By Kebba Jeffang
The International Relations and Diplomacy lecturer at the University of The Gambia, Ms. Fatou Janneh has recently participated in the ‘Study of the United States Institute for Scholars’ (SUSI 2018) in America. The programme was sponsored by the US Department of State and has brought together scholars from across the world with a view to getting a clear picture of how US foreign policy works. The event that was described as an ‘intensive six weeks’ programme was held at Bard College in New York. In this exclusive, she analyses the US foreign policy and how it prioritises Africa.
To start with, how meaningful was this training to both your personal and professional development?
It was a wonderful and amazing experience. I really feel fulfilled and empowered as a teacher because information is power. SUSI 2018 has prepared and motivated me with the requisite skills and knowledge that will enhance my teaching quality and enrich course content particularly in my Introduction to International Relations, Diplomacy and foreign policy classes.
Generally, the program has given me a new perspective of life. To a great extent I can say how and why US foreign policy works. The best ways to comprehend the choices of US foreign decisions is through the application of the four schools of thought propounded by Professor Mead. He calls them the Hamiltonian, Wilsonian, Jacksonian and Jeffersonian. For example, the first two schools which are Hamiltonian and Wilsonian schools promote internationalism while Jacksonian and Jaffersonian advocate for nationalism. Hamiltonians believed in alliance between national governments and big companies. They focus on global economic integration while Wilsonians promote American social values abroad such as democracy, rule of law, human rights among others. On the other hand, Jacksonians are of the view that government should prioritize security and economic wellbeing of the American people first and Jaffersonians believe that government must safeguard democracy at home. These schools might sound complex but it helps to understand the complex nature of the United States. However, there can be hybrid of each of these schools. Am I making sense (laugh).
From my perspective, the whole program focuses more on the US foreign policy towards Middle East. We had seminars on Global health and foreign policy, human rights, LGBTQ and foreign policy, CSO and the US foreign policy, Muslims in the West- Implications for the US Foreign Policy, the Media and the US foreign policy, (Media as Truth to power or Tool of Power). I like these sessions and as a country.
Tell me the scope of participation in the programme?
We were 18 scholars from different parts of the world and I was the only one from Sub-Saharan Africa. It was a great opportunity for us to share our experiences and I believe it was a process of cultural integration. The gender composition was excellent and we were a family with a highly professional SUSI team. In fact, they have revolutionarized the idea of professionalism, passion and devotion. I’ve taken these values with me! I can’t forget Brian, Juris, Eniyah and Tonery.
Looking at the name of the programme, one would expect that you might have been exposed to US foreign policy, its institutions and the way America operates, what did you learn about United States political and diplomatic affairs and how do you relate it to The Gambia?
It has broaden my understanding of US values, institutions and how all of this influence America’s foreign policy formulation and implementation. For instance, although the executive and legislative branches of the US government are key players of American foreign policy, the media, NGOs, civil society, think-tanks and the public, equally, play a very important role.
In the Gambia, these informal actors play very little role or considered as insignificant in our country’s foreign policy making. We visited various institutions like the State Department, where we spent the whole day. There were seminars and talks conducted on various issues ranging from to International education, USAID and foreign assistance to international development. We also had discussion with our countries’ desk officers and it was really an interactive session.
The US is known to be a diversified country. Is it an open society too which The Gambia could learn from?
The US is a very diversified country and this makes it a very complex society. However, it is an open society as people easily speak their minds without being sanctioned. As an outsider, sometimes one may overlook some of these. I think the Gambia needs to learn a lot from the United States.
US as a country is a multicultural society. It is also good to understand that immigration has been a major source of population growth for the US. I think with the exception of Native Americans, most Americans could trace their ancestry to immigrants from different parts of the world.
For instance, they have the African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Latinos among others and all of these groups have their own values which they uphold to.
