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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

The Administration's Policies and Priorities in Africa

FPC Briefing
Michelle Gavin
Senior Director for African Affairs
Scott Gration, President's Special Envoy to Sudan
Foreign Press Center
New York, New York
September 22, 2009


4:15 P.M., EDT


MS. GAVIN: Thanks. Hello. I just thought I’d sort of very briefly touch on what the President did today and put it a little bit in context in terms of what his Administration has been trying to do in Africa. Just roughly an hour ago, the President wrapped up a working lunch with 25 African heads of state, in addition to the AU commissioner. And the purpose of the lunch was to continue a dialogue that he began during his trip to Accra.

As you know, President Obama traveled to Ghana over the summer, and in addition to bilateral meetings with the Government of Ghana, sort of delivered a message that was intended to frame the way he sees engagement with Africa going forward. He talked about the importance of partnership during his time in Ghana. He stressed the importance of governance as a key building block to achieving certain goals, creating more opportunity, addressing key health issues, and addressing, critically, conflict and bringing conflict to a peaceful and just end.

And so this lunch today was an opportunity to really drill down on that piece about creating opportunity for the next generation of Africans. The President invited most African heads of state to participate, and sort of framed the discussion around three key topics: job creation, the importance of job creation for young Africans in particular; trade and investment, how to bolster trade and investment, how the U.S. can be a stronger partner; and agricultural development. Obviously, all of these are interlocked.

And the way the President laid out the meeting was to start with two key premises: first, that an Africa that is prosperous and at peace is vital to the interests of the United States and to the rest of the world. This is an important theme for President Obama, and he’s tried very hard to articulate how important it is that Africa be mainstreamed in U.S. foreign policy. One of the reasons he stopped in Accra over the summer on a trip that included a stop in Moscow and a stop in Italy for the G-8 was to bring Africa into the mix of these foreign policy issues, instead of treating it as a place apart, a thing aside that you delve into Africa policy once every four years and it has no relationship to the rest of what your Administration is doing. On the contrary, President Obama feels strongly that African voices need to be a part of a global dialogue, which is one reason that he thought it particularly important to do this event over the course of the UN General Assembly, when global issues are, of course, the focus of attention.

And his second premise is that Africa’s future is up to the Africans. So Africans are going to be in the lead on addressing all of these critical issues, but we want to be strong and supportive partners. We can’t do that effectively if we don’t listen to African priorities.

So it was primarily a listening exercise. After he began this introduction, sort of framed what he was hoping to get out of the meeting, he did very little talking and mostly listened as various African leaders helped to discuss these topics and exchange ideas about how the U.S. can be more effective in its support to African efforts. Particularly, President Sirleaf of Liberia led off the discussion on youth and job creation – obviously, a challenge that Liberians are very familiar with and working very hard on. President Kagame of Rwanda led the discussion on trade and investment – Rwanda having been designated the world’s top reformer by the World Bank in their latest Doing Business Report, so sharing some of that experience and talking about how the U.S. can be a more effective partner. And then President Kikwete of Tanzania led off the discussion on agriculture with a very focused and specific set of interventions that he had identified as being critical to agriculture-led growth. There were common themes throughout their presentations, often stressing the importance of infrastructure and infrastructure development, as well as energy.

So all of this was a particularly helpful dialogue for the President as he moves from – he’ll be moving from UNGA into the G-20, and so this was one more opportunity to hear a range of African voices on critical priorities that should inform a large part of that discussion as well.

This is just one piece of the Administration’s Africa initiatives. Obviously, the President has announced a global health initiative that involves, I believe, 63 billion over six years. That’s a pledge to keep up U.S. support for HIV/AIDS programs, care, treatment, prevention, as well as maintaining support for our malaria programs. But also to begin broadening U.S. health efforts to look at broader healthcare systems, broader systems of primary care, so that we’re not sapping capacity with a single disease focus.

