Remarks at the Young African Leaders Initiative and Mandela Washington Fellows Event
Secretary of State
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, sir. Thank you. Thank you, Mshila. Thank you (inaudible). Thank you very, very much. What are these big boards on the back of the wall here? Can you explain those to me? Mshila? Who can explain that to me, these boards?
PARTICIPANT: No microphone. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY KERRY: No microphone? Powerful voice, though.
PARTICIPANT: I can explain one of the boards.
SECRETARY KERRY: One of the boards. Is one of the boards yours?
PARTICIPANT: This is ours. This is mine. It’s – the most colorful one.
SECRETARY KERRY: So you guys – have you guys been in here working the whole – you’ve had a working session?
PARTICIPANT: We’ve been here for three days.
SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, you’ve been here for three days? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Hell, I – what do you need me for then? No, but this is great. So you’ve been working through all your different – these are all the work sessions, right?
STAFF: (Inaudible) who can explain it right here.
STAFF: These are each of the regional leadership center graduating classes.
SECRETARY KERRY: Okay.
STAFF: The last eight out at the YALI Regional Leadership Center.
SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, okay.
STAFF: And when they graduate, they all put inspirational messages for each --
SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, everybody writes something down.
STAFF: So there have been seven graduating classes, and this is today. They got together today to put this together for you, and after the question and answer we’ve left space for you to sign and participate in the event.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I know what I’ll write. (Laughter.) What I’ll write is what I’m going to say to you. You guys are – “guys” is generic, by the way, ladies. It’s – it covers everybody. You really are the future, and I was very – how many of you were Mandela fellows? Can you raise your hands? A whole bunch of you, wow. How many of you were Mandela this year? Okay, and the others were 2014-2015? Well, congratulations to you for that, number one.
And, number two, there is no question but that all of you taking part in Young African Leaders program, the initiative, are without any question – if I came back here 20 years from now, I’m going to look at success in whatever endeavor it is you undertake, and that’s because you got chosen for this program, and you got chosen for this program because you’ve already demonstrated initiative, leadership, creativity, entrepreneurship, skill, ambition – all these ingredients, which are so critical right now. We need better governance in country after country after country, including ours. We need better governance. We need people who cut through the red tape, people who aren’t prisoners of bureaucracy; people who are prepared to think about how you streamline and how you think in modern terms to harness technology, to deliver services better – I mean, there are all kinds of things that have to happen – and help stamp out corruption. And one of the best ways to stamp out corruption is with new technologies, because you have huge accountability in technology. There’s a trail: a financial trail, money trail, all these other kinds of things that help us be able to do what we need to do.
So, whatever it is you want to do – and we need you in every single sector there is. We need you working with children, we need you educating people, we need you building a healthcare structure that really can deliver to people in modern health capacity, we need you on the environment, we need you on new energy, we need you on better and newer infrastructure. What kind of materials are we going to build houses with in the future? I mean, what are the new materials of building, of – I mean, all of – just wherever you look, I’m telling you there is a new possibility.
One of the things I find most exciting about my job as I’ve traveled around the world is seeing this incredible pent-up energy that is waiting to release itself. And you feel it; I know you feel it, that’s why you’re in this program. So I don’t want to talk at you. I really want to hear from you. I’m willing to answer any questions about any topic, or if you have an idea and you just want to throw something out on the table that you think is worth discussing or my thinking about, taking home and making sure President Obama is aware you thought of it. (Laughter.) Whatever works for you, I’m at your disposal.
And again, I apologize for being late. We just ran late. We had important meetings on South Sudan and on Somalia and AMISOM and al-Shabaab and how we’re going to continue the fight against them and so forth. So everything we were talking about that cost you time I think will inure to your benefit and help the region, so I hope you’ll forgive me for having kept you all waiting just a little bit.
With that, let me throw it open to anybody who wants to ask a question, make a comment. Wow, a lot of people going at it. Yes, right here, in the back. Somebody’s going to get you a microphone right away here.
STAFF: Microphone coming.
SECRETARY KERRY: Can we get one in the back there? Thank you.
