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Diplomacy in Action

Forging a Dynamic Partnership Between Africa and the U.S.: Opportunities for Engagement and Development

FPC Briefing
Ambassador Michael Battle
U.S. Ambassador to the African Union
Jean Ping, Chairman of the African Union
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
April 23, 2010

Date: 04/23/2010 Location: Washington D.C. Description: U.S. Ambassador to the African Union Michael Battle and Chairman of the African Union Jean Ping Briefing at the Washington FPC on ''Forging a Dynamic Partnership Between Africa and the U.S.'' - State Dept Image
11:45 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: Welcome to the Foreign Press Center in Washington, D.C. Welcome to you to today’s briefing – Forging a Dynamic Partnership between Africa and the U.S. We have with us today the U.S. Ambassador to the African Union, Michael Battle, and African Union Chairman Jean Ping.

Before I hand the floor over to Ambassador Battle, I would like to remind everyone of the ground rules. Please identify, when you’re asking a question, please identify yourself and the organization you represent; please wait to start speaking until you have a microphone in your hand; and once again, to remind you, please identify yourself and the organization you represent.

Ambassador Battle.

AMBASSADOR BATTLE: I want first to express deep-seated gratitude on behalf of the United States Government for the 17 members of the African Union delegation who have come to participate in high-level discussions between the U.S. Government and the African Union. This is the first time we have ever had this level of discussion and we reached some rather significant points of ground zero and look forward to moving ahead with a substantive, comprehensive relationship between the African Union as a regional continental body and the U.S. Government.

And I’m overwhelmingly pleased to present to you Dr. Jean Ping, who is the chairperson of the African Union Commission, and who has more energy than five people half his age. (Laughter.) So I’m extremely pleased to present him.

MR. PING: Thank you. Thank you, sir. Well, thank you very much. I have nothing really to add, just to join my voice of the – to the voice of the – our Ambassador of the United States to African Union. He has played a crucial role in organizing this historical meeting. For us, this is the first time we are having, at that level, exchanges not between country and country bilateral – this has been like that for ages – but at the level of multilateral organization, multilateral issues, global issues, Africa as a continent – this is the first time.

The meeting was very fruitful for us, and I would like to take this opportunity, the occasion to thank Ambassador Battle and, through him, all the Administration, the United States Administration. I thank you.

MODERATOR: So we’re going to start by taking questions, and we have a question right here. And let me step out of the way of this camera first and come over to this side. Okay, your question.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, Ben Bangoura with News. As you wrapped up the first U.S.-AU bilateral meeting here in Washington, I would like to know what’s your organization mandate to America. And also, does the AU have what it takes to commit to U.S. demand for a (inaudible) partnership?

MR. PING: (To moderator) Question by question? Also another question. Question by question? Okay.

Well, first of all, I would like to tell that the United States has bilateral relations with the African countries for a long time. This is the first time we are organizing such a bilateral meeting in order to establish a solid partnership with the United States.

May I remind you that we already have such a partnership with the European Union Commission and member states, a strategic partnership. We also have a similar partnership with Japan, with China, with India, with Korea, with Latin America, and also with Turkey. So we thought that with the leading economy of the world we should establish similar partnership on a continental level.

And we have been preparing this now for now one month and even more.

AMBASSADOR BATTLE: Yes, since January.

MR. PING: Yes, since January. So we are very satisfied that the end will see that we have reached our objective in exchanging view of all the field with the American Administration – peace and security in the continent; development of the continent; shared values of the continent; the other related issues, cultural, social dimension of exchange of views and cooperation.

You see, in Africa we have five regions, as you know. And we have added a sixth region, which is a diaspora, and the diaspora in this continent is very, very import. So you can imagine how far we intend to deepen our relations with the United States. And this meeting was a very fruitful one.

MODERATOR: It looks as if we also have a question coming from Adam in the front row, so we’ll go with Adam.

