Briefing with Members of the U.S. Government Delegation to the African Union Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield;
Ambassador Reuben Brigety, Representative of the United States to the African Union and Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN Economic Commission of Africa; and
Ambassador Donald Booth, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan

Moderator: Hello, everyone. I am Camille Dawson, Director of the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants who are here with us in person at the U.S. Consulate General in Johannesburg, as well as our callers who have dialed in from across Africa, Europe and the United States.

Today, we are joined by members of the U.S. delegation to the African Union Summit that is taking place here in Johannesburg, South Africa.We will begin with remarks from Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield. We will then open it up to your questions. Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield will be joined in answering your questions by Ambassador Reuben Brigety, Representative of the United States to the African Union and Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN Economic Commission of Africa, and Ambassador Donald Booth, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan. For those of you listening to the call in English, please press star one on your phone to join the question queue. You may also submit your questions in English via email to afmediahub@state.gov.Today’s briefing is on the record. And with that, I will turn it over to Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield.

Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield: Thank you. Good afternoon everyone. Let me welcome you from Johannesburg, South Africa. I want to say a special hello to all of the journalists who are joining us from our posts around the continent. Thank you for listening in.Let me start by saying, this is my fourth AU Summit. I look forward each year, despite all the work that we have to do to the summit, for the opportunity that it provides us to engage on a broad range of issues with African leaders and with other partners on the continent. Our partnership with African countries is strong and deep, and we have many areas of mutual concern, but we particularly have a strong partnership with the African Union, where we were the first country to open a mission at the African Union.

During my time in Johannesburg, I had the chance to meet with many AU member states in the AU Commission, and we had fruitful, and I think, very good discussions on a broad range of issues. Speaking of Johannesburg, I enjoyed my visit to South Africa, and I want to thank the South African government for hosting us here today, and for the wonderful hospitality that they offered to us.

So before I open up for questions, I want to take a moment and offer condolences to the people of Chad, and to President Deby for the deadly attacks today in N’djamena. We have just seen news reports that up to twenty-seven people were killed. It is a reflection, again, of the importance that we not let our guard down on terrorists, who will look for every opportunity to attack us anywhere. So again, I am open to your questions. Thank you very much.

Moderator: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield. We will now have some time for questions and answers. For those of you asking questions, please state your name and affiliation, and limit yourself to one question only related to the topic of today’s briefing. We will start with a question in the room. Yes…I’m sorry, just one moment. I need to clarify. Because we have remote listeners, we will need to ask all of the questioners to speak into a microphone so our remote audience can hear, as well.

Media: Alexandra Brangeon from the French Public Radio, RFI. One question about Libya in the news this morning that Mokhtar Belmokhtar has been killed. I wanted to know if you could confirm the information, or whether you could give us any other information on that? And if I can, a second question on Chad, and your reaction, and what does this say about a possible U.S. cooperation with the region in terms of fighting terrorism?

Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield: I can’t give you any additional information on Libya, other than what you have already seen in the press, but I would refer you back to Washington or to our colleagues at the Department of Defense. Your question on Chad, we actually have a very strong partnership with the government of Chad. We have been working with the Chadian government and the Chadian military, particularly in their efforts against Boko Haram, we have supported them, as well, as they have fought against those who have attacked Mali, and we will continue to engage with this government, because they have been a good partner on fighting terrorism in the region. And again, I want to express my condolences to those families who lost family members in this most recent attack.

Moderator: Thank you. Our next question was submitted by email from Ernesto Bartolomeu, a reporter with Angolan TV. “Despite the efforts of the international community, in particular those of the Obama administration, Africa continues to experience illegal armed groups and everything that is negative in the world. People in Africa say there is no hope. What is the U.S. point of view about what is really happening here, and what is the solution?”

Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield: There is no one who works in Africa today who would say that Africa has no hope. Yes, there are armed groups, there continues to be conflict, there is poverty, but there are also amazing opportunities that are being presented on the continent as we look at what young people across the continent are doing. We look at opportunities for business, we look at what Africans are doing in their efforts to find peace, we look at what young women and some older women are doing to promote peace and to look for prosperity and opportunities on the continent. So there is no way that anyone in this room, or elsewhere in Africa, who would say that Africa is hopeless. That does not mean there are not problems to solve and resolve, but we are resolved to solve those problems, and are committed to assisting the African Union and member states of the African Union in addressing the problems that we are facing across the continent.

Moderator: For each of our speakers, if I could just ask you to pull your microphones slightly closer to you? Some of our remote audience is having a hard time hearing. Okay, our next question in the room here, front row?