Another critical initiative that was a focus of discussion today and will be a focus of discussion again at the end of the week when the UN Secretary General and Secretary of State Clinton host a meeting on Saturday on food security, is the President’s food security initiative, which involves a U.S. commitment of some $3.5 billion over three years leveraged at the G-8 to a $20 billion commitment to agricultural growth and development. And so these are critical Administration priorities moving forward in Africa.

So we have the broad themes of integration and mainstreaming, some of these critical sector-specific issues, and I think I’d just wrap up by indicating that other sector that we discussed – governance, opportunity, health, conflict – and the U.S. is doing quite a bit to try and prevent and mitigate conflict as well, and I think this is really where my colleague, General Scott Gration, comes in, the U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan. He’s been working extremely energetically to try and address our policy priorities in Sudan, which writ large are to try and help bring stability and development to all the Sudanese people, so focus both on ending the crisis in Darfur and full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

So I think with that, I’d turn it over to General Gration.

GEN GRATION: Thank you very much, Michelle. It’s a pleasure to be here in New York. It’s always fun to come here, and it’s really an honor to be able to address all of you. Let me just run very quickly over the two areas that we’re spending most of our time.

The first is in Darfur. There are five areas that we’re concentrating on. The first is humanitarian assistance. We want to make sure that the people that are in the internally displaced persons camps have what they need to survive and get along. That’s not good enough though; we have to change these conditions. So that is really an emergency stopgap situation, but we want to make sure that that parachute is there so the people can live as comfortably as they can.

But what’s really important is coming out with a solution that will result in a lasting and durable peace. And that brings up issue number two, which is unification of the rebels. We’re working very hard to bring together the disparate rebel groups into a unit that can not only speak on behalf of the issues, but can provide the leadership that’s required to go to Doha, where the negotiations will take place in the end of October.

Issue number four – excuse me, three, is giving voice to civil society. There are Darfuri that are in IDP camps. There are people from the Darfur region that have gone into Chad that are in refugee camps, and there is also the diaspora that is spread around the region and, in many cases, around the world. They all need to have a voice and be part of the process.

The fourth thing that we’re doing is security. Their security ranges from the conflict between Chad and Sudan, all the way down into banditry that continues today. All those issues are being worked in a variety of ways.

The last thing is we need to plan for infrastructure so that when the conditions are right so that when people can return to their homes, that they can do it in security and stability, and that there be some sort of infrastructure – social – that will help them get through this transition period so they can reestablish their lives in dignity and carry on at peace and prosperity that they deserve.

In the South, we have a program that has two themes to it. First of all is full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and right now we’re working very hard to ensure that those areas where we’ve reached agreement between the North and the South are implemented in a timely way. That’s 10 of the 12 outstanding issues. The last two issues are issues that we haven’t yet come up with an agreement between the National Congress Party and the Sudanese People Liberation Movement, and those are the census and the referendum. We’re working that.

In addition to that, we have to think about the future of Sudan, whether it’s a united country or whether the people of Southern Sudan decide to become independent in January of 2011. We have to plan for that eventuality. And that means there’s a lot of work that has to be done to help this fledgling country be capable of governing and providing the economic structure that its people need to be able to be prosperous.

In addition to that, obviously, we’re working on regional issues. We continue to work with the North on issues that it has and wants to discuss. And so it’s a full-time job, but a job that, while difficult, is one that we have no option but to be successful in our efforts.

At this time, we’d like to open it up for questions for Michelle and myself.

MODERATOR: If you all would please state your name and (inaudible).

QUESTION: *My name is Marie* from Al-Arabiya. And I’m just wondering, on Sudan, you talked a little about the census in South Sudan, but what about the elections in general? What are you doing to facilitate or help ensure the preparation for the elections?

GEN GRATION: The current election date is April of next year, 2010, and there is a lot of preparations that are being done through the United Nations and other international organizations to ensure that these elections are free, fair, and credible.