QUESTION: Hello, my name is Beth (ph), and I live with the cerebral palsy. And one of the missions that I think people with cerebral palsy and other disabilities should take is to engage in the political field, but not only people with disabilities but also minorities. But in the recent past, helping us as how the racism is still in the U.S. despite the fact that there is a black president. I’m wondering whether getting into politics is the only way to do away with discrimination or whether it’s more about changing the systems to be more accommodating.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it takes everything. That’s a great question. Obviously, President Obama, as the first black president of the United States of America, has had a profound impact on peoples’ consciousness and awareness of the challenges of racism. And it’s just a fact of timing – I don’t think it’s more than that – that it happens that during his time as President. I mean, we’ve had these cycles before in America where suddenly there was a spate of incidents that triggered demonstrations and a backlash to this perception of racism. I – when I was in college in the 1960’s, I became involved early on in the civil rights movement, along with most of our generation, who were one way or the other aware of it and involved in it. And I supported the efforts to try to send people down to the South to break the back of Jim Crow and create the voting registration drive that ultimately passed the Civil Rights Act of 1965. That was a period of intense racial frustration and confrontation in our country. Then I think probably 20 years later we had another round or so, and then another round. Now, recently we’ve had these incidents with the challenges of some of the shootings and arrests that have taken place in the context of police work and we have Black Lives Matter movement as a result of that.
So it’s – the answer is that we’ve always made progress out of it. It’s hard, it’s very tough when it’s going on, and it’s very difficult for people to contain the passions that are elicited on any side of the issue. But in the end, America definitively, vastly, all across the board denounces discrimination. And we have always made progress coming out of the moments of confrontation where we get better, we get more sensitized, we take steps and measures that prevent something from happening. I still think we need major steps – I know President Obama agrees with this – to deal with the problem of our prisons. Our prisons are not what they ought to be and there are too many people in them and too many people for non-violent crimes. And we need a reform of our prison system. But these things – nothing happens overnight in its entirety. Every generation will face its challenge one way or the other to push the process forward. And you’re very courageous to be fighting your battle with cerebral palsy and still be thinking about these bigger issues, and I thank you for that very, very much.
Change comes at the top, but it also comes from the bottom working its way up. And it has to come at it from both directions, or it’s even twice as hard to achieve. Thank you.
Who else? Let me go over here. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Bilosak Hasan (ph). I come from Mandera and I’m a Mandela Washington Fellow, 2015, public management track. And my question basically is about – we know and we appreciate the effort U.S. Government is making in terms of countering violent extremism. But on the same note is yes, we are receiving as a country funding from the U.S. that is funding the security agencies who are handling the issues of extremism. My question is we have heard the allegation that Kenyan security agencies are involved in forced disappearances, they’re involved in extrajudicial killings. These are some of political grievances the extreme groups are using to recruit people. What is the take of the State Department about that concern?
And secondly, just a short one, is that in 2009 in North Africa, President Obama promised the Arab world that before the end of his term, he would close down Guantanamo Bay. And up to date, that has not been done. When are we expecting that?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, his term’s not over yet. (Laughter.) Thank you for your questions. On the extrajudicial killings, I talked about that with President Kenyatta this morning and we had a very good and very frank and very constructive conversation about it. He is opposed and he has issued instructions and orders to his top people that this is not something that should occur. But he also pointed out, as others have to me, that some of the disappearances – and I’m not excusing anything here. If anybody has killed, that’s one too many, two too many, whatever. But some of the disappearances are people who are going to fight across the border in Somalia or somewhere and they get killed and they don’t come back, and then, quote, “they’ve disappeared.”
It’s a good organizing tool to be able to argue that everybody who has disappeared has somehow been eliminated in an unacceptable way, but clearly, some people have been. We know that, and it’s wrong. It’s just wrong. And what we need to do, and we have committed to do, is work with the government to help do a number of things: to work with the intelligence community, to work with the police community, to make sure that procedures and mechanisms are in place that will guarantee a due process and a legal process that is instituted so that a detainee is not subject to being murdered but is going to be put into that process and held accountable for whatever it is they may or may not be doing.
Now, it takes time to build that. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we agreed to have a task force come together, work on it, do a forum to try to talk about it, and he has agreed also to have our folks work with the inspector general of the police and with your intelligence chief and try to work at this. And we are committed to doing that. President Obama is deeply concerned about it, as am I, and I think anybody of conscience – that it is critical that there be a legal due process put in place and human rights be protected. So that’s very straightforward.
