(Voice of America 04/25/16)
Foreign policy almost always takes a back seat to domestic concerns during the U.S. presidential campaign season.
Candidates rarely win over any voters in diners in New Hampshire or town hall events in Iowa touting their plans for economic investment and security frameworks in Africa.
In 1999, then-candidate George W. Bush went so far as to declare Africa "irrelevant" to U.S. foreign policy during his first presidential run.
But even if a voter never changed a ballot based on U.S. policy in Africa, surrogates from all five presidential campaigns gathered Thursday to discuss those issues on Capitol Hill, providing an unusual glimpse into the thinking behind the future leader of the United States.
The gathering organized by the Africa-America Institute also brought together former assistant secretaries of state for African affairs with other speakers who had varied credentials qualifying them to speak about the continent.
"I can be very fast about Senator [Ted] Cruz's Africa policy, because he doesn't have one. He's been busy with other things. Texas takes a lot of time all by itself," said Michael Ledeen, a Foundation for Defense of Democracies scholar described as an adviser to the Ted Cruz presidential campaign.
While Africa has taken on a position of greater importance in U.S. policy during the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, the reality is that the continent has rarely been a source of disagreement between Democrats and Republicans.
J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, who served as an Africa policy adviser on the presidential campaigns of John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, said any administration would have to confront the demographics of change in Africa.
By 2050, 1 in 4 workers around the world will be African and they will more than likely be working in some of the fastest-growing economies worldwide.
To many of the campaign surrogates, Africa appeared to be a proxy for the candidates' own views on economic issues.
Wala Blegay, a Liberian-American and Washington attorney who is an adviser to the Bernie Sanders campaign, said the Sanders campaign's belief in economic justice extended to Africa, where U.S. policy should "not just be about crisis. It's truly about investing in Africa and not treating Africa as a place to throw money."