Media: Hello, I am Peter Fabricius from the African News Agency. Could I ask you, Ambassador Booth, sorry, I’m not quite sure if you also cover South Sudan, I guess you do, but what is your sense of what has been done at the Summit to address the problem? The communique from Peace and Security Council was a little bit noncommittal, I thought.

Ambassador Donald Booth: Well, thank you. I think the progress that has been made at this Summit is the bringing together of IGAD and the five African Union countries that were selected to represent each of the regions in the continent, to work with IGAD to try to move the peace process forward. At the end of the last round of negotiations in early March, the chairman of IGAD indicated that there would need to be a reinforcement of the mediation effort, given the lack of willingness of the South Sudanese parties to make the compromises needed for peace.And so the addition of the African Union Five and the endorsement of the IGAD Plus process, which involves the African Union Five, as well as other key international partners, to work together and to present a common front will help, I think, move the peace process, which has for the last two months not been making progress, and has resulted in an opening where the South Sudanese have returned to fighting.

So I would say that the procedural basis for this IGAD Plus has been laid here at the summit, and I think the statement, the PSC communique, was a very strong communique, and a very strong signal to the South Sudanese that this is the time to stop the fighting, and to move forward on a peace agreement and a transitional process that will give South Sudan an opportunity for a new start.

Moderator: Okay, our next question was submitted in advance by email. This comes from Kevin Kelley of the Nation Media Group. “Is the United States satisfied with Kenya’s efforts to defend against attacks by al-Shabaab? Will the U.S. be enhancing its security assistance to Kenya, perhaps as an initiative to be announced during President Obama’s visit next month, and what does the U.S. most want President Obama’s visit to achieve?”

Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield: Thank you very much for that question. Let me just say, fighting terrorism is not easy. We have been fighting terrorism since 2001, and we continue our efforts to stop their efforts to foment insecurity across the world. So the Kenyans have done the absolute best they can, but they are getting assistance from their neighbors, and they are getting assistance from the United States, in fighting terrorism that is not just Kenya’s problem. It is a problem that all of the region face, and it is a problem that requires the support of the entire region to fight terrorism. So we are there to support the Kenyan efforts. We have continued to work with them, as well as other partners in the region. Kenya has done an extraordinary job in assisting us as a troop contributor to AMISOM in Somalia, and they, at the same time, are trying to fight terrorism inside their own borders. In terms of…the second question was?

Moderator: The second question was, “What does the U.S. most want President Obama’s visit to achieve?”

Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield: This will be President Obama’s fourth trip to Africa since becoming president, and each of those trips have built on what has been a strong partnership that we have with the countries of Africa. So this trip will highlight that partnership, but it will go even further, because it will highlight the relationship that we have with the government of Kenya as they fight terrorism, related to your first question, but also as they build prosperity for their own people.

Part of the president’s trip will be to participate in the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which will bring about a thousand individuals to Kenya to look at opportunities for bringing partnerships to promote development, and to promote prosperity, and to look for opportunities for entrepreneurs on the Continent of Africa. And we think Kenya is the perfect location for that, as they have indicated their desires to increase the amount of investments from across the United States, as well as the world, to Kenya.

Moderator: Okay, thank you. Our next question was submitted in advance by a journalist at the listening party at the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. “What is the U.S. government’s position on the decision by some African leaders to change their country’s constitution in order to cling on to power?”

Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield: A great question. Our position on extending term limits is very clear. We do not support that, we think that it does everything to defeat the purposes of democracy, which is one that supports countries having the ability to change governments and have a free and open society. So where countries are attempting, or presidents are attempting to change constitutions in order to extend their own term and power, we have expressed our disagreement with that, and we have encouraged them not to do that. And I think African people across the continent are also standing up. Because we have seen…there was a recent poll done in which some thirty-four African countries indicated that they wanted term limits. They want to see changes of power. And for those countries that don’t have term limits, we think they should also have a change of power, as well. So our position, again, has been very clear, and our policy has been supported in our engagements with countries on the continent.

Moderator: Thank you. Do we have another question in the room? Yes, in the front row. Just wait for the microphone, please? Thank you.

Media: Hi. Carin Du Plessis, I am freelancing for City Press and News 24. I have a question, and I am not sure if this was addressed before I arrived, but on Omar al-Bashir, his visit to South Africa…well the fact that he came to South Africa and wasn’t arrested, and I think the U.S. has spoken out about it. But I want to know, how will it affect diplomatic relations with South Africa? Will there be some punitive measures taken? How will the U.S. react diplomatically? And also, just to come back to the term limits, do you think the AU has done enough to pressure Nkurunziza to step down from his attempt at a third term?

Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield: Look, we continue to engage with all of the countries across the continent, but also globally, to encourage them to honor the requests for Bashir to be turned over the International Criminal Court. There is a warrant out for his arrest. We have engaged with our colleagues here in South Africa on that issue. But we will continue to have relations with the South African government. This is not going to be an issue that is going to change the nature of our relationship, but we certainly have expressed our views on this particular issue.

Your second question on a third term, I think the AU has been extraordinarily strong in its efforts to press Nkurunziza, and other countries on the continent on the issue of third term. This has been an issue that has been taken up by the sub-regional organization, the East Africa Community, but I would note that the Chairman of the AU made a very, very strong statement that indicates her position, and the position of the AU, that Nkurunziza should not be seeking a third term, and expressing concerns about the deteriorating security situation in the country.

Moderator: Thank you. The next question was submitted by a journalist at the listening party at the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan Cote D’Ivoire. “What are the contributions of the U.S. in helping ensure security in Africa?”

Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield: One of our largest and most important priorities on the Continent of Africa is security. We have three. We look for promoting security, and peace, and prosperity, but also look for development and opportunity on the continent, and they are all related to each other. But we have worked very closely with our partners across the continent to support their efforts on security assistance. We have supported peacekeeping. We have provided training to more than 200,000 African peacekeepers. I think the exact figure is about 250,000 African peacekeepers have received some form of training or support by the U.S. government. We are also supporting the AU’s efforts in the security area. So we have been a strong supporter of AMISOM in Somalia. We have supported the efforts of both the AU and the UN in Central African Republic. We are working very, very closely with the Lake Chad Basin countries, Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon, to address the issues of Boko Haram. So we do have a strong partnership with the continent on security.

Moderator: Thank you. The next question comes from the…from a journalist at The Punch, in Nigeria. “With the renewed commitment of Nigeria and its neighbors to combat Boko Haram, what specific assistance is the U.S. offering?”

Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield: We have been working with Nigeria, as well as the other countries in the region, to address their concerns about Boko Haram, because we don’t see this as just a Nigeria problem. And with the new government, we are having discussions with them on how we might bolster our support. That said, we have already been working with them on providing information, providing some training and support, and we look to, with this new administration, to see how we might increase the level of support that we are providing to Nigeria.

At the same time, we have just announced since I have been here at the AU, a five million dollar contribution to the Multinational Task Force. This is funding going to the AU. We are also providing some equipment and support, and we had a number of meetings with the countries who are members of the Multinational Task Force to look at other areas that we might support.

Moderator: Okay, is there a question in the room? Yes, please, go ahead.

Media: I’m just not sure if this mic is working?

Moderator: Yes, it is on.

Media: Okay, my name is Liabo Setho. I am from SABC’s Business Desk. My question relates to the AGOA trade deal. Unfortunately, it was met with a lot criticism here from the poultry producers at the time that everything was sorted out. What I would like to find out is that, in the future, is there a way that when this deal is looked at once again, that it can minimize the conflict that we have seen here? The poultry producers, for instance, have mentioned the kind…the number of jobs that will be lost due to all the imports of chickens that are coming in from the U.S. And we heard, you know, all sorts of things that they were not happy about, how the negotiations were going. How will we ensure that the next time we still have the support of the U.S. in terms of trade agreements, yet at the same time, minimizing conflict during these talks?

Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield: That’s a great question, because AGOA is…the significance of AGOA is that it provides opportunities for jobs. It is a trade program that gives benefits to South African companies to send goods produced in South Africa, including vehicles that are produced here, tax free into the United States. So AGOA is a trade preference that is sought by many countries, and it is a one-way trade preference. It is a trade preference that we give to African countries to encourage them to trade with the United States.The issue related to poultry was a consequence of the view by American poultry producers that they were being disadvantaged in the South African market, and so the negotiations that took place was an effort to address that. But I do…I would argue very, very strongly that the benefits of AGOA, and the job creation that comes out of AGOA, those benefits will far outweigh any possible negative benefits that the poultry industry thinks that they might experience here in South Africa.

Moderator: The next question was submitted by journalist at the listening party at the U.S. Consulate in Lagos, Nigeria. “How does Washington view President Buhari’s statement at the AU that Africa is under siege? Isn’t that a call for Western countries’ assistance? And does the U.S. view Africa as being under siege, particularly being in the grip of rising terrorism?”

Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield: Africa has faced some really horrific terrorist acts over the past few years. The Westgate attacks that took place in Kenya, the recent attack in Garissa in Kenya, the Boko Haram attacks that led to the kidnapping of almost three hundred young girls, and Boko Haram’s continued attacks, including the most recent one in Chad, today. So while I would not say that Africa is under siege, Africa has some major security challenges that requires a very strong and very concerted strategic effort by African countries and their partners to address the security concerns of the people of Africa.

