Signing of a Memorandum of Cooperation to Support the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

John Kerry
Secretary of State
AU Commission Chairperson Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
April 13, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Please, sit down. Thank you. Thank you, everybody.

Well, good morning, everybody, and a very warm welcome to all the members of our visiting delegation from the African Union, and particularly to the chair, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma – a number of familiar faces that I see here from our visit last April to Addis Ababa, and we’re delighted to welcome you back. And I look forward to a very productive exchange between our teams on the key topics that have been selected. I think it’s going to be very productive. And then, Madam Chair, you and I will have a chance to be able to have a bilat to summarize at the back end of this, and we appreciate that.

Let me just emphasize, and I think all of you know this from the historic meeting that President Obama hosted here in Washington last summer, that the President and this Administration, the State Department, are deeply, deeply committed to the importance of the relationship with Africa. And there is both so much opportunity and so much challenge at the same time. We believe that Africa has enormous capacity – unique on the planet, really, for both political and economic growth and development and we know that the African Union is going to play an absolutely critical role in shaping that growth and that development.

We all know that Africa’s population is younger and growing faster than anywhere in the world. Globally only about a quarter of the population is under the age of 15, but in Africa it’s more than 40 percent. This represents the opportunity and the challenge that I just mentioned. The opportunity is that African markets and economies have incredible room for expansion. The challenge is to ensure that those young people receive the education and then the jobs that they need in order to be able to fulfill their hopes and ultimately to be able to pursue their aspirations throughout their lives.

That is why President Obama is deeply committed to the renewal, the timely renewal, of the African Growth and Opportunity Act and also to move ahead with innovative programs like the Young African Leaders Initiative, the Transform Africa, the Power Africa. Each program is tied to goals that African leaders themselves have identified as the priorities. For example, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma is among many in the region who have expressed to me their desire to leap over the conventional pattern in developing energy use by rapidly expanding power generation from hydro, from wind, from solar – sun. And I take seriously her charge to mechanize African agriculture so that African women can, as she said, “retire to the museum the handheld hoe.” And as we all know that is still used by too many in order to till the land.

In the past year, leaders inside and outside Africa have been tested by the Ebola crisis. That crisis is not over and vigilance remains absolutely essential. But we can have a lot of reason to hope that the worst is behind us, and this did not happen by accident. That’s something that’s really important to focus on. It happened because the world community, in tandem with African governments, worked to be able to deal with it. Early on, the African Union deployed medical personnel and helped to coordinate a very effective response. President Obama dispatched 3,000 American troops to build treatment centers and assist in training health workers. And all told, my government contributed more than $1 billion to ease the crisis, and today we continue working closely with all the parties. And I’m pleased that in a few minutes we’re going to sign the Memorandum of Cooperation in support of the AU’s very bold plan to establish an African version of the American Centers for Disease Control.

My country’s CDC was created 70 years ago in response to an epidemic of malaria. An African counterpart is already clearly needed, not just because of Ebola, but to cope with health threats of every kind and to enable countries throughout the region to share information and build the capacity to prevent, detect, and treat outbreaks of epidemic disease.

Under the new memorandum, our CDC will provide expert technical help to support a surveillance and response unit and an emergency operations center as well as provide fellowships for African epidemiologists who will provide their services to the new center in Addis Ababa. Of course, economic, social, and health initiatives don’t operate in a vacuum. They are closely related to the quality of governance and to growth of strong, democratic institutions. That's why we have to do all that we can in the next years in order to make sure that the two dozen elections that are scheduled across Africa are conducted freely, fairly, peacefully, and on time.

Despite a six-week delay, the recent presidential balloting in Nigeria was extremely encouraging. Both the candidates and the voters showed a genuine commitment to democracy and a willingness to follow the constitutional procedures. And in the days after, President Jonathan earned global respect by urging his supporters not to mourn, but instead to celebrate the establishment of a legacy of democratic freedom.

One of the principal challenges facing the new government in Abuja will be that of protecting Nigerian citizens from the terrorist threat. The United States endorses the effort by the AU and its partners to establish a multinational taskforce to halt Boko Haram's campaign of murder, kidnapping, and theft both within and beyond Nigeria's borders. We will also continue more generally to help African governments improve their counterterrorist and border security capabilities. And as we were reminded so tragically in Kenya just two weeks ago, there are people in Africa and across the world whose sole desire is to divide and destroy. We, together, stand for everything that they want to break down. And that, my colleagues, my friends, is a badge of honor.

