LiveAtState: Outcomes from the 2016 African Union Summit
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
MODERATOR: Hello, and welcome to LiveAtState, the State Department’s interactive online video platform for engaging with international media. Today I’m delighted to welcome participants joining us from around the world. In particular, I would like to send a special greeting to watch parties joining us from embassies and consulates in Accra, Djibouti, Kinshasa, Lagos, Lome, Luanda, and Monrovia.
Today you will be speaking with Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield and USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa Linda Etim. Our guests will discuss outcomes from the African Union summit, which took place in Ethiopia in late January, as well as diplomacy and development efforts across the continent.
Before we begin, I would like to make a few housekeeping notes. We are providing simultaneous interpretation of this event in French and Portuguese. Therefore, if you wish to listen to this press conference in either of those languages, please dial in to the phone numbers provided on the bottom left side of your screen. You can start submitting your questions now in the bottom of the window titled “Questions for State Department official.” If you have difficulty submitting your questions, you may email them to liveatstate.gov. We welcome your questions and we will try to get as many as possible in the time we have.
Please note that we can only accept questions in English. If you would like to continue engaging on these topics after today’s program, you may follow us on Twitter, @StateAfrica and @USAIDAfrica. You can also follow the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dosafricanaffairs.
With that, Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield, would you please start us off with your opening remarks?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you very much, David, for that warm welcome, and good afternoon to all of you joining us in Africa. I’m very excited to be here with my good friend and colleague and namesake, Linda Etim, the USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa. We have a lot to talk about today, including the recent African Union summit, upcoming elections in Africa, regional security issues, challenges facing the region due to El Niño, and the economy. I’ve just returned from the AU summit in Addis, which Linda and I attended with USAID Administrator Gayle Smith, and we met with many heads of state and foreign ministers there. These meetings gave us the opportunity to plan for 2016 and beyond to strengthen our relationship with the African people for democracy, peace, and prosperity.
We know that strong democratic institutions generate greater prosperity and stability. 2016 will be a crucial year for democracy in Africa. There are more than 15 presidential elections planned this year alone. We support free, fair, and transparent elections. Our African partners also face a number of security and economic challenges. No single nation or organization can tackle these complex challenges alone. We are already standing with our partners and providing solutions in the areas of security, health, and capacity building, to name a few, especially when the United States has a unique contribution to make.
Africa is a continent of ambitious and enthusiastic youth. So another urgent task is helping to create opportunity for Africa’s next generation. We look forward to helping tackle all of these challenges.
And with that, I will turn the floor over to Assistant Administrator Etim.
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR ETIM: Thank you for inviting me to join with you today. I look forward to engaging the press in Africa to answer the questions about USAID’s work and the way forward following the African Union summit. Although I was confirmed as USAID assistant administrator for the Africa Bureau in December of last year, I’ve served with the agency since 2012. And after more than a decade of working on African issues, I’ve seen development can improve people’s lives and help countries to grow.
All over the world, USAID advances broad-scale human progress by fostering sustained and inclusive economic growth and strengthening democratic governance. This work is about lifting millions of people out of extreme poverty and helping countries become more open, more peaceful, and productive partners for the United States. The media has played a pivotal role on the continent, and you helped to lay the foundation for more accountable relationships between states and citizens. It’s really for that reason that I look forward to hearing from many of you and talking about the issues in Africa and continuing an open dialogue about USAID’s work there.
So again, thank you very much, and I look forward to taking your questions.
MODERATOR: Very good. So let’s begin with these – the first question. Our first question is from Christine Holzbauer, The New African in French, from Senegal: “How can the U.S. better help the African states that are the most hit by Boko Haram to defend themselves? And secondly, despite massive aid from USAID to the northern part of Mali, the rebellions have been recurring in this region, now threatened by affiliates of al-Qaida. How to improve the impact of aid provided by USAID over the years and make sure that it will reach the populations of these regions?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Let me take the first question and I’ll turn the second question over to my colleague. On Boko Haram, we have been working very, very closely with the countries of the region, particularly Nigeria but also Nigeria’s four neighbors, on helping them to address the terrorist threat that Boko Haram has posed against the people, particularly the civilian populations, in these countries. We see this as a multifaceted effort. It’s not just about dealing with the security issues, but it’s also dealing with root causes. So we have assisted all four governments on the security side, beefing up and providing training, providing intel support, providing coordination and advisory support to all four governments and particularly as it relates to the Multinational Joint Task Force that’s based in Chad.
