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You are here: Home/News/Article/US Government: Diplomacy Briefing on Sub-Saharan Africa

US Government: Diplomacy Briefing on Sub-Saharan Africa

Published date:
Tuesday, 15 June 2010

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon, everyone. Well, thank you all very much and welcome again. I know you’ve been welcomed over and over again, but it’s a delight to have you here in the State Department for this briefing on Sub-Saharan Africa and the issues that affect the countries in that region and our relationship with them.

We are very pleased to have such a broad cross-section. I understand we even have some people who may be watching us, as I see on this screen here, from universities. And I delighted that we have you with us. I want to recognize the two members of Congress who I know are here. There may be others, but I’ve only seen two – Congressman Donald Payne from New Jersey, who is a longtime, very – (applause) – there he is – very strong, consistent supporter of Africa and Africa’s needs, and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee from Texas – there she is. (Applause.) And if I’m not mistaken, Sheila, one of the schools participating is Texas Southern University, which you have a relationship with, and I see them applauding on the screen up there. (Applause.)

I am very pleased to be the – I guess either the clean-up act or the dessert, whichever way you want to think about it, for this good, long discussion that you’ve all participated in. I know you’ve heard from Assistant Secretary Carson and other senior diplomats and leaders from the State Department and USAID, but I just wanted to hit a few of the high points of the Obama Administration’s connection to Africa during the last 16 months.

President Obama visited Africa very early in his tenure to underscore the region’s importance to the United States and gave a historic speech in Ghana that very clearly sounded a call to action and set forth our basic principle that we want a relationship not based on patronage, but on partnership. I was privileged to visit Africa on a very long 11-day trip last August and was able to carry that message and others throughout the continent.

And just this past week, Vice President Biden was in Kenya and South Africa. The World Cup – (laughter) – was at least part of the draw, but he was able to reinforce a lot of our messages that we wish to work as partners, not only with African governments, but most importantly, with the people of Africa. Because we believe that the future of Africa is in the hands of Africans. And we have to join hands to work together to develop that partnership to expand democracy that delivers for people, good governance that actually can be accountable to the people, promoting sustainable economic growth that provides benefits to all people, improving access to healthcare, education, basic services, and working to eliminate the conflicts that destroy lives and destabilize the region.

Now, achieving these goals requires close cooperation across governments, business communities, the not-for-profit sector, civil society groups. And we have established high-level dialogues with our counterparts. We have a bilateral dialogue with South Africa, we have one with Nigeria, we’re working hard with many of the countries, from Angola to Tanzania to Liberia, and we are increasing our relationship with the African Union.

There is a lot of progress that’s being made that is not often in the headlines in democracy and human rights. And over the next two years, 27 nations in sub-Saharan Africa will hold elections. But at the same time, we have to recognize the challenges that still exist for even stable democracies that are trying to fully embed their progress, and on the other end of the spectrum, the many countries, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Sudan, that are still facing severe conflicts. We will continue to speak out on behalf of democratic governance and human rights and on behalf of economic opportunity.

I attended the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act conference last year in Nairobi to underscore our commitment to helping to grow the economies. And central to that is revitalizing agriculture and enhancing its value-added returns for African farmers. We also are committed to investing in women. Women are the principal farmers on the continent of Africa, producing food not only for themselves and their families, but reinvesting the profits in benefits for their children and future generations.

We recognize that corruption remains a major obstacle to not only economic growth, but many of our goals. The literal looting of state coffers deprives millions of Africans of basic services and makes it easier for drug traffickers, terrorists, and other criminals to expand their presence. And fighting corruption is not only the right thing to do and helps improve people’s lives, it gives them more of a stake in their own society. And it is a high priority.

We’ve also made a major commitment to improving health in Africa. In addition to continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, and polio, the Obama Administration has pledged $63 billion over five years for all of our health programs. And we are paying particular attention to Africa and especially to the health of women and children.

We continue to work on mitigating conflicts. The UN and the African Union have been leaders in peacekeeping and mediation efforts. We are strong supporters of that. We pay particular attention to gender-based violence and the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Part of what fuels the fighting and the corruption are the rich mineral resources that Africa contains. So we are working to try to promote responsible use of natural resources through the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

But I must say that we need to do a better job of spreading the word about the progress in Africa. So if you’re part of the African diaspora community, we want you to stay in touch with us to get information about what we’re doing and what the impacts are, and we also need your advice. If you’re a student, we want to look for ways to involve you in the work that is improving the lives of the African people, whether it’s in public health, agriculture or entrepreneurship. If you’re in an NGO, we want you to let us know what you’re doing so we can better partner with you and support you.

