9:30 A.M. EDT
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Hello, everyone, and again, welcome to this Foreign Press Center and Africa Media Hub sponsored teleconference, a readout of President Obama’s trip to Africa. Our speakers today are Senior Director for African Affairs Grant Harris of the White House National Security Staff as well as Senior Director for Development and Democracy Gayle Smith. This will, again, be a readout of President Obama’s trip to Africa and it is on the record. Without further ado, let me turn things over to Mr. Harris for opening remarks.
MR. HARRIS: Great, thank you very much, and thank you all for joining. We’ll give a very brief readout and overview of the trip, which we thought was a great success, and then try to maximize the amount of time that we have for questions as well.
The purpose of this trip, particularly in visiting Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania, particularly so early in the second term, was meant to signal the importance of Sub-Saharan Africa, [to ] U.S. interests. It was also meant to kick off a major push by the Obama Administration to deepen U.S. investments in Africa’s development, its democratic institutions, and its people.
In all three countries, we focused on three core issues: expanding economic growth, including – and particularly through investment and trade; strengthening democratic institutions; and investing in the next generation of African leaders. And in all of the events and meetings over the weeklong trip, including roundtables with regional judicial leaders and civil society activists, the bilateral discussions with the President’s counterparts, he was highlighting the importance of democracy and human rights in Africa, the importance of good governance, and also the need to make sure that the economic growth that we’re seeing on the continent is enduring and broad-based.
In his bilateral discussions, including with African Union Chairperson Dr. Dlamini-Zuma, he was also able to cover some of the pressing challenges that we face together with our African partners, including with respect to issues like Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
He made a number of – the President made a number of announcements during the trip, which I just wanted to briefly review before turning it over to my colleague, Gayle Smith. First was on Power Africa. Power Africa is an initiative that the President announced which aims to double access to power in Sub-Saharan Africa with an initial investment of $7 billion in U.S. Government resources paired with over $9 billion in private sector commitments. This is meant to address what we see as a critical need as more than two-thirds of Sub-Saharan Africa is without access to electricity. And Gayle, as I mentioned, will expound on this, and we’re happy to take questions that talk more about the specifics.
Trade Africa is a separate initiative that aims to double intra-regional trade in the East African Community, -- including by increasing EAC exports to the United States-- with a goal of increasing those exports by 40 percent and increasing trade competitiveness and regional integration through targeted investments and also through support to regional governments and institutions. Our goal through Trade Africa is to expand this work to other regional communities in Africa in the years to come. And this is in conjunction with our efforts to expand trade across the continent, and as the President also spoke about extensively on the trip, our intent to work with Congress to do all that we can to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act before its expiration in 2015.
The President also announced a major expansion of his Young African Leaders initiative, including through the formation of the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, which will bring 500 young leaders to U.S. universities and colleges each year for targeted executive leadership training beginning in 2014, with the goal of increasing to 1,000 participants per year within the next five years.
The training and mentoring is going to focus on three vital areas: business and entrepreneurship; civic leadership; and public administration. In addition, we’re going to be working with the private sector, with African governments, with U.S. and African foundations and organizations to create meaningful career opportunities for Washington fellows to put their leadership skills to practical use in Africa in internships, in job placements, in additional training, and the like.
The President also made some announcements with respect to combating illegal wildlife trafficking. While in Tanzania, he signed an executive order establishing a presidential task force which is charged with developing a national strategy to ensure that we’re doing all that we can to combat wildlife trafficking. That executive order also established an advisory council on wildlife trafficking, which will include individuals with relevant expertise from outside the U.S. Government to make recommendations to the task force. He announced at the same time a new $10 million package of technical assistance for governments in the region.
And then he also announced in his speech in Cape Town his intent to host an African heads of state summit, so next year in 2014 the United States will be inviting Sub-Saharan African heads of state to Washington to advance all of this work that we’ve been talking about on economic and development issues, on good governance, and on peace and security issues. The President also highlighted ongoing and vital work related to food security and our investments in combating disease, which I know Gayle will also be speaking to.
But the bottom line is that the President made very clear his view that the success of African nations is increasingly central to U.S. interests and that deepening our partnerships is critical to ensuring shared solutions and advancing this important work to make sure that economic growth is broad-based and enduring.