But we’re also working with all four governments on addressing the humanitarian challenges that have resulted from the Boko Haram attacks. More than a million Nigerians have been forced from their homes. Close to 100,000 Nigerians are living outside of Nigeria as refugees. Thousands of families, ordinary people, have been impacted by Boko Haram. And these people have serious concerns that need to be addressed.
We’re also working with governments to look at broad economic development in the regions affected by Boko Haram, encouraging businesses to invest in those areas, and also ensuring that those who have been victims of Boko Haram receive the assistance that they require to rebuild their lives.
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR ETIM: So I’ll take the second question, which was on Mali. And as the questioner rightly pointed out, USAID has been involved in Mali for a number of years. It’s one of the first countries that USAID was involved in over 50-plus years ago. With the millions of dollars of assistance that have gone into aiding communities, I think that the question is not so much about whether or not it’s having an impact, but more about whether or not there is more that can be done to strengthen, the connections between communities so that they can actually have more to look forward to - to break themselves out of the cycle of extreme poverty.
What we’ve seen is that the appeal of violence comes a lot of times from disaffected youth, people who actually don’t feel that they have economic futures. USAID’s programming in northern Mali is really aiming to address some of those root causes of the social ills. And I think that over time we’ll see some progress there.
In addition, the United States Government, through a partnership called the Security Governance Initiative, works with both the governance portions of the Mali Government, to work with also the security sector elements, and to make sure that communities are involved in having a say over what their futures look like. We’ve noticed that in cases where we see communities actually take ownership of the security environments, that we’ve actually seen some improvements. And we’re really looking forward to the next phase of the Mali strategy that we just adopted for USAID this year. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will be from Carlos Silvestrei. He’s with journal Angop, and he’s currently participating in the watch party at the U.S. Embassy in Luanda, Angola. His question: “What assessment can you make of AGOA? Will countries south of the Sahara have possibilities to export to the U.S.? Have they taken economic measures to develop their economies?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: That’s an excellent question. Let me just say that we were very, very excited and very happy when the Congress extended AGOA for another 10 years and the President signed that. This was an all-hands-on-deck effort that required African ambassadors here in Washington as well as members of the U.S. Government to ensure that we had AGOA extended.
AGOA is available to all African countries who meet the AGOA criteria. And right now there are about 39 countries who are on that list. And we think that there are immense opportunities for those countries to take advantage of the benefits that AGOA provides to countries. We want to see there be a diversification of the products that are being sent under AGOA, and we’re working with countries to bring them into a better economic place so that they can benefit from the AGOA benefits.
It’s a work in progress, but we are seeing some efforts improve. We’re seeing more countries take advantage. We’re seeing more products being brought into the marketplace that are benefiting from AGOA’s eligibility. And we hope that we continue to see those benefits increase.
Linda, would you like to add something?
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR ETIM: No, I think you said everything.
MODERATOR: Okay, very good. Let’s press on. Our next question is from Luc-Roger Mbala from L’Observateur from the DRC. “What is the U.S. Government’s position on Great Lakes region heads of state who intend to disrupt their country’s constitutional processes to run for a third term?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you. That is a very appropriate question right now. In about an hour, I will be going up on the Hill to testify on that particular issue. Our position is very clear on this issue. We do not believe governments should change their constitutions to benefit the incumbent in power staying in power longer than the constitution allows. We have made that clear. President Obama made it clear in his speech in Ghana in 2009, and he certainly was very on-point on that issue at the AU when he visited Africa last year.
We have engaged with these governments on a regular basis. In fact, we have a very intense and proactive diplomatic effort in terms of encouraging governments not to change their constitution, but also working with our partners in the region as well as our international partners to press and impress upon these heads of state that for democracy to thrive, people need to have transition. And true leaders will lead their countries to transition, and true democracy requires that governments change power.
We are certainly being pushed on this in the case of Burundi. We have seen the results of a decision by that president to stay longer than the constitution allows. We are working diligently to impress upon President Kabila that he honor the constitution. We have expressed our strong disappointment with the decision made in Rwanda to extend the terms of President Kagame, and we continue to encourage the people and the government of Republic of Congo to honor their constitution as well.
So we have a clear policy on this issue. We have been clear in our statements on this issue, and we will continue to press forward until the right decisions are made to support democracy in these countries.
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR ETIM: Could I just add one thing? I think that we often get asked the question as to why we raise the issue of third terms. What a number of nongovernmental organizations have pointed out for us is that the countries that actually do take these steps also tend to have some of the least democratic spaces, and that the closing governance is a big question I think across the continent, nowhere more clearly than, as Linda pointed out, in the Great Lakes. And so a lot of the concerns that we’re seeing with the decisions to change constitutions also, I think, reflect back at home some of the decisions and some of the lawmaking that’s happening to close, I think, space for both media and journalists, as well as some of the civil society organizations. And we’re seeing that disturbing trend, I think, correspond with the decisions at the top about changing the democratic structure there.