But there’s a lot of exciting work that is going on, and we are extremely committed to that work. But we recognize that it is not the work of a year, nor even the work of a single four-year or eight-year administration. It needs to be the work of America, and therefore, it needs to be firmly rooted in how we define our interests and our values. And to that end, we believe strongly that Africa can have and should have a very positive future for its people, and we want to be the partners who help to realize those dreams that stretch across the continent and give people a feeling that life can be better, and to help show the way by being a good supporter of what is already happening in Africa.

So with that, let me turn it over, I guess, to P.J.

MR. CROWLEY: We can start by taking questions from our students from (inaudible) Florida A&M. Can you hear us?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think they’re gone.

MR. CROWLEY: How about Texas Southern?

QUESTION: Thank you. Regarding to the problems of structural adjustment programs in Africa, many believe that that’s something that should come without conditions. (Inaudible) noting the problems and negative impacts of structural adjustment programs, SAP, in Africa--


PARTICIPANT: Structural.

QUESTION: Yes, yes, yes – (inaudible). We believe that (inaudible) those – that should be forgiven. And what is really the U.S. policy towards forgiving the debts without conditions that will improve the quality of life, economic development, and even security issues in Africa?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. We’ve certainly got a little bit of trouble understanding the question because of the hook-up. Technology is wonderful, but sometimes it takes a little bit of interpretation.

So thank you very much for your question about structural adjustment programs. Let me start by saying that the United States does not support unconditional debt relief. But we do participate in the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative along with other donors. And under this program, an indebted country, of which there are many, which faces an unsustainable debt burden, who agrees to a system of measures and reforms, including clearing outstanding arrears to international financial institutions, as well as preparing a poverty reduction program and establishing a track record of reform and sound policies does qualify for the kind of debt relief that we think is called for. Because without the changes that are needed in policies and without a commitment to reform, the impact of debt relief for poor countries can really be lost. And instead, we want to continue to work with countries to obtain forgiveness of debt under the so-called HIPC framework, the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative. And we do not want to see Africa incur new, unsustainable debt.

I think that if you look at what African leaders are saying about debt – and there is an African Union spokesperson; it’s Prime Minister Meles of Ethiopia, and representing the 53 members of the African Union – the focus coming now from the African Union is on responsible use of loans and grants, based on economic development reforms and progress, according to the Millennium Development Goals, in order to avoid incurring more debt that cannot be repaid.

So we’re trying to walk the line here. Just providing debt relief with no changes, with no commitment to a different path forward with changes in the economic policies that will create more growth. There’s no reason why African countries with all of these resources cannot be so much richer, growing so much more, but they need better government policies and leadership in order to do so.

So we basically have used debt forgiveness as a means of trying to bring about those changes. And we’ve seen some positive effects in that. Liberia is paying down its debt, despite the poverty of the country and the inheritance of years and years of war. It’s paid its debt down from five billion to a little over a billion in the space of about six or seven years. And that’s what we want to see because then it puts both government policies on the right footing and economic growth on a more sustainable foundation.

MR. CROWLEY: Why don’t we go to the University of Central Florida next.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Secretary Clinton. My name is L.L. Khan. Our question for you is: The World Cup will be the sports highlight for all of Africa and most of the rest of the world during the next few weeks. What could the United States to do to ensure a similar long-term focus on the region?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. The World Cup is a great opportunity because much of the world will be paying attention to Africa because of the World Cup in a way that they perhaps have not in the past. In fact, I’ve worked on issues pertaining to Africa for nearly 20 years, and there are so many misconceptions about Africa. I will never forget having a meeting as First Lady with a large group of press in preparation for my first extended trip to Africa, and one of the press representatives asked me if I would be going to the capital of Africa. (Laughter.) And I said, “Well, yeah, probably.” (Laughter.)

So I think anything which raises the visibility of Africa, which gets people to think about and learn more about Africa, is probably a good door opener. But there is so much more that needs to be done. I mean, this conference today is one example of how we here in the State Department are trying to keep the attention on Africa, trying to maintain the focus that our policies represent. We are doing a lot more than that, of course, every single day.

We are working on some issue very intensely that has to do with Africa, whether it is the efforts to implement the Feed the Future Food Security Program that we are going to be involving a number of African countries in, or the Global Health Initiative that I referenced, expanding PEPFAR funding to countries working for the first time in a good partnership with South Africa. It is – there’s a lot going on that we are very proud of and very committed to. And anything which gets people to pay more attention to Africa, sort of in real time, which the World Cup is doing, I think is beneficial.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ve just got to double-check; Florida A&M, could you hear us?