On Guantanamo, the President is absolutely committed to try to close it. We have brought the number of prisoners who were there down from about 120; we’re getting down towards 50. We – and the 50 toughest ones to be able to move out. We’ve asked – many nations have been very helpful by taking one or two or three or five people or more and we have – the last group that gets us down to 50 is now approved for transfer, and we’re working on their transfer. In the end, we are going to have to make a hard decision about what we’re going to do with those 50 or so people who are still there. And it is inappropriate in our judgment for them to be held interminably without trial or without any basis. But if there is evidence of their having been engaged deeply in terrorism, then obviously we have to figure out how we’re going to manage it, but it shouldn’t be in the facility at Guantanamo. It has to be in a – some other kind of structure or modality, and we’re still working on it very, very intently. Okay?
Who else? Back there. Yes, ma’am, in white.
QUESTION: My name is Wanjiko Gishuru. I’m a medical doctor. I work with the ministry of health in the oncology department. I am an MWF fellow, 2016, in the public management track. So my question is around how – there’s a lot of drive to – for investments and multinationals investing in Africa, American and European companies coming in. And what I was wondering is – what I saw in America is there are a lot of controls – environmental controls and they are greatly enforced in terms of how multinationals do business, how they take care of their waste, how they prevent the harm to other people who are living around their factories. So I’m wondering, is there any efforts to concurrently run that – the drive for investment with a strengthening of the environmental policies in the countries that they’re investing in in terms of preventing exposure to toxic agents to the people who might be living around the areas that they’re investing in?
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. Well, most American companies who invest abroad – not all but most – are public companies, but they’re all responsible to somebody. And in the case of those that are responsible to shareholders – the big companies that I have always asked this question of – they say they build to American standards. I know I visited companies in various countries and I have seen unbelievably clean and safe factories and people paid up at a higher standard and treated according to the standard because they are accountable to their shareholders and they don’t want to wind up with some lawsuit down the road or with some kind of problem or accusation. So I’m pretty proud of that. I think that by and large that happens. It doesn’t happen everywhere, not everybody. I’m not pretending that.
But yes, there is a huge increasing awareness of environmental responsibility, and companies in America – this is after – particularly after the Paris agreement – we had major companies like Google and Walmart and General Electric and Coca-Cola and a whole bunch of companies in Paris urging the passage of the Paris agreement to deal with climate change. And these companies are helping to set the trend for corporate behavior with respect to the environment.
Now, we encourage every country to try to accept those kinds of responsibilities, but in the end, countries have to make their decisions, and you all have to make it an issue that they care about. It has to become a voting issue, as we call it, so that people go to the polls and vote because they want clean water, they want clean air, they want forests that are kept intact, they want a preserve like you have right here, right near this capital. You have a beautiful preserve but it’s feeling the pressure, and I keep hearing about the pressure it’s feeling increasingly.
So those are the kinds of things that you all can make a huge difference on, and that’s part of your leadership responsibility, frankly.
Let me come over here to somebody. Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Winny Obure. RLC Cohort 7 alumni, civic leadership. YALI is a very powerful program, and I hope that even after your elections in November, the incoming president will still support the program. And my question --
SECRETARY KERRY: I’m not allowed to get involved in politics, folks. (Laughter.) But I’m sure she will. (Laughter and applause.)
QUESTION: She will? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Who knows. No, I can’t – he will, she will, they will. (Laughter.) However it works.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) I hope it’s going to be Hillary Clinton. Yeah. So my question is that during war, women suffer most – women and girls – because of gender-based violence and rape and so many other effects – psychological, mental, and physical. With the current violence in Burundi and South Sudan, I’m wondering – women are going through a lot of things right now, and what is the stand of the United States of America on the violence that is happening now in Burundi and South Sudan because --
SECRETARY KERRY: On the what? I’m sorry, on the --
QUESTION: On the violence that is happening now in Burundi and --
SECRETARY KERRY: In Burundi, yeah, okay. I’m happy to speak to that. Okay.
QUESTION: -- in South Sudan. And also because our current president and his deputy were not convicted in The Hague, it shows really a very bad image out there. Like, you can just do anything and get away with it.
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. Okay, let me make it clear at the outset I really was joking. (Laughter.) Because I don’t get involved in the thing, so – but it was too easy to pass up. (Laughter.) So it was fun. But whatever the American people decide, I’m confident that we’re going to move forward to uphold our international obligations. And I think we will have a Congress in the United States and a presidency that understands that as we preach rule of law, we will live by rule of law.
With that said, let me say to you that Burundi has greatly challenged all of us. I’ve had personal conversations with a number of presidents in the region about them perhaps being emissaries and going to speak with the president, find out what we can do about it. We’ve tried in any number of ways to encourage dialogue and reduce the level of violence. It’s all come about, frankly, because President Nkurunziza decided that he was going to run for a third term and break the constitution, and therefore invite instability, which is very, very dangerous.
