Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (courtesy photo)

Recently, Rep. Karen Bass hosted the Africa Braintrust at the 47th Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. This year’s forum was highlighted by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, former Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs. The forum focused on ways to renew commitment and engagement with Africa.

“Encouraging commitment and engagement with Africa is important now more than ever because we have an administration that has yet to lay out what our policy will be,” Rep. Bass said. “An Assistant Secretary for African Affairs has yet to be appointed and the budget put forward by the White House has called for deep cuts to the Department of State and USAID. Given the long history of US-Africa relations, this is a good time to illustrate our continuing commitment to engaging with African nations.”

The event consisted of three panels discussing security and insecurity in Africa, encouraging prosperity across Africa, and developing meaningful partnerships with African communities and nations.

“Africa currently has a population of more than one billion people, a rapidly expanding middle class and dozens of economies that are rapidly growing,” Rep. Bass continued. “The opportunities for US business are immense, in sectors ranging from consumer goods and manufacturing to agriculture and energy. As the prosperity of Africa’s citizens increases, a social and economic opportunity arises. The continent needs more than patrons; it needs partners who help build up the capacity to grow.”

President Sirleaf is stepping down at the end of 12 years serving as the President of Liberia, during which she has ushered in a new era of peace never before seen in the country. “Only a woman could do it,” President Sirleaf said to a roaring crowd.

Many countries in Africa are facing potential great opportunities in the coming decades, including a vastly growing youth population, new infrastructure, and increasing investments that will contribute to continuing economic growth across the continent. Despite existing and new challenges with political unrest, food insecurity, and other economic uncertainty, Braintrust panelists encouraged strong engagement with diaspora communities and new partnerships between governments, businesses, and communities.

“We have to make sure to continue the work discussed here today,” Rep. Bass concluded. “I look forward to seeing the initiatives that come to fruition because of the discussions had here today in the year to come.”

After the forum, Rep. Bass awarded the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Phoenix Leadership Award to Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield for her extensive work on the continent throughout her professional career. “When my mom used to walk me to school when I was young, we never imagined I’d be where I am today,” Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said. The reception was attended by Ambassador of Cote d’Ivoire to the United States, His Excellency Daouda Diabate and Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson along with many former coworkers from the State Department.