LiveAtState: U.S. Policy Toward Africa

Michael Pelletier
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
Washington, DC
December 18, 2012

This transcript is also available in French.

JOE MELLOTT: Hello, and welcome to LiveAtState, the Department of State’s online, interactive program that puts us in touch with international media. We are pleased to have with us today participants from Europe and Africa. And we’d like to offer a special welcome to the journalists listening in from our embassies in Yaoundé, Conakry and Kinshasa. Our guest today is Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Michael Pelletier. Today’s topic is American policy in Africa and the United States’ ongoing commitment to strengthening democratic institutions, the economic recovery, advancing peace and security, and promoting development in the region. Participants can send in their questions at the bottom of the screen titled “Questions for the Department of State Officer” or by sending an email to We look forward to receiving your questions and will try to answer as many of them as possible in the allotted time. We have about 30 minutes today. You can also follow us on Twitter: we are @statedepartment or @USAenFrancais, or you can find the Bureau of African Affairs on Facebook. Thank you, and let’s start our program with Assistant Secretary Pelletier’s opening statement.

MICHAEL PELLETIER: Hello, good afternoon to everyone. I just want to thank you for this opportunity to speak with you and to try and answer your questions. I already know half an hour will not be enough, but we will do our best, and we hope it will come as part of a dialogue we can continue with you whether on the Web or through this type of program, but once again, thank you, and I wish you happy holidays with much to look forward to in the new year. Thank you; back to you.

JOE MELLOTT: Thank you very much. So our first question comes from Brazzaville, from Mr. Kharl Ebaka. He… His question is: “The United States often puts forward the idea of strengthening democratic institutions in their relations with Africa, which China hardly does; how can the United States adapt its African policy on the economic front with regard to China’s rising power in Africa?”

MICHAEL PELLETIER: Thank you, thank you for that question, which I will answer in two parts. Firstly, democratization is a basis, one of the four bases, of our political strategy in Africa, according to the strategy presented by President Obama. We believe democracy, a politically democratic life, is absolutely crucial for continued and sustainable development all over the world, not only in Africa but of course in Africa too, so this is one of the four bases of our African policy, democratization, and then the second basis is exactly that, economic life, sustainable economic development and the development of economic relations and trade commissions between the United States and countries in Africa. So we believe, and we see, that Africa is currently experiencing economic development; we have seen the statistics, we have seen that six countries out of the world’s 10 most dynamic in terms of economic growth are now in Africa. So we believe there is room for the United States, for China, for all possible partners with African countries to be able to operate, to have partnerships to encourage economic development in Africa. I do not see it so much as a matter of competition. It is a matter of where there is room, where there are opportunities for all countries from around the world to help and participate in Africa’s economic growth.

JOE MELLOTT: Thank you very much. And a second question from Mr. Kharl Ebaka in Brazzaville: he says “Everyone acknowledges poor countries, in particular in Africa, suffer the most under the effects of global warming. The United States never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, which was renewed in Doha, claiming it would harm its economy, and President Obama, who nevertheless says he is convinced global warming is real, made economic recovery the priority for his second term. In Doha, Washington also opposed adopting a calendar for increasing aid to poor countries, which is supposed to increase tenfold to reach 100 billion dollars per year by 2020. Should we conclude that environmental issues in Africa are not a priority for the American administration? If they are, could you outline this policy?”

MICHAEL PELLETIER: Yes, I believe environmental issues are very important to the United States government, and since 2009 we have seen the American government implement actions to help developing countries face these environmental hazards, this scourge. He send a lot of aid to developing countries to help them cope with this environmental challenge, just as we have also made many decision and followed many policies here in the United States to help us be environmentally responsible, with respect to our economic development, because economic development is really sustainable economic development, and to be sustainable, it must have an environmental aspect. And so we especially focus on technologies that are environmentally sustainable, for example, we focus on using renewable energy sources, we focus on a lot of policies, and we do research and facilitate research on environmental issues, so that the global economic development we hope to see in the United States, in Africa, everywhere is a sustainable development and in fact environmentally sustainable. It is very important, and we have directed financial assistance, technical assistance to this area. And, we will continue to do so, and we will also continue to be part of global discussions on the importance of finding a solution to the world’s environmental challenge.

JOE MELLOTT: Thank you very much. Our next question comes from Guinea-Conakry, and Mr. Alioun Diallo. His question is this: “What does the Obama administration plan on doing to encourage American investments in Africa?”

