printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

U.S. Government Policy in Africa: A Look at the Year Ahead

Bruce Wharton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs
Washington, DC
January 19, 2011

Date: 01/19/2011 Location: Washington D.C. Description: Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Bruce Wharton, briefs on U.S. Government Policy in Africa: A Look at the Year Ahead.  - State Dept Image

5:00 p.m. EDT

MODERATOR: Okay, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Foreign Press Center. We’re delighted to welcome Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Bruce Wharton. He’s here to brief you on U.S. Government Policy in Africa: A Look at the Year Ahead. I apologize that Assistant Secretary Carson is not able to come. He’s tied up in a meeting at the White House. Hopefully, we’ll have him drop by a little bit later. But I’m – it’s a pleasure to introduce a long-time colleague of mine, Bruce Wharton.

The floor is yours.

MR. WHARTON: Thanks, Neil. And thanks to all of you for putting up with me. Ambassador Carson really would like to have been here. He’d been looking forward to it. This is something that we try to do on an annual basis. Basically our approach is that anybody who cares about Africa is a friend. And so we’re eager to make ourselves available to those of you who write and think and analyze on issues about Africa. But as Neil said, Ambassador Carson has been called to another – yet another meeting at the White House, and when the boss calls, we respond.

So what I’d like to do is treat this as an on-the-record opportunity. But I’d like to make it as informal as possible. I don’t really anticipate generating any headlines today, but I’d like to go over our concerns with Africa, what we hope to do with African partners in the coming year, and then respond to any questions that you may have.

MODERATOR: I might add that please identify yourselves and your media organization before you speak, ask your questions.

MR. WHARTON: And I think I’ll probably – I’ve got maybe 10 minutes worth of, sort of, overview and introductory remarks, and if you’re still awake at the end of that, then please ask questions.

First of all, just as a bit of context, I’m a career Foreign Service officer. I’ve been in the business for about 25 years. My career has been mostly overseas, split roughly half and half between Latin America and Africa. My African assignments included Pretoria from ’95 to ’99, Zimbabwe from ’99 to 2003, and then a couple of extended temporary duties in Kenya, in Tanzania, in Nigeria, and I’ve also in the last year and half since I’ve been in this job, I’ve had the occasion to visit another, gee, eight or ten countries, I suppose. So I’m a generalist, but I have a deep fascination for Africa and intend to dedicate the rest of my career – whatever remains of my career to the continent.

This President and Secretary of State, I think, are uniquely committed to building a healthy relationship between the United States and Africa. That was very, very evident to us when the President made that early trip to Ghana in 2009, followed a couple months later – actually about a month later by Secretary Clinton’s really extraordinary 10-day, 11-country or 11-day, 10-country trip to the continent on the heels of AGOA. And she went to tough places. She went to places like Goma. It was not the beginner’s tour of the continent, and it reminded me that this is a Secretary of State whose commitment and interest and knowledge of Africa goes back at least 15 or 20 years.

I was actually in South Africa when she came through, sort of on a scouting trip, a reconnoiter for President Bill Clinton’s visit to the continent in 1998. And I remember impressed with her now, and I remain impressed with the way she connects with people, her seriousness of purpose, and her ability to deliver tough messages in ways that leave people with their dignity intact. At any rate, this Secretary and this President, I think, are profoundly committed to putting Africa back at the center of U.S. foreign policy. And I think we will see more of that in 2011. I think you’ve seen good examples of that in the first two years of the Obama Administration, but I anticipate a greater emphasis on Africa in 2011 and 2012.

One of the ways that Africa is at the center of our foreign policy has to do with our commitment of finding new models for development and partnerships with other countries. For too long, I think, Africa and the United States have had a sort of a client/donor relationship that has not worked well. And so this Administration is looking for new models to do business. And one of our mantras is country-led, which means that rather than simply designing a development package here in Washington and then taking it wrapped in a nice ribbon and offering it to people in other parts of the world, we go first to people in other parts of the world and say, “What is it that you’re doing that seems to be working, and how can we support that? How can we be partners with you in that?”