The problem that we’re running into right now is because of disagreement over the fairness of the census, over the accuracy of the census, it has put us a little bit behind in terms of preparation. So while we’re still working very hard to ensure that the election will be free and fair, you can just imagine the kinds of things that must be done. First of all, there was the legislation, and then there’s voter education, then there’s the process of the election – how do you to the balloting, which is still being worked on, whether it’s one ballot box, two ballot boxes, those kinds of things – and then there’s just the security that’s associated with that. These are tough issues, emotional issues, passionate issues. And so there’s security that has to go with that. And then, of course, there’s just the counting, the processing, and those kinds of things.

So there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, and the pace that it has to be done is now on a very accelerated schedule, but we’re doing our best to help facilitate an election that is free, fair, and credible.

QUESTION: Thank you. We are very happy that you guys are here to do this. The name is Lyle Lokarde*. I work for the Guardian of Nigeria. I just wanted to know how you – you cannot describe the current relationship between Nigeria and United States. Number one, the Nigerian president was not at this meeting. Was he invited? And number two, there is speculation that United States rejected the ambassadorial nominee from Nigeria. What does the American Government – the Obama government – want from the Nigerian Government?

MS. GAVIN: Well, on the specific matter, President Yar’adua certainly was invited to this meeting, and we would have been very happy to have him. It was our understanding that his schedule, in the end, did not permit him to attend. But yes, the invitation was extended, and we would have been very glad to have Nigeria’s tremendously important voice speaking to these issues.

Fortunately, Secretary Clinton did have some opportunities to hear directly from President Yar’adua and other Nigerian leaders when she stopped in Nigeria on her recent trip to the region. And I think that the fact that the Secretary of State was in Nigeria so early in this Administration is, in some ways, a statement of the obvious, which is that Nigeria is tremendously important. It plays a key leadership role on peacekeeping, has often played a very important role in peacemaking. Its economy is one of the most significant in the region. Its vast population – the sheer size of Nigeria alone – suggests that its stability and its success is important for Africa.

What does the Obama Administration want from Nigeria? More or less, what we want and hope for with all of our African partnerships, which is an opportunity to work together on critical regional issues, on critical development issues. It is our belief that across the board, there are important issues of governance and transparency, just as there are here at home, that we know the Nigerian people are working on and Nigerian leaders are working on. We hope to be supportive in those efforts so that Nigeria’s democracy gains strength, rather than losing it.

Obviously, there are important issues in Nigeria with regard to stability in the north, stability in the delta. We hope to be – these are Nigeria’s issues, but we certainly hope, as a friend of Nigeria, as a power that – who wants to help promote stability, development, prosperity in Nigeria, we welcome exchanges on how we can be supportive of efforts toward those ends.

So I think that the relationship is tremendously important. It would do it a disservice to pretend that there aren’t that kind of long list of complex issues that we need to work on together. But I think that Secretary Clinton got things off to a very fruitful start in her recent trip, and it’s one that we hope to follow up on intensely. It would be foolish not to.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. GAVIN: The Nigerian ambassador to the U.S.

QUESTION: Yes. The ambassadorial nominee that (inaudible) of Nigeria sent has been rejected by the U.S. Government – very unprecedented.

MS. GAVIN: I can’t actually comment on those issues, although it is my understanding that soon we will have a new Nigerian ambassador in Washington, and we look forward to that. It’s an important part of maintaining our relationship.

QUESTION: Yes. Hi. My name is Bukola Shonuga*. I am the host of African View on African Heritage Television Network. I was just wondering if Obama Administration has a specific trade and investment agenda in Africa. Continuously, there tend to be this report of conflict resolution and malaria and all the other diseases. I mean, all those issues (inaudible) they’ve been around for so many years. But specifically, in terms of development and sustainable development particularly, and in light of the current recent financial meltdown across the world, is there is a specific trade and investment agenda in Africa under Obama’s Administration?

MS. GAVIN: It’s a great question. And it’s definitely something that the Obama Administration believes is critically important to moving this – these partnerships forward and creating the kinds of opportunities that are needed and desired.

I think that one of the things that was happening today that was also happening when Secretary Clinton went to the AGOA Forum in Nairobi is a process of trying to listen to African priorities on this very agenda item. What do African leaders, private sector leaders, as well as governmental leaders, believe is missing in our efforts to promote a stronger trade and investment relationship with the region?

