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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 25th May 2017

America's new African insiders

Blue Lines

The appointment of regional security specialist Peter Pham as the United States' Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs has been welcomed by African diplomats in Washington. 'We have an appointee with knowledge and a certain affinity with Africa,' said one insider. Pham has been a director of the Atlantic Council and at his confirmation hearings he may face questioning about its strong support for Morocco's position on the Western Sahara. Former US Air Force officer Rudolph Atallah, appointed last month as Africa advisor on the US National Security Council, was also a fellow at the Council.

The two appointments fit with the administration's emphasis on counter-terrorism and security. But Pham is also a doughty defender of the soft power exercised by the US Agency for International Development, which is under threat in the administration's budget plans. The recent decision by Congress to maintain support for assistance programmes was an important pushback against the more swingeing cuts being planned.

Pham also believes it's in his country's own commercial interests to step up US diplomacy and assistance in Africa, given the continent's over US$2 trillion market. Africa lobbyists in DC have also been urging White House officials to look at how Germany and Japan have been stepping up their Africa programmes. They argue it would be counter-productive for the US to withdraw from Africa or rely purely on a security-led strategy.