Magazine Feature / People

Ambassador hopes for peace, stability in Africa

The new U.S. ambassador to the African Union (AU) arrived at her post in Addis Ababa, Africa, last month.

For Cindy Courville (MA ’80, PhD ’88), the journey involved more than traveling from Washington, D.C. Her job as the first U.S. envoy to the AU brings her full circle from her days as a student at DU when she dreamed of making a difference in the conflicts that plagued the African continent.

Her journey to Africa began in Louisiana, where she attended segregated schools until the eighth grade and was among the first wave of black students to integrate the state’s public classrooms. Louisiana in that era was characterized by a brand of power politics — and a resulting emancipation movement — often seen only in the developing world.

After earning a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in political science at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Courville enrolled at DU’s Graduate School of International Studies. Her interest was piqued by the liberation struggle that had transformed Rhodesia into Zimbabwe. In 1984, she traveled to Zimbabwe on a fellowship, an opportunity that allowed her to get to know government ministers, white landowners and black laborers. The diversity of her contacts provided her with a sense of balance that has characterized her approach to research and analysis.

Courville landed in Washington during the last years of the Clinton administration after a 10-year teaching career that culminated at California’s Occidental College. A guest speaker from the Army War College encouraged her international relations students to consider a career with the Defense Department, sparking Courville’s own interest in the field.

She went to work for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) as a political/military analyst. Then, at the start of the Bush administration in 2001, she moved to the National Security Council as a director responsible for southern and central Africa. In 2003, she organized President Bush’s trip to Africa, accompanying him on its many legs. Until her ambassadorial appointment, she was President Bush’s special assistant for Africa.

Courville began developing her African expertise at DU two decades earlier. Studying for her PhD, she learned different perspectives on policy, democracy, health care and education. Her specialization was conflict resolution; her dissertation was on Zimbabwe.

Regarding her and the government’s vision for Africa, Courville speaks of an “Africa that is stable and economically viable,” noting that peace and security in Africa will ensure security of the U.S.

She sees a new opportunity for partnership in Africa in the 21st century since the continental body was renamed the African Union in 2001. The former Organization of African Unity was narrowly focused on decolonization. In contrast, she says the AU’s goals are broader — including good governance, commitment to free and fair elections, education, peace and security.

With her appointment and guided by two key initiatives — the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) — Courville believes the U.S. will be able to help the AU achieve its goals.

“The conditions governing these initiatives encourage an open society, freedom, peace and stability,” Courville says.

Courville says the AGOA opened doors of opportunity for many African countries to improve trade with the U.S. Ghana received half a billion dollars in grants from MCA administrator the Millennium Challenge Corporation to bolster agriculture, transportation and rural development.

Courville defends the U.S. government’s efforts to combat AIDS in Africa, which have been widely criticized as insufficient to halt the leading cause of death in Africa. She says the U.S. is providing $5 billion over five years to the Global Fund for Aids. The U.S. government was inspired, she says, by African leaders like Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s commitment to combat the disease in his country.

The U.S. provides financial and technical support to15 Africa nations — Angola, Benin, Mozambique and Nigeria, among others — to help prevent and treat AIDS.

For more on Ambassador Courville, see the summer 2004 issue of the University of Denver Magazine.

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