Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs thanks Purdue for lending Frederi Viens to the State Department in 2010-2011. - Department of Statistics - Purdue University Skip to main content

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs thanks Purdue for lending Frederi Viens to the State Department in 2010-2011.


Prof. Frederi Viens was awarded the national recognition of Franklin Fellow at the United States Department of State for the academic year 2010-2011. The Franklin Fellowship program allows approved organizations to engage in U.S. foreign affairs by sending mid-career and senior professionals to Washington, DC, to work on global issues of vital importance to the U.S. Prof. Viens worked as a Science Adviser to the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, at the Main State Department offices in the Foggy Bottom area of Washington. Click this link (PDF) to read a "thank-you" note to Purdue from Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson.

Prof. Viens was the first scientist to provide broad advice to the State Department’s Africa Bureau on all science and technology issues. The subject of his work was U.S. diplomatic engagement toward the major challenges facing Africa, including climate change, environmental degradation, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, scientific capacity building, threats to agriculture and water resources, and demographic pressures. His main role was to interpret science and technology questions related to these challenges, and to formulate recommendations for U.S. policy towards Africa. He also advised country and program "desk" officers in the Africa Bureau in DC, economic officers and Ambassadors at various Embassies ("posts") in Africa, and science and technology personnel at other Bureaus, the US Agency for International Development, and other federal agencies. He built a network of contacts among all these colleagues, assisting them with Africa-specific perspectives, writing comments on a number of internal documents, and putting Africa Bureau co-workers in contact with appropriate personnel outside the Bureau on matters of science and technology.

While Prof. Viens had some degree of freedom in deciding which problems to work on, he was expected to provide his Bureau with coverage on the United Nations climate change negotiations. He was tasked to write briefing papers for Assistant Secretary Carson and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as a broad policy piece on renewable energy development in Africa. Upon an invitation to speak by the World Bank, his Bureau sent him as the U.S. Government representative to an international conference on carbon markets in Africa.

Examples of Prof. Viens' work as a Franklin Fellow

Viens worked primarily on the following themes, by assignment as well as by choice:

  • climate change
  • environmental conservation
  • forestry
  • renewable energy
  • water
  • science and technology cooperation

Geographic regions of particular emphasis included the Congo Basin, Southern Africa, the Lake Chad Basin, West Africa, and the Horn of Africa. He was tasked to write brief pieces to support decisions and actions by the Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, and the Secretary of State. He also wrote a number of comments for members of his office, other colleagues in the Africa Bureau, and some contacts outside the Bureau.

He served as a science liaison between the Africa Bureau and other Offices and Bureaus at the State Department, at USAID, and at other organizations, building a network of contacts, assisting colleagues with Africa-specific perspectives, and putting Africa Bureau colleagues in contact with appropriate personnel outside the Bureau on matters of science and technology.

His main interactions in the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Scientific Affairs, were with the Climate Change office, the office of Environment, Natural Resources and Conservation, and the office of Science and Technology Cooperation. At USAID, he collaborated with the Africa bureau, the Water team in the office of Natural Resources Management, and with USAID personnel at Africa missions. He advised economic officers and Ambassadors at various Embassies in Africa, and their corresponding desk officers in Washington, on country-specific environmental and energy questions. He collaborated with the organizers of a UN/World-Bank-sponsored international conference and trade fair on carbon markets.

Viens is the first scientist to advise broadly the State Department’s Africa Bureau on all science and technology issues, and to develop a network of colleagues capable of efficiently handling US diplomatic engagement towards the major challenges facing Africa, including climate change, environmental degradation, deforestation, threats to agriculture and water resources, and demographic pressures.

Examples of activities which were largely based on some depth of research:

  1. Estimating the agricultural and environmental impact of climate change and human pressures on resources in African sub-regions, and advising US diplomacy on the issues.
  2. Collaborating on policy recommendation documents for US foreign assistance coordination in the West African sub-region, particularly in the area of area of adaptation to climate change.
  3. Evaluating proposals for environmental grants and programs submitted to US federal agencies for scientific capacity building in various African countries, in the areas of forestry, combating poaching, and environmental monitoring.
  4. Formulating an analysis of which African countries should be visited by the current U.S. Science Envoy to Africa, Dr. Gebisa Ejeta (Purdue University), and helping coordinate Science-Envoy briefings in Washington.
  5. Formulating analyses of the landscape for renewable energy and power sector development in Africa, including advising the Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs.
  6. Evaluating the correlation between certain extreme weather events and global climate-change trends, including the disappearance of Lake Chad, the floods in Northern Namibia, and the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa.
  7. Forecasting long-term African population dynamics and their impact on climate resilience and urban development.

