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United States Priorities in Sub-Saharan Africa - IMG_9492

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posted by alias VascoPress Comunicações on Saturday 3rd of October 2015 10:59:41 AM

BRIEFING WITH LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR AFRICAN AFFAIRS MODERATOR: So welcome to the New York Foreign Press Center. We’re really honored today to have Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield with us. This is a roundtable on-the-record discussion. It’s also DVCed to Washington -- ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Okay. MODERATOR: -- so if people have questions from Washington, we’ll bring them in. ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Okay. MODERATOR: So I know that the assistant secretary is on a tight schedule, so we’ll go ahead and get started. She’ll give a few remarks and then we’ll open it out to your questions. So thank you all for coming and I’ll turn this over to Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield. ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. Good evening and let me thank all of you for being here and thank those who are joining us from Washington. This has been a very, very hectic period at UNGA this year. Being here with so many leaders from throughout the African continent has provided us a fantastic opportunity to have a series of bilateral meetings and provide us an opportunity to strengthen our relationships with African heads of state, and I’m pleased that so many of them are here, and we’ve been able to discuss discrete ideas that allow us to collaborate on issues that we’ve worked on in the past, but also to advance our own goals of promoting democracy, peace, and prosperity on the continent. So I’m very excited about the opportunities that I’ve had. We refer to this in Washington as speed dating. Last year, I had – I think, if I recall correctly – 39 bilats during UNGA week. We have not counted yet. I started last week, Friday, and we have been going nonstop since then and it continues for me until Friday. Just to say there have been a number of very positive developments on the continent of Africa since last year. President Obama’s trip to Kenya and to Ethiopia this summer was a historic trip for many reasons. He opened the Global Entrepreneurship Summit and that gave entrepreneurs from across the globe an opportunity to see Africa at its best, to see Kenya at its best, to seek opportunities to invest on the continent. The recent reauthorization of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act was a big success and it sent a very strong signal to investors and showed confidence in the possibilities of investing on the continent of Africa. As you know, we had the good fortune of the Gabonese Government hosting the AGOA Forum in Gabon at the end of August and it was quite successful. It was extraordinary that we had members of Congress participate in the forum, and that AGOA is a bipartisan, very widely supported initiative that we have on the continent, and we had several members of Congress at the forum to reflect that view. Looking ahead, we will continue to focus on the importance of strong democratic institutions and solid performance in the area of governance, which is essential, in our view, to security and prosperity across the continent of Africa. Many African countries will conduct parliamentary elections and presidential elections over the coming months, and certainly quite a few are occurring in 2016. So we will be working with African countries to support on-time, free, peaceful, and fair elections. The Sustainable Development Goals under discussion here at UNGA remind us of the challenges the continent faces. Africa is the youngest and it is the fastest growing continent. Incomes are rising and the middle class is growing, but Africa will need to generate millions more jobs to sustain its momentum. So to help create these jobs, we’ll continue to work with our partners to build up the investment and entrepreneurship climate and encourage more trade with Africa. All of our discussions here at UNGA have focused on taking advantage of the progress we’ve made to solve some of the hard problems we will face, and this is the core of our engagement with our African colleagues this week. Of course, there are a number of things happening on the continent right now that has keen interest for us. I’ll look forward to taking your questions. I think in the question and answers we’ll get to those difficult issues, and I’ll be able to address those then. So thank you very much, and I’m happy to take your questions. MODERATOR: Yes. QUESTION: Bingxin Li from People’s Daily, based at the UN. I understand that President Obama initiated the Power Africa strategy several years ago. How is that going on? ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It’s going quite well. The idea was to bring power to Africa. As you know, sometimes I refer to the fact that (inaudible) refer to as the dark continent. What that darkness means is the lack of electricity, and the idea of Power Africa was to bring power to more African homes and more African businesses. We tripled this to bring electricity to at least 60 million new households and businesses and to encourage more companies, as well as other governments, to look at power as a source of prosperity (inaudible) on the continent of Africa. So (inaudible) I was just meeting with European colleagues, and they’re looking at doing some similar investments on the continent of Africa. And we know that power or energy will be the engine of investment and growth on the continent. MODERATOR: Yes. QUESTION: I have half a dozen questions. ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Try one at a time. (Laughter.) MODERATOR: If everyone could introduce yourself – say your name and news organization. QUESTION: Right. So I’m Kevin Kelley. I’m based here in New York. I cover the UN for the Nation Media Group in Kenya, which also publishes The East African weekly paper covering the eastern half of the continent. So my questions are mainly about that, not about Kenya per se. I’ll choose the one about the DRC. At the Africa Summit, which is now 14 months ago – President Obama’s summit in Africa -- ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yes, a little over a year. QUESTION: Ambassador – yeah, right. Ambassador Feingold was saying it’s urgent that there be action now against the FDLR. Then there was all these complications involving human rights questions and the generals in command. Nothing’s happened as far as anybody can see. What’s the U.S.’s view of what can and should be happening there now? ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, first of all, we’re very disappointed that nothing has happened. We think that the parties need to address the FDLR threat in DRC. Commitments were made to the Rwandan Government, as we worked to address the issues related to M23, that once we completed the actions against M23 we would turn to FDLR, and we are still committed to doing that. We’re encouraging all of the parties, including the Government of DRC, MONUSCO, the FB forces, to bring their combined resources together to address the FDLR threat and we continue to push that. We have named a new special envoy, Tom Perriello, and he has been actively engaged on this issue since taking over his responsibilities about six weeks ago. QUESTION: Just to -- MODERATOR: And he’ll be here at 4 o’clock today. QUESTION: Yeah, he’ll be here. Just to follow up on that, can the United States bring pressure to bear on President Kabila? This is the issue. It’s that the UN says we can’t act because of these human rights violations that these generals are at least alleged to have committed. It’s fairly simple, it seems, that if these generals weren’t in command, the UN, the FIB, could act. Is that too simple an analysis? ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It probably is, but I would make those same arguments as well that it ought to be simple to deal with this issue. And it is one that, again, we are working very deliberately and very intensely on, because commitments were made that we would work to address this issue, and we need to get the parties to do it. QUESTION: Hi, I’m Bukola Shonuga with the African View Network, and I also host a radio program called The African View – and it’s a pleasure to meet you. So with reference to Nigeria within your Administration and in light of the issue of Boko Haram, I was just wondering are there any new efforts form the United States Government to partner with this new administration to combat Boko Haram? And with the 20-some – 200-something girls still missing, so we don’t think they’ll ever find them, so I just wanted you to shed some light on that. ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I hope you’re wrong. I know that their mothers, their parents are still hopeful that some of these girls will be found and brought back to their homes. And we’re not going to give up hope and working with the Nigerian Government and with the families to try to bring as many of them back as we can. We are working very closely with the Nigerian Government, as we were with the previous government. It is has been made somewhat easier with the current government to work more cooperatively on trying to address the Boko Haram threat. We have provided some assistance and funding to the multinational task force through the AU. They are working to pull together the Lake Chad Basin countries so that they can coordinate their efforts in addressing Boko Haram. We still continue to cooperate with the Nigerian Government in terms of information sharing as well as training. Our AFRICOM team will be going to Nigeria later in the month to hold discussions on resuming the training that was stopped previously, and we hope to continue to work with the government in a much more positive and proactive way to address what is not just a Nigeria problem. It is a regional problem, and terrorism is a global problem. So we have to work with Nigeria. We cannot leave Nigeria to address this problem alone. QUESTION: Thank you. QUESTION: Frank Obimpeh from News Ghana. During your submission, you said that the U.S. is trying to build investment and climate of opportunities for Africans. Now let’s come back to my country, Ghana, whereby while we have a lot of malls – new malls going around, where we have foreign products in the malls. So there is what’s called a tendency of our culture families losing bias or their products. What is the U.S. doing, because the investment are taking jobs from the African and then they becoming poor? What are you doing to overcome? ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah. Well, I think investment can create jobs. So having greater investment in Ghana can create new job opportunities for people in areas that they may not have worked in in the past. But we don’t want to see trade opportunities and business displace people who already have jobs. And it is important that government policies support their own local industry, encourage the local industries. But also the local industries have to be competitive. They have to be able to compete on a global market. They have to be able to compete with the products that are being sold in large department stores if they want to advance. People – I remember working on a program in Liberia where people were making small products and making additional money, and we talked to them. And they said, oh we were making it before you came and supported our project. We were making about $50 a month, and now we’re making $80 a month. Well, they’re still poor. What we want to do is move people from being the working poor to being the working middle class, so that they can benefit from the investments that are coming from overseas, but also they can take their products and sell their products overseas so that they become part of the working middle class. So it’s not an easy – the answer is not easy, but it is not about keeping new products from coming into your market. It’s about making the products that are produced in your country more competitive. AGOA offers the opportunity for Ghanaians to import their products to the United States duty-free, and Ghana has taken advantage of that. QUESTION: Thank you, Ms. Ambassador. I just wanted to thank you for all your work. My name is Garry Iwele. I’m a freelance from DRC. And my question is just about the upcoming election. We know that eight of the – eight of some of the African countries go into the election next year. And the president are trying to run again against the constitution. So we saw it in (inaudible) a bit already; it’s sending people to the referendum. And now there is a piece of legislation in DRC under the table trying to do the same thing. I mean, my question is this: What you’re doing as U.S. Government? We know that you are the biggest partner in Africa. What are you doing to push those presidents to not try to run again – ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Our policy – yeah. QUESTION: -- when the constitution does not allow them? ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah, our policy is very clear on that. We do not support countries changing their constitutions to change term limits to benefit the incumbent who is currently serving in office. People can change their constitutions; that’s their right. But when the constitutions are changed just to support the incumbent, it sends a message that people don’t want to leave power. And Africa has gone through many generations of presidents for life, and we believe in a true democracy, transitions actually work. We think transitions contribute to stability. There are a number of countries in Africa that have had elections and transitions, and they’ve worked. Nigeria is our most recent example where it has worked. So we are engaging with these governments to discourage their efforts to change constitutions. We are working closely with the regional organizations, with the African Union, with ECOWAS, and other regional organizations, to gain their support in pushing for this. ECOWAS, for example, has been looking at an agreement that would limit terms to two terms in ECOWAS countries. And actually, they went quite far, except two countries declined to agree. But I think it’s something they’re still working on. People support democracy. Africans line up to vote like no other countries in – that I’ve seen in the world. And when they – when African people are given the opportunity in their individual countries to express their will at the ballot box, they do it. They do it enthusiastically. And so we want to support those efforts, and we are very clear on our policy. No country gets a pass on this. We raise it with every country where we see there are issues. And we certainly have had that discussion with DRC, with Republic of Congo, with Rwanda, and with Burundi, even though they did succeed in pushing forward an election that we believe was not transparent, that led to the president being elected for a third term against their constitution. QUESTION: Hi, I just wanted to go back to the AGOA issue. I mean, in Africa, across the world, youth employment continues to be a major issue. And in Nigeria 60 percent of the youth are unemployed, according to the recent presentation by President Buhari. I was just wondering, how does AGOA translate into job gain for the youth in – across Africa? ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah. We believe, actually, AGOA creates jobs both in Africa and in the United States because it allows for increased export products that are produced in your countries that are allowed into the U.S. duty-free. And so it does create jobs. But ultimately what will create jobs in Africa is investments in Africa, more companies creating opportunities for jobs, better education for young people so that they are qualified for the many job opportunities that will open up. The situation in Nigeria exists across the continent, where you have populations that are very, very young, and they need to be supported. We have an initiative called the Young African Leaders Initiative, or the Washington Mandela Fellowship Program, where over the past two years we’ve brought 500 a year young people across the continent. Next year we will be bringing 1,000. They do a six-week leadership program at a major university in the United States and then they have a one-week summit in Washington in which President Obama and senior leaders across the U.S. Government participate. The first year of this program, when we were only choosing 500, we had 50,000 completed applications. There is intense desire, there is intense hunger on the continent of Africa by young people to get the tools that they need to be successful in the future. So this is a challenge for African governments. It is a challenge for them to figure out how they engage with their young people, how they support their young people, and what tools they give to them so that they are able to be successful in the future. Some countries have raised questions about the Young African Leaders Initiative. I had one country suggest to us that we were brainwashing Africa’s young. And my response to that is you should not be worried about the U.S. brainwashing your young; you should be worried about Boko Haram brainwashing your young, you should be worried about al-Shabaab brainwashing your young, you should be worried about ISIL brainwashing your young. What we’re trying to do is give them the tools so that they can be successful in the future, they can hone the leadership skills they already have to contribute to their governments. And what we’ve seen so far with the 1,000 who have gone through this program is they will be great in the future, whether they are great teachers, university professors, businesspeople, politicians. Whatever field of endeavor they’re involved in, they’re going to be good. And we’ve given them just a little bit more in terms of leadership tools to sharpen their skills to help them be successful in the future. QUESTION: Thank you. QUESTION: Do you know if any private sector initiative, for instance, that could facilitate funding for the private sector in Africa that are trying to create employment for these – because the programs for the most part on the U.S. – from the U.S. side is government – government initiatives. But we feel that private sector is actually more powerful or maybe just as powerful. ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, we certainly work very closely with the private sector, and in terms of promoting the capacity of businesses in Africa – when I was in Nigeria, I visited a company that was being run by a young woman that produced animal feed, and she had been a Young African Leader, a Mandela Washington Fellow, and her – she got a small grant from the African Development Foundation, used that grant to improve the packaging for her products, and her products are competing with products that are coming from overseas. And she’s doubled the number of employees in a very short, short period of time. So sometimes it just is small investments. Similar to what is being done by the African Development Foundation, USAID supports capacity building for small companies. We have trade hubs that are in Ghana and in Kenya that support businesses that want to do business with the United States. So there are many opportunities there, but there’s – the challenges are huge and it’s going to take a lot more effort on all of our parts. QUESTION: Thank you. MODERATOR: We only have time for a couple of questions, so maybe Kevin and then we want to give PK a chance. QUESTION: Okay, thanks a lot. So I’ll combine two into one, and they both relate to President Obama’s initiative regarding peacekeeping the other day. So – and the British prime minister announced that they’re going to send troops to Somalia and Sudan. Would the United States consider doing that? Specifically also, there’s always complaints by AMISOM and others that they lack airpower especially to combat Shabaab. The United States has engaged with airpower in Somalia, but could you do more? Could you supply helicopters, transport planes? And the same – in the same vein, with South Sudan, would the United States consider sending peacekeeping troops to South Sudan? ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think on the – to answer your last question first, it is not something that we normally do, but we do support peacekeeping efforts quite extensively. We’re the largest funder of peacekeeping. And through our Africa training initiative, we’ve trained more than 250,000 African peacekeepers and we will continue those efforts to train. In addition to training them, we equip them. And we have provided them with airpower, and we’re looking at how we can provide additional enablers such as air to Ugandan and Kenyan and Ethiopian troops in Somalia. We’re working very, very closely with the AMISOM troops in Somalia in terms of helping to build up the capacity of the Somali national army. So we’re there as well, working to support the efforts of peacekeeping. We were very pleased by the results of the peacekeeping conference. There were huge commitments that were made. The next step is to get those commitments honored. But again, I think this was responded to in a very serious way. And we look forward to working with these governments, particularly for myself on the continent of Africa, where we’ve had African countries that have very, very graciously and generously contributed to peacekeeping. QUESTION: But the United States would not send troops to South Sudan? ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I – it’s not something that I’m aware that we have considered. But I certainly know that we will support the efforts. QUESTION: I’d like to ask something regarding health in Africa. I’m from Ghana. Ebola never got to Ghana thankfully. And one of the things that Ebola exposed was the health structures in Africa. I’m sure you’re aware of this. In the aftermath of Ebola, if I could say that there still nothing has been done – I can speak for Ghana. And I know that the U.S. is a major contributor in terms of resources and personnel to the health systems in Africa. Do you ever get tired that you do all these things and African governments don’t respond – (laughter) – and do the updates? I mean, are you impressing on them to do something actually on the ground? ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah. I never get tired. (Laughter.) No, let me be clear. We have worked with governments, and a lot has been done. We have signed an agreement with the African Union to help them to develop a center for disease control, an African center for disease control. CBC has also worked with African governments to support their efforts to address responses to infectious diseases. And in the case of Nigeria, where we did have Ebola cases, the Nigerians were able to control this because they had an effective CBC-like operation that they had worked over many years to develop. And we’re working with Ghana as well on developing that capacity. Still, there’s tremendous additional effort that will be required in terms of building Africa’s health infrastructure. What Ebola showed us is that infrastructure is extraordinarily fragile and any infectious disease that occurs on the continent can really force a total collapse. And we saw that collapse take place in the three Ebola countries. So we are more than engaged on trying to address these issues across the continent, because you can’t do it just in one country. You have to work in all the countries to ensure that any type of infectious disease doesn’t go – doesn’t cross borders, because they don’t recognize borders. And we certainly saw that in the case of Ebola. But we’ve had Ebola-like diseases in Central Africa for many, many years, and it’s been kept under wraps. So there are – there is some progress being made, but I agree with you: A lot more needs to be done. But we can’t get tired, because if we get tired, we will be defeated. And I’m not prepared and I don't think our Center for Disease Control that is intensely engaged in this – that any of us are prepared to declare defeat at this point. MODERATOR: I understand the Assistant Secretary is on a really tight schedule and I’ve been asked to go ahead and end the briefing. Thank you so much for coming. We’re so happy to have you, and it’s been a wonderful discussion. ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you very much. And thanks to all of you. # # # WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2015, 2:00 P.M. EDT NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR

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