The selected country of Senegal and its official language of French serve critical US national security interests in Western Africa. Senegal is the westernmost country on the African continent and has been a long-term strategic partner of the US and its allies. The close ties have been formed over decades mainly due to Senegal’s relatively democratic society and stability in the region. Senegal is a growing economy, but one that largely depends on agriculture and artisanship, so a large portion of the population is impoverished. The US-Senegal partnership is firmly centered on US aid programs for economic development and reduction of poverty both in the country and regionally.
As a key ally, it is in the interests of the US to maintain stability and development in Senegal, as the country retains importance as a jumping point to any aid, intelligence, or defense operations in Africa. One example of this is Senegal the central logistics hub for the US military during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Concentrated efforts of the US aid programs in Senegal focus on third-world economic development, maintaining Democratic stability, and ensuring an ally in addressing regional threats. French, which is the official language of Senegal, is also heavily utilized throughout Western Africa and beyond. The linguistic-cultural element of French with local dialects can be vital in establishing partnerships and building long-term diplomatic relationships.
The total US bilateral aid in FY2020 alone in support of common goals exceeded $155 million. Various government and NGO programs have provided funding focused on addressing food security, counterterrorism, and peacekeeping in Senegal and the regions. As with most foreign aid that the US provides, the aid to Senegal is driven by a combination of compassion and strategic interests in support of peace, security, and development efforts.
US aid aimed at political, societal, and economic development both in Senegal and regionally, which has some of the world’s poorest countries, is necessary for long-term national interests. The reasoning behind this is based on historical precedents; weak, impoverished, and weakly governed states create a climate for the development of threats to the US and its allies. The first threat is radicalism, and in the context of the region, transnational terrorism or piracy. The second threat is the potential for massive migration with refugees fleeing poverty, persecution, or conflict. Finally, a mixture of threats can arise in an unstable state, ranging from human rights abuses to disease outbreaks such as Ebola. Unstable and weak states are a breeding ground for various threats that may directly or indirectly threaten the US and its operations in the region, the overall national security status quo. Aid has been used extensively since the end of World War II to progress US national interests, and the country has significantly benefited from this global order. Currently, in the context of a globalized world and other rising hegemonies such as China and Russia gaining influence, aid serves as a critical deterrent and an extension of US geopolitical interests.
One major issue related to financial assistance is the refugee crisis, which the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated. A fair number of migrants traveling are Senegalese, but the country also serves as the hub in West Africa from which migrants from all over the continent depart, given its geographic location. Albeit the refugees do not travel to the US by illegal immigration, this crisis is both a humanitarian disaster and overwhelming the US strategic allies in Europe. Along with aid efforts, the US and its partners are attempting to resolve the issue by providing opportunities for immigration and investing in local economic development for Senegal, which already takes thousands of refugee applications, to house the migrants and provide jobs. The refugee crisis is a major concern for developed nations and US strategic interests from both humanitarian and geopolitical perspectives. Therefore, it is critical to address the issue as experts predict refugees fleeing vulnerable areas will only increase as time goes on. US aid efforts and refugee resettlement programs are vital in contributing to improving the situation in the region,
Senegal shares many ideals with the US, such as democracy, religious tolerance, effective governance, and seeking economic prosperity. It is in the interest of the US to support Senegal to address potential problems regionally in a partnership manner. In recent years, key elements for cooperation have included the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change to which both countries are vulnerable, energy needs to stimulate economic growth, and bilateral trade and investment, which is increasing between the two countries on an annual basis. The US can use the Senegal partnership model and the socio-cultural and economic ties in the region to influence more problematic states. Therefore, financial assistance is undeniably an effective foreign policy tool that the US can use effectively to its advantage.
My background stems from the African continent. I was born in Togo and lived there until I finished my secondary education. Then, I went on to receive my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Benin. However, at one point, I became a refugee seeking opportunity and asylum in the United States. After months of work and documentation to receive the status, I was officially given the status and opportunity to migrate to the US. Since then, I have dedicated my professional career to either working with refugee-related matters or gaining experience to work in this specific field in a higher capacity.
The personal experience described above is beneficial in preparing me to study overseas. As I was born in Western Africa, I am familiar with the region’s cultures, daily life, social norms, and language. Although I have spent a significant time in the US, my mindset and approach to life remain ingrained based on my upbringing and culture, which offers me a unique perspective. I believe this will offer me an advantage in either studying or working abroad in an official capacity, allowing me to be more effective in understanding the nuances of the culture, language, and socio-economic status quo.
The selected country of Senegal and the language of French will be significantly beneficial to my future career plans. I have worked for the Department of Health and Human Services at the state level for more than a decade. However, I intend to continue working at the department at the federal level, particularly in the Refugee Resettlement Program, which is a collaboration between the HHS and the Department of Homeland Security. Working with refugees is my passion, given my past, as well as my academic and professional interest in how more refugees can be helped in a better way and achieving equitable socio-economic conditions for as many people as possible. As an alternative, I am interested in working with USAID at the State Department, with this specialization also sharing many of the same overarching goals.
The short-term goal of studying abroad and familiarizing myself with the local culture and language will be essential in my future work at the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). I have some experience with the language and working with refugees. One of my first professional experiences was as a Legal Assistant Intern at the UNHCR, dealing with refugee resettlement matters. Several years later, I worked as a Refugee Health Program Coordinator for an NGO. I worked directly with refugees on health and social services programs to facilitate a safe and healthy transition into local communities. I believe that makes me prepared to fulfill the federal service requirement at ORR, but overseas experience is necessary to be aware of the current status quo in Western Africa. The direct study of the region and interaction with the culture and refugees will generate invaluable knowledge and experience that I can seek to apply professionally in the future. The refugee crisis is only increasingly getting worse due to factors of climate, pandemics, and socioeconomic disparities, so it becomes an issue of strategic national interest for the US to resolve.
My primary interest in working in the federal service is being part of the workforce and programs that make a difference in the world. Given my personal and academic interest in refugee work and foreign assistance in Western Africa, at the federal level, one can actively participate in changing people’s lives while also supporting US interests. Every job ranging from screening refugee applicants to driving refugee-associated policy has a meaningful impact. As a refugee who was given the opportunity and has achieved a life and career in the US, I want to help others do the same. In the medium-term, my goal is to seek employment at the federal level and gain both experience and expertise in the respective department.
Nevertheless, after more than a decade in civil service, I realize that the role in federal service will come with immense responsibility, sometimes sacrifice, and the need for leadership. I believe my life and professional experience have helped me grow and develop into a solid professional. My understanding of policy, procedures, and professionalism is at a high level. I intend to take my background, academic studies, and professional experience to progress in the ORR to management and leadership positions, which is my long-term objective. In my previous jobs, I have had the opportunity to achieve and remain in management positions, overseeing operations of a center or program while fulfilling multiple duties from a procedural standpoint. I hold a unique position of having multiple perspectives backed by knowledge and experience and a character that emphasizes rationality and stability, which I believe will make me an excellent leader in federal service.