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Building a strong bond: 50-year partnership strengthens U.S.-Africa ties.

While much has changed since Africa Regional Services (ARS) was established in 1962, its core mission remains: serving African countries in search of a better future, spreading the values and ideals of American culture and building links between Africa and the United States.

According to Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of African A airs Bruce Wharton, ARS provides "vital support to American embassies in Africa and the citizens of the countries they serve.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that generations of Africans, from Nouakchott to Antananarivo, have been able to get to know America--its values and its people--through the work of ARS," he said.

ARS, a resource to U.S. embassies in Africa and the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, has an office that is tucked away in a bustling, chic Parisian shopping district. The office is based in Paris because the city is the capital of the French-speaking world, offiers easy access to numerous publishers and French-speaking American experts and artists, and has transportation and communications links with the African continent, explained U.S. Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin.

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A branch of the Bureau of African A airs, ARS employs two Americans and 19 Locally Employed Staff, who create and nurture relationships between Africans and Americans. Examples of its work include production of college textbooks, which are translated into French and published and sold by ARS's book imprint, Nouveaux Horizons (NH). ARS also organizes cultural exchanges, such as bringing American musicians to an Africa village, and video conferences, as when an American journalist engages journalism students in Cote d'Ivoire on the importance of verifying information.

ARS was created at a time when the U.S. government was developing new agencies to advance world peace and security, such as the Peace Corps and USAID (1961). "As Africa was experiencing a wave of new countries accessing independence, ARS was designed to serve African Francophone countries, spreading the values and ideals of American culture," said Ambassador Rivkin.

Starting in 1962, NH began producing French translations of American books, making them available at low cost to African bookstores and U.S. posts in Africa. Its special pricing for Africa has given African readers and students access to French translations of important American books. The textbooks it publishes are often part of the curriculum in African universities, and ARS Director Dale Prince said many readers have shared stories about studying with NH books all through their university years.

NH has begun partnering with prestigious European publishers and now boasts a popular youth catalogue in addition to its long-standing adult collection. Today it has a network of 65 client bookstores in 26 countries throughout Francophone Africa and distributes more than 120,000 books per year.

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"I have known of and used ARS services in many guises for almost 30 years," said Miriam Guichard, a retired Foreign Service o cer and former ARS director. "Without ARS's resources and extraordinary distribution system, many, if not all, American embassies in Francophone posts would have severely limited audiences for their information and cultural programs."

While historically focused on resources in French, ARS today serves all of Africa, including Anglophone and Lusophone posts.

"American Cultural Centers in Africa draw students and professionals alike, for NH books, thematic books and other reference titles selected from the ARS Books in French or Portuguese Lists, and magazines and publications dealing with all aspects of American culture," said Prince. "Furthermore, we promote exchanges by bringing together American and African journalists, entrepreneurs, intellectuals, artists and sports people, thanks to our Speakers and Artists Program."

To stay ahead of the digital curve, ARS is actively engaging on social media platforms in French and English, and plans to release an e-book.

"The State Department is proud of the 50 years of extraordinary service that ARS has provided to generations of Africans," said Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs Johnnie Carson. "I know that while the medium may change in the 50 years to come, ARS's mission will remain the same: to spread American ideas and culture and strengthen our relationship with Africa."

Lydia Hall, pubic diplomacy officer, and Dale Prince, ARS director
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Author:Hall, Lydia; Prince, Dale
Publication:State Magazine
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Nov 1, 2012
Words:700
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