Moderator: Okay, the next question was submitted by a journalist in Angola. I am modifying the question slightly to make it more applicable for the region. “What has the role of the United States been in fighting HIV/AIDS and other diseases in Angola and elsewhere in Africa?”

Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield: That is such an easy question to answer. Because of PEPFAR and our HIV/AIDS programs across the continent, we have seen and experienced a change in the whole trajectory of negative impacts that HIV/AIDS could have had on the continent of Africa.

I was traveling with Secretary Kerry a few months ago in Addis Ababa, and we visited an HIV/AIDS center where we saw babies who were born AIDS free. And we have the opportunity to see a whole generation of children born in Africa who are AIDS free because of the programs that the United States government has been a part of, in supporting efforts against HIV.

Moderator: The next question is for Ambassador Booth. This was submitted by a journalist from South Sudan In Focus, a VOA program. “Could he comment on whether IGAD Plus was launched at the AU summit, when the new round of talks is expected to start, and what the U.S. position is on that IGAD blueprint for the talks and power sharing in South Sudan?”

Ambassador Donald Booth: Well thank you for that question. Yes, the concept of IGAD Plus was, indeed, discussed here, and endorsed. It was briefed yesterday by the IGAD mediators in the meeting that they had with the IGAD member states and the five African Union countries that have been selected by the AU to reinforce IGAD.

My understanding is that there will be a meeting of all of the IGAD Plus partners in the very near future to discuss the substance of the way forward. IGAD has also given to…the IGAD mediation has given to the South Sudanese parties an outline of what they believe is a possible peace agreement, and we understand that both the government and opposition are taking a serious look at that. Inevitably, both sides will have some concerns, but what is needed, and what has been stressed repeatedly is that in order to achieve peace, there needs to be the leadership demonstrated to make the compromises for peace.

The people of South Sudan continue to suffer. In the past two months because of the uptick in fighting, over another roughly 150,000 South Sudanese have been displaced, and the UN estimate is that as of early July, close to 4.6 million South Sudanese will be on the verge of life-threatening hunger. That’s forty percent of the population.

So the idea that fighting is only in small pockets of the country is definitely not an accurate reflection of the situation. South Sudanese in many parts of the country are facing severe hunger issues, needing emergency assistance. They have been displaced in numbers that go up to, roughly, 1.5 to 2 million, between those that are in internally displaced camps, and in refugee camps in neighboring countries. So this is a very serious humanitarian situation, and the only way to begin to turn this around is through a peace agreement, and getting all South Sudanese to begin to work together.

Moderator: Okay, we have time for one last question. Is there anyone who has not asked a question yet? Yes, there? We can maybe squeeze two.

Media: Hi, good afternoon, Rene Vollgraaff from Bloomberg News. I would just like to go back to the issue of President al-Bashir. I have been trying to find out, with the U.S. not being part of the International Criminal Court, isn’t there a bit of hypocrisy to say that countries which he visits should look at executing the warrant of this criminal court?

Ambassador Donald Booth: Well as we said in the press statement that was issued yesterday in Washington, that while the United States is not a party to the Rome Statute, that we strongly support international efforts to hold accountable those responsible for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. And so those indicted by the ICC, we believe there should be cooperation of all countries to ensure that they can have their day in court.

Moderator: Okay, and just the last question here?

Media: Hello, my name is Lynsey, and I’m from the AP. Just a follow up on that. Yesterday, President Jakaya Kikwete said that one of his achievements was that African leaders had shown that they would not be prosecuted, and they had resisted international prosecution. It was a statement echoed by a few other leaders and an earlier summit. Are you at all concerned that African leaders are showing a resistance to international justice and the powers of the ICC?

Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield: This has been a subject of discussion with the continent of Africa, the view that African countries are being somewhat targeted by the ICC. We don’t subscribe to that view. The vast majority of individuals who have been turned over to the ICC, who are from Africa, have been turned over by their own countries, or have been turned over by other countries where they have been caught.

So this is not a battle about holding Africans to a different standard. We think Africans, as broadly as possible, that they deserve justice. And if justice can be done on the continent, well be. If it can’t be, there are organs outside of the continent that will provide opportunities to find justice for the people of Africa. So that is our goal in supporting these efforts, and I think it is the goal of the many African countries who have also supported and participated in the ICC–Rome Convention.

Moderator: So thank you. That was our final question, and that does conclude today’s briefing. I want to thank all of our speakers for joining us, and thank all of you for participating. If anyone has questions regarding today’s briefing, please contact the Africa Regional Media Hub atafmediahub@state.gov. Thank you.