QUESTION: (In French.) The mini-summitof (inaudible) in 1989, when Frederick Willem de Klerk promised to free Mandela. Do you remember that? That was my first interview with you in Cote-d-Ivoire?

MR. PING: Yes.

QUESTION: Yes. So now you’ve been the president, the chairman of the African Union. Is it dream or reality? I need to know. And what are your challenges regarding the right of women in Africa? And what about the leaders who would like to remain in power forever? Under your leadership, what can you do about that?

MR. PING: Well, you have a multi-faceted question.

QUESTION: Yes. (Laughter.)

MR. PING: Well, first of all, I would like to tell you how happy a man I am to see you again since the (inaudible). At that time, I never dreamed becoming chairperson of the African Union. The African Union was not yet the organization which it is today. It was still OAU. So being today’s chairman of the African Union is a big challenge in these circumstances, and it is exciting. In the same time, it’s a very difficult job.

You’ve mentioned the problem of people who want to maintain themselves in the power. Now, the African Union is committed to promote democracy, to promote human rights, to promote good governance, to promote the fight against corruption, to promote all these things which we call shared values, which mean the values we – all of us, all our member states – have accepted to share with the rest of the world, like democracy. So we are there to promote these values.

So to respond to your question, of course, we have a certain number of countries which are lagging behind. But don’t generalize. If you don’t generalize, we see that we have moved a long way from the year 1990 where the continent was ruled by single parties, by dictatorship. And this time, where the majority of constitutions say that there is a need for the duration of mandate should be limited. And we follow the example of the rest of the world. The duration of the mandate is generally limited to two terms, like everybody.

So there are, of course, some countries which continue in the world to be – try to be permanent leaders, but we are fighting against these. The important issue is that countries should respect their constitution, which has been adopted by them. We have the constitution, like the majority of constitutions, have a limitation of the term. If they want to change this then they will have problems with us.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We’re going to take the next question from New York.

QUESTION: Yes, good morning.

MR. PING: Good morning.

QUESTION: I’m Kamau Cush. I’m with the New African Magazine. I have three questions – one for Ambassador Battle, one for Chairman Ping, and the third for both gentlemen.

Ambassador Battle, in light of the chairman’s indication that you were a – the United States and the AU were working towards establishing a solid partnership, will the United States, in the light of that, heed the AU and the SADC’s call for the United States Government to lift economic sanctions that have been imposed on Zimbabwe. That’s for you, Ambassador Battle.

And for Chairman Ping, has the AU taken a position with regards to the presence of the U.S. military presence on the African continent? And while you’re answering that, could you let – could you outline the AU’s position with regard to the British military presence in Kenya and the French military presence in Cote-d-Ivoire and Senegal?

And the third question is: Last year, the Kenyan Government appealed to the international community for humanitarian aid to assist with the food shortages there. That was last year. And a few days ago, because of the volcanic ash cloud over Europe, the Kenyan growers of vegetables – tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli, et cetera – were unable to deliver their produce to European and British supermarkets. And in – the response to that was to dump all of those vegetables into the garbage heap instead of distributing it to the people who were supposedly starving in Kenya.

So I’d like both of you gentlemen to --

MODERATOR: Ask your question, please

QUESTION: -- advise me, is the question in food shortages in Africa – is it a question of not enough food being grown in Africa or is it a question of not enough food being grown for Africans?

MR. PING: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

AMBASSADOR BATTLE: Let me respond very briefly to your – the implications of your last question, and then I will respond more directly to the specific question that you raised of me.

One of the needs for investment on the African continent is directly related to the development of storage capacity for commodities, as well as the transportation of commodities from one African nation to the next and also for the export market. There is tremendous opportunity, as we have encouraged American private industry on yesterday, when we met with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to concentrate on figuring out ways to further develop the agribusiness on the continent, which means not only the infrastructure for the transportation of commodities but also the infrastructure for the storage of commodities where our commodities can be stored and also properly and nutritionally canned for further use. That’s something I think that the world community needs to follow up on. And the unfortunate climate incident with the volcanic eruption in Iceland gave us another indicator as to why we need to look at proper storage.

