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Former Ambassador On The Three Biggest Problems Facing The World Today

U.S. State Department

On a recent visit to the Inland Empire, retired Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield gave a presentation to the Inland World Affairs Council on the three biggest problems facing the world today. 

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s diplomatic credentials include roles as the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, the Director General of the Foreign Service, the Ambassador to Liberia, and more.

Thomas-Greenfield: “I have spent most of my career in Africa, working on African issues. I was assistant secretary of Africa, responsible for policy recommendations to the administration on how they deal with the 49 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. And I spent a lot of time working on Africa. When I was asked to look at these three critical issues, I had to think more globally, but as I looked at the issues I realized the issues that I was thinking globally about had a tremendous resonance in Africa as well.”

The first of those issues is migration.

Thomas-Greenfield: “We have huge movements of people. We need to start thinking more strategically about how we are going to deal with immigration, and with migration and with asylum seekers and part of the problem is we don't define what we mean when we talk about immigrants because mixed up in that group are immigrants, illegal immigrants, economic immigrants, criminals, gangs, and true refugees, people of legitimate reasons to move across borders. So, we have to talk about how we will address each of those groups without combining them into one group of people who are unwanted. And again, I see this as a global problem.”

The second issue is terrorism.

Thomas-Greenfield: “My first experience with terrorism were the attacks on our embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. We have seen of course 9/11 attack in the United States that brought it right to our front steps and then in Africa over the past 5 years I have worked on three issues that related to attacks on hotels in Burkina Faso and Mali and Kenya just last year. So, terrorism is not just an issue that impacts us here in the United States. It's an issue that impacts everyone and our view had been terrorism anywhere affects all of us everywhere and we cannot individually as countries deal with terrorism without partnering with other countries and our policies have to be policies in which we partner and align ourselves with like-minded to address the issue of terrorism and I think we've lost that over the past few years.”

The last issue is climate change.

Thomas-Greenfield: “I'm seeing the extraordinary impact of climate change on the continent of Africa. It is impacting agricultural output. If you look at a map of Africa and look at the where the Sahara Desert starts and you look at a map from the 1950s and compare it to a map today, it's moved tremendously. The Chad river, Chad Lake which looked like an ocean from the sky in the 1960s is like a pond now, it's drying up. We're seeing herders moving farther and further south with their cattle and clashing with farmers. Here in California where I know these huge fires and wind and other environmental things are happening. The fact that the US pulled out sent a signal to many other countries who have worked diligently to find solutions to address climate change was very discouraging. African countries who, many of these African countries are not large emitters of pollution yet they are paying a huge, huge cost in their countries so we as the United States and as the world leader, we have to part of the solution, not just part of the problem.”

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield says the best way to address these problems is through international cooperation.

Thomas-Greenfield: “I'm a diplomat, and what do diplomats do, we look at ways to engage with other countries, with our allies, with our friends, and sometimes with our enemies, to find common solutions to common problems. And so, I do strongly believe in engagement, that's what foreign policy is about. It's about how you work with your friends to find solutions to your problems.”

You can learn more about the World Affairs Council of Inland Southern California at wacinlandsocal.org.

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