MODERATOR: Okay. I’m just going to ask the question here concerning your personal experience at this most recent African Union summit. Could you tell us a little bit about what it’s like to attend these events and what were the challenges as well as the victories in your experience there?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: That’s a great question, and I think both of us can address that question. It was very intense. For us, the African Union summit is a major event in the year for our relations with Africa, because all of the African heads of state – at least almost all of Africa’s heads of state attend, and certainly all the foreign ministers are there. So it’s an opportunity for us to meet with almost every government on every issue that is a priority for the U.S. Government. But it also gives us an opportunity to engage with our partners on where we might cooperate and how we can complement each other.
Some of the things that we worked on, I think, relentlessly during the conference, we had a number of meetings on South Sudan. I have to say those meetings were extraordinarily frustrating and extraordinarily disappointing because we have a peace agreement, and the two sides have not taken the necessary steps to implement that peace agreement. And as a result, the people of South Sudan continue to suffer.
We had a number of meetings on Burundi. We were initially disappointed at the decision that was made by the peace and security commission not to move forward with the African force going into Burundi. But they did decide the next day to send a high-level delegation there, and we’re looking forward to the results of those meetings.
Again, it’s a great opportunity for us to meet everyone. We’re extraordinarily busy. We go from 7 o’clock in the morning and sometimes till midnight, and then we start all over the very next day. I think this is Linda’s first one, so --
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR ETIM: Yes.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: -- I’d be interested in hearing her views on her experience.
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR ETIM: I think it’s incredible to see the African Union and all the heads of state, the foreign ministers together tackling some of the most difficult issues that are facing the continent, and I think how embracing they were to having the U.S. delegation there as an observer mission, but also willing to engage us on a number of the most important questions facing the African continent – anywhere from global climate change to the areas of democracy, human rights, and governance, to the role of women, to agriculture. And I think we were also very excited that right after the summit that our Congress passed Electrify Africa, so there was a lot of conversation also about what was going on with Power Africa and the role of the United States Government in partnering with African governments and expanding access to energy throughout the continent. And so there was a lot of energy, as Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield mentioned. We were up from 7:00 in the morning and late into the night, really trying to look forward to how we can bring all of these leaders together on some of the issues that we’re most pressed with here in the United States, but also, what the continent has actually been leading on, on some of the most pressing development challenges.
MODERATOR: Very good, thank you. Okay. Our next question is from Ajong Mbapndah. He’s with Pan African Visions, an original publication: “As President Obama wraps up his presidency, what are some of the things left on his check-off list when it comes to Africa? And what are the prospects of continuing continuity and some of the initiatives he started in Africa, like YALI?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you very much for that question. We’re all very engaged on formulating and solidifying the Obama legacy on the continent of Africa, and I think there are some things that we have reason to be tremendously proud of, that will have lasting and sustainable impact on Africa.
The assistant administrator just mentioned Power Africa. I cannot tell you the extent to which there is enthusiasm for this initiative on the continent of Africa. And there was tremendous support for Congress passing Electrify Africa. The fact of that legislation, I think we all know, solidifies Power Africa for the future, and that will be long-lasting after the Obama Administration.
Certainly, the Young African Leaders Initiative – this is an initiative that has bipartisan support and it is an initiative that has had a major impact on the continent of Africa. We – through this initiative, we’re bringing extraordinarily ambitious and exciting and creative young people to the United States for six weeks for leadership training. And with that six weeks of training, we give them the additional tools that they need to move forward in the future and contribute to their country’s prosperity.
That initiative will have long-lasting value across the continent of Africa, just as some of the initiatives like AGOA. AGOA started during the Clinton Administration, it was extended for 15 years during the Bush Administration, and it has now been extended for 10 years under the Obama Administration. This legislation, again, will have a major impact. We don’t know what will happen after 10 years, but my view is after 10 years, Africans won’t need AGOA. They will already be very much a part of the global economy and won’t need these special benefits. But again, this is a legacy that I think is important from the Obama Administration.
Linda – and I know there are others on the aid front that you would like to comment on.
