LiveAtState: U.S. Policy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa

Johnnie Carson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
Washington, DC
September 20, 2012

MS. JENSEN: Hello and welcome to Live at State, an international web chat platform for engaging international media. I’m your host Holly Jensen. Before I turn it over to you, I would just like to make a couple of housekeeping notes. You can start to submit your questions in the lower left-hand portion of your screen, titled, “Question for State Department Official,” now. And we will get to as many of your questions as we can in the 30 minutes we have. If at any time during the webchat you encounter problems, you can also email your questions directly to us using the email address, and we will add them into our queue. And at the end of today’s program, if you’d like to continue this conversation, you can go on to Twitter using the hashtag #engageafrica or using the hashtag #carsonppd.

And with that, I will turn it over to you. Thank you, sir, for joining us today.

AMBASSADOR CARSON: Thank you. It’s a great pleasure to be here at LiveAtState to discuss the Obama Administration’s policies towards Africa. The Obama Administration has tried to strengthen U.S. relations with Africa on a basis of mutual responsibility and mutual respect. We have tried to elevate the importance of Africa in our international dialogues and tried to take into account African views on a wide range of issues, those that pertain not only to Africa but to the broader global community.

We believe that a stronger, more dynamic, more democratic, more economically prosperous Africa is in the interests of not only Africa and its citizens but also in the interests of the United States and the global community. Africa is an important relationship, an important partnership with us, and our desire is to strengthen our relationship with all of African countries and to make that a relationship based on mutual respect for one another.

MS. JENSEN: All right. I’ll start with our first question. Just be prepared; it’s pretty long. It comes from Brooks Spector from the Daily Maverick in Johannesburg: When President Obama began his engagement with Africa, he offered a new vision for the U.S. approach that offered a partnership that would mark the end of the big man in Africa and encourage self-reliance and an engagement with the coming generation. Yet the most visible features of American involvement with Africa now seems to consist of two main elements: one, activities aimed at suppressing low-level, non-state insurgents in West Africa and the Sahel with small units of U.S. military to combat and train local forces and surveillance aircraft to find such groups to combat on the one hand; and two, growing initiatives to outflank Chinese investment and trade in Africa such as the recent full-court press by the Secretary and her party and business figures who accompanied her in South Africa to identify potential sales and investments in infrastructure. Is there now a major disjuncture between the original goals and the current reality?

AMBASSADOR CARSON: The United States has had a longstanding interest in Africa, one that is based on our economic desires to strengthen our trade and commercial relationships with Africa, our desires to help Africa grow its economy and to meet the development needs of its people, to work with Africa on transnational problems that are of concern not only to Africans and Americans but people around the world, and a desire to help Africa end some of the long-running and longstanding conflicts that have plagued the continent.

Our interests in Africa are not driven by competition with any country in the world. We recognize the right of all countries to seek economic and commercial and trade and political relationships with the continent. Our relationship with Africa, defined by President Obama in his July speech, July of 2009 speech in Accra, Ghana, stands out as where we want to build our relationship and how we want to build that relationship.

That speech, plus a new strategy for Africa that was released by the White House in June of this year, define our principal goals and objectives in strengthening our relationship. Our strategic objectives are to help Africa strengthen its democratic institutions, to promote good governance, and to fight against things like corruption.

The second aspect of our relationship is to do as much as we can to spur economic growth and development in Africa through market-driven and free-trade economic principles. We want to see more U.S. trade and investment in Africa, because we believe that that is important for us but equally important for helping to grow Africa’s economies, to provide opportunities for Africa’s people.

Third, we want to help Africa deal with a number of its ongoing security crises. We want to help create a more stable Africa by helping to bring to an end conflicts in Somalia, conflicts that divide South Sudan and Sudan, as well as the conflicts in the Great Lakes, particularly in the Eastern Congo. When Africa is in conflict, it diverts resources away from development and economic growth and progress for its people.

And fourthly, we are very much interested in working with Africa to address some of its critical development needs. We continue to work with the continent to address its multiple health challenges through our Global Health Initiative. We are continuing to build on the work of the previous administration in our fight against HIV and AIDS. We continue to have and roll out programs to fight malaria, tuberculosis, cholera, and other waterborne diseases, and to help to strengthen Africa’s public health systems.

We’re also focused on helping to grow Africa’s agriculture and to end famine and food shortages at the household and village level while also looking to help African countries, African entrepreneurs, build strong agro-industries that will help power their economies, expand job opportunities, and bring in more foreign exchange.

