns of Somalia and Sudan, Battle said, it will be free to focus on economic integration, health and the social issues that affect the continent.
“So much of the AU’s time is spent on peace and security because of crises the continent is facing. I am looking forward to the day when the continent would not be catastrophe and crisis-oriented but would be able to focus long-term on its development, role and interaction with the world community,” he said.

Battle said the African Union and the US mission there are focused on promoting regional peace and security throughout the continent, especially in hot spots such as Guinea, where Presidential Guard troops are reported to have opened fire and killed more than 150 pro-democracy demonstrators and injured more than 1200.
The military also stands accused of carrying out brutal rapes and sexual assaults on women demonstrators and bystanders.
[The United States has urged Captain Dadis Camara and the ruling junta to recognize that they cannot remain in power and must allow the people of Guinea to choose their own rulers. It has also urged the junta to stand by its promise to hold free, fair, timely and transparent elections that will ensure a return to stability, economic progress and democratic rule.]

Battle said he has coordinated closely with the US ambassador in Guinea to make the U.S. voice known at the AU. He added, however, that the United States was pleased that the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) both had “very strongly” called for free, fair and democratic elections to be held in Guinea.

On October 26 at the United Nations, the US permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Susan Rice, commended the African Union and efforts of African nations for their peacekeeping roles throughout the continent.

The African Union is also important to the United States, Battle said, because the continent of Africa is confronting so many of the major issues that the world will be facing in the future. One such issue, he said, is food security. That issue is more important in Africa than any other place on the globe because there has been a record of food deprivation in Africa and also because there is an abundance of land that can and should be cultivated.
“We have to strengthen the African Union’s capacity through agricultural technology to cultivate land, like other parts of the world,” he said. “Our objective is to try to encourage the kind of agricultural technology that will cultivate lands on the continent that will empower Africa not only to feed itself but to be able to export food to other parts of the world.”

The US Mission to the African Union, Battle said, is “working collaboratively” to help Africa deal with that problem. Other issues of major concern to Africa and the world include: energy and oil; climate change; and the integration of sound economic policies throughout the African continent, he added.
“At this point there are five different regions on the continent and each one has its own policies. What the African Union is strongly encouraging is to develop a set of economic policies that can be used across the continent to facilitate greater trade and commodity exchange throughout the continent.”

That is important, Battle said, “because you can go from one African nation to the next and end up paying three or four different levels of tariffs simply to trade commodities. A streamlined, integrated economic approach will work much better.”

The African Union and the US mission there are also focusing on health issues such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and other health issues that often result from poverty and deprivation, he said.

Battle, who was appointed by President Obama, said he is now the third US ambassador to the African Union and heads a diverse mission concerned with a broad array of issues including development, conflict resolution, democracy and electoral assistance, the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) and the African Union Mission to Somalia (Amisom).

Before becoming ambassador, Battle was the president of a consortium of six theological seminaries in Atlanta and a former vice chairman of the American Committee on Africa, also known as African Action.

A long-time admirer of President Obama and Secretary Clinton, Battle said, “Being the US ambassador to the African Union gives me an opportunity to work with and for persons who have demonstrated absolute excellence and an absolute commitment to the people of Africa.”

Pic: AU peacekeepers in Uganda on an AMSIOM mission