Despite this diversity, they have a sense of belonging and unity irrespective of their origin. They are proud of their country and uphold the American dream. The vast majority of the people uphold allegiance to the United States as a country. And there’s no doubt that immigration has contributed positively to the US economy. I believe The Gambia needs to learn so many things from the US such as diversity and inclusion, good governance by putting in place strong institutions and shift loyalty to the state, liberty by enforcing freedom of expression, assembly or movement, religion, democracy and rule of law.
Could you tell some of the places you visited?
We visited various institutions like the State Department, where we spent the whole day and seminars and talks were conducted on various issues ranging from International education, USAID and foreign assistance to international development. We also had discussion with our countries’ desk officers and it was really an interactive session. We had two sessions at National Defense University in DC, West Point Academy in New York, had discussion with some lobby groups like ADL. I think it’s the largest lobbyist group founded by the Jewish community in 1913; Pew Research Center, Council on Foreign Policy, Freedom House where we were shown the 2018 findings of freedom in the world. The Gambia was designated as “partly free” while Senegal, Ghana, Benin and Cape Verdes were rated as “Free” in West Africa. It was interesting to know that my colleagues from Iraq, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Cambodia are designated as “Not free” at all.
We had also been to FranklineDalono Roosevelt library, popularly called FDR, he was the 32nd president of the US and the only president who was elected in four consecutive presidential elections. He served the country during critical years from 1933 until his death in 1945.
What lesson have you learned from FDR’s leadership?
FranklineDalono Roosevelt known as FDR’s leadership coincided with a critical moment in the history of the US because of the great depression and the Second World War and FDR was the only president in the history of that country who served for more than two terms. The US was seriously hit by the great depression as there was high rate of unemployment, most people could not feed themselves, had no shelter- most people like farmers became homeless and hopeless as prices had fallen among so many challenges. It was also under his watch when America dropped the atomic bomb in the two cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan which brought the Second World War to an end.
In the book “the last 100 days of FDR”, he was described as one of the three greatest presidents in the history of the US. According to the author, David (I can’t recall his full name), who also happened to be one of the presenters in two sessions said FDR was a true democrat and his advocacy of government programs was instrumental in defining liberalism for coming generation. His wife, Eleanor Roosevelt was very instrumental in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
How would you compare her to the current first ladies?
She was an epitome of liberation. I say this with full responsibility because I was impressed and inspired by her personality. This is a woman who would organize women groups and helped them equip themselves with appropriate skills so that they could become economically independent. As a civil rights activist, she championed many causes in order to fight against injustice, oppression and suppression.
Talking about her and comparing her to “modern first ladies”, I can see a huge difference. I mean she was a visionary and strategic leader in her own right. She was a strong force that complement FDR. Do you know that Roosevelt was a man with disabilities? He had polio in 1921 and became paralyzed from waist down yet he made a significant difference. The question is how? Could you believe that JFK visited her to endorse him? She was reluctant at the beginning but after a very long conversation with him, he was endorsed by her as a presidential candidate. Today, their home in Hyde Park serves as a historical site and a home to his presidential library which is also used to teach kids and teens about Roosevelt’s ideals and ideas of democracy, leadership, human rights, among others.
To what extent do you think US foreign policy covers Africa as a continent?
US foreign policy towards Africa is very sparse. Sub-Saharan Africa is the least on the list. Africa and Africans should start looking inwardly inorder to be relevant to the international arena. We need equal partnership and this cannot be attained if we keep relying on foreign aid or grant with certain conditionalities.
But what could Africa do?
Africa must feed herself, take care of the healthcare of the people seriously, revolutionize agriculture, promote industrialization and production, provide quality and affordable education for all, bridge gender gap and inequality. Essentially, we need an open society through promotion of democracy and human rights. People must feel secure. And let me quickly say that security is not the absence of war but ordinary people should be able to have access to basic necessities of life. They should be able to identify themselves with the policies of the government. Unless this is done, the power of the people will continue to be undermined and suppressed by the power of the state or those in charge of governance.