QUESTION: Yes. We’re here. Good afternoon, Secretary Clinton. This is Calvin Hayes. It’s a pleasure to speak with you again after already – can you hear us? It’s a pleasure to speak with you again after already meeting you this past summer at the U.S. Embassy in South Africa, where I completed a State Department internship and also had the privilege of serving as a site officer for your bilateral meeting.

Madam Secretary, the strength of our U.S. diplomacy greatly depends on our good relationships with other countries as well as our ability to appropriate the necessary resources to meet the needs of the people around the world. Given the challenges of political battles associated with leadership in Zimbabwe, how is the Obama Administration showing that the foreign aid given to this area actually meets the people and their local communities?

Is there a comprehensive strategy to measure the efficiency of our appropriated resources, the accountability of our disbursements, and the sustainability of our efforts both in Zimbabwe and countries in sub-Saharan Africa? If so, can you shed some light on the strategy and ways students and faculty at (inaudible) can become engaged in assisting communities in need like Zimbabwe and other sub-Saharan African countries?

SECRETARY CLINTON: (Inaudible) is a very difficult challenge to us and to our policy. It is a country that has been woefully governed and misruled for a number of years now. Congressman Donald Payne, who had to leave for a vote, is probably, in the Congress – is he still here – there he is – is probably, in the Congress, the most knowledgeable, strongest advocate for African interests. And when he tried to go to Zimbabwe a few months ago – right, Donald? The Government of Zimbabwe would not let him in because they don’t want somebody who has his expertise and experience actually seeing for himself all of the difficulties that are now apparent in Zimbabwe.

And it’s very sad. It’s a tragedy. And we are working hard with South Africa, with the African Union, with other countries to try to assist the people of Zimbabwe. We’re doing primarily humanitarian assistance. There is a great need for food like corn or corn meal or cooking oil, just the basics that have been destroyed in a country that used to be able to not only feed itself but export food. And we’re trying to help with healthcare, particularly with communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis as well as with malaria and maternal and child healthcare.

At the same time, the President just renewed sanctions against 220 individuals and entities associated with the Mugabe regime. So these are what we call targeted sanctions that go to whether they can travel, what kind of investments or bank accounts they can have that we can reach. So on the one hand, we’re trying to help the people of Zimbabwe get through a very difficult time. On the other hand, we’re trying to keep the pressure on the leadership.

We rely heavily on civil society to deliver programs that can get the aid in fairly and apolitically so that our aid is not, basically, hijacked by the government and people connected to the government. I’ve had two meetings with Prime Minister Tsvangirai in the last year to try to send a message that we support reform in Zimbabwe, that we support elections that will actually be followed because there’s no doubt in most of our minds that Mugabe’s party did not win that first round of elections a year-plus ago.

We are also looking to link democratic and economic performance by encouraging that the government be held accountable and working with those who are attempting to do so. But it’s a very sobering situation. And it’s a very sad one, indeed, because the ruling party, the ruling clique within that party, continues to benefit from aid, benefit from the diamond trade, benefit from corruption, to a very significant degree while the people are suffering. Policies like the Mugabe government pursued, which destroyed housing areas, leaving people homeless with nothing in their place, just make no sense. But nevertheless, that’s what the people of Zimbabwe have had to cope with.

So we are trying to walk a line between supporting the people, keeping the pressure on the Mugabe leadership, working with South Africa to try to get that message across. But I’m not going to stand here and tell you we have some perfect formula, because it’s extremely difficult to try to do what we’re doing and really make a difference for the people of Zimbabwe. But we’re going to persist in doing so and working with people like Congressman Payne to try to give the people there a better future.


MR. CROWLEY: One or two questions from the audience. Over there. Second row.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Madam Secretary. My name is Fred Oladeinde and I represent the AGOA civil society network. Since we met in Nairobi, some of us in civil society have noticed that AGOA, in terms of export from Africa to the United States, has declined, particularly if we take oil export out of the total basket of export into the United States.

We believe that CAADP, which is the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program, may present yet another opportunity for us to be able to reevaluate AGOA and be able to help African countries that are ready to reform to expand their export into the United States.

Can you share with us what is the Obama Administration in terms of reforming AGOA and trying to see how we can expand export through CAADP and the new $6.3 billion initiative to ensure that we optimize the opportunity that AGOA presents?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you for that. And as you might remember, in my speech in Nairobi, I outlined a number of steps to reform AGOA. But we recognize, too, that there is a very good opportunity with CAADP and we are working to use the CAADP-developed principles in our Feed the Future Program so that we take what has been agreed to by African countries themselves as the base for our work in agriculture.