MICHAEL PELLETIER: Thank you. As I have said before, this issue, these economic issues, these issues of economic and commercial partnership with Africa, they are one of the four pillars of our policy, of our strategy in Africa, and that is why we organized trade delegations that recently traveled to Africa, in particular Acting Secretary of Commerce Blank has been to Eastern Africa and to South Africa with businessmen from American business organizations to look for partnership opportunities. That is actually why our Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, also led a trade delegation to Africa this year, because it is really these delegations that will allow us to form personal relationships, business relationships between American businessmen and businesswomen and businessmen and businesswomen in Africa. We believe these partnerships truly are the future or our commercial, economic relationship with Africa. I will say something about the importance of women; we especially aim, we believe businesswomen in Africa will really help these relations and this economic and trade development between Africa and the United States, and we have a special program with the aim of creating relationships and partnerships between African businesswomen and American businesswomen. We have already seen some businesses, some companies starting in Africa thanks to this partnership, to these relationships between Africa and America, and we believe we really want to help and facilitate this type of relation in the future; we believe it is good for Africa and good for the United States too.

JOE MELLOTT: Thank you very much. And our next question comes from Kinshasa, from Mr. Philémon Lohonga, who asks, “You are supposed to know the causes of Africa’s troubles. What is the root of the endless wars in Eastern DRC, with Rwanda and Uganda? What can be done about them? Why does the American government not stop the war in the DRC?”

MICHAEL PELLETIER: Thank you for your question. It really is a timely question, and I assure you we never stop discussing this topic here in Washington. We feel the people in this part of Africa have really suffered for too long; a solution has to be found. We believe the solution will of course come from Africans, from those in the region. That is why we encourage talks between the different governments in the region, especially the governments of Rwanda, the DRC and Uganda. That is why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with the region’s presidents when she was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly in September. And that is why the number three in the Department of State, Wendy Sherman, traveled to the region and met with the heads of state. That is why our head of African Affairs, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, went to the region at the end of November with what happened in Goma, along with his French and British counterparts, to meet President Kabila, President Museveni and Rwandan officials, because we want to encourage and support these dialogues and these talks between countries. It is a true humanitarian scourge, and we are constantly aware of it, and we want every country in the region to come to the table and negotiate to find a solution to it together. In particular, with the DRC, we insisted on the importance of territorial integrity, on the country’s national sovereignty, and we told everyone not to encourage, not to support rebel movements like M23, and especially the people responsible for crimes against humanity, for war crimes. And we really focus on this aspect of the problem, and we hope to find, that you find a solution to this problem, to this scourge.

JOE MELLOTT: Thank you very much. And another question from Guinea-Conakry, with Caleb Kolié, who asks “Are you in favor of a military intervention in Mali?” and Mr. Hubert- Rodier also asks “Are the United States in favor of a military intervention in Northern Mali to help Bamako recover its territorial integrity, or should we negotiate with MUJAO and Ansar Dine and isolate the most radical elements of AQIM?”

MICHAEL PELLETIER: The situation in Mali is a very complicated and very complex situation. As we see it, the issue or the question has four axes, four fundamental issues that must be, we must address its four axes at the same time, which is not easy, but it is necessary to find a real sustainable solution to the crisis in Mali. There is of course the question of the country’s redemocratization. I got to live and work in Mali right after its democratization. I know how proud Malians are of their democracy; they should be. And we want to see democracy return as soon as possible, because it really is a democratically elected government that will have the credibility to find solutions to all the challenges Mali faces, so there is the political question. There is also the question of national reunification and a question of Mali’s political debate regarding legitimate claims by some from the North, legitimate claims. But these negotiations, when we speak of negotiations we mean negotiations with groups that respect Mali’s territorial integrity, that respect Mali’s national integrity and that reject violence and terrorism, which brings us to the third axis, which is the question of terrorism. Unfortunately, the North of Mali is suffering a lot now with the presence of terrorist groups responsible for crimes against human rights. We see how the people in Northern Mali suffer. And as I said, I lived in Mali, I have many friends in Northern Mali, and I know how much they suffer, and so probably, we now see in New York, we see discussions about a possible security military intervention to remove this terrorist scourge from Northern Mali. Fourthly, and by far not the least important, is the question of the humanitarian and food crisis in Northern Mali, and throughout the Sahel. And so we believe these four aspects, all four of these axes go together, and we must find a solution together, addressing all four of these axes at the same time. So in New York, we are discussing, with all Malian partners, all relevant international organizations, the details of a possible military intervention to remove the terrorists from the North. At the same time, we are encouraging the interim government in Bamako to see the importance of redemocratization and move forward toward elections. I saw just this morning that the new interim Prime Minister spoke to RFI about the importance and priority of elections, so we support him in this respect, but as I said at the very beginning, the situation in Mali is very complicated. But all four aspects – elections, intervention against terrorists, a resolution to claims by some of the country’s people, and addressing the humanitarian crisis – all four aspects are important, and we stand wholeheartedly by the Malian people so they may, along with everyone in the region in fact, so they may address all these challenges.

