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Diplomacy Briefing: US priorities for SSA

Published date:
Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Good afternoon. I would like to thank the Bureau of Public Affairs for organizing the Diplomacy Briefing Series and for inviting me to join all of you today to examine our key priorities in Africa.

I want to begin today by emphasizing the strong commitment of this Administration to working with our African partners to bring about a more peaceful, stable, and prosperous Africa. This Administration sees immense potential in Africa, and we are determined to work with Africans across the continent to help realize this promise.

Often, Africa has been overlooked as a top policy priority for the U.S. Government. I can tell you that this is not the case with this Administration. President Obama is not complacent about Africa, and is determined to forge a deeper and more lasting impact on our relationship with the continent, not just through words, but through concrete action.

As evidence of this commitment, Vice President Biden concluded just yesterday a week-long trip to Africa—a trip in which I participated. Some in the media focused on the World Cup as the centerpiece of this Africa visit, but this trip was more about substance than sport. The Vice President used this trip to focus on one of the Administration’s highest priorities in Africa: the current situation in Sudan. In Egypt, the Vice President met with President Mubarak and other senior government officials to discuss Sudan policy. In Kenya, we met with Salva Kiir, the President of the Government of South Sudan and other South Sudanese leaders. And in South Africa, I accompanied the Vice President to his extended meeting with Thabo Mbeki, the AU’s point person on Sudan.

The Vice President’s trip was just the most recent example of high-level engagement by this Administration in Africa. The President’s visit to Ghana last July, the earliest visit made by a U.S. president to the continent, underscored Africa’s importance to the U.S. And last September, at the UN General Assembly, the President hosted a lunch with 26 African heads of state. Over the past year, he has also met in the oval office with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, President Kikwete of Tanzania, President Khama of Botswana, and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai of Zimbabwe. And during the Nuclear Summit in April of this year, the President also met with President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and President Zuma of South Africa.

All of the President’s senior foreign policy advisors have followed his lead by traveling to Africa. The U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice visited five African countries last June, including Liberia and Rwanda. Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew traveled to Ethiopia and Tanzania in June 2009, and was in Mali and Nigeria just last month.

Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero headed the U.S. delegation to the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa in January 2010, where we discussed a range of issues, including democracy and governance, climate change, and food security. Last month, she led the U.S. delegation to Abuja to the first meeting of the Democracy and Governance working group of the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission. And last August, Secretary Clinton made an 11-day, seven-country trip across the continent.

These high-level visits are a testament to the importance this Administration places on Africa, and our commitment to meet and work with our partners to address the immense challenges facing the continent. Through our engagement and programs, the Administration is seeking to advance five key policy priorities on the continent.

First: We are working with African governments, the international community, and civil society to strengthen democratic institutions and protect the democratic gains made in recent years in many African countries.

Since the 1990’s, we have witnessed an impressive wave of democratic transitions, during which dozens of African countries moved from dictatorship to democracy, in one of the most impressive political transformations in history. Recent democratic elections, including those in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Mauritius, and Ghana, have served to remind the world of the importance that Africans attach to democracy, as well as the values that underpin it. The recent elections in Ghana and Mauritius were especially impressive, as they have resulted in a peaceful, democratic transition between two political parties.

Nonetheless, we have seen worrying signs of backsliding in terms of democracy and good governance in a number of countries as a result of flawed elections, harassment of opposition groups, and attempts by presidents to extend their term limits. We have also seen a recurrence of military coups and interventions in several countries.

The political and economic success of Africa depends a great deal on the effectiveness, sustainability, and reliability of its democratic institutions. We are encouraging governments across the continent to get elections right. To level the playing field, clean up the voter rolls, open up the media, count the votes fairly, and give democracy a chance.

In that vain we have been deeply engaged in helping to resolve political crises on the continent, including in Nigeria, where we encouraged political leaders to follow their constitution and stay on a democratic path and where we encouraged the military to stay in the barracks and out of politics. We have been active diplomatically in Guinea-Conakry during its difficult transition period, as well as in Niger and Mauritania over the past year.

Second: The Administration is committed to working alongside African countries to promote and advance sustained economic development and growth.

Despite impressive economic growth in recent years, Africa remains one of the poorest regions of the world, and the continent has yet to be fully integrated into the global economy. Africa’s share of world trade is less than two percent and Africa’s tremendous wealth in natural resources has not translated into greater prosperity for its people.

Africa also faces a massive digital divide with the rest of the world, which further inhibits the ability of African companies to compete on the global stage.

The Administration is bringing significant resources and programs to the table to help address these challenges. We are actively working to promote economic growth and development, including through our new $3.5 billion dollar food security initiative, Feed the Future, which will assist 12 African focus countries that are engaged in growing and modernizing their agricultural sectors. The Obama Administration will continue to work with our African partners to maximize the opportunities created by the African Growth and Opportunity Act--AGOA. We will also continue to actively explore ways to promote African private sector growth and investment, especially for small and medium-sized businesses.

