Interview With Vincent Makori of Voice of America's Africa 54

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
April 28, 2014

QUESTION: I want to start with South Sudan. Just a while ago, you made a phone call to South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir to talk about your concerns and encourage the parties there to get their act together. But Mr. Secretary, you know that both sides in South Sudan seem to have been ignoring your calls to end the violence there. Now people are saying, is it time to impose those targeted sanctions against those who are advancing these atrocities in South Sudan?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re evaluating that very, very closely. We are examining, obviously – and the President has the power. He’s announced the structure for those sanctions, but he’s evaluating, as we all are, whether or not the IGAD has an ability to have some impact still; whether or not, through our diplomacy, we can find a way to try to move in a better direction. It’s very difficult. Clearly, it has become personal. It’s also, I think, about other things like revenues, oil, power, and not just related to sectarian violence. I think the sectarian violence has been to some degree exploited as a means of pursuing other ends.

So I look forward to my conversations when I’m in Addis Ababa and meeting with the leadership there, and I look forward to continuing to work with a number of different parties to see if we can leverage a better outcome. As you know, I appointed a special envoy with President Obama – Don Booth, the ambassador who was in Ethiopia. He’s been deeply engaged on the ground. I personally was very, very engaged during the course of the Christmas period this year, when the violence broke out. I was almost every day on the telephone with President Kiir, with former Vice President Riek Machar, trying to find a way forward. I talked to the leaders of Uganda, of Ethiopia and elsewhere. And we’re going to continue to push, but it may be that sanctions are one of the things that have to take impact. We’re evaluating that now.

QUESTION: Would you say the names of those who will be targeted?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, not right now.

QUESTION: You won’t? Not right now? Now --

SECRETARY KERRY: But I think we – people understand that the tragedy of this cannot be overstated. Many nations spent a long time and a lot of energy to help South Sudan emerge as a nation. I was there personally during the time of the referendum, and I remember attending mass with President Kiir, seeing the excitement on the ground for this incredible moment. And I pushed very hard with the Sudanese, with the authorities in Khartoum to help make this happen. And indeed, even President Bashir went to Juba for the swearing-in. I mean, this was a moment of great hope, and to see it tugged downwards by personal ambitions and personal animosities is really in many ways a betrayal of the trust of the people in their leaders. And I think all of the people involved in governance and civil society need to take stock of very fundamental choices that need to be made in order to reverse this course.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, interestingly you mentioned the time you personally spent, and of course the U.S. spent large amounts of resources to help South Sudan become an independent nation. But some people are saying, did we perhaps, along the way, not pay too much attention to helping this country, this new leadership, embrace democratic culture? What do you say?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they have to embrace it for themselves. I mean, you know the old saying: You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. You have to get leaders who are prepared to drink. I mean, I see this not just there, but all over the world. I mean, we’re wrestling with the Palestinians and Israelis today, and wrestling with Ukraine and Russia and President Putin. People have to make good decisions. Leaders have to make decisions that lead. And if you allow things to get into a personal, downward spiral, it becomes very difficult and it’s a betrayal of the interests of people broadly.

So the leaders need to step up here and open up to creating a civil society, open up to government reforms, open up to dialogue, open up to inclusivity. All those kinds of things need to happen – and open up to compromise.

QUESTION: Do you feel a sense of frustration with the (inaudible)?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, there’s always a certain amount of frustration in diplomacy because things don’t always move rapidly or immediately. But that doesn’t mean you don’t keep pushing and you don’t keep focused on the prize. The prize here is an independent, viable South Sudan, where you have a government that is growing stronger, not weaker, and where you’re being more inclusive, not less inclusive, and you bring people together. And that’s what needs to happen.

QUESTION: Now, moving a little to the west of the continent: Boko Haram in Nigeria has been engaging in terrorist activities, and now they’re on the increase. It appears like the government there is completely unable to contain this malaise. What is the U.S. doing right now to help that country?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re working very closely with our allies and with our partners and friends. We’ve been providing assistance. We’ve been providing direct lift aircraft, other things, to help people go in to take on the Boko Haram. We’ve been providing support directly to the government. It’s – again, you’re right, it’s very, very complicated. There’s been violence and the government needs to be stronger, and we’re working to help strengthen it. The – everybody understands it’s a – it’s not just in Nigeria. It’s in Mali. It’s in Tunisia. It’s in Libya still. It’s – I mean, you’re seeing these tensions spread throughout the Maghreb and the Sahel, and we are doing everything possible. We’ve augmented our presence, we have increased our assistance, and we will continue to do so and to work with our friends – the French and others – in an effort to try to make a difference.