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR ETIM: Yeah. I mean, under the Obama Administration, a lot of changes were made as far as how we do business with African governments. And so when you look at all of the major initiatives on the development side for this Administration, they focused in Africa a lot, but they’ve really focused on partnerships. So Power Africa is 12 U.S. Government agencies partnering with African governments, multilateral organizations, the private sector, to actually solve one of the toughest infrastructure challenges – getting energy to Africans in a way that is transformative in – it’s a very different approach than we’ve taken before. It’s also served to catalyze a number of other efforts – on the part of the African Development Bank, the World Bank, and others to actually focus on different pieces of the question of how we can actually improve access to energy throughout the African continent. So the sustainability is also in the fact that we’ve seen a number of other governments really take this up as a major challenge and move forward with their own complementary – they’re part of Power Africa, but also making sure that within their own legislatures, their own parliaments, they’ve actually taken up the call much the way that our Congress did with Electrify Africa.
And then we see with Feed the Future as well, again, partnering with the private sector, really focusing, again, on agriculture as a means of growth. There had been this really strong turn to urbanization and thus turning away from rural agriculture before, this Administration. And really focusing on it – value chains and how you can actually get the private sector, agribusinesses, communities all tied into a new model for doing development that actually feeds people without actually having international donors have to come in with bags of food is transformative and something that has also enjoyed bipartisan support on the Hill. And so we’re looking to see that hopefully is institutionalized also on the Hill.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say that YALI – very exciting, because you see that this generation of young people across the African continent are really taking control of their future and really looking at all of the different development initiatives and coming forward to us a lot more than we had expected. A lot of the YALI graduates have come back to USAID and presented us with different challenges or opportunities that we’ve also taken on board, and some of these we’re continuing to fund because they’re new ideas that we hadn’t thought of before.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Our next question is from Benedito Sipandeni of Angola National Television at the U.S. Embassy in Luanda, Angola at a watch party: “Is there any humanitarian assistance for countries affected by national disasters such as the drought and famine in Ethiopia and in southern Angola?”
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR ETIM: The short answer is yes. I think this year’s El Niño is devastating, and I think nowhere is it more devastating than on the continent of Africa. Of the 15 to 17 million people who are estimated to be affected worldwide, no less than 13 million of those people are actually on the African continent. Again, we know that the numbers are going to have changed and moved depending on what happens with the next weather event, which is La Niña, but what we also know is that right now, particularly on the Horn of Africa when we’re looking at Ethiopia, 11 million people affected.
We were just at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa with Gayle Smith, who’s our Administrator for USAID, and there we really had the opportunity to go out to the field and look at some of the programs and the progress that we’re making through social safety net programs, through Feed the Future programs, through programs that are attempting to build resilience around communities to not just be dependent on food aid. These programs are having success, and it was universally acknowledged throughout the UN community, throughout the donor community, with the Ethiopian Government that if these interventions hadn’t taken place as the result of the 2011 drought, that we would have seen people dying already and that we’ve already seen progress.
That said, we know that there is a lot more to be done, and you mentioned rightly that Angola has also been hit by some of these weather events and that we’re looking right now and tracking what the impacts of the drought are going to be in southern Africa, and we’re very concerned.
Coming back from the summit, both Administrator Smith and I, partnering with State Department and some of our other interagency colleagues, are very much looking forward to leading the charge in the international community of working with other donors, including donors that have traditionally been involved in these countries and donors that haven’t been involved in these countries, to see if more can be done and to raise more money and awareness of creative approaches to addressing these climactic shocks.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is from Ayen Bior from VOA News: “Just this week, the United Nations released a dire warning regarding the humanitarian situation in South Sudan – 2.8 million South Sudanese will face acute malnutrition in the coming months and 40,000 civilians are facing catastrophic levels of hunger. The leading cause of food insecurity in South Sudan is the ongoing conflict, and more so, South Sudanese leaders have failed to implement the transitional government of national unity. What is the United States strategy in South Sudan, and can we expect any changes to that strategy given the worsening conditions?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, let me start on the political side. As I mentioned at the start, we were incredibly engaged with both sides when we were at the AU to push them, urge them, encourage them to make the right decisions in moving forward on the implementation of the peace agreement. Our special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Don Booth, is out in the region as we speak. We had intense meetings with President Moi, who has been leading the efforts of the UN and others to push the parties back to the implementation table.
We were very disappointed at the responses that we got. It was very clear that the peace implementation is not being prioritized by the two sides, and we know that that is the answer to starting to address the humanitarian crisis that we see looming in South Sudan. What we have said is that these leaders have to care about the impacts of this war on their people, and we can’t care more than they care. So this is high on our agenda, but in the meantime what we are trying to do is address the humanitarian consequences through an intense program, and I think Linda can describe some of the work that we are doing on the humanitarian and as well as on the development side to ensure that the people of South Sudan are able to survive this.