Third: Historically the United States has focused on public health and health-related issues in Africa. We are committed to continuing that focus. We will work side-by-side with African governments and civil society to ensure that quality treatment, prevention, and care are easily accessible to communities throughout Africa.

From HIV/AIDS to malaria, Africans endure and suffer a multitude of health pandemics that weaken countries on many fronts. Sick men and women cannot work and they cannot contribute to the growth of their nation’s economies or well being.

To help solve the health crisis that is occurring throughout the entire continent, Africans as well as the international community must invest in Africa’s public health systems, in training more medical professionals, and in helping African countries fight diseases that simply should not kill people in this day and age.

The Obama Administration will continue the PEPFAR Program and the previous administration’s fight against HIV/AIDS. In addition to combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, and polio, the Obama Administration has pledged $63 billion to meet public health challenges throughout Africa.

Fourth: The U.S. is committed to working with African states and the international community to prevent, mitigate, and resolve conflicts and disputes. Conflict destabilizes states and borders, stifles economic growth and investment, and robs young Africans of the opportunity for an education and a better life. Conflicts can set back nations for a generation. Throughout Africa, there has been a notable reduction in the number of conflicts over the past decade.

The brutal conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia have come to an end, and we have seen Liberia transform itself into a democracy under the able leadership of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state. Liberia is an example of what can be accomplished in a short period of time and should give us hope for resolving other conflict situations in Africa.

Despite the successes, pockets of turmoil and political unrest persist in Somalia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as in Madagascar. These conflicts create both internal and regional instability and undermine Africa’s chances for economic growth.

The Obama Administration has taken a keen interest in working with African leaders and African regional organizations to help resolve these conflicts. Over the past 18 months, Special Presidential Envoy for Sudan, General Scott Gration has been focused on ensuring the full implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which will permit the people of South Sudan to vote in January 2010 for independence or unity with the North. As part of our effort to ensure the referendum takes place, we are collaborating closely with the Special Envoys of the AU and UN, who will be in this building for talks on Wednesday. We are also enhancing our diplomatic presence in South Sudan by assigning ten new officers to our Consulate in Juba, including a very senior officer, a former ambassador, who will arrive in Juba in the next few days.

Former Congressman Howard Wolpe has been working intensely to bring peace and stability to the Eastern Congo and end the extreme violence against women. This remains a top priority for this Administration. In close coordination with Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Steve Rapp and Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Special Advisor Wolpe is working to address these and other pressing issues in the Congo, including stemming the trade of conflict minerals which continues to fuel conflict and instability.

We will also continue our cooperation with regional leaders to look for ways to end Somalia’s protracted political and humanitarian crisis. We continue to call for well-meaning actors in the region to support the Djibouti Peace process, and to reject those extremists and their supporters who seek to exploit the suffering of the Somali people.

Additionally, the United States is proactive in working with African leaders, civil society organizations, and the international community to prevent new conflicts. In January of this year, we worked closely with the governments of Burkina Faso, Morocco, and France to put in place a transitional government in Guinea-Conakry. In a few weeks, the country will hold democratic elections which we hope will begin a democratic tradition in that country.

Fifth: We will seek to deepen our cooperation with African states to address both old and new transnational challenges. The 21st century ushered in new transnational challenges for Africa and the world.

Africa’s poverty puts it at a distinct disadvantage in dealing with major global and transnational problems like climate change, narco-trafficking, trafficking-in-persons and arms, and the illegal exploitation of Africa’s minerals and maritime resources.

Meeting the climate and clean energy challenge is a top priority for the United States and the Obama Administration.

Climate change affects the entire globe; its potential impact on water supplies and food security can be disastrous. As President Obama said in Ghana, “while Africa gives off less greenhouse gasses than any other part of the world, it will be the most threatened by climate change.” Often those who have contributed the least to the problem are the ones who are affected the most by it, and the United States is committed to working with Africans to find viable solutions to adapt to the severe consequences of climate change.

The effects of climate change are clear: the snow cap of Mount Kilimanjaro is rapidly disappearing, Lake Chad is a fraction of the size it was 35 years ago and in recent years the turbines at some of Africa’s largest dams have fallen silent because of reduced water flows. With our international partners, the United States is working to build a sustainable, clean energy global economy which can drive investment and job creation around the world, including bringing energy services to the African continent.

There is no time like the present to face this issue as it carries tremendous consequences for the future of our children, grandchildren and our planet.

As President Obama emphasized during his speech in Ghana, our policies are based on the premise that “Africa’s future is up to Africans.” With a corresponding commitment from African leaders to enact the reforms and policies required to bring about real change, we believe we can achieve our shared goal of a more peaceful, prosperous, and free Africa.

Thank you and I will be happy to take any questions.

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