JOE MELLOTT: Thank you very much, and there’s another question from Mali; this question comes from Anne Le Coz, Agence France-Presse, who asks, “the State Department claimed yesterday that elections in Mali will take place before the month of April. Do you think that the elections being planned can be classified as democratic while the north of the country is under the control of armed groups?”

MICHAEL PELLETIER: Yes. In the end, I think we must recognize and remember that the date of April 2013 was a date set by the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) with the interim government of Mali, and of course we shall support that date, or that the elections be held as soon as technically possible. But I believe that it is better to stick with a target date for us to stay focused, with the focus on the importance of holding elections as soon as possible. Now, as to who will participate, of course we want as many Malians as possible participation in the elections, as I said, the acting prime minister spoke this morning with RFI about this subject, we have had discussions regarding refugees, people from the north now coming to the south, people who are currently living in camps in neighboring countries, it is necessary to see the details on how the Malians will decide how to proceed, but we really believe it is a democratically elected government that will give credibility to the government to conduct negotiations, to carry on this campaign to take the entire country in hand in order to restore the territorial integrity, the sovereignty of Mali throughout Mali territory.

JOE MELLOTT: Thank you. Now a question by Éric Kamba, from the Congolese Development Center, who asks: “there will be no democracy in Africa as long as the United States supports strongmen in Africa, Presidents Museveni, Kagame and Kabila, for example. We should recall that the so-called elections in the three countries mentioned were not credible, but the United States was the first to recognize them. How can you build strong institutions in these countries with this kind of policy?”

MICHAEL PELLETIER: Yes, well, I have two answers. For the first answer, because I am an optimist by nature, I once had a leader, a very experienced American diplomat, who told me one day that diplomats are optimists, so I'm also an optimist, and I believe we cannot say that there cannot be democracy in Africa when, especially this year, when we saw democratic elections in Uganda, most recently in Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone. I was in Sierra Leone during the civil war; I know how much they have advanced in order to have elections. And there will be elections in Kenya, for example, in March; we hope they will also be successful. So we see democratic elections in Africa, we see democratic advances throughout Africa, so I think there is a democracy in Africa and we support this development, we support this direction with the Africans themselves. Secondly, I believe that we should see that our help and diplomacy is always focused on supporting democracy in all countries, not only in Africa but in every country in the world. I worked in Asia; I worked in Africa; I worked with many countries here in Washington and I know the importance of political development and of democratic development. It is part of all of our discussions with all countries, or with our support to the justice sector, or with our support for a free press, or with our support for non-governmental organizations, civil society, just as it's part of democratization, strengthening of democracy in countries, and this is really a very important target for U.S. foreign policy around the world.

JOE MELLOTT: Thank you. There is another question from Kinshasa from Mamie Tambu: “Since the fall of Mobutu, Americans have never had a clear position towards the DRC, to the point that many Congolese suspect them of being behind all the wars of aggression that it has suffered for the last 15 years. What is the U.S. position on this issue? Are they going to improve relations with the DRC because this is still a diplomatic uncertainty?”

MICHAEL PELLETIER: Yes, well as I have said before in relation to another question, we support the government of the DRC; we support the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of the DRC. Of course, it is obvious that the Democratic Republic of Congo is an essential country, very important for Africa and Central Africa in particular. We have many programs to help the government and the people of the DRC, it is very important and we encourage [sic]. Our message is very clear to other countries in the sub-region to respect the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the DRC. As I have said, the pain, especially in the region has lasted too long; there are millions of people that are displaced, millions of people who suffer; we suffer with them and we want to work with the Government of the DRC, with the people of the DRC and other governments in the region, in the sub-region, to find a solution to this crisis.

JOE MELLOTT: Thank you. And now a question from Kinshasa from Cyrille Milandou, from Radio Top Congo: “The Congolese consider the United States which supports Uganda as one of the countries that fosters impunity for serious violations of human rights committed between DRC since 1994 until today. With 27 deaths in the tragedy of Newtown, the Americans are concerned, while in DRC, people are killed, raped and maimed for a number of years. The U.S. government turns a blind eye to their interests in Rwanda. Why is the U.S. government reluctant to condemn the perpetrators in Congo?”