So that’s one way that I think that the Clinton Administration approach to Africa differs from predecessors. Another way are these big global initiatives – the Feed the Future project, the Global Health Initiative, and sort of taking a new look at global development. Africa is very much at the center of those three global initiatives, but again indicates that this Administration is taking a new approach, trying to find a new model.

I think what’s just happened in Sudan, something that we’re quite pleased with, is another example of this Administration’s commitment to Africa. I think the Administration recognized how crucial it was that the process – the plebiscite, or referendum, rather, in Sudan be credible and fair and well managed. And so not only did they devote resources such as retired General Gration and retired Ambassador Dane Smith and retired Ambassador Barry Walkley to go to Sudan and be engaged on a daily basis on the ground in that country with the key players, but the President himself was vitally interested in this.

For a while there were meetings twice a week at the White House to talk – to discuss progress in Sudan and how the process was going, and the President was informed of those meeting and intimately interested. This had very top level attention from our government. And I think the result, this referendum that – in which the voting appears to have gone very well – of course, we’re still waiting for the official results. It will be some weeks before have those. But I think the process itself showed well and probably would not have been possible – a year and a half ago if we had been here talking about Sudan, I think it would have been a fairly gloomy conversation. And the fact that we can stand here today and, I think, point to a successful referendum there is a clear indication of the Obama Administration’s dedication to the process and the sort of diplomatic muscle that we applied there to make this work well.

I think you all probably know that the five pillars of the Obama Administration’s policy towards Africa were laid out in that speech that he gave in the Ghanaian parliament in July of 2009. Those remain very much the focus for the coming year. Just let me sum them up very quickly. The first one being democracy. We want to work with African partners to strengthen democratic institutions, to protect democratic gains, and to counter unconstitutional changes in government. We believe that strong democracies mean strong countries, and that’s what we need in Africa.

In the year ahead, we’ve got something like 17 presidential elections on the continent and about 24 elections in the next two years, including parliamentary, local and presidential. In 2011, of course, we’ve got Uganda coming up next month, if I’m not mistaken, I think February. DRC, Liberia coming up this year, and Nigeria, which will be a very, very important election. I believe that’s now scheduled for April. These elections are going to be very, very important as is the sort of continuing political crisis in Cote d’Ivoire, an election that we believed was very, very clear, very well managed, very well monitored, but in which the losing party, former President Gbagbo, has refused to step down. We’re worried about the example that that sets for the rest of the continent, and so we’ll be putting a lot of energy into supporting those electoral systems in all of these countries to make sure that the will of the people is clearly expressed and then respected.

The second pillar is economic growth. We seek an Africa that is prosperous and at peace. We’re working with African nations to foster sustainable economic development and growth. I mentioned Feed the Future; that’s three and a half billion dollars a year, and will have direct economic implications as it’s heavily focused on sustainable agriculture.

The other big economic piece that we’ve got in Africa is the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. In 2010, we did something new with AGOA – we did two things new. First, we brought a group of women entrepreneurs from Africa, 37 of them, to participate here in the ministerial and in the civil society portions of the AGOA Forum. And then to go – and we took the group out to Kansas City in Missouri to take a look at American agricultural know-how, equipment, technologies. We do believe that one of the things that Africa and the United States have in common is that we’re both nations of farmers at some level and both capable of producing all the food we need. So one of the challenges in the coming year – years – will be to help make that real and help African agriculture become as productive as it can be.

The third big pillar is health care. I think the United States has a record to be proud of in terms of providing relief on HIV/AIDS. The Obama Administration is now looking to expand that into other diseases such as malaria and waterborne diseases. We’ve got – the Obama Administration has pledged $63 billion in health initiatives over the next five years, and we’re looking at ways to take what we’ve learned in the PEPFAR program, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and apply it to other communicable diseases.

