Michael Battle served as the United States Ambassador to the African Union for the longest term in history. Before his diplomatic days, Battle was an academic — working with students in higher education.
The switch from education to diplomatic relations "was a progression — not necessarily a natural progression — but a progression," Battle said. "Prior to serving in an official U.S. capacity, I was the vice chair of the American Committee on Africa, which is a think tank on Africa."
Battle said he was the antagonist to the government in this role.
"It needed to be recognized that there is an ethical responsibility to put back into Africa the capacity to build lives, to build houses, to build schools, to build hospitals," Battle said.
During that time, Battle focused on swaying industrial activity to think about ethical aspects of their investment in Africa, rather than focusing on what could be extracted.
It was after his time in education, that former President Barack Obama asked him to be an ambassador. Battle worked with Obama through his time as a state senator and U.S. senator before he ran for president in 2008.
Alongside working as an ambassador, Battle worked on the United Nations Commission for Africa and after his time with both, he was called back to Washington as senior advisor to the State Department in preparation for a summit coordinated by Obama.
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Battle said in order to shape any part of the world — whether Asia, Africa or Europe — diplomacy,
This role and his later positions in the government would give him a "360-degree view" of what was necessary to complete the cycle, which he connected back to the basic concern for people and a concern for America's capacity to "influence and shape the development of the rest of the world."
Battle taught philosophy and religion at Hampton University. He served as the university chaplain until taking a job as associate vice president for student affairs at Virginia State and Chicago University.
WHAT HAPPENED IN NIGER, SOLUTIONS
Battle said Niger has been a breeding ground for terrorist activity brought on by the fall of Lybia and the access stash of weapons taken from Muammar Gaddafi's stockpiles. These weapons were then used by groups who were "not positively oriented."
"Those weapons provided an opportunity for terrorist activities that were heavily armed and able to challenge the stability of Mali, Niger, Algeria, Lybia and almost threatened Egypt," Battle said.
During Battle's term, the U.S. started a program to attempt to counter terrorist expansion. Initially, the intent was to advise, but quickly they found advise was not enough.
"You have to accompany newly trained troops in the field," Battle said. "I am also retired military. I spent 20 years as an Army chaplain."
Battle said the failure in Niger came when a lack of consistent contact and flow of information set up a disconnect between troops and those in the air. United States African Command, AfriCom, had requested intelligence, networking assistance and a constant flow of connectivity between all of the forces in Niger.
Battle said with constant communication, the U.S. would not have lost four "valiant young soldiers." He said the U.S.'s first orientation in Africa is to train African soldiers to do their jobs. The second is to protect U.S. troops when they are engaged in training.
He said the training mission has been expanded, and he feels the American public should always be aware when troops are deployed and where they are.
"When we are aware of where our troops are, we then can have the responsibility of making sure the safety our troops are paramount," Battle said. "What happened in Niger should not have happened. The response time to these young men
Battle said the only coverage of the armed troops was an unarmed aircraft, to which he said didn't make a whole lot of sense.
He drew the situation back to the necessities of diplomatic relations outlined before. With military engagement, there must be diplomatic engagement.
With the desired situation, Battle said there would have never been an opportunity for "our guys" to be out there and ambushed by a group of people who should have never had the ability to overpower U.S. troops.
Battle said he hopes the American public won't see what happened in Niger as a reason to cease training in Africa.
"If we don't, the opportunity for Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, ISIS to fill a vacuum would be much, much, much more dangerous in the long run," Battle said.
Battle said the happenings in Niger should prompt the Department of Defense to give AfriCom everything it needs for counter-terrorism efforts and should assist African militaries in doing more than war-fighting missions. He noted the roles American military fills in times of natural disaster and community building missions. Battle said African militaries should be trained to provide civil services as well.
WHAT AFRICA HAS TO OFFER
"President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama had very structured, solid programmatic orientations toward the African continent —recognizing Africa as a strategic partner, not simply as a recipient of aid," Battle said. "I think there is still a capacity in the current administration, it's just that the current administration hasn't acted upon the capacity it has to shape African policy."
He said when looking at the continent, look at it holistically, not seeing the raw materials as something to extract, but rather a breeding ground for training.
"Look at the ways we can help African countries develop their raw material into value-added products rather than where we look at extracting those raw materials," Battle said.
Battle said Africa is the only continent with enough arable land to feed the rest of world. With investments in the land, "Africa could become the breadbasket it needs to become."
Battle said the American people would benefit by knowing the vast resources and opportunities that reside on the African continent. Africa is the only continent with rapid population growth and an abundance of young people. Battle said Africa will be the key to the world's shortage of youth and reproduction.
"The survival of planet Earth will depend on the world's ability to partner with Africa for future industrialization, ingenuity, future insight and future partnership," Battle said. "[Africa] has the land resources to feed the rest of the world, it has the mineral resources to supply energy for the rest of the world and itself, it has the raw materials to support itself and the rest of the world."
The need to partner with Africa impressed Battle the most.
Battle said in many instances, the U.S. has seen the necessity of mobilizing vast numbers of people in industrial ways and the same situation must present itself on the African continent. He said evolution will lean that way and the reality will come with time.
"I think we, as a nation, should be out front leading the process of constructive engagement with the African continent," Battle said. "With all of the problems we have in the way our democracy works, it is still the best system of government that humankind has ever experienced."
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