These are our objectives. I think to look narrowly at what the questioner says as the U.S. being motivated by the challenges of other countries is wrong. The United States, as I say, has had a long historical interest in Africa that dates back to the very beginning of our nation. Some 12 percent of Americans are African Americans, black Americans who trace their origin and history to Africa at one time. We have a President of the United States whose father was born in Kenya.

Those two historical markers at the very beginning of our history as a nation with the arrival of the slaves from Africa who are now citizens and our President of the United States whose father was a Kenyan reflect a deep and long historical interest in Africa that will always tie America to the African continent. But we want those ties to be based on mutual respect and a commitment by us to do as much as we can to help Africa achieve its enormous potential and promise. A strong, stable, economically prosperous Africa, one that is at peace with itself and providing opportunities for its citizens, operating in a democratic framework is in the interests of not only all of Africa, it is in the interest of the international community and also in the interest of the United States.

MS. JENSEN: Our next question – and forgive me if I butcher this name – comes from Tsiresena Manjakahery from Madagascar: What is the American – what do the Americans think about the insecurity in Madagascar right now?

AMBASSADOR CARSON: Thank you very much. We are deeply troubled by the continuing political impasse that exists within Madagascar. Nearly three years ago, the former government headed by President Ravalomanana was overthrown in a military intervention that led to the emergence of the current President, Mr. Rajoelina, as the head of state.

We believe fundamentally that a new political dispensation should be put in place, that the people of Madagascar should be allowed to vote on new elected leaders, and that all of those individuals who are interested in contesting for the presidency should be allowed to freely contest for those elections. And we also firmly believe that those who are in power and who make the rules and who seek to manage those elections should not, in fact, participate in them. Those who were the beneficiaries of military interventions and coup d’etats should not, in fact, be setting the rules and defining the regulations for the successor of government.

We think that the work that is being done by SADC, by the AU and by South Africa and other international partners is absolutely critical and important. We believe that the work that is being done by South Africa and SADC as well as some of the Europeans is the way to go. A solution needs to be found in order for Madagascar to come out from under the negative political cloud under which it has been operating for nearly three years.

MS. JENSEN: The next question is a follow-up, and I think you’ve touched a little bit on it, but we’ll ask it anyway: For Madagascar, what is the point of view of the U.S. Department for the next election in May of 2013 in our country? At each meeting of the donors for the elections in Madagascar, we still see a representing of the U.S.A. How should we interpret this?

AMBASSADOR CARSON: As I’ve said before, we support the initiatives that are undertaken by SADC and the AU and South Africa to find a political solution that will allow all of the key political players to have a role in participating in an election that is well-managed and freely organized. It’s important that we in the United States continue to observe the process. We believe that Madagascar deserves a better political future than it has had over the last several years.

MS. JENSEN: The next question comes from Keiichi Shirato, the Mainichi newspapers in Japan: How will the U.S. Government deal with the current situation in the northern part of Mali, and will the U.S. give any financial and military assistance to the ECOWAS for their dispatch? Is the U.S. going to continue to TSCTP for Government of Mali in order to reinforce their capacity to fight against the Islamists in AQIM in the north?

AMBASSADOR CARSON: We are following the situation in Mali very, very closely. As many of our viewers in West Africa know, the Malian situation is extraordinarily complex. There are four problems in Mali.

One is the need to return to a democratic, freely elected civilian government. It is absolutely essential that Mali move towards new elections as quickly as possible to restore the complete democratic legitimacy of that country. Equally importantly, there is a need for the military not to have any direct or indirect involvement in the management of Mali’s democracy or governance.

The second problem is a political problem dealing with the Tuareg, who have had longstanding historical grievances that need to be addressed in a political context.

Third is a problem associated with extremists and terrorism. We believe that groups such as AQIM and MUJAO are terrorist groups, and they will have to be dealt with through security and military means.

And the third problem – a fourth problem in Mali is an issue related to the drought and the humanitarian situation that exists in the northern part of the country. Many people have been hurt by the shortage of rains, exacerbated by the conflict in the north, and this has led to tens of thousands of Malians moving into Mauritania and into Niger and Burkina Faso as refugees.

All four of these are critical problems that need to be addressed, that need to by the Malians with the support of ECOWAS and other countries in the region. At next week’s UN General Assembly meetings in New York, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has agreed to host a meeting of major international countries plus the AU and ECOWAS leaders to talk about the situation in Mali and the Sahel. We believe that this is going to be an important session. We all need to work with Mali to address the four challenges that I’ve outlined.

