Earlier in January Ed Royce unexpectedly added his name to the growing list of Republican members who have decided not to seek re-election in November.. Picture: REUTERS
Earlier in January Ed Royce unexpectedly added his name to the growing list of Republican members who have decided not to seek re-election in November.. Picture: REUTERS

Over the past quarter century, few members of the US Congress have taken a more serious, supportive or politically brave interest in Africa than Republican Ed Royce, now chairman of the house foreign affairs committee and for many years previously its Africa subcommittee. None would be less likely than this frequent visitor to use barnyard epithets to describe the continent or its people.

Earlier in January, the Orange County, California, representative unexpectedly added his name to the growing list of GOP members who have decided not to seek re-election in November. This week he makes what is likely to be his last official visit to the region, leading a large bipartisan delegation to SA, Angola and Botswana.

Royce’s departure means the loss of a respectful voice for Africa in Washington. And he will be missed by all who cherish the out-of-fashion notion that political partisanship should end at the American shoreline.

As a Republican administration led by President Donald Trump puts an inward-looking growth agenda ahead of concerns for the global environment, Royce and his colleagues will be studying how the US can best help combat poaching and conserve natural treasures such as the Okavango Delta.

A believer in market-based development, he was an original sponsor of the 2000 African Growth and Opportunity Act  to encourage investment in African export sectors by opening the US market to products grown or manufactured in Africa, still the centrepiece of US-Africa policy

The fight against wildlife trafficking has been one of Royce’s passions. Antipoaching legislation he introduced and steered into law in 2016 earned him recognition by the Washington Post as one of the "10 most effective lawmakers in the US Congress". Reliably conservative voting record notwithstanding, he has won accolades for his ability to attract support for his initiatives across party lines.

A believer in market-based development, he was an original sponsor of the 2000 African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) to encourage investment in African export sectors by opening the US market to products grown or manufactured in Africa, still the centrepiece of US-Africa policy. With the late congressman Donald Payne, a member of the congressional black caucus and a Democrat on the opposite side of the political spectrum, he helped assemble the iron-clad coalition that forced a reluctant Clinton administration to take ownership of Agoa.

In 1998, Royce joined speaker Newt Gingrich in awarding the congressional gold medal to Nelson Mandela. The following year, he co-led an International Republican Institute election observer team to Nigeria, where he and Colin Powell cautioned the country’s powerful military to remain in its barracks and respect the results. Nigeria now enjoys a democracy that is vibrant despite all its warts.

When the house shifted to Democratic control and Royce moved from the Africa subcommittee chairmanship, he rallied Republicans to fund the two African initiatives of the George W Bush presidency: Pepfar and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. The latter embodies Royce’s deep commitment to promoting the rule of law in Africa. Pepfar has affected the lives of millions of people across the globe. The Millennium Challenge Corporation has changed collective thinking on development spending.

Royce has never shied from setting foot in Africa’s rougher neighbourhoods. He has been a force for good in the South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Committed to ending the carnage in Liberia and Sierra Leone caused by Charles Taylor, he joined then assistant secretary of state for Africa Susan Rice in hounding Taylor until his arrest in 2006. He focused attention both on Taylor’s crimes and the US special relationship with Liberia. His work on ending the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia gave momentum to the Kimberley Process and containment of the illicit diamond trade.

When he assumed the full committee chair five years ago, Royce adopted a bipartisan leadership model with the committee’s ranking Democrat, Eliot Engel. Iran, Russia and North Korea may have commanded the headlines, but he never took his eye off Africa. He led the 10-year renewal of Agoa and spearheaded legislation to promote concerted new investment in African power projects and, as noted, to combat the poaching and illicit trade of African wildlife.

He has always refused to let partisan politics or special interests get in the way of doing what he believes is the right thing. Even though he had little to gain in Orange County from caring about Africa, he has been relentless in seeking to convince his fellow members of congress that Africa matters.

Safari njema,
Mzee Royce.

• Carroll is an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University and vice-president of Manchester Trade. He is the author of the recent Atlantic Council study on US-SA ties, Forging a New Relationship.

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