Africa must put her house in order first if she wants to become a significant player in international arena. We claim to be the richest continent with so many natural resources in abundance like gold, diamond, oil, uranium, aluminium among others but the reality is that we are the poorest in the world. We even make fun of ourselves by saying “sleeping giant”. Let the giant wake up from her slumber because her children are perishing and anguishing in famine, poverty and diseases.
How do we change the narrative then?
Africa is seen as a liability instead of a potential asset. Can you see the difference? We have a long way to go! We must change this narrative through policies that will bring sustainable development and progress for our people. We should imbibe best practices from different parts of the world and contextualize it in our localities. You cannot be assertive when your fate is in the hands of the donor nation because it goes without saying that he who pays the piper dictates the tune. Do you understand me now? Our governments should create an enabling environment to attract investors. At the same time we must be meticulous about their activities in our localities because we cannot afford such companies to exploit our own people.
My trip to the US was an eye opener for me as it exposes me to the good, the bad and the ugly of US foreign policy. And this was a catchy phrase during the program.
Let me quickly say that in addition to US foreign policy and institutions, I did learn from my colleagues particularly participants from the UK and Portugal. I believe in the near future I could work closely with my Portuguese colleague, Pedro because he has great research interest on geopolitics in Africa.
Does that mean Africa is not a priority in US agenda?
I know the world, particularly Africa and Africans expected a lot from the United States but we are not expecting her to solve our problems for us. I’m simply saying Africa is not on US priority list for now. This is my view and it is obvious. I know one may want to justify that there have been a number of African heads of state who visited the White House or even the number of Secretaries of State and US presidents that visited sub Saharan Africa. Of course, there is no gain saying that Power Africa, AGOA and AFRICOM are significant policy initiatives but what have been the impacts so far? Your guess is as good as mine.
Where is US heading to under Donald Trump’s presidency?
The country is heading towards isolationism because look at recent development in America’s multilateralism. I think Trump’s treats foreign policy issues like a zero-sum game: where there’s a winner and a loser instead of seeing foreign policy as a win-win situation. I believe America as a big brother must not bully others particularly small states that have high regards for her.
Middle East is very important for the US because of Israel and also oil. We have seen the recent development in Israel when the US opened its embassy in Jerusalem and this was followed by protests and good number of people lost their lives in Gaza and other places. We had sessions on the US and Vietnam, Russia, China etc. We also had the opportunity to listen to a discussion on the US and EU relations with Walter Russel Mead. He’s the author of “Special Providence: American Foreign policy and how it changed the world” and a very strong voice in the United States. This was a day after the NATO summit when Trump blasted most of his country’s allies. I remember him saying Russia is the capital of Germany. This was followed by few protests in the UK demanding Theresa May not to undermine the values of Britain to the US, something like that. Presently, the US is in crisis, I mean it’s a trial moment for the United States under Mr. Trump because he doesn’t care whose ox is gore. He says things the way it comes to his mind. He tweets every moment and he’s unpredictable.
Do you have any memorable moment from the programme you attended?
Absolutely! I will never forget the story of the Iraqi participant, Sara. It was so touching while listening to her explaining how Saddam Hussein’s regime used chemical weapons against the Kurds in Northern Iraq that killed thousands of people during the Anfal genocide. I began to understand why she introduces herself as “Sara from Kurdistan Region of Iraq or Northern Iraq”. I’m not really sure what makes us close during the program but I think it is the fact that we are both passionate about change; how we want to make a difference in the lives of our people. I remember the number of times we argued over issues like nationalism, patriotism, education and a wide range of issues. In one of our conversations, she said to me that the US intervention of Iraq in 2003 which toppled the government of Saddam was not an invasion as the world believe, rather it was a liberation for the Kurds. I could see fear, pain and a mixture of joy in her eyes. KRI constitutes 5 million people and it’s an autonomous region of parliamentary democracy with abundance of crude oil she said. I’m not sure whether or not KRI would become a sovereign republic any time soon. I hope Sara would draw lessons from South Sudan in Africa.
Thank you for your time to speaking to Foroyaa.
You are welcome!