Thank you very much. Gayle, over to you.
MS. SMITH: Yeah, I’ll just be very brief here. And good morning, everyone. I think Grant has covered it. The only thing I would add is that I think a strong focus of the President’s was in response to the tremendous strides we’ve seen across Sub-Saharan Africa both on the development front but more broadly on the long-term economic growth front. He repeatedly referred to Africa as the world’s next economic success story, the sustained high rates of growth in a number of countries, and the progress that, in his view, provides the foundation for things like Power Africa, which we have established as a way of doubling access to electricity, because of the President’s strong belief that we’ve got the right combination of ingredients. We’ve got governments that are willing and able to put the right policies in place, we’ve got a private sector who’s willing and able, and we’ve got donors such as ourselves who are prepared to provide strategic assistance.
So I think it – while it did, as Grant suggested, focus on some of the political and security issues, particularly in the meeting with the AU chairwoman, the focus was very much on those fundamental ingredients for progress on the governance side and the economic growth side.
Let me stop there, and I think what we’d like to do now is go ahead and open for your questions.
OPERATOR: All right, thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, we are now entering the question and answer session. To ask a question, please press *1 on your phone to join the question queue. Please press *1 on your phone or we’ll not be able to open your question line if you don’t press *1 on your phone. And ladies and gentlemen, in the spirit of giving everyone a chance, we’ll strictly stick to one question at a time. Thank you very much. Please press *1 on your phone.
Our first question will come from our mission in Accra, Ghana. Accra, Ghana, your line is open. Please state your name and affiliation before you ask your question.
QUESTION: My name Ekow Essabrah Mensah. I’m from Business and Financial Times. I understand the Millennium Challenge Account is investing at $1 billion in Africa. I want to find out the timeline when is this money going to come. And in Ghana, what is the package, what is in for us, and more explanation as to the Millennium Challenge Account. Thank you.
MS. SMITH: Sure. This is Gayle. I’m happy to take that question. The MCC, in the context of Power Africa, made a commitment that a billion dollars in its compact funding will go towards energy. Now, that’s all based on future compacts, some of which are under negotiation and others are pending. The timeline for that is a function of not only the U.S. Government but our partners. As you may know from Ghana and its MCC compacts, those agreements are negotiated carefully in terms of the substance, doing the analysis of what the primary constraints are, and then the implementation.
So that money will start to flow as soon as those negotiations are completed. Ghana will certainly be a part of Power Africa both through the MCC but through other means, as it’s been our view that there are not only electricity needs but the conditions are right to really expand on electricity access.
OPERATOR: Thank you very much. Our next question will come from our mission in Dakar, Senegal. Dakar, Senegal, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hello. My name is (inaudible). I’m a Senegalese journalist working at the Senegalese National Radio. My question is: Mr. Harris mentioned many initiatives by President Obama, but still there is a bit of disappointment by Africans when we know that they are still waiting for a key initiative like the one with AGOA under President Bill Clinton and the PEPFAR under President George W. Bush. What are you as advisers to the President are doing for the President Obama to leave behind a legacy for Africans who are waiting from him a lot?
MS. SMITH: (Inaudible.) Can I take a quick run at that, Grant --
MR. HARRIS: Yeah.
MS. SMITH: -- and then turn it back to you?
I’d say a couple things here. The first is that those other legacies are continued. So, for example, as Grant suggested, one of the things we will be doing is looking to AGOA’s renewal in 2015. AGOA was signed into law in 2000. It’s the President’s view that in the 15 years, there have been some things that have worked very well and some places where we haven’t seen the kinds of benefits that we hoped would accrue to Sub-Saharan African countries, and that’s something that was discussed in Senegal.
So we will be building on that by not only renewing AGOA but also improving AGOA. Similarly, with PEPFAR, which President Bush very effectively laid the foundation for, we have built on that by getting to the point where we can now talk about an AIDS-free generation being a possibility.