MS. JENSEN: The next question comes from Christine Holzbauer from La Magazine de l’Afrique and from Senegal: My question will be about the influence and/or pressure that the U.S. Government will and can have on Algeria to get involved in the resolution of the crisis in Mali, especially in the case of a military intervention.

AMBASSADOR CARSON: Very good question from Senegal. I think that it is important for all of the states in the region to collaborate together in a harmonious way to find a solution to the Malian problem, not only of the states of the south and west and east of Mali, most of whom are in ECOWAS, but also for Algeria and Mauritania, two important neighbors of Mali who stand outside of ECOWAS.

But equally important in all of these states working together – Algeria, Mauritania, and the ECOWAS states who neighbor Mali – it’s also important for the international community to work in a cooperative and collaborative fashion with the African states in the region to find a long-term solution.

The issue of AQIM is of concern not only to Mali but to all the neighboring states, whether it is Algeria, whether it is Mauritania, whether it is Niger or Burkina Faso or Senegal. Terrorism is a transnational threat not only to the people of the country but to the people of the region; and if, in fact, it gets out of hand, it can become a threat to those in Europe and beyond. So we need to work together. Algeria is an important country in Africa, North Africa, and in the Sahel region. It needs to be a part of the solution along with ECOWAS, Mauritania, and others who are interested.

MS. JENSEN: I’d just like to remind you at the end of today’s program, if you’d like to continue this conversation, you can take to Twitter using the hashtag #engageafrica or #carsonppd. You can also go to our Facebook page and go to

Our next question comes from the BBC, Martin Plaut: What role is the U.S. playing in the AMISOM attack on the Somali port of Kismayo?

AMBASSADOR CARSON: Thank you very much for the question on Somalia. We believe a great deal has been accomplished in Somalia over the last two and a half to three years, but most importantly over the last 12 months as we have seen the successful conclusion of the political roadmap ending the Transitional Federal Government’s term in office and the creation of more permanent institutions.

In the last 12 months, we have seen the creation of a new Somali constitution, we have seen the election of a new parliament, a parliament which is half the size of the old parliament, and a parliament which has amongst its members over 50 percent who have university degrees. We have seen the selection of a new speaker, and less than ten days ago we saw the selection of a new elected president.

All of these are major political achievements and accomplishments. I myself had an opportunity approximately six weeks ago to go into Mogadishu, the first time a senior State Department official had been in that country in nearly two decades since the famous Blackhawk down. My visit there was a recognition of the political and military achievements that have been made over the last three years.

I’ve spoken of the political advances. Let me say that they have been underpinned by the military successes of AMISOM on the battlefield. We have to applaud enormously the efforts of the Ugandans, of the Burundians, of the Djiboutians, and the Kenyans who are the primary troop contributors to the AMISOM mission. AMISOM has worked extraordinarily well. They have over the last two and a half, three years been able to drive al-Shabaab of the extremist terrorist organization out of Mogadishu and its environs. And for the first time in nearly 21 or 22 years, we have a Mogadishu, the capital, under the control of a central government that has been elected by representatives of all of the major clans and subclans.

That’s in large measure to the military successes of AMISOM. There is currently underway a military operation led by Kenyan forces associated with AMISOM moving in the direction of Kismayo, the last large town held by al-Shabaab forces. The Kenyans appear to be making steady progress. We believe that if they are successful as a part of the AMISOM effort in driving al-Shabaab out of Kismayo, they will have taken hold of the last major city and last major port controlled by the extremists, that Shabaab’s remaining strength will be significantly dissipated, and that it will be another success for the recovery and rehabilitation that we’re all fighting for in Somalia.

As for support, we have not been directly engaged in any activity on the ground with military combat. This has always been an African-led effort. As I said, the troop-contributing countries are identified very clearly as Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, and Kenya. But what we have done is join with the international community, with the UN and with the European Union in particular, to help provide the necessary military training and resources to give AMISOM the ability to wage effective combat against al-Shabaab and al-Shabaab’s leadership.

MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Senator Iroegbu from senior defense correspondent, This Day Newspaper in Abuja: With the recent ugly developments in the Muslim world and North Africa, particularly in Libya where the U.S. Ambassador and four other staff were killed, will the U.S. policy towards Africa change? And also, will the U.S. increase their security presence in Africa and around their embassies in Africa?

AMBASSADOR CARSON: Let me say that the death of our colleague Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi just over a week ago was an enormous loss for the U.S. diplomatic service and for the State Department and the U.S. Government. We all mourn his passing and the passing of his three colleagues who were also killed.