The fourth pillar is resolving conflict. We will continue our strong commitment to work with African states and the international community to prevent and resolve conflicts. These are conflicts that don’t just affect a single country, but the region and the world. And one of the keys here is working with African governments. I think if there’s a silver lining to be found in the situation in Cote d’Ivoire, it’s in part the way African leaders have come together to stand up in defense of democracy. We’re not there yet, but I think it is important to note that it’s Africans who are leading the effort to try to get Mr. Gbagbo to do the right thing.

Let me also point out that work in the last year that we did on the situation in Guinea Conakry would not have been possible if we had attempted it unilaterally. We worked very closely with the Government of Burkina Faso, the Government of Morocco, the Government of France, to try to bring some stability and peace to Guinea Conakry to help those elections take place and to help the people of that country have a democratically elected government for the first time.

And then finally, the fifth pillar of our approach to Africa has to do with transnational challenges. I think this is a fairly familiar basket of issues including international crime, drug smuggling, weapons smuggling, trafficking in persons, piracy, which is a growing issue, and terrorism. And we’re finding a lot of good cooperation from African governments and the international community to address this range of issues.

Finally, let me say that we’re very much focused on a few critical audiences. In addition to the traditional bilateral diplomacy in which we deliver demarches to foreign ministries, we’re working as carefully as we can to develop better connections and engage with young people, with women, and with entrepreneurs.

If you look at the demographics of Africa, something like 44 percent of all people alive on the continent were born after 1995, which is remarkable. I remember 1995 as though it were just a few days ago. And to think that over 40 percent of the people of Africa were born since that date is a clear indication that we have got to listen, to understand, and take into account the dreams, the ambitions, the concerns, the fears of young people in Africa.

Women – as I mentioned, this group of 37 women entrepreneurs that we brought to the AGOA Forum was an extraordinary breath of fresh air. They brought an energy and a dynamism that the Forum had been lacking. We’ve decided now to make that a standard part of the AGOA Forum. We’re going to look each year for a group of really extraordinary women entrepreneurs to try to mainstream women into the business world of Africa. That has implications for legal frameworks, for wages, labor laws, that sort of thing. But we believe it’s vital to helping build strong economies is to bring women into that. And we’ll do the same thing with women in the political scene, women in conflict resolution, women in security sector reform. We believe that women need to be a larger part of our relationship with Africa, and we’ll do what we can to make that happen.

And then, finally, entrepreneurs – the continent is teaming with people with brilliant ideas and human energy to implement the ideas. I had the honor of being in Nairobi last June. We launched something called Apps4Africa. We brought a group of African technologists from East Africa together with civil society leaders. And the challenge was for the civil society leaders to describe a problem that they had and for these technologists to think about applications that would exist on cell phones or smart phones or computers to help resolve simple challenges.

So we sponsored a contest which provided a modest award for the winning application. We had an international panel of judges. The winning application turned out to be something that resides on a simple cell phone that allows a farmer to calculate with accuracy the gestational period of a cow. But this is very important if you’re a cattle breeder, as many people in East Africa are. It allows people to improve their herd and grow more productive and healthier cattle herds.

So – but this is one small example of the sort of intellectual power that exists on the continent. There were no Americans involved in this. This is all Africans working with Africans. I’m also reminded of the Ushahidi sort of disaster or trouble reporting software, which is now finding use around the world. It is used in Haiti; it’s been used in elections around the world. It was developed in Kenya by Kenyans as a response to the post election violence there in 2007 and 2008.

So part of our challenge then is to help promote these entrepreneurs. These are the people who will grow the economies in Africa, who will create the jobs for the young people, who will give fair share – fair opportunity to women and will help the continent grow in strength and prosperity.

So it took about 12 minutes, not 10, but I’m pretty close. And – but now I’m happy to take your questions. I’m not sure what the format is yet.

MODERATOR: I’ll call on you, and please identify yourself and your media organization.