QUESTION: Now, we’re still on the terrorism activities. So in the East African region, al-Shabaab is quite a menace to Somalia and now to Kenya. What more can the U.S. do there?

SECRETARY KERRY: Again, we are providing support to the Somali – to the government. We’re also supplying support to the international forces on the ground that are there to help try to keep the peace. We’ve made some progress. We’re – we think the leaders in Somalia have helped significantly to try to create a beachhead of governance, and they’ve made some progress. But al-Shabaab and others have reached not just there, into Kenya, into other parts of the east, and this is a continued struggle. This is not going to be easy. But I’m convinced the vast majority of the populations, and I think the leaders, want to move in the right direction. And it just takes additional help. That’s one of the conversations we will have in our meetings with AU people when I’m in Addis Ababa. We will talk about continued assistance to Somalia, to the AMISOM effort and so forth.

QUESTION: Now, Mr. Secretary, recently China and Russia opposed a U.S. and French proposal to cause UN sanctions against former Central African Republic President Francois Bozize and two other fellows who were involved in the conflict there. What other options are there on the table that could help resolve the situation in CAR?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s really regrettable that China joined with Russia in this, and regrettable that Russia has been objecting almost every effort at the United Nations. And so we’re left really trying to do this on a – without UN imprimatur and to engage on both a bilateral and multilateral effort locally to try to see what’s possible. But I can tell you today, without the UN sanction, it becomes much more difficult to be able to take the steps that we think are necessary.

QUESTION: In the DRC, the conflict there has gone on for years.


QUESTION: And many people have been saying it is time for the U.S. to do something. What is it the U.S. can do that could be a game changer?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I agree it’s time for us to do something, which is why we’ve been doing something. I mean, the answer is I appointed immediately a special envoy, former Senator Russ Feingold, who has been very much present in the region, working with Mary Robinson. Our Assistant Secretary of State, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, has traveled to the region. She’ll be with me when I go this week, this next week. I think a number of things have to happen. First of all, we were successful in getting the Nairobi Declarations and in getting the basic direction agreed upon. M23 needs to be disarmed. We need to get the forces on the ground, the response force, the intervention force, capable of guaranteeing the disarming of M23, which now has to take place.

Then we have to make sure that the FARDC that are harassing Rwanda and using the DRC as a base, that we take them on. And for the moment, obviously, the Kabila government is focused on the ADF, and so there’s a tension here as to who’s going to focus on whom first. And that’s one of the discussions that I will have when I am there. It is very, very important that the people there have a sense that the international force is doing what it needs to do to disarm, to enforce the agreements, to make sure that M23 – which now, incidentally, as you know, I think, is not located where it was and is, I think, in a place where hopefully we will be able to complete the disarming. I mean, that’s really the key that has to go on now.

But we will continue to provide major support to the UN mission. We will provide – MONUSCO is continuing to operate, and I’m convinced that if we can get the DRC forces to likewise join in the legitimate effort here, we can hopefully make the difference.

We’re going to continue to put the focus on it, and former Senator Feingold will be with me when we’re there this week. We’ll have those good discussions. I hope we can create some progress.

QUESTION: Just one quick question on Angola. There is a sense there by many people that the regime of President Dos Santos is authoritarian, and some have wondered: What is the U.S. policy towards this country? Is it of concern how things are going on there?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s always a concern. But we’re also working very closely with the government there. I think that – I mean, that will be part of our discussion when we’re there, is to make certain that we’re all on the same page and working according to the same rules and understandings about what we have to do. But Angola has been very supportive and helpful on many, many different issues right now. We’re very hopeful that we can come to a clearer picture about the road ahead.

The challenges of governance throughout the region are probably as significant today as they have been in a long time. And that’s the purpose of my visit, is really to sit down and have a face-to-face discussion. I’m looking forward to that meeting.

QUESTION: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m sorry we didn’t solve every one of these problems as we went from country to country. But, look, we’ve had a long – I’ll just say to you very quickly that we have a number of major priorities we are focused on, ranging from food security, to power, to empowering young people, to beginning to prepare for the African Union meeting that will take place here in Washington in August. We will have one of the largest gatherings of leaders from Africa in recent memory. And all of these issues will be on the table – how to reduce the violence, how to address these major concerns of economic development, power, governance. And really I look forward to having a good conversation. This will be my first trip to the DRC and my first trip to Angola, so I’m anxious to have an opportunity to be able to really pick up where others have left off.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: My pleasure. Thanks.