I think that there are a number of things that constitute legacies on President Obama’s side, and I’ll reference two and turn back to Grant for another and possibly additional. One is on the food security side. Food security when President Obama came into office was nowhere on the global agenda. He raised it six weeks after coming into office at the G-20 summit in London, proceeded to lead the G-8 at L’Aquila all the way through to Camp David last year, in mobilizing $22 billion in assistance for agricultural development, most of it in Africa, where we had gotten to the point where the world was spending more on relief than on agricultural development, to launching the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition last year at Camp David, which has already leveraged almost $4 billion in private sector commitments. So I think that’s number one.
Number two, Grant mentioned that the President announced Power Africa. It is his very strong view, and I would imagine most on the call would agree with this, that it is critical that access to electricity be expanded dramatically for two reasons. One, you need that core infrastructure to attract the kind of investment that’s needed to sustain growth. But second, including but not limited to rural areas, you need greater access to electricity so kids can read at night, so vaccines can stay in cold chains and people are healthier and so on and so forth. So I think the commitment to doubling electricity access in Africa will no doubt also be a legacy item for President Obama.
I’m a very big fan of the Young African Leaders Initiative. Grant, maybe you want to take it from here?
MR. HARRIS: Absolutely. I think one thing in addition to what Gayle laid out is a style of engagement and a type of engagement that has been incredibly well-received. And it’s somewhat two-pronged. First is to approach shared challenges in a vein of partnership that devises the solutions in a joint manner. And Gayle and her colleagues and others can speak to this as well, but it’s been whether you’re looking at the Partnership for Growth or working on shared efforts on food security through Feed The Future or the New Alliance, it’s in identifying constraints in a joint manner and devising jointly solutions to address this, which I think is a hallmark of a lot of what President Obama’s initiatives have included, which I think is very powerful.
The second style of engagement, which I think is incredibly powerful as well, is what Gayle mentioned, and that’s engaging the next generation of African leaders. And as many on the call are well aware, approximately 60 percent of Africa’s total population – actually, more than 60 percent – is below the age of 35. And the President established the Young African Leaders Initiative specifically to support the next generation and to support young leaders in their efforts to spur growth and prosperity and strengthen democratic governance by providing leadership skills, by fostering networks among young African leaders, and by also supporting in particular young entrepreneurs.
The idea is pretty straightforward, and the way that we’ve approached this is through establishing youth advisory councils with our embassies; by having signature events, including the President and the First Lady. On this trip in particular, the President hosted a town hall where he directly was taking questions from an audience of over 600 young leaders in South Africa, and also via video from young leaders in Nigeria and Kenya and Uganda, which I think is an incredibly powerful statement, to have a leader in a direct interaction like that.
But it’s more than that. We’ve had more than 2,000 events across the continent as part of this initiative, to ensure that we’re hearing directly from young leaders that we’re providing training, that we’re including young leaders and making more robust our programs that we’re offering. And as I already described, we have a major announcement that the President made in expanding this through the Washington Leaders program, which is going to be exponentially increasing the size of these networks and the training that the United States is able to offer.
I think another thing that people will look back on, not just from this trip but from the President’s work in Africa, is the strong push on trade and investment. And that’s a core element, again not just of the events and the initiatives that we did on this trip, like meeting with CEOs, having a roundtable, giving remarks to business leaders. The President made various announcements about asking his Secretary of Treasury and Secretary of Commerce and Secretary of Energy and others to be even more engaged in upcoming trade missions and travel to the continent.
But we’ve said quite flatly that we’ll be elevating our efforts to spur economic growth, trade, and investment, and we’re doing it in a way to make sure that it is as broad-based as possible so that this explosive economic growth that Africa is seeing will benefit the many and not just the few.
OPERATOR: Thank you very much. We will take our next question from Harare, Zimbabwe. One question, please. Please state your name and affiliation before you ask your question. Go ahead.
QUESTION: (Inaudible). This is (inaudible) from the U.S. Embassy (inaudible). I wanted to ask a question that has been asked by a lot of journalists here that there was a lot of angry reaction to President Obama’s call for reforms before elections in Zimbabwe. Are you able to provide a readout of what (inaudible) during his visit to Zimbabwe – to Africa about Zimbabwe?
MR. HARRIS: I’m happy to, though I confess I didn’t hear part of the question. I heard “anger” and “readout.” Can you please repeat the middle of the question?