MR. WHARTON: Yes, ma’am.


QUESTION: Hello. Thank you for coming to talk to us. My name is Adam Ouologuem. I’m with the Africa Sun Times. What do you see the out coming of this situation in Cote d’Ivoire? Because it has – I’m from Mali – it has a huge impact on Mali economy – you know that – and Burkina Faso, most of the surrounding countries. So – because diplomacy doesn’t seem to work. What do you think would be the main – what are you thinking to solve the problem in Cote d’Ivoire? And since Sudan came out with a nice and understanding solution, how do you see this Western Sahara? Do you think – next year – from now until next year we’ll have another African free state in Western Sahara?

MR. WHARTON: First on Cote d’Ivoire, I think we’ve been pretty clear that we believe that the election was well managed, that Alassane Ouattara won 54 percent of the vote and that Laurent Gbagbo had 46 percent of the vote. We’ve been calling for a month now for former President Gbagbo to do the right thing, to allow the will of the Ivorian people to be expressed. He’s not made that decision so far. So we are gradually applying sanctions.

We’re working very closely with African partners to try to graduate our sanctions. At this point, there are travel restrictions and financial restrictions on Mr. Gbagbo and his immediate circle of friends and family and those people who allow him to remain in power. Other countries are taking similar measures. The EU, I think, is also looking at financial sanctions and has placed travel restrictions on him. We will continue to increase those pressures. And our allies in Africa are also looking at a series of responses.

I’m not going to predict what response will come next, but I think that the pressure will increase and it will become more and more difficult for Mr. Gbagbo to remain where he is. It’s my hope that eventually he will see that the future of Cote d’Ivoire and the people that he claims to serve is best served by his departure. And if that can be done peacefully, then Cote d’Ivoire can move on.

What happened in Sudan was a very positive thing. There’s a long way to go yet though. The next six months will be very difficult as the people of South Sudan look at the realities of setting up an independent country. So I think it’s important that the international community be there, especially neighboring countries be ready to assist. I’m not going to speculate on what aftereffect that may happen on the rest of the continent.

MODERATOR: Right here.

QUESTION: My name is Pamela Glass. I write for a paper in Mauritius, Le Mauricien, and I was wondering – you mentioned the Obama Administration putting a new emphasis on models for economic development in Africa. And I was wondering, in that context, how you see the future of AGOA. It’s going to be expiring in a couple of years, and I was wondering if you think that it’s done its job and it’s time to move on to something else, and if so, what might that be? And if not, what’s the Administration’s position going to be on an extension of AGOA? Thanks.

MR. WHARTON: We would very much like to see AGOA continue. We believe that it has delivered benefits – not as great as we would have wished. I think if you look critically at the data from AGOA, it’s pretty clear that oil and petroleum dominates African exports to the United States. There are some examples, though, where it works very well, and we believe that it remains an important framework for economic growth and partnership between Africa and the United States.

It’s going to take a concerted effort to persuade people in this country that AGOA remains a good investment for the United States. I think especially as we face our own economic challenges here at home, it’s important for people like me to make the case that AGOA ultimately translates into American jobs as well as African jobs. But it is our intent at this point to work with members of Congress, interested members of civil society, African allies, to seek an extension of AGOA.

QUESTION: Frederick Nnoma-Addison, AMIP News. My question is on U.S. and Nigeria. Last April, I believe, U.S. and Nigeria signed a bi-national commission agreement. Could you give me an update on how it’s faring so far? And then secondly, why was that agreement necessary, since a country like Ghana and the U.S. have a very good relationship without a bi-national commission agreement? Thank you.

MR. WHARTON: Yeah, but the – we’ve got three bi-national agreements in Africa right now: Nigeria, Angola, and South Africa. The Nigerian agreement is working very well. I’m sorry, I don’t remember how many times we’ve met, but there have been working groups. I think there have been two formal meetings and then two or three additional sort of working level meetings.