Now, with regard to your specific question to me, there is a diplomatic process always when a continental body like the African Union makes a request regarding the lifting of sanctions and when regional bodies like SADC make such a request, there is always a long process before requests get from the point of having been initiated to the point that there is actual response because it’s not only the U.S. that has been asked to respond but other members of the P-5 have been asked to respond as well. So I cannot articulate for you any specificity with regard to how the U.S. Government will respond, just at that the request is in the hopper, as they say. And it will be a while before it emerges to the point that definitive responses can be made. And I will yield to the chairman to answer the remaining questions that you raised.

MR. PING: Well, thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for kicking the ball in my court. (Laughter.) Well, concerning that last question on food crisis, the response to your two questions is both –the problem of food for Africa and food in Africa is both. First of all, concerning the shortage of food and the crisis which – you have noticed that Africa has been tremendously hit by the food crisis in a point that we have anger riot in the continent and starting some killing in the continent due to the anger riot. So this is important for us in Africa. We have not seen it as well.

So why I’ve said both? I said both because concerning that problem, during the 30 past years, we have been told that liberalize the market, open the market. Don’t – government should not invest in agriculture; leave it to the market. The consequence is that we have not been fully aware of the situation of today. The market – we opened the market. Even if you have money, you couldn’t find products in the market. And now the situation has changed fully. We are asking the government to invest in agriculture, to spend some time, 10 percent of the GDP in investment in agriculture. We told our countries that no market is going to build roads, rural roads in rural areas. It’s not the market who’s going to do that. Government has to do a certain number of things to help the market – investment in some areas, transportation, all these areas. The chain of (inaudible). I mean, to freeze. All of this – all the channel of production, there are market and governments should work hand to hand in order to solve this problem.

Two examples have been given the world. One is the successfully – or successful story of Malawi and the other is the failed story of Timor-Leste. Malawi decide to ignore the external signals saying that don’t invest; don’t help. They have been subsidizing their agriculture, giving fertilizer, and today Malawi exports not only in the Africa some times, (out of Africa, even giving some food to go to solve the humanitarian problem. So it has been a successful story because they keep subsidizing agriculture.

The case of Timor-Leste is that they followed the rules. They open the market because they have money, their own money. And when the food crisis arrived, they tried to get food. They sent boats to Asia. No food. Countries say that we need our food for our own population; we are not selling that. So you couldn’t find food in the market. That’s why I’m saying that it is food for Africa and food in Africa. So this is the answer to that question, which is crucial for us.

I think that he raise another question because (inaudible) U.S. military presence in Africa – probably you are referring to Africa, probably. For us, we think that for everybody, every continent, every country, we have global challenges. These global challenges, I can mention some. You have the problem of terrorism, you have the problem of drug trafficking, you have the problem of human trafficking. You have all these global problems which we are – with which we are confronted. We have to solve them. And to solve them, no single country, no single continent can solve this by itself. There is a need for cooperation. To global problems, we need global solutions. So in that field, we need to cooperate with the rest of the word.

So we are cooperating, I think, strongly with Africa to solve these global challenges, which we are facing from Mauritania to Somalia – t he problem of terrorism, problem of trafficking, problem of security in these areas. I told you – or I didn’t tell you, I don’t remember, concerning the drug trafficking – the drugs come from Colombia, Venezuela, across the Atlantic Ocean to go to West Africa. The final market is Europe. So what can we do? But in between, in (inaudible) market, they start killing people, like in (inaudible). So to solve that problem, we need, of course, a global solution, with Latin America, with Europe, which is a final market. But I give you just some examples to say that there is a need today to cooperate. Even the financial crisis, there is a necessity to solve it collectively. Thank you.