MICHAEL PELLETIER: Yes. So, as I've said many times, we suffer, and with the people of eastern Congo, we believe that it is essential that everyone works together to find peace. You spoke of Rwanda; as the Assistant Secretary, Ambassador Johnny Carson who is head of our African office here at the State Department, said when he was before Congress last week, there is some evidence that the government Rwanda helped the M23 movement. We have told them very clearly that if there is any assistance, that it should stop, and all the countries of the sub-region should respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the State of the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are discussions, as I said before, there have been discussions between Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC; there are discussions currently in Kankala between the M23 and the Congolese government. We believe that these talks must…we hope that these talks should bring us towards a sustainable solution for peace in the sub-region. We suffer, as you said, with what happened in Connecticut this week here in the United States in the school; but we suffer whenever we see such scenes, and we suffer with the Congolese people, and we need everyone to come together to try to find a solution.

JOE MELLOTT: Thank you. And now a second question from Philémon Lohonga from Kinshasa; the question is: “Where are we with the plan of President Obama to eradicate the LRA in Central Africa now?”

MICHAEL PELLETIER: The ‘Lord’s Resistance Army’, the LRA, which began in Uganda, which has now spread a little to Central Africa is a focus of the U.S. government with regards to our policy in Africa. We assist, we support African efforts to address this challenge, this challenge in Central Africa; and, Joseph Kony and his colleagues are responsible for crimes against humanity, for crimes that are truly horrific; and so there is a real African effort with a major role played by Uganda to capture Kony; and we support these efforts in Africa. There are efforts, including American ones, to help people in this area who are affected by the LRA, there are also efforts to encourage these people to leave the LRA and return to civilian life, with a few successes so far.

JOE MELLOTT: Thank you. We have five more minutes, so two more questions; the first is from Cécile Feuillatre from Agence France-Presse: “The resolution of the U.N. Security Council on Mali is still under discussion between the United States and France. What are the sticking points that remain in this respect between Paris and Washington?”

MICHAEL PELLETIER: Yes. As I have said before, conversations, negotiations, discussions continue in New York. I'm not in New York; I'm here in Washington, so I cannot tell you the latest, the most recent developments, but I do know that conversations are continuing because we all believe that urgent action is necessary. But we all believe that this action, the intervention must be well-planned, well-resourced, well-organized, led by Africans and Malians. And so we're discussing all the details so that it can truly be an action that is well-organized, well-resourced, but we all believe, we are all convinced that this is very urgent, and we hope to complete a resolution soon as possible. But everyone is concerned, everyone has his focus on the importance of aid to Mali and we'll see the results in the coming days.

JOE MELLOTT: Thank you, and our last question, it is from Idriss Linge, from Yaoundé: “Africa needs to get out of poverty [inaudible]….Is America confident that enhanced trade with Africa is sufficient to mobilize at least some of these resources?”

MICHAEL PELLETIER: Yes. I believe that if we focused on four axes for our policy, for our strategy in Africa, it is because we believe that all these areas will help the sustainable development of Africa and of course the economic and trade relations with African countries to help African development. We believe in this, and that is why we have sent trade delegations, why we seek trade agreements with African countries. We also believe that democratization and a free and active political life is something that will help sustainable economic development for Africa. The third and fourth axis of our policy for Africa is to support peace and stability; and we have seen some success; for example we see stabilization and an advance in Somalia and other African countries. Peace and stability will of course also help to achieve the economic development in Africa. And the fourth axis, this is specifically development, but development for all Africans; and this is why we work with the PEPFAR against AIDS, a scourge that is too heavy, always, for the continent. We strive for food security, water security, health, and we aim to encourage all parts of civil society to participate in this development in Africa: women, youth, students, because we believe that everyone must work together to have a truly sustainable development in Africa. I know our time is over and I know there are still more questions. I hope, as I said at the beginning, that we can continue these discussions on the Internet or other programs like that, but I want to assure you once more that Africa is really important; it is central in our international policy, our foreign policy. There are many people in our embassies who are there to work with you, to partner with you, as there are people here in Washington who are willing to work with you to strengthen democracy, to enhance sustainable economic development in Africa, and to strengthen peace and stability in Africa. So, I hope this conversation continues today as the New Year is coming and I want to thank you once again and wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thank you.

JOE MELLOTT: Thank you very much, Michael Pelletier, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, thank you also to our members in Africa and Europe for supporting this discussion today. You can follow us on Twitter at @StateDepartment or in the US in French on Facebook; and now I wish you happy holidays, and thank you very much. Goodbye.