Matt Burkhartt | Staff Photographer
Ambassador Michael Battle, senior adviser to the African Bureau of the U.S. State Department, speaks Thursday in the Hall of Philosophy.
Africa was originally the cradle of life, and Ambassador Michael Battle believes it has the potential to become a thriving continent once again.
Battle, senior adviser to the African Bureau of the U.S. State Department for the first U.S-Africa Leaders Summit hosted in the United States by a U.S. president, discussed America’s political involvement with the African continent during his 2 p.m. Interfaith Lecture Thursday in the Hall of Philosophy. Battle also spoke about Africa’s future and the role leaders of faith should play in the continent’s advancement. His lecture, “Engagement in the Global Public Square: Focus on Africa,” is part of Week Eight’s theme, “The Global Religious Public Square.”
President Barack Obama held the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit Aug. 4 to 6.
“This was the very first attempt of any U.S. president to have a meeting with African heads of state and government at the level of presidents and prime ministers,” Battle said.
The summit was part of an initiative to form a partnership with the African continent — specifically the African Union, Battle said. The AU, founded in 2002, represents 54 African states and “deals with the complexities of continental issues that face the African continent,” Battle said.
According to the ambassador, the U.S. and the AU share the same strategic objectives. They’re aiming for economic growth through an environment of open trade and investment. They also share concerns on issues such as climate change, food security, gender equality, corruption and human trafficking.
The AU operates under a “policy of non-indifference,” Battle said — a distinctive difference between the AU and the United Nations, which operates under a “policy of non-interference.” This means the United Nations will not assert itself in any country without that country’s consent, or without a vote from all other members.
“The African Union, on the other hand, has a policy that mandates that if there is a coup d’état or any unconstitutional change in government, the African Union by mandate is obligated to engage with or without the nation’s permission,” Battle said. “That is a substantive difference, and that’s one of the reasons the African Union is engaged in so many battles on the continent. It does not wait for an invitation.”
Battle said the African continent has successfully gained global attention. The United States and other nations are focusing on African problems and finding African solutions.
Battle has been working to promote international cooperation, so that African leaders are working with leaders from other nations on international issues — not just African issues.
“The only note of caution that I consistently gave to the African Union Peace and Security Council — and that I still give to African Union leaders — is that African leaders should not see African problems in an exclusionary manner,” Battle said. “Because there are no problems on the African continent that do not have global implications. And there are no problems in the global community that do not have African dimensions.”
The United States has been supporting the AU and working for progress in post-conflict areas. Battle said that, for the first time in more than 20 years, Somalia has a stable government. Countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya can now survive periods of drought without facing famine.
“In the most recent drought, not only did Ethiopia and Kenya not face famine because they managed to store up food and managed to store up capacity — they also assisted in feeding Somalis and taking care of others who were struggling,” he said. “Kenyans on their own, in private efforts door-to-door, raised $10 million to respond to other nations on the African continent who were facing famine. I think that’s a remarkable change in just 15 short years.”
The African continent is worth investing in, Battle said. Six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies are African, including Nigeria, Ethiopia and Rwanda.
It’s also critical to invest in. With 65 percent of the population under the age of 35, the African continent will soon have one of the largest populations of youth in the world. This can pose great opportunity, or a great threat, Battle said.
The opportunity is apparent. Battle said that if the continent could realize its goals of industrialization and modernized agriculture, an abundance of workers and young creative minds would assure Africa’s future.
“On the other hand, if the development goals are not met, the continent will have the youngest population on planet Earth without the needed employment and creative challenges necessary to constructively occupy the attention of youth, thus creating fertile ground for radicalization and for extremists to recruit disengaged and disenchanted youth into destructive behavior,” he said.
Battle outlined five ways in which leaders of faith need to maximize their engagement on the African continent.
First, gender equality must be realized — even if that means changing traditions and customs. Girls should be provided the same education as boys, and early marriage habits need to be broken, he said.
Second, Battle said faith leaders need to break down barriers of ethnicity, religion and tribe to realize a shared humanity.
Third, faith leaders need to actively demand an end to corruption.
“Faith leaders who benefit from corruption have forfeited their right to be called faith leaders,” he said. “Civil society members who benefit from corruption have abandoned their authority to be called leaders of civil society.”
Fourth, a transformation of society also needs to take place, Battle said. Africa used to be a fertile place people would flock to, instead of flee from. Faith leaders need to work to make it a thriving continent once again.
Lastly, Battle said, faith leaders, along with civil society, need to support humanitarian initiatives in order to actively solve African and global problems.