So at AGOA, I know Secretary Clinton was particularly seized with the importance of U.S. efforts that promote more intra-African trade, rather than focusing exclusively or nearly exclusively on exports to the U.S. – not to suggest that’s not important, and obviously, the U.S. is an important market, we want to see that grow, but there are – if you just look at the numbers, there’s so much more to be gained with robust intra-African trade. And that leads to a discussion of infrastructures and the other things we touched on today.

One of the reasons was – one of the three focuses of the President’s lunch was the critical importance of this issue. And he wanted to have this discussion leading into the G-20, as leaders of the world’s economies continue to talk about recovery and how we can move forward. African voices are critical are in that mix.

So I would say this is a work in progress right now, and what we’ve been seeing in these last months has been a very sort of direct effort on the part of the most senior leaders of the Obama Administration to kind of take the temperature of other African leaders and get some of their ideas about how we can move forward more effectively, rather than continuing to push on the same levers we’ve been pushing for awhile.

QUESTION: Yes. I’m Kamal Kush*. I’m with New African Magazine. I have two questions – one for you and one for the general. I’ll start with you, Michelle.

I hear this mantra a lot from Obama Administration officials of a partnership with Africa. Now, there are very – there are two critical issues on the African continent that has engaged the African Union, Zimbabwe and the Sudan. The AU and the SADC country – the AU and SADC countries have called on the United States to remove the sanctions that it has imposed on Zimbabwe, and the United States Government has not responded. And in fact, the response that we get from U.S. officials is that, well, the sanctions are just targeted at Mugabe cronies, et cetera. But the fact of the matter is that the legislation prohibits the World Bank and the IMF from providing loans, loans guarantees, and lines of credit to the Government of Zimbabwe. And U.S. officials do not mention that. They focus on the targeted sanctions.

And I would like you to explain, one: If you are interested in – if the U.S. Government is interested in partnerships with the United – with Africa, why aren’t you responding to the calls from the AU and the SADC to lift sanctions? And two: Why is it that in your public pronouncements about these sanctions, you fail to point out that the legislation, U.S. legislation, prohibits the World Bank and the IMF from providing crucial infrastructural financing to the Government of Zimbabwe?

MS. GAVIN: I don’t believe and I don’t think anyone in the Obama Administration believes that partnership means agreeing on every issue all the time. That’s not what partnership means. Partnership means a frank dialogue in working together where our interests converge. When it comes to Zimbabwe, we very much want to see a free, prosperous, developing Zimbabwe. This is an issue that senior leaders in the Obama Administration, including President Obama, have discussed with other African leaders. And it’s our view that it is not appropriate at this time, in light of the failure to fully implement the global political agreement, in light of the fact that the civil and political rights of the Zimbabwean people are not yet freely expressed, it’s not appropriate to lift the targeted sanctions that we have on President Mugabe and some of those in his inner circle.

With regard to international financial institutions, many of the legal mechanisms right now that come into play when considering support of the IFIs for Zimbabwe are not Zimbabwe-specific. They relate to debt repayment, et cetera, that are not narrowly targeted. That said, there’s a judgment call always involved in how we vote at the international financial institutions with regard to whether or not we think the climate in a given country is one that can support the investment of the IFIs and allow it to thrive.

We remain concerned about the climate in Zimbabwe. We would like to see it move forward. That’s why when Prime Minister Tsvangirai came to visit Washington, President Obama announced some – I believe $73 million of new assistance for healthcare and support to civil society in Zimbabwe. We’ve also moved forward on new assistance to the education sector, working on new ways to try and support agriculture. The U.S. is one of the largest donors to humanitarian support for Zimbabwe.

So we remain engaged in Zimbabwe. I think that many of us want to see the same end result, which is a prosperous and free Zimbabwe. And I think our policy position is pretty clear. So we hope to continue talking with African leaders, civil society leaders, about the way forward. And we still think that’s a constructive exchange even where we may disagree with some on some of these policies.