What the framework does for us is allow us to sort of unpack, unbundle, a very large and complicated relationship that includes economics, that includes trade issues, that includes energy issues, politics – a whole range of issues, education, culture – and sort of deal with them on a separate basis. It’s simply a mechanism that allows us to sort of zero in on an element of our relationship that’s important to both countries, that brings the right people to the table at the right time to make some progress on a specific issue.

MODERATOR: Right here.

QUESTION: My name is John Lyndon from Africa Number One (inaudible). Speaking in Africa, President Obama said Africa needs (inaudible) strong leaders, but Africa needs strong institution, right? But what I would like is that I just want to know what Obama Administration is doing to help Africa improve their institution, because just last month, a few weeks ago, in Republic Democratic of Congo, the president just changed the constitution over there so that he can be reelect over and over. They did that in Cameroon. There’s going to be a presidential election there this year. And most of the time Cameroon is like Cote d’Ivoire, and President Paul Biya has been there for almost 28 years and the Independent Electoral Commission is – remember there’s (inaudible) three out of four member are appointed by President Paul Biya.

So if you don’t look to these situations closely, I’m afraid that tomorrow we may see the same situation in Cameroon than in Cote d’Ivoire, and maybe in many other countries where people – president is changing the constitution. And neither France, neither U.S., nobody is talking about that, and you just wait when the situation is like we saw in Cote d’Ivoire. Thank you.

MR. WHARTON: You make an excellent point, and we spend a lot of time talking to people about the way we see democratic institutions, checks and balances, the importance of an independent and credible electoral commission in terms of building public support for an electoral process. But ultimately, it’s up to the governments, the people of the Congo. For example, what President Kabila has done and what the Congolese Government has done in the DRC, according to our analysis, is perfect legal, perfectly within the bounds of the DRC’s constitution. It may not be the way we would do it, but I think there is a limit. And we have to respect when other countries and other governments find different approaches to democracy that are not exactly the same as ours.

We will continue to make the case to anyone who will listen to us that checks and balances, that credible institutions, truly independent judiciaries, truly independent electoral commissions, are in the long-term best interest of the country. They build public confidence in the government. They build international confidence in the government. That confidence results, or can result, in greater interest from investors. It’s all linked together. But if a country behaves in accordance with its own constitution, there’s not a great deal – there’s not much room, I think, for other countries to criticize it.

We do continue to work very closely on institutional strengthening. One of the things that’s critical, I think, in several parts of Africa has to do with security sector reform, ensuring that civilians are in charge of militaries, that police forces are well trained and professional. And so we’ve dedicated, for example, in Liberia we have trained a police unit that’s composed entirely of women. We have just recently finished training a light infantry battalion in the Congo to try to create a military that actually – that protects the citizens, that exists to protect citizens.

Through USAID programs we work with parliaments and legislatures across the continent to try to help those institutions become stronger. So I think we are engaged on a number of fronts, and you raised a couple of very interesting ones.

MODERATOR: Yes, sir. Right here in front.

QUESTION: Yeah, my name is Williams Ekanem for Business World in Nigeria. I don’t know if it’s a question, but my observation is that as enthusiastic as the U.S. and its allies may be in the referendum that’s happening in Sudan, I’m thinking – and not just me, some other groups are thinking – is it going to be a kind of motivation for other secessionist groups in other areas in Africa trying to maybe secede and they’re hoping that the U.S. and any other countries will come to support them.

MR. WHARTON: I think it would be a mistake to equate Sudan with other countries. Each country has a unique history, a unique set of challenges, a unique composition of people. We believe that in Sudan the will of the people was reflected, but I would not offer it as a model for the rest of the continent.


QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Nicolae Melinescu. I am from the Romanian Television and my interest in Africa is both as a journalist and as a researcher of Sub-Saharan Africa. Sir, my question refers to two points. Under the pressure of the international armada in the Gulf of Aden and offshore of Somalia, there seems to be a movement of the pirates southwards along the coast of Kenya and Tanzania. On the other hand, in the northern Lake Victoria, there are huge oil deposits, and Uganda pretends that there’s no more Lord’s Resistance Army in the area, but some reports persistently show that some units are still there.