I will repeat what I said in Nairobi. There may be – and there definitely are things that the United States could do that would be better for exports from Africa to the United States other than oil exports, which is a huge distorting aspect of our trade relation. But most of the work that needs to be done needs to be done in Africa. If you look at trade between African countries, it is abysmally minimalistic. African countries don’t trade with themselves. They have barriers and tariffs and customs problems that stand in the way of developing their own economies. I laid that out in my speech in Nairobi. I challenged African governments to change their own laws to increase more trade. If Africa traded – if sub-Saharan Africa traded among themselves the way Asian countries trade among themselves, the GDP growth would be significant in a relatively short period of time.

But this is a corruption problem. This is a capacity problem. This is driven by rivalries across borders. And so, unfortunately, the market to the United States is difficult because in order to get products from many African countries, you have to go through other countries. And that’s not easy. I will never forget one of the speakers in Nairobi saying that he came from Lagos, Nigeria and it took him longer to get from Lagos to Nairobi than it would have taken him to get from Lagos to London.

So the United States will do our part, but African countries have to start doing their part and making the changes that will grow the economies in the sub-Saharan region. There is so much wealth, so many resources, so many opportunities. (Applause.) And we said last year in Nairobi we stand ready to provide technical assistance, we stand ready to help, but we can’t help if nobody is asking for help or if nobody is accepting help.

And so again I renew the offer: We will work with anybody; we know how to open markets. The United States is an expert at opening markets. We have the most open market in the world and we want Africa to export more to the United States. But it is difficult, and a lot of the countries haven’t gone to really assist their businesses in knowing how to export to Africa. So there is so much that could be done, but it is hard to do if you don’t get laws and policies and customs and everything else changed. So I will renew our offer: We stand ready to assist. But I don’t want to be making the same speech at the AGOA conference this year. We’ve made that speech and we are ready to help and we need to have somebody on the other end saying – okay, I would love for some African government to come and say, go through our laws, tell us everything that needs to be changed that you believe would increase our GDP by 5 percent in the next 10 years, and we can tell you how to do it.

But it means doing things that are going to run afoul of special interests and government bureaucrats and businesses that already have a lock on a market and they’d rather have the biggest piece of a small pie than a smaller piece of a big pie. And so if you’re going to have that mentality, it is really hard to utilize the incredible tool that AGOA is. But we will be there to help if people come forward, if some of the NGOs can work with us to try to wrench open those markets.

But it’s not something that just happens by hoping it’s so or because the United States tries to make it so. It is a structural problem within the way countries in the region relate to each other. And that has got to be addressed. I mean, for goodness sakes, this is the 21st century. We’ve got to get over what happened 50, 100, 200 years ago, and let’s make money for everybody. That’s the best way to try to create some new energy and some new growth in Africa. (Applause.)

Okay, one more and then I’ve got to run.

QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary Clinton, for being here today. My name is Beth Tuckey. I’m with Africa Action. And you mentioned in your presentation that you would speak out on behalf of democratic governance in Africa, and I know that the U.S. has been a strong supporter of Rwanda for many, many years. And I’m just wondering what you’re doing to address the recent oppression of political candidates in Rwanda and if you’re doing anything to address attorney Peter Erlinder, who is currently under arrest in Rwanda.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I know that we have addressed those concerns. We’ve made them known to the Rwandan Government. We really don’t want to see Rwanda undermine its own remarkable progress by beginning to move away from a lot of the very positive actions that undergirded its development so effectively. We still are very, very supportive of Rwanda. The kind of development that has taken place in Rwanda is really a model in many respects for the rest of the continent. But we are concerned by some of the recent actions and we would like to see steps taken to reverse those actions.

On the one hand, I understand the anxiety of the Rwandan leadership over what they view as genocide denial or genocide rejectionism. There are many countries that have been in a similar historic position, so I do understand that and I know that they are hypersensitive to that, but – because, obviously, they don’t want to see anything ignite any kind of ethnic conflict again. So I’m very sympathetic to that.

But I think that there are ways of dealing with that legitimate concern other than politically acting against opposition figures or lawyers and others. So on the one hand, I understand the motivation and the concern. On the other hand, I want to see different actions taken so that we don’t see a collision between what has been a remarkably successful period of growth and reconciliation and healing with the imperatives of continuing to build strong democratic institutions.

Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

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