Before Dane Smith began his foreign-service career, which lasted over 30 years and included ambassadorships to Guinea and Senegal, he came to Santa Barbara to train for the Peace Corps.
"We were invited into sensitivity groups and encouraged to talk about our real feelings about mom and dad. Somewhere in there we would get our real feelings about going to Ethiopia," he said. "Of course, none of those guys had ever been to Ethiopia, so how would they know?"
On Tuesday, he came back to Santa Barbara to speak to a crowd of roughly 50 people in the McCune Conference room as part of the "Global Forces in the Post-Cold War World" lecture series, sponsored by a number of organizations, including UCSB’s global studies program. Now, at the end of his career as president of the National Peace Corps Association, Smith knows something about all of Africa, which, he said, is not given the attention it deserves by the United States.
"The United States has significantly more trade with Africa than with the former Soviet Union," he said. "Over the past 10 years, the United States government has spent several billion dollars of its taxpayers’ money on the victims of civil wars in Africa."
During the presidential campaign, George W. Bush said he did not think Africa had much to do with U.S. interests – a view Smith said is misinformed. Africa, Smith said, affects America through trade, immigration, terrorism and exotic diseases. He also said wars in Africa can spread, threatening U.S. interests and costing taxpayers billions of dollars.
At the end of the 1980s, the waning years of the Cold War, U.S. aid to Africa reached nearly $1.2 billion – a record high. Nowadays, Smith said, the United States is stingier.
This decrease is especially painful for Africa, Smith said, which has the world’s highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection and cannot afford most pharmaceuticals.
"The issue of [HIV/AIDS] drugs, for example, has become a major one, and we’re really on the wrong side of that one," he said. "The drug companies are insisting that patents be respected. We need to find a way to encourage U.S. firms to provide these drugs and provide them at costs Africans can afford; otherwise, the epidemic will continue unchecked."
Smith said hope for U.S. policy in Africa lies with the public.
"[The American people] care about human rights," he said. "They care about democracy. It may not be the thing they care about most of all, but they do care about it, and they want to hold national administrations accountable for the kind of policies they can be proud of."
Africa is too often overlooked, history Professor Stephan Miescher said.
"I think it’s important for the UCSB community to be exposed to issues that relate to Africa, especially because Africa is such a marginalized area of the world as far as UCSB students and some members of the UCSB faculty," Miescher said.
Senior history major Allison Wenograd said she enjoyed the lecture. "It was very interesting," she said. "It definitely informed me."