By Ken Lay
After an 18-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ashe Lecture Series made a return to the University of Tennessee.
The series, conceived by former Knoxville mayor Victor Ashe, featured former Ambassador and Wisconsin Congressman Mark Green.
Green, who was ambassador to Tanzania under President George W. Bush between 2007-09 and a former Wisconsin congressman, spoke about the United States and its role in developing economies in developing countries at the Toyota Auditorium of the Howard H. Baker Center.
He also contrasted the US system for investment with that of China and other authoritarian countries around the world.
“In the US, we have what is called the journey of self-reliance,” said Green who is the President, Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a non-partisan policy forum for tackling global issues through independent research and open dialogue to benefit the international policy community.
Ashe, who served as Knoxville’s city mayor for 16 years and was also a former United States Ambassador, was pleased to have Green at UT.
“We couldn’t have gotten a better person to come here than Mark Green to discuss foreign policy,” Ashe said.
Other former and current city, county and state leaders including Ed Shouse, Bill Haslam, and Finbarr Saunders were in attendance as Green discussed how he became involved in politics and foreign policy.
It was a journey that began when he was a teacher in a small African village in Kenya.
As an educator in Africa, Green had to teach with minimal resources and had students removed by government officials if their parents couldn’t pay school fees.
“We had one classroom and in certain subjects, we only had one textbook and the chalkboard was a big black slab,” Green said. “A lot of my kids were barefoot and their parents had to pay fees.”
If the parents didn’t pay, Green said that they were removed from his class and couldn’t return until their parents paid the fees.
“I’ll never forget the first time that happened,” he said. “We were preparing for an exam and they came in and about a third of my kids were taken out.
“Kenyan classrooms are quiet. But I went back to the chalkboard and continued and then I heard a noise, and it was those kids trying to get back in.”
Green also noted that Kenyans, who desire the education that many Americans take for granted or even discard. The students, he said, wanted to be self-reliant.
“The whole time my wife and I were in Kenya, none of the kids ever asked me for money,” he said. “We had kids ask for extra help and my wife tutored them on Saturdays and we had people ask about help with a book, but no one ever once asked us for money.”
It was his time in Africa that inspired him to public service.
“I had the opportunity to go to Africa after I graduated from law school,” Green recalled. “My house didn’t have electricity or running water that we could drink, so I read.
“I read books from cover to cover. I read the Bible from cover to cover.”
Green used his experience in Kenya to describe his philosophy in foreign affairs.
“The American model of foreign assistance has the journey to self-reliance,” he said. “China wants people to become dependent on them. They make predatory loans and have a loan-to-own philosophy.
“In China, if their policy leads to self-reliance, someone is losing their job. The United States is the preferred partner. When people think of America, they think of Coca-Cola and they think of Apple and those are the things they want.”