QUESTION: Yeah. I want a readout of what (inaudible) leaders briefed President Obama about the developments in Zimbabwe regarding the forthcoming elections.
MR. HARRIS: Great. I’m happy to take that one.
The issue – the issues facing Zimbabwe came up time and again on this trip and were an important focus particularly of the bilateral conversations with President Zuma and President Kikwete in particular. And you mentioned SADC, which has played a key role on this issue.
The President made very clear his view that this is a critical moment for the people of Zimbabwe. We’ve seen progress since the global political agreement was agreed, and Zimbabwe’s economy has begun to recover somewhat from what we see as a devastating economic mismanagement and hyperinflation. And there was a strong step taken when the people of Zimbabwe peacefully approved a new constitution in March.
He stated, though, very clearly also his concern that the constitutional court’s decision to uphold the decree and have elections at the end of July risks undoing some of these gains. The issue, as you put it, particularly with respect to SADC is that we’ve strongly supported from the beginning, and continue to strongly support, SADC’s leadership on this, including their call for peaceful and credible elections in Zimbabwe. We think it’s vital that the reforms that have called for – been called for by SADC are fully implemented, particularly the political reforms mandated by the new constitution and the SADC electoral road map.
What we’ve seen has been really concerning with respect to continued harassment and detention and intimidation of civil society organizations, including independent media and political parties as well as citizens. And so whenever the elections occur, it’s our strong view that the Zimbabwean people deserve the right to freely elect their leaders without any fear of intimidation or violence or retribution.
And the President has said also that we’re prepared to take significant steps as the United States if the next elections are truly peaceful and credible and truly reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people. As I mentioned, this came up, and it was a helpful conversation and very productive, with President Kikwete and President Zuma. In particular, there was a lot of agreement on the need to see these reforms, and we’re waiting as well to see SADC’s response with respect to how to move forward in light of the constitutional court’s decision. And so we’re going to continue to be watching this very closely in the coming days.
OPERATOR: Thank you very much. We’ll take a question from the (inaudible) Zambia. One question, please.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Mr. Mark Simuuwe, from the UNZA Radio. My question is based upon Africa’s – the state of Africa’s democracy. I would like to find out more about the significance of President Obama’s visit to Africa, especially taking into consideration the declining levels of democracy not only in the countries (inaudible) like Zimbabwe and Congo DR, but countries like Zambia, where the opposition leaders are being stopped from holding rallies and members of the National Assembly have to seek permission from district commissioners.
So I would want to find out what, if you know, the significance – significant – how significant his visit is to Africa for countries where democracy is slowly declining, like Zambia?
MR. HARRIS: I’m happy to take a first stab at this, Gayle, and then maybe you want to jump in as well. As I mentioned from the beginning, we saw it as a major theme of the trip, and something we underscored at every turn our support for strengthening democratic institutions across the continent. The United States has been a committed partner here in working with all to build vibrant and democratic societies. We’ve seen demonstrable progress by African nations in instituting democratic reforms, but you’re right to note that political institutions in many countries remain fragile.
Through President Obama’s meetings, including through meeting with civil society activists in Senegal and also meeting with chief judges and jurists in Senegal as well from – but jurists from across the continent, as well as the issues that he raised both in the bilateral meetings and in his speech, frankly, and in all of his public remarks, he was wanting to underscore and did underscore the U.S. support for all those seeking to strengthen democratic institutions, noting as well the type of support that we provide with building capacity in this regard and supporting civil society and being a strong voice on behalf of independent media and ensuring the credibility and transparency of democratic processes.
So I think there’s more work to be done, but this was a key element of the trip, precisely because we think it’s so important and such a central element of U.S. policy.
MS. SMITH: I would just add I think there are three things the President emphasized on this trip that could prove helpful to the kind of dilemma you’re talking about, which is kind of backsliding, where you see progress but then maybe a step backward. One – and if you haven’t read it – and I think watching it is even better if you’re able – his speech in Cape Town was very, very much about this issue, and whether it was the role of civil society or the role of institutions.
But the other thing he did very powerfully, which he does quite well, is he talks about the role of government as a president himself and in a way where he calls out governments on what is basically right or wrong. And I think there are a lot of messages in that speech that are very, very important in terms of both the progress we’re seeing but also the areas where we’re seeing some steps backward.
