NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 20 – US Ambassador to the African Union (AU) Susan Page, is out to change the world in any way possible.
She was after all the first US Ambassador to South Sudan after the country became a republic; witnessing the civil war that broke out shortly and playing a critical role of being among the peace facilitation negotiators.
“I saw firsthand what war can do to a people. Although I wasn’t hurt physically, I saw people who were hurt badly, some having their entire lives swept away.”
Her resolve following those events became to do whatever needed to be done to make things better in her line of work going forward.
“South Sudan meant seeing a new country born, see their flag and see the people attain freedom. It was also unbelievably tragic seeing the country go into war, seeing thousands of people evacuated and others flee the country. It also meant helping to craft solutions that would facilitate peace after the war broke, listening to people’s grievances and seeking solutions for them.”
Page admits that the events in South Sudan ended up influencing her leadership skills going forward. “To hear people’s stories and not make judgment about them but rather to understand where they are coming from, was one of the most important things I learnt.”
“That is why the opportunity to be the US Ambassador to the AU meant a lot to me because there I could use the knowledge I had gained in South Sudan to interact better with AU leaders,” she says of the job she took up in November last year.
At the AU, the envoy has worked on issues which youth and women empowerment, has been at the forefront of promoting women’s participation in political roles, is involved in the achievement of the Vision 2063 and worked on peace and security promotion projects.
“We do support the AMISOM mission in Somalia mostly with equipment used in the fight against Al-Shabaab among other ways. We also support the fight against Boko Haram.”
Her job has however not been immune to challenges. “The African Union sometimes likes to think that western powers intervene in countries where they have a stake in or when the interests of their own countries are involved, and that’s not true at all. This is especially true when we see them try to make policy distinctions and decide what to do when crisis hits. They don’t always have one solution. That’s where the challenge is getting them to understand their countries have different interests and when is it most appropriate to have subsidiary,” she explains.
The joy, according to Page, however is getting to work with the different countries and listening to their different perspectives.
As far as the relationship between the AU and the US is concerned, Page states that it is getting stronger by the day. “We had to convince the American Congress that there’s need for a standalone mission dedicated to the AU which worked. We are also involved with other UN organs whose residences are at Addis Ababa.”
The US has also been collaborating with the AU on various projects which includes the establishment of the United States’ Centre for Disease Control which was started following the Ebola breakout. This was followed by the decision by leaders to establish an African centre for disease control where we assisted to establish it; we provided some equipment for it, assisted in creating a board for it among others.
“We are also encouraging the AU members to come up with the free trade agreements between member states and the US to facilitate a better trading relationship. This is because the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) have already run out with the last extension probably being the last one,” she explained.
Working on the selection of the Youth African Leadership Initiative (YALI) – a brainchild of US President Barack Obama – has been among her most exciting roles so far. “Interacting with the youth, who make up 70 percent of the population of the continent, has been phenomena. There are so many talented youths, much more than people actually know.”
She hence calls out the youth, encouraging them to get educated and use the opportunities that come their way wisely. She especially encourages young women to cultivate perseverance saying it’s the only way to go if they are to achieve their dreams.
Page was speaking during the three-day Mandela Washington Fellowship that saw 500 young leaders graduate from the YALI program that came to a close on Friday.