Assistant Secretary Carson's Press Conference in Nairobi

Press Conference
Johnnie Carson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
Michelle Gavin, National Security Council Senior Director for Africa
Nairobi, Kenya
May 12, 2009

AMBASSADOR RANNEBERGER: It is my great pleasure to be able to introduce to you all today, Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson, who is the new Assistant Secretary for African Affairs. He was the Ambassador here in Kenya, as I think you all know. He’s got an incredibly distinguished record, having been ambassador several times over. He brings tremendous experience to the job and I think the fact that he has come to Kenya so early in his tenure, literally within days, is not an accident. We also have with us today Michelle Gavin, who is the Senior Director for Africa at the National Security Council. So a very powerful team to talk to you and take your questions. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Ambassador, thanks very much. It is my pleasure to be back in Nairobi. This is my first trip outside of Washington as the new Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. I accompanied Ambassador Ron Kirk, the United States Trade Representative, to the inauguration of President Jacob Zuma, in South Africa on Saturday. That occasion was the excellent demonstration of African democracy in action, a smooth democratic transfer of power in one of Africa’s most important countries.

I arrived last night from South Africa and this is my second stop in this trip before going back to Washington. I have come here along with my colleague, Michelle Gavin from the National Security Council staff, to do several things. One is to reaffirm to Kenyans and to the Kenyan Government the strong ties that exist between the United States and Kenya. The United States regards Kenya as the most important country in East Africa and most important country in the Greater Horn region. It has been a traditional friend and partner since its independence. We look at it as the keystone state economically, commercially and financially. Everything that moves in terms of terms of commerce to the west of this country passes through the port of Mombasa along Uhuru Highway, and it is certainly the most important in terms of its industry, transportation, its financial links and its banking sector. But it has also been an extraordinary friend of the United States. As you know we have our largest diplomatic mission in sub-Saharan Africa here in Kenya. The second largest to the Embassy in Cairo, and the fact we are here is no accident; it is a reflection of the long tremendous and deep friendship we have with this country, and with its many leaders. We are also here for a second reason, which is important. It is no accident that this is my second stop as the Assistant Secretary, and it’s no accident that this is my first substantive stop, and it is no accident that Michelle Gavin from the National Security Council staff has come along with me. We in Washington were deeply shocked in January and February of 2008 about the violence that rocked this country following the disputed presidential elections of December 2007. The violence, the looting, the destruction and the displacement of tens of thousands of Kenyans was felt, most particularly in this country but seen around the world. We were saddened by this event. We were all very, very pleased by the enormous and successful efforts of UN Secretary General Koffi Annan in being able to bring all parties together to craft an agreement that ended the bloodshed and created the current coalition government. A year on after that agreement was signed, we have seen and have felt as far away as Washington concerns about the stability of the Coalition -- whether in fact it would achieve its objectives of fully implementing the Annan Agreement. We have seen increasing friction between individuals and parties over positions and responsibilities, and we were deeply concerned and worried whether the events of the last several weeks were a prelude to again a round of instability. We did not want to see that happen here in this country, in a country where we have long standing ties and deep friendships amongst all Kenyans across all the political spectrum. And so we came out to say how concerned and how serious the concern is in Washington about insuring that the agreements that were reached by Secretary General Koffi Annan are fulfilled on behalf of the Kenyan people, and that the country move ahead and beyond where it has been politically. The Political tensions must not be allowed to turn into a political crisis, and a political crisis must not be allowed to turn into political violence. That is not in the interest first and foremost of the Kenyan people; it is not in the interest of the Kenyan political leadership at large; it is not in the interest of East Africa, which is so heavily inter-dependent with Kenya and its certainly not in the interest of the international community, nor the United States, which regards Kenya as an important partner, friend and ally in this area. As a friend we came out to say, we appreciate and support Kenya for what it is and for what it does, that we also came out to say we are concerned about where the politics may be going.