The second is in the meeting Grant referenced with – the meeting with supreme court justices, where one of the key issues there was again on institutions, obviously, but the importance of an independent judiciary. And this is something that he echoed throughout.
The third was on the civil society side, where, remember, President Obama was himself a community organizer as a young man, so he knows very well what the role of civil society is in bringing about change and organizing people and mobilizing people.
So I think both in the content of those meetings but the mere fact that he is President of the United States wanting to sit down with leaders from civil society, whether it was on Goree Island or whether it was in the context of the Young African Leaders meeting or other sessions, that he really wanted to hear from local groups.
And I think the message sent there, again, to governments is we’re going to listen to governments, many governments are our partners, but we’re also going to listen to civil society and the citizenry. So I think there were strong messages across, as Grant says, the whole trip, but in those three areas in particular.
MR. HARRIS: I’ll just add, even before we move on, that I think there was a strong message as well just in hosting the town hall with young leaders directly, for the exact same reasons that Gayle described.
MS. SMITH: Yeah.
OPERATOR: Okay. Thank you. We’ll take a question from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. One question, please.
QUESTION: All right, thank you. This is (inaudible) from (inaudible). My brother has asked already a question, but I want to relate to this. We haven’t heard much about the East Africa and what President Obama is planning to do, especially about peace and security. And what is this related (inaudible) for us about his trip? Thank you.
MR. HARRIS: Why don’t I start off with some of the peace and security issues, Gayle, and then you can talk more about what we’re doing in East Africa generally.
MS. SMITH: Sure.
MR. HARRIS: The peace and security issues, as I mentioned, were certainly an important component of the trip, including in the conversation with Chairwoman Dlamini-Zuma. And in that, there was a wide-ranging discussion, which included issues related to the Great Lakes. It included also a discussion of Somalia and the President commending AMISOM and its work, as well as the work of Somali forces.
We also talked a bit about shared cooperation across the board on these types of challenges, seeing it not limited to East Africa by any means, but as a range of issues on which we wanted to deepen our partnerships across the board.
I think in East Africa, though, we’re doing a lot of exciting work, and particularly on trade and investment, which I alluded to at the beginning but which I think Gayle may want to expound on here.
MS. SMITH: Sure. I’d just throw out a couple things. I think there’s a tendency to divide peace and security from economic growth and development a bit too firmly, because I think one of the themes for the President’s trip was very much the notion that where you’ve got sustained and inclusive economic growth and real gains on development in health and education, that’s the best insurance against instability.
And I think that was a key theme across the board. And certainly in the areas that we focus on the development front – on health, on food security, and on this new initiative, Power Africa – East Africa and the Horn have been pivotal. Ethiopia, your own country, as a member of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, will be one of the first countries in the next Empower Africa and so on and so forth. And we’re seeing tremendous gains there on the health side.
As Grant mentioned, on the East Africa side, as defined by the East Africa Community on Trade, we are starting to work very aggressively with Africa’s regional economic communities because it’s clear that two things happen when countries organize in these regional blocs. One, there’s a bigger market with which to trade, whether within Africa or with other global markets. But the second important thing is that some of the countries that may be weaker can be carried along a bit by some of the countries that are stronger.
And in terms of your question about peace and security, we also think this is a very important thing. Coming up, I think we’ll also see a focus in the region with the AGOA Forum in early August where a new U.S. trade representative will be there. And while that will be a continental discussion, again, I think there’ll be substantial focus on what’s going on in East Africa in particular.
OPERATOR: Thank you very much. We’ll take a question from Brendan Boyle of the Sunday Times. Brendan, please go ahead. One question, please.
QUESTION: Thank you very much indeed. My question – it’s Brendan Boyle, Sunday Times in South Africa. My question is fairly parochial, really. South Africa’s not directly included in either the Power or the Trade Africa initiatives that the President announced, and you say that he is going to be supportive of a rollover or renewal of AGOA.
Is there any chance that South Africa might be deemed too developed to be included in the next round of AGOA, or from what you saw – from what he saw, would he be supportive of keeping South Africa in the AGOA circle? And would it be possible that South Africa might get some of the business, some of the – of the infrastructure work that would arise out of Power Africa, so that South African companies might be able to participate?