So my question is: Is it possible with one pressure along the coast and another one in Uganda to assist – to come to witness something similar like the Niger Delta in the Ugandan area? What is your evaluation of these two (inaudible) pressure points in that area? Thank you very much.

MR. WHARTON: The problem of piracy is spreading not just south. In fact, there was just last week, I think, an example of piracy as far south as Mozambique, northern Mozambique. So you’re quite right. It’s also spreading west – rather east, sorry. There have been assaults on vessels as far, I think, as a thousand nautical miles, 1,600 kilometers east of Kenya or Tanzania. So this is an international issue, and I’m delighted that you’re reporting for Romanian Television. Maybe you can help generate some European concern about this matter.

One of the challenges is what do you do with pirates. Let’s assume that you’re successful and you catch pirates in the act of attempting or assaulting a vessel. What do you do with them then? Where do you try them? And I think it would be – this is a conversation that it’s useful for the Europeans to have as well. To what extent are European interests at stake in the Gulf of Aden and further south and west on the coast of Africa, and are the Europeans interested in playing a more robust role in judicial proceedings against pirates? It’s an open question.

In terms of the LRA and Uganda, I really don’t know anything about oil deposits in the north end of Lake Victoria. We’re pretty confident, though, that there have been no LRA assaults in Uganda for the last two or three years. I was in a meeting with President Museveni just a few months ago, and he seemed very certain that at this point the LRA’s ability to operate in his country was badly degraded. I think that one example of effective work in this area has been the UPDF, the Ugandan People’s Defense Force. They behave very professionally. They’ve not – they’ve pursued Joseph Kony and the LRA, they’re protected communities, and have essentially pushed the problem out of Uganda, and now it’s an issue for neighboring countries.


QUESTION: My name is Hanok Fente from Voice of America. My question is with regards to increasing food prices throughout the continent. It’s one of the sticking issues in Africa threatening the stability – the political stability of the continent. And we have seen recently riots throughout the continent. So a lot of African governments are taking measures to alleviate the situation (inaudible) government recently introduced a price cut. Some say this works against the idea of free market. What can African governments do, is my question, and how will the United States engage this issue that really is threatening the political stability of the continent? Thank you.

MR. WHARTON: Sixty percent of the planet’s arable land that’s not being used for agriculture is in Africa. So one of the things that Africans can do, in conjunction with the United States and other international partners, is expand agriculture at home. I think Africans need to take a close look at biotechnology. I think that offers some hope. President Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative is very much focused on these issues, helping Africans become food secure, able to produce enough food for themselves and then to have some to export to neighboring countries that may suffer under a drought. Because we know that the continent is under pressure, desertification is an issue, climate change affects Africa.

But I think that the first response has got to be for Africa to become more productive in agriculture itself. This includes education. It includes bringing greater respect for and resources to women. I think women are about 70 percent of the farmers on the continent – another reason for us to focus on women. But the Feed the Future Initiative is aimed at helping Africa address its long-term food needs.

In the short term, we will remain committed to humanitarian support, the sorts of things that we’ve been doing for Ethiopia, for Sudan, for Zimbabwe, for a number of years now.

MODERATOR: Okay, one last question?

QUESTION: Another AGOA-related question. It’s been about a year since Madagascar was basically declassified and taken out of the program, and I’m wondering if there’s any reason to believe that they are going to be able to qualify again to get back in.

MR. WHARTON: Not under the current political situation. They need to rejoin the community of democracies in order to be able to regain AGOA eligibility.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Let’s continue our discussion more informally with some beverage and snacks, and I ask you all to join us out in the reception area. Thank you, Bruce.

MR. WHARTON: And thank you all.

# # #