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U.S. Rep. Karen Bass Calls for Internationalism in U.S.-Africa Relations

United States Representative Karen R. Bass (D-Calif.) spoke at a Harvard Undergraduate Foreign Policy Initiative event in Emerson Hall Thursday.
United States Representative Karen R. Bass (D-Calif.) spoke at a Harvard Undergraduate Foreign Policy Initiative event in Emerson Hall Thursday. By Michael Shao
By Alex M. Koller and Hannah J. Martinez, Contributing Writers

United States Representative Karen R. Bass (D-Calif.) urged the nation to treat African countries as equals and play a more active role in global affairs in a conversation with members of the Harvard Undergraduate Foreign Policy Initiative Thursday evening.

The event, titled “Making History: Strengthening US Relations With Africa,” featured a conversation in Emerson Hall between the five-term Congress member and moderators Humza I. Jilani ’21 and Nisha A. Seyed Mohamed ’23 — who serve as HUFPI vice president and treasurer, respectively.

Bass, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, said she thinks the U.S. should embrace internationalism. At the same time, she criticized the U.S.'s current approach to foreign aid in Africa.

Bass said she believes the U.S. should not make African countries dependent on its aid, but instead enable those countries to grow their own economies.

“Why on earth would we send food to Africa? That makes no sense at all,” she said. “If there’s a problem with food, why don’t you send food from Kenya to Ethiopia? And why don’t we send cash to Ethiopia or to Kenya so they can buy food?”

Throughout the talk, Bass said Americans should be educated about the rest of the world, expressing frustration with the public perception of Africa in the United States.

“We know so little about the continent and we treat Africa like a charity case,” Bass said. “I want to change that perspective to us viewing Africa as an equal, as a partner.”

Bass also denounced U.S.-imposed sanctions on African states, a view that sometimes puts her at odds with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

“We sanction a country, we end up sanctioning everybody,” she said. “They [Congress] have a hard time saying ‘we should lift sanctions’.”

However, despite disagreements with fellow Congress members, Bass noted that African foreign policy draws support from both sides of the aisle.

“This might surprise you, but Africa is actually a bipartisan issue,” Bass said. “So I work well with my Republican colleagues. I think there is a lot of support for it.”

Aaryan G. Morrison ’22, who attended the event, said she appreciated that the event brought attention to issues that often go undiscussed.

“The idea of relations with Africa is always conflated in conversations of the history of colonialism or postcolonial theory, and it’s oftentimes rarely in practical conversations of how we can improve these things,” Morrison said.

Bass concluded the conversation by calling on the attendees to take action at the voting booth.

“The world is looking at us,” Bass said. “And we bear a responsibility not just to our nation. We bear a responsibility to this planet.”

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