So we’re now involved in discussions with others who are questioning the sort of limits of the constitution, and again, rule of law is critical. You have a constitution; it’s very, very important to live by it, and people who don’t will invite a backlash and a counter-reaction, and lack of confidence and perhaps even the violence that comes with it. We’re trying very, very hard to find a way to see that ultimately resolved. It’s still a challenge – not where we want it to be – and particularly made more difficult by the intransigence of the incumbent president to actually find a way forward that could restore confidence in the democracy and in the constitutional process. So there’s no easy solution, I’m afraid.
Yes, sir. In back.
MODERATOR: I believe this is the last question, sorry to say.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
SECRETARY KERRY: Sorry, folks, they’ve scheduled me so tightly that we wind up --
QUESTION: My name is Collins Nakedi, 2015 fellow, the current East Africa chair for Mandela Washington Fellowship. I have a question: I wanted to know your take and the President’s take when it comes to a very key issue in regard to climate change, where in some part of the world it is actually career building, it’s political topic, but in some part of the world it’s actually affecting livelihood. It’s real. And we’re working with communities and we’re working with schools and children and women. And these are real issues. Climate change is affecting us. And so how is the President handling (inaudible) and where our – in political space it is – it’s just a topic where people engaging with us to build their careers, put their careers to other – and then secondly is, I mean, here we have our fellows who are running renewable energies companies and they’re doing really good things in regard to climate change; but when it comes to climate change funding, it’s those who are able to access the funds are just – are government agencies and – so far. So what are the steps when it comes to young organizations or companies who are starting grassroots solutions accessing those funds? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Sure. How many of you actually are running a company of one kind or another? How many of you here? You’ve started your own efforts. Good for you. That’s extraordinary. Good for you.
So let me answer that very quickly. On the climate change thing, the President has been terrific. President Obama has put in place a National Climate Action Plan. He has looked for every opportunity he can to try to change the way we treat our energy sources, or change the way or encourage a reduction in the burning of coal without technology attached to it, or to switch to new fuels, or any number of things. We’ve changed our automobile standards. We’ve changed our trucks’ standards for emissions.
So the President has really leaned in hard to get things to happen in order to change the direction. And our hope is that the Paris agreement has sent a signal to the marketplace, where much more money is going to start moving in to alternative renewable and greater diversity and sustainable energy. We see that happening to a large degree. We think something like 17 to 30, 40, 50 trillion dollars may be spent over the next 40, 50 years on this energy transformation that is going to take place.
Now, how do you access it? Well, some of the money was put together under the Paris agreement. There’s supposed to be $100 billion by the year 2020 to help countries with this transition. There’s the innovation project particular to solar, which Prime Minister Modi began with a bunch of other – with President Obama and others. We’re just trying to help people be able to access innovation funds. There are loads and loads of angel investors and venture capitalists and other entities where, if you have a good energy idea, believe me, there are people out in the marketplace looking for them. So there’s a fair amount of capital out there.
There’s also money that we make available through the Millennium Challenge Corporation and other things for certain kinds of projects that people can apply for or get their countries to help apply for. And there’s some other individual funds under foundations, Pew Foundation, Gates Foundation, other people, different people who do certain things in the energy sector who are always receiving grant requests or investor requests and other things.
So it’s really – I’m sure, right here even I’m confident, that you have some investors here in Kenya who are looking for energy opportunities or having new environmental ideas. I can tell you right now, if you give me your card, I’ll get people in my hometown of Boston whose livelihoods depend on finding great new ideas and investing in them and helping to make things work. So increasingly, there’s a lot of money out there chasing new ideas in the energy sector. Battery storage, for instance. You’ve got moguls – big, very wealthy people – who are putting billions of dollars of research into solving that problem, and then you’ve got other people in high school or college who are pursuing small little projects, but one of them may be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or something who are going to discover something that’s going to be different that takes off – and maybe you.
But the trick is stay at it, keep knocking on the doors. And you’ve got to be willing to hear the word “no” probably not just 20 times, maybe a hundred. It happens a lot. But ultimately, you just – you break through. And that’s why you’re part of YALI, because you have the spirit and determination to go make that happen.
All right? God bless you all. Thank you very, very much. Thank you. (Applause.)