In recent years, we have learned that diplomatic and peacemaking initiatives in Africa work best when they are African-led. But the United States and the broader international community can still help, and we are prepared to do so. Accordingly, my government will continue to work with the AU and other partners to promote stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, of the Central African Republic, Somalia, Sudan, and elsewhere, and we will continue contributing to the defeat of the scattered remnants of the Lord's Resistance Army. And we fully support efforts to mediate an end to the senseless and highly destructive fighting in South Sudan. Not only will we do that by silencing the guns, but also by establishing a transitional government of national unity and by agreeing on the institutions and the reforms necessary for lasting peace, reconciliation, and justice.

I was personally deeply involved in the post-comprehensive peace agreement negotiations. I traveled there many times. I was there during the referendum and there during the independence, and nothing obviously is more challenging to us than the effort to try to complete that journey and find a way back to peace and stability.

In our session today, our delegations are going to focus on four critical areas: economic growth and investment, opportunity and development, democracy and governance, and peace and security. I hope we're going to use the time to think creatively about the ways in which we can advance each of those sectors. And I think our future success will depend not only on whether we're moving in the right direction, which obviously always is critical, but also whether we're pushing far enough, whether we're embracing a large enough and ambitious enough goal in order to meet the challenge of this 40 percent of young people who are under the age of 15 who are hoping that our leadership will create a framework that will guide and structure their future with all of the hopes and aspirations that they possess.

So we have a lot of work to do. But it's clear to me that we also have grounds for confidence because of the hard work of the AU, because of the extraordinary progress being made all across Africa. I want to say that I am very proud personally of the terrific work that our Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, has done, our superb Ambassador Reuben Brigety, and for the hard work of all of the experts on the team that has assembled here today. I'm grateful to them and to all of you for engaging in this discussion, and I'm especially pleased now to yield the floor to the very distinguished Dr. Dlamini-Zuma. (Applause.)

MS DLAMINI-ZUMA: Thank you very much. First let me thank you, Secretary Kerry, for hosting this high-level dialogue and of course thank the rest of the team for working hard so that it happens and the welcome that they’ve given us.

There is deep historic, cultural, political, and economic ties between the United States and Africa. And over the last decade, they have crystallized in such areas as economic development, peace and security, governance and democracy, as well as cooperation on social issues such as health and education. The Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2013 between the African Union Commission and the U.S. Government, with the then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, continues to provide a structural framework for this relationship. The first U.S.-Africa Leadership Summit last year was a historic moment in a partnership of mutual respect and shared interests.

The African Union in January adopted its 50-year vision, Agenda 2063, which sets out the priorities of the continent in education, health, agriculture, infrastructure, economic diversification, and so on. It encapsulates the aspirations of Africans that have – they have for themselves and their continent, and how in the shortest possible time Africa can overcome the burden of underdevelopment and build shared prosperity, human security for all its people – men and women, young and old.

Our Agenda 2063 is an overarching vision and framework, and it’s a practical program of action, through which governments, civil society, regional economic communities, and continental institutions can together to create a better life for the current and future generations of Africans.

I’m pleased to see that this very practical approach also finds expression in the work done in the four areas around which the U.S. and Africa are cooperating. Without preempting our discussions, let me highlight a few of these issues. Firstly, we all agree that our people are our most precious resource, as Secretary Kerry has just said, and we must therefore continue to focus our investment in their education, in health, access to basic services such as water, sanitation, shelter, and energy. Across the continent, governments are focused in addressing health challenges by building resilient health systems and access to health care.

But let me also just thank the U.S. and the government and the people for the support that you have given to the three countries that were devastated by Ebola, but also for the support that you’ve given to the African Union and the health workers that had to go and work in those countries. We see positive developments, as you have just said, but of course, the epidemic is not over and so we still need to continue working and being vigilant. And with the support of the international community, we think it would be possible to see this epidemic behind us. However, we must not let up until all the three countries are Ebola-free. In fact, I don’t think one country can actually be Ebola-free until all of them are.

The process to restore health services in these three countries has to start. The countries will continue to need this assistance, especially in rebuilding their health system, their public health for greater resilience, and a better responsive capacity. So together I think we can continue supporting these countries.

But more generally, the AU’s decision to form an African Centre for Disease Control is aimed at strengthening the capacities of the African countries to combat disease, sharing information, build collective capacities not only against Ebola, as you just pointed out, but also HIV, TB, malaria, and many other diseases. The Memorandum of Understanding between the AU and the U.S. Government on this will assist the early operationalization of the Centre for Disease Control with lessons from the current Ebola outbreak.