But Ambassador Chris Stevens’ death is also a loss for Libya and for the Arab world, for Chris Stevens was a man who devoted his life – his entire life – to looking for ways to strengthen and build the relationship between the United States and the Arab world and the Muslim world. Libya has lost a friend. We in the United States have lost a dear colleague and citizen.

The death, though, does signal again the need for U.S. diplomatic establishments around the world, not just in the Maghreb and in the Middle East, but across Africa, across Europe, across Asia, and across Latin America to increase their vigilance and maintain a high degree of security at this time. And yes, we are reviewing constantly our security posture, and yes, it is high given the current situation. That has not, however, inhibited us from continuing to carry out our diplomatic, our development, and our security work around the globe. As Secretary Clinton has stated and as President Obama has made clear, these kinds of incidents will not force us to draw back from engaging with the global community, but will intensify our efforts to reach out and continue to do the work that we think it is important to do, but to do it better and to do it as effectively as we can.

MS. JENSEN: The U.S. Consulate in Lagos wants to know: Why is the government reluctant to designate the Boko Haram sect as a foreign terrorist organization?

AMBASSADOR CARSON: Thank you very much. We look at the issue of Boko Haram as a major concern not only to Nigeria but also to Nigeria’s neighbors and Niger and Cameroon and Benin as well. Boko Haram, we believe, is not a homogenous, monolithic organization, but it is comprised of several different kinds of groups.

We have, indeed, recently designated three individuals in Boko Haram as individuals who are involved in terrorism, and we have done so because we believe those three individuals have established contacts with foreign terrorist organizations, have gone out and sought to get financing from foreign terrorist organizations, and have tried to establish broader networks and relationships with them.

But we believe that the bulk of the Boko Haram movement is – they’re focused on trying to discredit the Nigerian Government, trying to do everything in its power to show that the government is ineffective in the defense of its people and in the protection of government institutions, so we have not designated the entire organization. We constantly keep that under review, but we have, in fact, designated the three top leaders in Boko Haram who we believe to be out establishing broader terrorist networks and who have a broader jihadist agenda that goes beyond simply discrediting the Nigerian Government.

MS. JENSEN: The next question comes from our Embassy in Dakar: The U.S. Embassy in Dakar has recently initiated a workshop on cyber criminality. How can you help African countries address those questions?

AMBASSADOR CARSON: Let me say that cyber crime, cyber security, cyber protection are all issues of very, very – are very important to us in Washington, and it should be to the entire global community because of our increasing use of digital and cyber communication. The Department of State has a number of individuals who are focusing on strengthening our ability to protect against cyber crime and to protect against cyber threats. I will try to ensure that our colleagues in Dakar, Ambassador Lukens and his deputy out there, are given some information on what we are doing and how we might be able to help you so that it can be provided to you.

MS. JENSEN: Kevin Kelly from The Nation Media in Kenya wants to know: Are you satisfied with the Kenyan Government’s response to Tana River violence? And is Kenya preparing adequately to avoid violence in connection with next March’s elections?

AMBASSADOR CARSON: Thank you very much for the question from Kenya. Kenya is one of America’s strongest and most reliable democratic partners in Africa, and we value our relationship with Kenya the way we value our relationship with Senegal, where our last viewer raised a question.

We are watching the run-up to the Kenyan elections in March of 2013 very carefully. Secretary Clinton was in Nairobi approximately five weeks ago and had an opportunity then to meet with most of Kenya’s senior political leadership, including President Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, and other senior officials in government, including the Speaker of the Parliament Marende and the chief justice of the supreme court in Kenya. She also had an opportunity to meet with the head of the Kenyan independent election commission, Mr. Hassan, and members of the commission as well as members of civil society.

I mention all of these names and mention the breadth and the scope of our discussions with these officials, because it reflects our ongoing desire to do as much as we possibly can do working with Kenya and with the international community to avoid a repetition of the enormous violence that occurred in Kenya following the December 2007 presidential and parliamentary elections. The violence that erupted across the nation in 2008 nearly tore Kenya apart and had enormous negative political consequences as well as enormous economic consequences. We don’t want to see that repeated, and because of that, we want very much to see the Kenyan independent election commission succeed in its work to see a free, transparent process without interference from any quarter as to the results.

We think that the Kenyan independent election commission has a major job in front of it. We believe it has the skill, the experience, and capacity to do it well. We hope that the Kenyan political establishment will play its part and not in any way interfere with the commission’s work or undermine its objectives.