I am going to stop here for a second and ask my colleague, Michelle Gavin, whether she would like to add a point or two:

MS. GAVIN: Thank you. I’ll be very brief but simply want to add that President Obama obviously has a deep fondness for Kenya, as we just heard, not only for what it is but for all that it can be, recognizes the tremendous potential in this country and feels deep admiration for so many Kenyans who have been working so hard to help this country realize its potential--civil society leaders, and others. And he wanted me to come here, accompany Assistant Secretary Carson and make it very clear that the White House is concerned about the pace of achievement on the Reform Agenda, the occasional appearance of political gridlock, preventing progress on issues that are of such tremendous concerns to the Kenyan people. So we want to extend a hand of friendship that is always there between the United States and Kenya, but also to signal our very serious concern and desire to see these issues move ahead, and see the Kenyan people get the kind of governance that they can have confidence in and the kind of governance that they deserve. So thank you very much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Before we take any questions, I just like to make a brief comment about Somalia and the violence that is taking place there over the last week. The United States Government strongly condemns the attacks on the Transitional Federal Government and the attacks on the Somali people by the extremist groups who perpetrate them. The United States encourages a quick end to the hostility there and urges all parties to support the Djibouti Process and to work along with and support UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to find a quick solution to violence and also to encourage others who are outside of the Djibouti Process to join in. Thank you.

QUESTION: You stated that the United States is concerned about the political situation here and my question is: have you communicated this to Kenyan leaders and what is the impression you got from their response? Apart from the political (inaudible), there are issues of corruption. Have you discussed this and what kind of feedback have you gotten?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: We have been received very warmly by all of the Kenyan leadership. We had an opportunity this morning to meet with President Kibaki and several of his cabinet ministers. We had an opportunity to meet Prime Minister Raila Odinga. We had an opportunity to meet with Minister of Finance Uhuru Kenyatta and we had an opportunity also to meet also separately with the Speaker of the National Assembly. Those discussions were very candid, very forthright and also very friendly which reflects the depth and strength of our relationship. We conveyed our friendship but we also conveyed our concern. All the government leaders that we spoke to were candid and helpful in their responses and we expect that they will continue to work to fulfill the commitments that were made to Kofi Annan. And some of those discussions we had great elaborations on some of the issues pertaining to the implementation of the document and we encouraged that those things be completed as quickly as possible on behalf f of the Kenyan people. We also spoke about other issues related to reform of both the judiciary and also with respect to the police. We are very much concerned about corruption wherever it exists and including in Kenya. Cancer is a corrosive element in a country’s economy and if the economy is small, it can be even more dangerous and detrimental. We also spoke about issues related to some violations of what appear to be civil liberties.

QUESTION: I have two questions for you sir one on Kenya and one on Somalia. First question on Kenya is irrespective of the warm greetings you received from Kenya leaders did you receive any word from them that filled you with the confidence with their seriousness with regard to creating a functioning coalition and what muscle is the United States have at this point to be able to influence the members of the coalition to actually take the U.S. concerns seriously.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: I think that all of the officials with whom we spoke today gave us strong indication that they heard our massage, that they were determined to make progress on implementation of the Koffi Annan Accords and that they will be sincere and forthright in doing so. We ourselves as a nation have a lot of very strong ties to Kenya we consider Kenya a partner and we hope that the Kenyan officials with whom we spoke heard and received our message in the sincere manner in which we presented.

QUESTION: So when you talk about ties that United States has with Kenya that are extremely important and that maybe the Kenyan leadership might consider when considering its coalition can you elaborate a little bit further on that. What I am trying to get at is what muscle does the United States have.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: The U.S. is a strong partner, it has moral persuasion on its side and it can in fact exercise some degree of muscle. We came here not to threaten but to warn a friend about a deep concern and to express that concern in very clear and precise ways. I think that there are things that we can do that would show a deeper and more profound concern about what is happening here. We will see in the weeks ahead indeed what Kenya is prepared to do to fully implement the reforms, to make progress on key issues and if indeed, if it is necessary to make additional steps I think we have the capacity to make them.