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR ETIM: Linda probably said most of what I wanted to say in that we’re really disappointed that the leaders of South Sudan haven’t put the people’s lives before their political infighting.
This is a manmade crisis. So unlike the last question that we just answered that talked about the impact – the devastating impact of El Niño, where you’ve got 11 million people right next door in Ethiopia that are at risk because of the climate, and the international community’s doing everything to actually address that issue, right next door we have a manmade crisis that’s costing us three times as much to respond to at a time when the world community is dealing with other crises like Syria and the migration crisis and doesn’t have the resources to adequately respond. And so we have been sending very strong messages to the leaders in South Sudan to say that we are right now at a breaking point, and that for the sake of their people they need to come up with some sort of political dispensation to allow humanitarian assistance to flow through.
We’re also tracking very closely this new NGO bill that has reared its ugly head once again in South Sudan that calls into question, a lot of the work that a number of humanitarians are taking right now at risks to themselves to deliver assistance and might actually threaten our ability to deliver food and assistance to people in South Sudan at a time when, as the caller pointed out, the people in South Sudan need it most. And so a number of devastating developments. We’re hoping that the leadership actually takes this on board and really looks at their people and prioritizes putting them first.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question’s from Bako Akinloye from Punch Newspaper in Nigeria: “Beyond the assistance -- ” and this is with regard to Boko Haram – “Beyond the assistance of the U.S. and its allies, what should the Nigerian Government and security agencies be doing at this moment?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Certainly, we have consulted very, very closely with the Nigerian Government on the Nigerian Government’s approach to dealing with Boko Haram. And while they are making some very, very strong efforts to address this issue, capacity building, I think, is one of the key areas that they need to focus on. We know that training is important. And training doesn’t provide an immediate solution to the problem, but for the military and for the other government agencies to be effective, they have to be well trained.
We need to do more, the Nigerian Government needs to do more in working with the police because it is not the military’s job to provide the immediate security in villages. Once the military kicks Boko Haram out and people try to return to their villages, they need a security service in the form of well-trained policemen who know how to deal with this kind of security.
And then I think the issue of how the communities are dealt with and how defectors are dealt with is an important issue that needs to be addressed as we look to bringing some kind of success to the efforts of the Nigerian Government to fight Boko Haram. We think it’s a multifaceted approach; it’s not just the military. It’s every arm of government; it’s a whole-of-government approach that is required.
And if I could just say, we support the Nigerian Government’s efforts; we support the efforts of the region. We know that terrorism is not one country’s responsibility; it’s a global responsibility. This is a global war, and we all have to work together to support each other to address this threat.
MODERATOR: Very good. Okay, our next question is from Abuja, Nigeria, from Jerrywright Ukwu and he’s with Naij.com: “African countries are increasingly partnering with China in trade and other economic activities. What is the reaction of the U.S. to this new development?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It’s not a new development, first of all. And secondly, I would say that the opportunities on the continent of Africa economically, as far as resources are concerned, investments are concerned, those opportunities are immense, and there is space for us, other investors, as well as the Chinese. So it is important, in my view, for African countries to look at potential investors from China as well as from the United States and other places and determine what is in the interest of their country and what is in the interest of their people and strike the best deals that they can strike for their people moving forward.
So again, it’s not a competition. It’s about African countries determining what their priorities are and what their vision for economic growth and prosperity in the future requires from investors that are coming from overseas.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is Daily Graphic from Accra, Ghana: “Will there be any change in U.S. foreign policy direction especially towards Africa during the post-Obama era? Does the U.S. have any specific assistance for Africa in dealing with the numerous security changes – challenges?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: No. We do change governments every four years. Sometimes we’ll have the same government stay in power. But our support for Africa has been bipartisan. We have always had strong support. If we look at what took place on the continent of Africa during the Clinton Administration and then look at the Bush Administration and now the Obama Administration, we know that that support has always been there and it’s always been bipartisan. So will there be some changes in foreign policy priorities? I am certain that will happen because different administrations have different priorities. Will there be a change in focus on Africa? I don’t think so. I think we will continue to see Africa play an important role in our foreign policy in the future.
MODERATOR: Okay. Well, that’s all the time we have for today. Thank you for your questions. And thank you, Assistant Administrator Etim and Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield. We will send you audio and video files and a transcript of today’s program shortly. Again, if you would like to continue to engage these issues, you may follow us on Twitter @StateAfrica and @USAIDAfrica, or on Facebook at facebook.com/dosafricanaffairs.
We hope you can join us for another LiveAtState program again soon. Good day.