MODERATOR: John. And then next we’ll go to Mina after John.

QUESTION: (Inaudible. Another journalist without a microphone asks a question.)

MR. PING: (Inaudible.) Oh, you are talking about the military bases. Is that that question?

QUESTION: What can I do? Can I ask one question?

MODERATOR: Please, John, continue.

QUESTION: My name is John Lyndon. I’m from Africa No. 1. Mr. Chairman Ping (inaudible). I have two questions. The first question is for Chairman Ping. What does meeting between African Union and the U.S. really mean for you, and what are you expecting from it?

The second question will be for Ambassador Michael. Why instead of inviting African heads of state, you decided to invite Mr. Ping? Do you see Mr. Ping as the spokesman of African heads of state or maybe sometime Mr. Ping sees himself as head of all Africa? Thanks. (Laughter.)

MR. PING: Well, first of all, I cannot see myself as the head of state which do not exist. African Union is not yet a super-national government. We are still an intergovernmental body. And I have been elected by head of states, so I’m not the head or consider myself as a head of state. I am a head of administration, which could be compared in a certain way to European Union and to Barroso, but not to – I will not head of state. (Laughter.) Why not Secretary? (Laughter.) So this is the answer to your question.

Now, as I said, the United States has been having bilateral relations with the 53 African member states for – since independence, but there are many problems. I repeat again – it’s global problems which can be solved only globally. If you want to bring peace to Somalia, which government is going to say, “By myself, I’m going to Somalia to help Somalia.” This is collective decisions which have been taken, and to ask the African countries to be involved in order not to accept that an African country has been there. For 19 years, the only country in the world for 19 years without any government, without any states left to all the type of problems. It has become an African issue. But also, if you think about piracy, it has become a threat to the world peace.

MODERATOR: Okay. Mina, I believe you have the next one.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible. Previous journalist reminds moderator it was a two-part question.)

MODERATOR: I’m sorry.

AMBASSADOR BATTLE: Your question was why are we having these talks with Chairman Ping. Because Chairman Ping has so articulately and brilliantly stated why he is the elected chair of the African Union Commission, and we are seeking to have a relationship with the African Union as a continental body which does not replace the bilateral relationships we have with individual African nations.

But as the chairman has also very articulately indicated, there are some transnational issues that supersede boundaries – drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, climate control, food security, and other issues that do not stop at a boundary. And the only legitimately elected voice to speak for the entire continent is the African Union Commission. So that’s why we have related to the commission and that’s why he’s here and not all 53 heads of state. Thank you.

MR. PING: Let me just add that if you want to talk about climate change or trade, no single country, no single African countries could be heard – its voice is too small to be heard individually. When we speak collectively, then we represent a power.


QUESTION: Thank you. Mina Al-Oraibi, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. I’d like to ask you about Sudan. First of all, the elections in Sudan, the U.S. has said in their assessment, from what they’ve heard from international observers that they were not fair or representative elections as they had wanted to meet international standards. What is your assessment, first of all, of the elections? And second of all, the situation in Sudan more generally regarding Darfur, but also in the south – what are your concerns going forward? And what role can the AU play to help support Sudan?

And I wanted to ask Ambassador Battle if I may, also regarding Sudan, what support can you give to the AU, whether it’s through peacekeeping forces or otherwise, to help stabilize the country? Thank you.

MR. PING: Well, concerning Sudan, have you seen observers going to Africa and tell you that I was very happy, everything was beautiful? Never. It’s – it – so expected. In Africa, we continue to face many problems in organizing elections. We have been now for 20 years practicing multipartyism. And you find similar problems everywhere – the difficulties of bringing ballots in the field, the problem of opening of the polling station late, the problem of printing the ballots, all these type of problems which African countries are facing.

In Sudan, I think this problem has been multiplied due to the fact that Sudan is the largest country of African continent with problem of transportation, with problems of organization. Secondly, the country was in war, organizing election in a situation of war – war in Darfur, problems elsewhere. To be able to organize election in such conditions is not easy.