QUESTION: I do have a question on Somalia which is you mentioned earlier your condemnation the violence that has occurred in Mogadishu. Sheikh Sharif as well as his predecessor spent a lot of time asking for (inaudible) the support from international community offered to Somalia and Somalia’s transitional government. Can you give us any ideas on what the US is prepared to do help bolster the institutions of democracy in Somalia that might actually help Sheikh Sharif out.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: First of all we are a strong supporter of the continued presence of AMISOM in Somalia and we have just recently as U.S. Government committed ourselves to providing additional assistance in the form of as much as 10 million dollars to support the joint security force there. We are encouraging other states in the region to demonstrate their support for the Djibouti Process which brought President Sheikh Sharif to power. We are glad to see that Kenya has also been a supporter of this.
I think that it is absolutely critical that the international community and certainly the states in region try to do everything that they can to help stabilize the political situation in Somalia and to move beyond that to help the country reconstitute itself and begin to become a stable, prosperous developing state in the area. Somalia’s problems have lingered for far too long and they have caused enormous problems internally, the displacement of millions of Somalis but it’s also created problems beyond its borders.
Here in Kenya, if one has been recently up to the Dadaab refugee camp, there are probably more than 100 thousand Somalis beyond the maximum to which the camp was originally established to build. Some 6 to 10 thousand Somalis continue to move across the southern borders as refugees into Dadaab, putting enormous strains on Dadaab and the UNHCR system and but also causing problems here further south by putting strains on the social and economic fabric of Kenya. Having people come in who need hospital care, who need housing, who need jobs, children who need education, put an enormous strain on this country. That is just one of the many regional symptoms that are out there.

Indeed the problems in the Indian Ocean are the function of the absence of the central government, the absence of any economic opportunity either in the formal or informal sector. So Somalia’s problems are ones that can have a negative impact not only in Somalia but also in the region as a whole and that is just not the Indian Ocean for Kenya but I think other examples could be shown as well. It is important that everyone who has an opportunity to do so look for ways to begin to resolve and help Somalis resolve the problems that are there. The Djibouti Process is an African, Somali, AU, UN driven process and until there is something better, we think that those who have the chance to participate and work on it and support it to do so.

QUESTION: Two questions on Somalia. But recently the transitional Federal government accused Eritrea of supplying weapons to the process which is termed as extremist. What is your take on that? What are your options in case the forces succeed in their action to topple Sharif’s government?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: We urge all the states in the region, all the neighboring states in the region to support the Djibouti Process and not to lend support to elements that are intent upon undermining that process. We think that the Djibouti Process has the support of the AU and IGAD and that is the process that should be encouraged and as I said before, regional states, regional actors, should not work against it.

QUESTION: What is the current danger in Kenya? Can you classify that? Your concern is how great is your concern (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Let me just say that prevention is better than remediation. I think that if anyone had asked in December on 21 or 22 of 2007 whether Kenya would have faced the traumatic violence that was seen in the upper Rift Valley and in Naivasha in January and February, no one probably would have predicted it that way. All of that resulted from political tensions that bubbled over and turned into political crisis that bubbled over, that turned into political violence of a scale that this country has never seen in its post independence period. I think that if one and you all who are base here can gauge the political temperature by the headlines and news stories that you see and by the conversations that you personally have with politicians know that there is indeed growing friction and has been some friction within the government. I think most recently divisions of view between the two main parties about the responsibilities of the Prime Minister and the President. Divisions and views between the parties about who should chair the most important committee in parliament that establishes government business, divisions between the two main parties about who should be the leader of government business on the floor of parliament. These are a probably a reflection of the top of the political iceberg and that there are probably other tensions below.

But again I think it is important for us to move preemptively as friends to express our concerns, to issue our warnings, to offer our hand of support in helping to resolve these issues before they transform themselves into party disagreements and then become political violence. The prevention again is much more important than remediation.

QUESTION: There is this pledge made by the U.S. the proposal made for 38 Million dollars for Kenya. Do you think that money is enough, because I think the money will go through civil society in the ways of currently prevent the Annan business? And there is the issue that let's say this train keeps moving and there is no one stop to it, is there a plan put in place by the U.S. to try and rescue Kenya because the signs are that we may have a repeat in 2012 of what happened in 2007.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: The United States is a large and powerful nation but it has no capacity to rescue Kenya. Kenyans must in fact rescue themselves. Kenya’s leaders are extraordinarily intelligent and insightful and thoughtful people capable of resolving their own problems if given a chance I think the role of the United States and the International community is to be supportive and helpful in trying to find ways to assist Kenyans resolve their problems but it is really up to Kenyans themselves to work out solutions. What we are saying is that we will be as helpful as possible and yes, we will provide U.S. assistance through USAID and other U.S. Government aid mechanisms to help support reform efforts that are genuine and that will lead to concrete and positive results.