Examples of activities whose goals are to explain complex science questions to non-specialists, for the purpose of formulating foreign policy, and as such fall entirely within the realms of outreach and engagement.

  1. Commenting on current science, technology, and natural events, and their political perspective, for the benefit of the Economic Policy and Public Diplomacy offices. Examples of topics include
    1. Climate change and extreme weather events
    2. Renewable energy
    3. Forest conservation in Central Africa
    4. Wildlife management, conservation, poaching, and trafficking
    5. International ministerial meetings on the environment
    6. Water management, ocean conservation
    7. China’s involvement in Africa
    8. Geology and geography
  1. Editing, commenting, and clearing on a number of internal State Department policy documents and diplomatic cables on behalf of the Africa Bureau, on science, technology, environment, and health issues. Examples of topics include:
    1. Science and environment priorities in specific countries, including Sudan, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo.
    2. High-level meetings on forest conservation, climate change, energy
    3. Speeches and presentations by the Secretary of State, the Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, and others
    4. Work done by environmental NGOs in Africa
    5. Energy poverty
    6. Agriculture and water management
    7. Infectious diseases
    8. Clean cook stoves programs and women’s issues
  1. Keeping the Assistant Secretary for African Affairs informed about international developments and the US position in UN climate negotiations.
  2. Working with the Africa point-of-contact in the Climate Office to develop a strategy for engaging Africa ahead of the UN climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa, Nov 28 to Dec 9, 2011.
  3. Advising the energy team in the Climate Office on renewable energy potential and problems in Africa, and on the design a US Government program to build African capacity to develop clean energy and increase electricity access.
  4. Supporting the Africa Public Diplomacy office in its Science Diplomacy efforts, by advising on climate change and other issues, and building contacts with other Bureaus.
  5. Monitoring the progress of international talks led by the Republic of Congo on the Three Rainforest Basins of the World.
  6. Advising US Ambassadors in Africa about country-specific US government programs on climate and environmental issues, and on renewable energy potential.
  7. Working with a US Government interagency team to define options to engage in the Lake Chad environmental problems; formulated a strategy for research collaboration.
  8. Drafting an issue paper on Conservation in the Congo Basin for the Secretary of State.
  9. Helping draft an issue paper on Climate Change and Africa for the Secretary of State.
  10. Defining and drafting the Africa Bureau’s Strategic Resource Plan goal on Climate Change.
  11. Compiling a list of US Government foreign assistance actions in the area of renewable energy in Africa for Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011.
  12. Exploring the possibility for a power sector tour of African countries by US companies.
  13. Consulting with non-governmental international organizations and United Nations agencies for increasing US engagement and African participation in international carbon markets.
  14. Taking a leading role in the AF Bureau’s Green Team, to promote sustainable practices in the workplace, in Washington and at posts in Africa. Activities included:
  1. Writing a piece for a newsletter on US Embassy options for sustainable buildings and operations in Africa;
  2. Writing an interview piece for a newsletter on renewable energy and development options in Africa; interview was with Dr. Suresh Garimella (Purdue University);
  3. Encouraging US Embassies in Africa to submit nominations for the Africa Bureau’s Green Awards, in response to the Secretary’s Green Diplomacy Initiative, evaluating all nominations, selecting a winner, and reporting on all nominated sustainable activities.
  1. Traveling to Morocco and giving an invited presentation at the 2011 Africa Carbon Forum, on the topic of US Government engagement in enhancing African technical capacity for the design of long-term low-carbon development strategies.
  2. Advising the Department of Commerce and the State Department on South Africa’s bid for the Square-Kilometer Array Radio-telescope.
  3. Giving a presentation at the State Department’s International Visitors Leadership Program about US Science and Mathematics education priorities and US public university science outreach programs.

October 2011

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