US: 10 things to know about new USAID Africa chief Monde Muyangwa

By Julian Pecquet
Posted on Friday, 19 August 2022 10:52

Monde Muyangwa. Wilson Center

Almost a year after her nomination by President Joe Biden last October, Monde Muyangwa is finally set to take charge of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Africa bureau on 1 September following her confirmation by the US senate.

The historic appointment puts an African-born leader in charge of the world’s largest bilateral aid programme for the continent.

1. Native daughter

Muyangwa was born in rural Zambia shortly before the country’s independence from British rule in 1964 when it was still known as Northern Rhodesia. She relocated to the capital, Lusaka, to live with her uncle as a child, an experience she credits for expanding her outlook on the world.

2. Staying rooted

Throughout her life, Muyangwa has sought to balance her international aspirations with a desire to remain true to her roots on the continent. She speaks Silozi and Cinyanja (also known as Chewa), and has long encouraged Africans on the continent and in the diaspora to take pride in their cultures.

3. African education

Muyangwa was born in a family of educators — school teachers, principals and school administrators – and has described education as the “family business”. She credits a grandmother, who did not have any formal education, for instilling the value of learning in both boys and girls in her family. She described a childhood education “embedded in African culture” that nurtured her self-confidence as an African and a Zambian. In 1986, she earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration and economics from the University of Zambia, where she was the valedictory speaker for her class.

4. International experience

In 1987, Muyangwa began attending the University of Oxford as the lone Rhodes Scholar from Zambia that year. She would go on to earn an undergraduate degree in philosophy, politics and economics from the prestigious British university in 1990, followed by a PhD in international relations in 1995. She met her husband in England and migrated with him to the Washington DC area in 1997.

5. Challenging expectations

Muyangwa’s first job in the US was with The Africa Society, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to informing people in the US about the continent. She rose quickly up the ranks to become a director by age 33. She recalls one director who thought she was too young, even as she credits her then-boss for seeing her talent and potential. She has also written about the issue of race in the workplace, noting that some have criticised her lack of makeup and her natural hair as “unprofessional”.

6. Military know-how

Muyangwa is well-versed in US security priorities on the continent. From 2000 to 2013, she worked at the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies at the National Defence University (NDU), a department of the defence-funded institution that helps form the country’s national security leaders.

First, as a professor of civil-military relations and then academic dean, she helped develop programmes on counter-terrorism and transnational threats along with other areas of US focus. There, she built connections with a wide range of African military leaders, including chiefs of defence, army and air forces.

7. US government connections

Since March 2014, she has directed the Africa programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, a congressionally mandated public-private think tank. That senior-level experience in helping craft US Africa policy should serve her well at USAID, which former president John F. Kennedy created in 1961 to lead US international development and humanitarian efforts.

In line with the Biden administration’s thinking, Muyangwa has championed shifting US policy away from focusing on conflict and insecurity to “bringing business and economic relations squarely into the centre of US-Africa relations”.

8. Setting priorities

Sub-Saharan African countries receive about a third of US aid, with USAID and the state department providing some $8.5bn of assistance to 47 countries and eight regional programmes in the fiscal year through September 2021.

As the assistant administrator for USAID Africa, Muyangwa will lead efforts to bolster democracy, build climate resilience and combat the food crisis exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

9. African rolodex

Muyangwa brings a strong ability to build bridges between the US and Africa to USAID.

She lived on the continent for over two decades, has worked on development and security issues for more than 25 years, and has visited and conducted programmes in more than 30 African countries.

She also has extensive contact with a wide range of African politicians, academics and civil society leaders. Just this month, she brought together more than a dozen senior officials from across the continent for a two-day high-level meeting on African sovereign wealth funds at the Wilson Centre.

10. Diaspora leader

Finally, Muyangwa is also a trendsetter among the growing African diaspora community in the US. She became one of the first African-born leaders to head an African programme at a major Washington think tank when she joined the Wilson Centre back in 2014.

What was once the exception has become the norm over the past couple of years, with every major African programme in Washington now being led by diaspora Africans, including French-Senegalese politician Rama Yade at the Atlantic Council and Nigerian-born Aloysius Ordu at the Brookings Institution. Those who continue to fuss over “who can speak for Africa”, Muyangwa says, “miss the point”, as a growing diaspora enriches the concept of what it means to be African.

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