(Editor's note: This article by the U.S. Department of State is republished to promote public understanding of U.S. policy. Africa is "enormously important" to the United States, and while the continent has recorded advances in democracy and governance, economic development and the resolution of violent conflicts, more progress must be made, as "the greatest moments in Africa's long history have not yet been written," Ambassador Johnnie Carson told a Senate committee April 29, 2009. Speaking at his confirmation hearing to be assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Carson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he remains optimistic about Africa's long-term future and believes the continent has the capacity to overcome its past problems and meet its current challenges. Carson is a career diplomat, former Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania and a lifelong friend of Africa. He served as the U.S. ambassador to Kenya (1999–2003), Zimbabwe (1995–1997) and Uganda (1991–1994) and in diplomatic posts in Portugal, Botswana, Mozambique and Nigeria. During the past decade, he told the lawmakers, Africa has made advances in three important areas: democracy and governance, economic development, and conflict resolution. On democracy and governance, Carson cited the recent elections in Ghana and South Africa, saying those events "are not unique and represent a positive aspect of Africa's unfolding democratic history. Africans support democracy, and since the early 1990s, dozens of African countries have embraced democratic rule." On economic progress, Carson said African countries have made measurable strides in liberalizing their economies, embracing free-market reforms and adopting pro-business policies. Prior to the onset of the global financial crisis, he said, Africa enjoyed nearly a decade of steady economic growth. And on conflict resolution, Carson said the number of violent conflicts in Africa has declined in the past 10 years. "The bloody and often barbaric civil wars that ripped apart Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s have ended. The hot war that erupted along the Ethiopian-Eritrea border has gone dormant, and the massive intervention that threatened to cripple and divide the Congo has now faded away." African leaders, he said, "recognize the negative impact violent conflicts can have on their region and many of them have demonstrated a willingness to assume greater responsibility for preventing and responding to conflicts." Despite these "very meaningful achievements," he said, Africa still faces serious challenges in all of these areas. "Africa's democratic gains cannot be taken for granted. Democratic institutions across the continent remain fragile and vulnerable to authoritarian leaders and ambitious soldiers. In the past 12 months, African militaries have intervened illegally in at least four different African countries." Additionally, he said, "deeply flawed elections in a number of states over the last several years, including in Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, have caused deep concern at home and abroad." Africa's strong decade-long economic performance is also in jeopardy, he warned, because of the current global financial crisis. "The steep rise in fuel, food and fertilizer costs last summer and the wild swings in commodity prices threaten to erode some of Africa's recent economic gains and to throw Africa's poorest nations back into indebtedness and deeper poverty," Carson said. Although the overall level of violence and war in Africa has declined sharply, "several complex and deeply rooted political conflicts persist in Somalia, Sudan and the eastern Congo," he said. "Somalia's deep decline has generated an epidemic of piracy, a massive influx of refugees into Kenya and a growing concern about cross-border terrorism," he added. Sudan, he said, "faces two major challenges in Darfur and in southern Sudan," and challenges remain in the Great Lakes region of eastern Congo, where several rebel groups continue to defy government authority and terrorize the population. Carson said the United States has "significant political, economic and humanitarian interests in wanting to help Africa deal with its most pressing challenges." If confirmed, he pledged to focus on four key areas: strengthening Africa's democratic institutions and adherence to the rule of law; working with African countries to prevent conflict and to build local peacekeeping capacity; fostering sustained economic development and growth; and partnering with Africa to combat threats like health pandemics, climate change and narcotrafficking. Additionally, Carson cited the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) as being two "cornerstones of the U.S. strategy to jump-start Africa's economic development and encourage pro-growth policies." MCA has signed compacts or grant agreements with 10 African countries and AGOA has allowed 40 African nations to benefit from preferential access to American markets, he said. "These two programs, as well as others, have been very successful and very popular. But we -- and others in the industrialized world -- must do more," he added. Carson said he would like to see expansion of AGOA to allow high-value agricultural and semi-processed exports from Africa. Carson also called for a renewed and sustained emphasis on Africa's agricultural sector, where more than 70 percent of Africans directly or indirectly derive their income. Fifteen percent of America's oil comes from Africa, he told the lawmakers, and the continent supplies the majority of the liquefied natural gas consumed in the eastern United States. "Africa's economic potential is vast and its importance as a trading partner will continue to grow," he said. Carson's nomination was endorsed at the Senate hearing by two members of the U.S. House of Representatives: Democratic Congressman Donald Payne, chairman of a House subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, and Republican Congressman Ed Royce, a former chairman of that subcommittee. Payne praised Carson as a lifelong friend of Africa and as a man of "patience, integrity and high principle." Royce called Carson a man who has "all the makings of an excellent assistant secretary of state." Carson's nomination must be confirmed by the full Senate.