Secondly, investments in the future generation means investing in education, with special attention to science, technology, engineering, and math. The focus on technical and vocational education and training in our cooperation is therefore very important. In addition to plans to develop high-level skills in these areas and revitalization of African universities, in addition we must ensure that these programs give access to both men and women alike.

A third area in our aspiration around economic development and diversification: Over the past few years, the U.S. has cooperated with us around energy, through Power Africa, a basic ingredient not only for human development, but also for manufacturing, beneficiation, and services. The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit saw specific commitments on broadening this program from both the public and the private sectors. We must follow up on this, whether indeed we are making progress in accelerating major energy projects of mutual interest through the regional energy pools. Of course, as you rightly pointed out, we want to have a good mix of renewable and clean energy.

In addition, there is also scope for cooperation around Agenda 2063 on the program of infrastructure, PIDA, and on our flagship projects, which are on roads, rail, and also aviation, including the continental high-speed rail project to connect African capitals and commercial centers. Industrialization, agriculture, and trade remain critical as Africa seeks to move away from being an exporter of raw materials and to provide jobs and economic opportunities for its young population.

This informs our discussions about the terms of extension of AGOA and about investments into Africa. In addition, the transformation of African agriculture is on track through CAADP programs as well as U.S.-Africa cooperation on irrigation, (inaudible) development, extension services, and the general modernization of agriculture through climate-smart agriculture and with more Africans involved in agribusiness in the regional and global food chains.

So maybe if I just say a few words on AGOA. We understand AGOA is a preferential arrangement to assist the development of African industry. In its extension, we must ensure that AGOA continues to achieve the goal and gives Africans the policy space to develop and to be able to expand their industrial capacity and, of course, have a market for what they produce.

Fifthly, there is progress with regards to peace and security, democracy, and good governance, including a number of elections taking place this year. To date, the elections in Comoros, Zambia, Lesotho, and Nigeria went well – and given the challenges that Nigeria was facing, certainly did Africa proud. In the remaining elections, there are issues of concern with some, but we are working on these with the affected countries and regional economic communities to ensure that the elections are peaceful and fair.

On peace and security, we remain seized with the situation in South Sudan, Libya, Mali, Somalia, and with the broader and growing threat of global terrorism. In the context of our goal of silencing the guns, we shall continue strengthening cooperation with the U.S. on these issues, especially on the issue of terrorism that seems to be gaining ground both in Nigeria and, of course, Kenya, and other countries. And of course we must also build inclusive societies where no one feels left out. The management of diversity and give young people a stake in our societies by investing in them is very important as part of this fight.

Lastly but not least, 2015 is the African year of empowerment of women with the intention to make progress in a number of challenges facing women, including maternal and infant mortality, access to education, access to finance and capital. In addition, we want to give practical expression to improving women’s productivity in agriculture by starting to provide them with alternate technologies to the hand hoe, as you have just mentioned, and I hope that America will be a good partner for the African women in banishing the hand hoe to the museum. Key to changing the situation of women is to move more swiftly to increase women’s participation in legislatures and governments, in the professions, managements, and boards, at the table in peace negotiations, and in all other areas of human endeavor.

Let me conclude by just saying this high-level dialogue should take forward the above issues and the specific programs of our cooperation in very practical ways. We look forward to the discussions and cementing the relationship between the U.S. and Africa. And I wish to thank everyone in advance and also thank our two ambassadors. Well, I don’t know whether we should – he should be our ambassador also. (Laughter.) He is – yes. And our ambassador here for ensuring that we can indeed take this relationship to a higher level. Thank you. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma. We really appreciate very, very much those words and your thoughts. And particularly, I can assure you on the empowerment of women, this Administration is deeply engaged in many initiatives to that effect, and not just across Africa but throughout the Middle East and Central Asia and elsewhere, and we will continue very, very much to do so.

It’s our privilege now, I believe, to sign a memorandum.

STAFF: Ladies and gentlemen, the Secretary of State and the chairperson of the Commission of the African Union will now sign the Memorandum of Cooperation between the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services of the United States of America, and the African Union Commission.

(The memorandum was signed.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Well done. Thank you very much.

So I think Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield will chair at this point in time, and we’re going to step out, and then we’ll meet again later this afternoon. Thank you. Appreciate it. (Applause.)

STAFF: Ladies and gentlemen, this now concludes the signing ceremony (inaudible). Thank you.