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The State Dept's Incoming Africa Envoy

Friday, Jan. 30, 2009

A friend of mine in Uganda, journalist Angelo Izama of the Daily Monitor, got a look at solid evidence the appointee for Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs will be former ambassador and National Intelligence Council officer Johnnie Carson. He will replace outgoing secretary Jendayi Frazer. It appears Laura Rozen broke this a few days earlier at her new home with Foreign Policy.

As Izama notes, Carson has an extremely solid background, most notably having served as an ambassador to Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Uganda. Carson's more detailed bio is here. Since 2006 he's headed the Africa desk at the National Intelligence Council, where he has no doubt been monitoring African hot-spots like Somalia and Guinea, along with the more headline grabbing Zimbabwe and DRC. Helping run the clearinghouse for all U.S. intelligence on Africa should mean Carson needs little time to get up to speed, and his long career in the Foreign Service should give him a decent ability to negotiate the State Department's inner bureaucracy. Africa still probably won't be anyone's top priority, but I doubt Carson will let it get completely ignored. (WPR contributor Michelle Sieff took a look at some of Obama's likely Africa challenges earlier this week.)

One side note is that Carson wrote a Boston Globe op-ed in 2005 criticizing Uganda President Yoweri Museveni's efforts to amend the constitution and remove term limits to run again in 2006. (Museveni eventually succeeded and won a highly controversial election.) While this is unlikely to have any effect on U.S.-Uganda relations under Carson, he wrote in the op-ed and has written elsewhere that one of Africa's biggest problems is leaders who will not give up power.

It will be interesting to see how this view plays out as Carson tries to deal with the crisis in Zimbabwe and with Africa's other long-tenured leaders. Will Carson and the U.S. have enough political capital to encourage Mugabe or anyone else to step down gracefully? Back in Uganda, Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, has already started considering running again in 2011 . . .

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