MS. SMITH: Yeah, I’ll make a start at that. And I would first want to clarify that in no means is it intended as South Africa is excluded from either Power Africa or Trade Africa.
On the Power Africa side, we just starting with a set of countries because you’ve got to start somewhere, and there are some that are ready to go. We’ve obviously – not surprisingly, I already heard from a number of other countries who want to participate. We’ll be looking at that. And I think one of the ways may well be the way you describe. South Africa is a growing investor in Sub-Saharan Africa, and it could be in that way as well that we partner with South Africa on some of these things, whether on infrastructure development, which we also work with South Africa on in the context of the G-20. So I think that’s very likely.
As well on the Trade Africa side, again, the initial phase of Trade Africa is the focus on the EAC, but it is basically the umbrella under which we really want to push out aggressively on a much more robust trade agenda with Africa, both through regional economic communities in support of the AU’s commitment to increased regional integration and internal trade, but also in the context of the renewal of AGOA in 2015.
With regard to what that renewal will look – no decision has been taken at all, and this was an issue that came up in South Africa about South Africa’s role. I think our interest at this point is looking, again, at where we’ve gotten the benefits that were intended and where we may have fallen short and how we can basically improve upon the act as it comes under renewal.
MR. HARRIS: I’d just add one point on AGOA in particular. The president discussed this with President Zuma, among others, with the question that you had raised on South Africa, and he spoke to this at the press conference that the two leaders held after their bilateral meeting. This was also a question raised to him in the town hall. And so he was quite clear that it’s his strong hope to renew AGOA and that, as he discussed with President Zuma as well, that they’ll have to engage in some negotiations to find some ways, as Gayle mentioned, to both improve what we’re currently doing and also reflect the fact that South Africa is becoming more and more successful.
OPERATOR: Thank you. We’ll take a question from Kevin Kelley of the Nation Media Group. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks very much for doing this. I’m wondering if we can get some specifics about both Power Africa and Trade Africa. For example, where will the U.S. funding for these initiatives come from, given the budgetary situation the United States faces? And secondly, why was the EAC chosen as the trading bloc to have this kind of focus given to it? And how will you increase – how will you help increase the EAC’s exports to the United States? Thanks.
MS. SMITH: Sure. Let me take the trade one. First, we started with EAC, again, because it seemed ready to go, had made tremendous progress and was working very hard to accelerate its progress towards a single customs union. And we’ve got a presence in that area through our missions in Nairobi that in – and Dar es Salaam– that are quite engaged with them.
So again, it is a starting point. This is something, for example, that we continue to raise in the context of the G-8. This notion of regional integration in Africa came up at the just past summit hosted by the UK, where we are encouraging other G-8 members to do the same. We are also looking at West Africa and others parts of the continent.
The ways that we’re doing that are multiple. Some is some technical assistance that we are providing to the EAC. Some is some technology advancements. Others is to work with a group called TradeMark East Africa, which has been working with the EAC.
And basically, the EAC has a very strong plan for regional integration. We are working with them to build the capacity to do that and basically accelerate their progress. So that’s the way it works. And again, this is a common theme across the board, that there are tremendous foundations on which to build.
On the Power Africa side, we are arraying a number of resources behind this. And importantly – and this is something the President spoke to throughout the trip – the development model on this is not one that just assumes the linear provision of assistance and compensating for some deficit. The theory in the case here is that we’ve got multiple tools that we can apply, and if we apply each of them, we can prime the pump, if you will, so that we can increase the probability that that private capital will come to play, particularly on large-scale energy infrastructure projects.
So, for example, we will rely not just on USAID, which has some assistance resources to put to the task, an initial 285 million, which is, again, targeted technical assistance. So it’s helping governments, for example, with delivery units that can be the project preparation to get these big infrastructure projects ready.
We’re also relying heavily on OPIC, which can provide risk insurance, specific funds for capitalization of energy projects; our trade and development agency, which can do project preparation; and our Export-Import Bank, which can help underwrite exports from the United States. So we’ll use those three very heavily.