QUESTION: Yeah, but in a (inaudible) yes, I do. But Ms. Gavin – Ms. Gavin, I just wanted to mention that in 2007, while you were with the Council on Foreign Relations, you wrote an article, a paper entitled “Planning For a Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe.” And in that paper, you mentioned that one of the problems, one of the requirements for renewed engagement of the U.S. Government with the Government of Zimbabwe, is the repeal of legislation transferring land from white farmers to black Zimbabweans in that piece. And that seems to be the driving force behind U.S. policy to Zimbabwe. You being the special advisor to President Obama, it seems to me that you are the point person in terms of the Obama Administration’s policy towards Zimbabwe.

Is there a relationship between that paper that you wrote for the Council on Foreign Relations and the policy of the government – the U.S. Government now to the Government of Zimbabwe?

MS. GAVIN: Well, I would be happy to discuss that paper, perhaps at a different time, since I now speak as a member of the U.S. Government, whereas then I was a fellow at a think tank. But I’d be very comfortable with anyone taking a look at that paper, which in no way suggests that our policy hinges on repeal of specific Zimbabwean legislation. It does suggest that there’s no way to restart the agricultural economy in Zimbabwe without a land audit and some way to get back to a rule-governed and predictable system of how to deal with land ownership, and I think that’s pretty much a consensus position.

But I’m now a member of the U.S. Government. Decisions are taken in the U.S. Government not by any one individual. And certainly, ultimately, decisions in the U.S. Government are taken by the President and, as appropriate on legislation, the Congress, et cetera. So I advise; I am not a principal. I think that clarifies that.

QUESTION: I just --

MODERATOR: You have one for the general?

QUESTION: General, you were saying that there is plans for elections in the Sudan. It seems like – that’s like putting the cart before the horse. We have a problem in the Sudan where there is conflict, and it’s conflict over water, conflict over land, conflict over cattle. How do you propose to unify those contending forces who are fighting for cattle, land, water, whatever, and bring them together to meet somewhere and then organize an election before those issues are resolved?

GEN GRATION: I thought you were going to give me a question like how do you spell Sudan or something. (Laughter.)

I gotta tell you, I grapple with that all the time. The – what I inherited was the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. And within that Comprehensive Peace Agreement, there are certain timelines and things that have to be done. The election was called for early, and the concept behind that, from what I understand, was to push a transformation of the governance processes. And so it is important. It’s also very important to go through that same process of elections, because I believe that same process will be used in the referendum. So we’re trying to – of legislation and education and of the balloting and those kinds of things.

But you raise a very important question, and that’s why, as I explained in Darfur, while there is the track for rebel unification and voice to the society so that we can go to Doha to work on the peace process, in the South, we really do have to work on conflict mitigation at the same time that we’re working the structural issues like – and governance issues like elections. As you know, in the past couple of weeks, every week we read about 15, sometimes up to a hundred people, being killed in the South. And these issues we have to grapple with, and we have to grapple with them right now, because lives of people are being lost.

And so you’re exactly correct; this isn’t a one-track issue. We have to be working multiple tracks at the same time, because whether in Darfur with the humanitarian situation or whether in the South with the conflicts that are coming up – and you mentioned all of them – we have to attack those in a very methodical way at the same time while we’re doing the full implementation of the CPA.

So you have just hit on my issue. We have to have a comprehensive, integrated strategy that brings all these things together in a way that we’re almost playing three games at once and they’re all integrated. And we are constrained by time and we are constrained by the urgency of the people’s lives that are hanging in the balance. And it’s not only the cattle rustling and the killing, but we’re coming up with refugees coming in from LRA. We’re coming into famine issues.

All these issues come together, put a lot of impetus and stress on what we do. The challenges are great, but we have no option but to be successful, and that’s why we’re working all these issues at the same time in a very concentrated, comprehensive way to bring peace to Sudan. And it is very tough, and you hit on it. It is a tough, tough challenge, but we will be successful. We have no other option.

Thank you very much.

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