Maybe I should add that for a quarter of a century, 24 years, Sudan has never had democratic elections. These are the first democratic elections since 24 years. So we thought that it would be a big challenge in organizing these elections. What is the result that in spite of the problems – in in spite of problems, in spite of difficulties, the election took place. It is a big challenge. Secondly, there were no violence in a country of fighting – no violence during these elections.

Third is that the – when problem was faced, they tried to bring solutions to this problem. For instance, it will say that the election will take place in two, three days. They see the difficulties on the field. They have extending – extending – extended the elections in five days. In some places where they have complained, they decided to freeze these and to organize election.

So I say that if you take all these things into consideration, you will see that the challenges faced by Sudan and African Union and the African countries in organizing elections in Sudan is globally a success – globally a success. So I think that Carter Center was an independent center – it was not a governmental center – coming from America. They have noticed similar statement.

So this is also a first step to a roadmap, a very long roadmap, with the problem of Southern Sudan, with the agreement on Southern Sudan, the comprehensive agreement on Southern Sudan, which will bring us to the elections in 2011. It is a process – democratizations, elections in Southern Sudan. So this first step has been, for me, responding very – I mean, very well in spite of difficulties.

AMBASSADOR BATTLE: Let me just simply say that part of the joy that the U.S. shares with the elections is that it is consistent with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and we are looking forward to the next phase of the electoral process. And as the chairman has indicated, that there have not been elections in 25 years in Sudan.

One of the strengths of the African Union and the wisdom of the African Union is that the African Union has already called for in May, due to the leadership of Commissioner Lamamra, a meeting in Addis Ababa, where the U.S. will be represented and where others around the world will be represented to do a comprehensive review and analysis of the elections. And I think at the end of the day, the world community will be very, very pleased with the fact that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is moving forward and moving forward exceedingly well.

So I’m looking forward to the May conference. Ask me on May the 10th after the May 8th conference, then I will answer more elaborately.

MODERATOR: Okay. We have time for one last question in the front. The microphone, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. Ajong Mbapndah, Pan African Visions. Ambassador Ping, it’s a good thing that the African Union has had – been reducing unconstitutional takeovers of governments in Africa. But we noticed in the absence of military coups, leaders have – are now using unconstitutional means to change term limits to remain in power.

Now, what is the African Union doing to balance the interests of leaders interested in hanging to power at all costs and the concerns of people who are not interested in seeing unconstitutional leaderships continue?

MR. PING: I think that I’ve already answered to that question. I said that very – we call for respect of constitutions, and we say that a constitution is not a bible. It can be changed. But if you change the constitution, for instance, six months or one year before the election in order to maintain yourself in power, we do not accept these type of things.

And you know the example of Niger. Niger decided to change the constitution to maintain Tandja into power. We have condemned – with ECOWAS, we have condemned Niger, put Niger into sanction. And we told them if you continue, we’ll have a coup. We told them. We knew that there are a coup. So they didn’t listen to us. I think that President Tandja said I’m ready to face sanction and to quit ECOWAS – the result that he was obliged to quit as such. And Niger will be maintained in ECOWAS.

But also in the same time, we said there is no good coup d’état or bad coup d’état. A coup d’état is a coup d’etat. That’s why we have condemned also the coup d’état in Niger – in Niger. But we told them that if you keep the promises of going to elections on time, bringing back the democracy, we are ready to accompany you. That was – for the moment is happening. But with the military, you never be sure.

You know what happened in Guinea. They changed their mind suddenly. That’s why we decided to bring – to put ultimatum on Guinea, sanction them, trial them. The result is what you see today. They are moving toward a good direction with Zacuba*.

MODERATOR: Okay. Chairman, thank you so much for your time today, as well Ambassador Battle. That concludes our DVC.

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