People like you are needed on this continent to take us to where we should be. Keep it up man!
Ambassador Michael Battle is one of those people you meet for the first time and feel like you already know. The moment I walked into his office, located within the U.S. Embassy compound in Addis Ababa, I felt the genuine warmth he exudes that gives the senior diplomat an aura of a Soulful Personality.
Michael Anthony Battle was appointed by President Barack Obama as the third United States Ambassador to the African Union. Before taking up his current position in September 2009, Dr. Battle served as the President of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia. His engagement in Africa and African issues dates back to mid 1990’s. Between 1994 and 1998, he served as Vice President of the American Committee on Africa, and in 1994 he participated as an Election Observer for the first free election in South Africa. Dr. Battle has also served as a liaison between the Hampton University Ministers’ Conference and The South African Council of Churches. He is the author of several books, including The African American Pulpit, From One Brother To Another, and Voices of Experience.
The interview that follows gives us a sense of his commitment to promote peace and security in Africa, and his efforts to support and promote the African Union.
RK: What do you think are the main challenges and opportunities that the African Union has to promote good governance and peace and security in Africa?
AMB: One main challenge the AU faces in promoting good governance, and peace and security, is the existence of numerous conflict areas in Africa – for example in Somalia, Sudan, Guinea, and Madagascar – that require the AU's attention. AU leadership and staff dedicate a significant amount of time to trying to resolve crises on the continent, leaving less time to focus on issues such as promoting good governance. That said, the AU is very aware of the issues that African nations confront, from health to education to strengthening democracy, and is actively engaged in improving Africa's outlook in the future.
It is important to note that the story of Africa is not only one of crisis and conflict. There have been successes and there are tremendous opportunities. In December 2008, for example, Ghana held free and fair elections that resulted in a peaceful transfer of power. From an agricultural standpoint, Africa has enormous potential, not just for the continent, but for the rest of the world as well. The African Union is working to leverage its successes and opportunities to build a more stable, economically secure continent.
RK: How will you use your experience as the President of the Interdenominational Theological Center as well as your previous work experiences and academic training to promote peace and stability in Africa?
AMB: I have a long-standing, deep interest in Africa. From my days as a high school student involved in Model United Nations to my participation as an election observer in South Africa in 1994 to my experience as Vice President of the American Committee on Africa from 1994-1998, I have been involved in issues on the continent. These experiences have reinforced my passion and conviction to work toward sustainable peace and stability in Africa.
Being the President of a large consortium of theological seminaries has given me an understanding of how to work effectively among diverse groups with various interests. This is applicable in my current role as the U.S. Ambassador to the African Union. I meet with and talk to a range of parties – representatives from African countries and donor nations, members of the AU leadership, colleagues in Washington – to build consensus on how best to promote peace and security in Africa.
RK: You've said that as the U.S. Ambassador to the African Union, your highest priority will be to build greater understanding between the AU and the government and people of the U.S. What are some of the ways that you intend to do that?
AMB: Part of the way we build understanding between the AU and the U.S. is by increasing our engagement with the AU, by having an active USAU mission in Addis Ababa. The more we participate actively in conversations with the AU – whether on Somalia or capacity building or the role of partner nations – the better we understand each other's priorities and how to address them.
There are also concrete steps we can and will take to increase understanding between the U.S. and the AU. For example, the AU leadership will have high-level meetings with members of the U.S. Department of State in 2010 precisely to ensure that we understand one another. We intend for such high-level dialogue to be on-going. In order to raise the profile of the African Union, and USAU, in the U.S., we try to highlight the role of the AU and our mission via media interviews such as this one.
RK: You have also said that you would work to advance "AU efforts to get African leaders and civil society to promote and above all, to “internalize” universal values of human rights, good governance, and rule of law." Please elaborate.
AMB: It is my deep-seated belief that good governance and a context of peace and security are the primary, though not exclusive, building blocks for the respect of human rights. In turn, a demonstrated respect for human rights is essential to providing a context for people to be willing to take the economic risk necessary to develop businesses and create private wealth. There is a tremendous advantage to a nation when its people have private wealth. Private wealth leads to greater ownership of property and a greater participation in the operation of business interest. This in turn provides a greater interest in the operation of how the nation is governed.
When human rights are respected and assured as a foundational matter of law people are more creative. This is a lesson the U. S. learned in part because of the fact that the civil rights and the women’s rights movements insisted that the nation learn these lessons. Africa has a large population of women and young people who are fully ready to engage the continent in growth, development and progress. African nations and African leaders should recognize the need to be more inclusive and to take full advantage of the creative powers and insight of the women and youth who are seeking the opportunity to assist Africa in its growth and development.
RK: You have written on Dr. Martin Luther King's idea of liberation. How can Africans learn from his teachings.
AMB: My writings on Martin Luther King Jr. and my public speaking about King have centered on the theme of Liberation and the need to focus on a broad agenda of civil and human rights. Like King, I have focused on the fact that the best context for the development of full engagement of people in a civil and human rights agenda is the context of a government that respects constitutional and democratic rule of law. It is important to note that in his famous, “I have a Dream Speech”, King called on the U.S. to respect the promise of constitutionally-assured freedoms. Likewise, President Obama in his famous speech on race also called upon the assurances of constitutional and democratic rule of law as the foundation of the mandate for respect for civil and human rights.
The foundational and fundamental lesson that can be inferred from King and from Obama is that African nations and African leaders should focus on strengthening the assurances of a constitutional and democratic context that respect and mandates civil and human rights. African people can also infer that it is their God given right to insist that their governments and leaders accept and respect that they have a fundamental responsibility to assure that civil and human rights are protected. Interestingly enough, it is the case that the individual and the nation are more economically prosperous when civil and human rights are respected and assured.
RK: You have a passion for building bridges among people and communities. How can we build global communities of individuals who are aware of our shared responsibility for the development of Africa?
AMB: Building global communities requires individuals to find some common ground, some shared interest to rally around. Sports, art, a desire to improve health care, a passion for genuine democracy, and a host of other issues can all serve as platforms around which people can coalesce to build communities that contribute positively to Africa's development.
RK: At the end of your term, what is the one thing that you would like to accomplish?
AMB: I would like for the African Union to have made strides in achieving its goal of developing a stronger, more cohesive, better integrated Africa, economically, politically, and socially. I would like for the U.S. to have contributed to this progress through its consistent engagement with the AU. I would also like the Western World to have an enhanced respect for the tremendous progress the African Union has made in such a short time and for the African Union to be respected as a major player in the shaping of the global community.