We also place a great deal of trust and confidence in the hands of the Kenyan judiciary. We think that Kenya has not only one of its best jurists leading the supreme court, but we believe that the current chief justice is one of the best chief justices across Africa. The court will have a key and important role in adjudicating the fairness of the election, determining the legitimacy and integrity and ethics of some of the key candidates at the parliamentary and presidential election as they go in, and we believe that is important for the Kenyan community to stand behind the results of the judiciary and stand behind the results of the chief justice.

So those two institutions are going to be very important for moving forward. But we’re watching the process very closely. We don’t want a repeat of ’07 or ’08. It’s important for politicians in Kenya not to undermine their democracy by promoting ethnic rivalries and stirring up tensions based on ethnicity, language, religion, or regionalism. Kenyan politicians have a responsibility that we hope they will live up to and not contribute to a repeat of ’07 and ’08. But we’re looking very closely. I say to Kenyans that President Obama is following this very closely. Secretary Clinton is following this very closely. We know that former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is following this very closely and talks with Secretary Clinton about this issue on a recurring basis. And as I mentioned from the Secretary’s visit out there during the first week of August, we, too, in the Department of State are looking very, very closely at this election, and it is important: no repeats of ’07 and ’08.

Tana River, we’re all very saddened by the enormous loss of life in the Tana River area. We think that it is important that the police and the security forces stop this violence in the most responsible way, not undermine it by any heavy-handed tactics, and it’s important that the issues be clear. We believe that they are resource-driven, that is over land and a shortage of water exacerbated by drought conditions over the last several years. These are issues in which government officials need to work hard to address, but they should not be issues that tear communities apart.

MS. JENSEN: We’re going to move to elections in another portion of the continent. Odelia Ofori from TV3 Ghana wants to know: Ghana goes for elections in December, a few months away, a key country in Africa’s democracy. What are the contributions to maintaining peace during and after the elections to prove democracy works well in Africa?

AMBASSADOR CARSON: Thank you very much for the question from Ghana. Let me first start by expressing my deep condolences to the people of Ghana and to the Government of Ghana for the recent and unexpected loss of your President John Atta-Mills, a man who was committed to democracy, committed to the rule of law, and committed to doing everything that he could to help build a stronger and more economically prosperous Ghana. He was also a very good friend of the United States. It’s not surprising that when President Obama chose to go to Africa in July of ’09 that he stopped in Ghana. He stopped there out of a deep respect for your country’s commitment to democracy, constitutional rule of law, and to free and fair elections. We have enormous respect for your democratic traditions and what you have done in Ghana since the end of military rule there.

We have enormous respect for your election commissioner, Dr. Afar-Gyan, who is one of the most experienced and thoughtful and wise election commissioners not only in your own country, not only in Africa, but across the globe. He has been able to run elections with an independent hand and with integrity. And so you start with something that many people don’t have, and that is an experienced election commissioner whose integrity is high and whose experience is great. But you also have a tradition of having run good elections and where all of your politicians and where all of your political class has abided by the rule of law, the rules of the game.

We know that Ghana will hold elections almost one month and one day following the U.S. elections in the United States. I think yours are on December 7th. Ours here in the United States are on November 6th. I am hopeful that Ghana’s elections during the first week of December will mirror our elections in the United States, and that is where all those who want to vote can go out to vote freely and fairly and know that their votes will be counted honestly and that the results will be posted, and that the person who receives the most votes will be elected president without the country falling into conflict or civil war. I have confidence and faith in Ghana’s democratic traditions.

I think your elections, like our own elections, will be very close, but the outcome will not weaken your democracy or weaken your democratic institutions, but strengthen them. So we wish you good luck in the electoral contest that comes up in December. If these elections are like your previous three, four elections, there may be a close contest, but the outcome will be a stronger democracy and greater respect for the rule of law. Whoever loses knows that they can come back in four years time and contest again. And I hope whoever wins will win and govern on behalf of the entire nation and not just on behalf of those who elected him, and that people like Dr. Afari-Gyan, the election commissioner, will again prove – will show to the world and to Ghanaians alike that there can be a neutral referee in the process who is respected and whose voice of integrity and experience show that democracies work for all.

MS. JENSEN: Well, that’s all the time we have for today. I know there are many, many more questions in our queue, and I’m really sorry we couldn’t get to all of them. (Laughter.) Like I said, you’re extremely popular.

Please note that there will be full audio and video transcript available shortly after the conclusion of today’s program for your use. If you’d like to get the latest information from the State Department, you can follow us on Twitter by using the handle @statedept, or you can continue this conversation today using the hashtag, #engageafrica and #carsonppd. We look forward to doing this with you again, and I promise we will bring Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson back right here to do this with you in the near future. Have a great day.