We will also draw on the MCC, which we mentioned earlier in the call, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which will put an estimated $1 billion into compacts that are for large-scale energy development; the African Development Foundation, which is a much smaller foundation supported by the U.S. Government, which is doing a challenge grant on off-grid.
So we are using all of these different tools across the government to try to do three things. One is build the capacity of governments to deliver bankable projects. Second is to provide what’s needed to deal with the project preparation. And third, to facilitate the movement of private capital into this area, because it’s our strong view – and I think we’ve found overwhelming agreement on this throughout the course of the trip at every meeting the President had – that the way to really finance this large-scale infrastructure is through private capital rather than just traditional assistance.
OPERATOR: Thank you. We will take a question, one question from Aggrey Mutambo of The Daily Nation. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Aggrey Mutambo from Nairobi Daily Nation. I understand President Obama’s message was that Africa needs to improve its democratic rights for all people. What is the significance of African nations of recognizing gay rights as far as democracy is concerned?
MR. HARRIS: Sure. I’m happy to take this one. We discussed in great detail the different types of work on strengthening democratic institutions that we sought to highlight and support through this trip overall. With specific respect to rights for lesbians and gays and transsexuals, this was a question that was posed to President Obama in various places, including in Senegal, and he gave his view of what – he gave his view of the issue, which I could add very little to. He basically described his view that while we need to respect the diversity of views on these issues and the different takes in terms of different cultures and religions when we’re talking about equality under the law and the way that states treat its citizens, that’s something that we think equality is critical and that the President doesn’t support any form of discrimination.
I would refer you, though, to specifically how he described it in the press availability with President Sall because he really went into depth on this issue and I think was quite clear.
OPERATOR: Thank you very much. We will take a question from Nadia Neophytou from Eyewitness News. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Yes, this is regard to AGOA. I know you mentioned that there were some things that were – worked beneficially and others that didn’t. (Inaudible) provide any more information about what areas you are going to (inaudible) when it comes to the (inaudible)?
MS. SMITH: Sure. And I think there’s just a general point I would make there because I think the forum is where this whole process will take off. I think the main thing about AGOA is that it has – the concentration of benefits have been to a few countries and a few commodities. And what we’d like to see is something where the benefits are more widely available and more broadly accessed and extend to an increasing number of commodities because, again, in our discussions with a number of countries, they had taken advantage of AGOA but not as extensively as they might have hoped. So I think that’s the broad thrust. I think I would look to the forum in Addis Ababa starting on August 9th as the place where that discussion will really begin to unfold in detail. And then it’s Mike Froman, who is our new U.S. Trade Representative – it’s his intention to see this dialogue continue through the course of the coming year.
MR. HARRIS: And I had one postscript on the question before about South Africa because I think left it as an incomplete thought in terms of the types of things that the President said, particularly when this question was put to him. What he said with respect to South Africa is that we’ve got to reflect the fact that we’re going to have to be working with our Congress here to ensure that the legislation is passed, and they’ll be looking also to see that U.S. businesses have a level playing field relative to other companies. And it’s been noted as well by some in Congress that some European companies as well are able to offer aid in South Africa because of a free trade agreement between Europe and the United States that puts some U.S. companies at a disadvantage.
I worried in thinking back on what I’d said the first time around that without completing the thought, I hadn’t been as clear as I should’ve been. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our last question of the call will come from Frederick Addison of AMIP News. Frederick, please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Frederick Nnoma-Addison from AMIP News in Washington. My question has to do with Ghana. We all know that Ghana has a stellar democratic record for the past 20 years, but currently the President’s legitimacy is being contested after the elections in November. What is the Administration’s position on the – what is going on right now, and does the Administration have any concerns at all about the scenario playing out in Ghana? Thank you.
MR. HARRIS: I can take this one. I think the key point is we’ve been able to discuss in detail on the call the work that we’ve been doing in supporting and strengthening democratic institutions. Ghana is a key partner. I know that that issue is being worked through the court system right now. And so I think for purposes of today’s call, I’d leave it there.
OPERATOR: Thank you very much. That concludes today’s call. I want to thank our speakers, Grant Harris and Gayle Smith, for joining us, and thank all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, you can contact the Africa (inaudible) or the Foreign Press Center. Thank you very much. Goodbye.
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