Transcript: Telephonic Press Briefing with Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Tibor P. Nagy, Jr.

SPECIAL BRIEFING VIA TELEPHONE

OCTOBER 2, 2019

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Assistant Secretary Nagy at the UN General Assembly Conference. At this time all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later there will be an opportunity for your questions. Instructions will follow at that time. If you do need assistance please press *0. As a reminder, this conference is being recorded. I’ll now turn you over to Marissa Scott for opening remarks. Please go ahead.

MODERATOR: Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and thank all of you for joining this discussion.   Today we are very pleased to be joined by the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Tibor P. Nagy. Assistant Secretary Nagy will discuss recent events at the UN General Assembly, including his participation in the U.S.-Africa Business Roundtable hosted by Deputy Secretary John Sullivan, his bilateral meetings with African counterparts on the sidelines of UNGA, and his participation at high-level events on Mali, the Sahel and Sudan.

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Assistant Secretary Nagy, then we will turn to your questions. We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the time that we have, which is approximately 40 to 45 minutes. At any time during the call if you would like to ask a question, you must press *1 on your phone to join the question and answer queue. If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag #AFHubPress and follow us on @AsstSecStateAF and @africamediahub.

As a reminder, today’s call is on the record and with that, I will turn it over to the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy.

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY: Good afternoon, thank you very much. And those of you who have participated with me before on these, note that I greatly enjoy interacting with our media friends around the continent. I was very eager to do this because our Africa Team here in the State Department is just back from the United Nations General Assembly in New York and those of you who cover the event can understand why we call that speed dating for diplomats.

There were a number of really eventful items that we were able to attend. The highlight for me, I guess was that our Deputy Secretary of State Sullivan hosted a U.S.-Africa Business Roundtable which included African ministers, U.S. business executives and other senior U.S. persons to discuss our administration’s number one priority of very dramatically increasing trade and investment with the continent and some of the exciting tools that the U.S. Government now brings to that endeavor.

We talked about the new U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, the doubling of funding, spent quite a bit of time talking about Prosper Africa. But what I was really excited about was to hear directly from the African ministers as to what they are doing in their environments to improve attractions for U.S. business people. And then from the U.S. business executives, and these are some of the major corporations that have long been on the continent. For example, I think General Electric has been on the continent for some incredible 120 years which just absolutely surprised me. And of how they see the environment. Because as I have said over and over and over again since I’ve been in this job now a little bit over a year, I know in my heart that U.S. businesses are exactly what Africa needs to bring the jobs and jobs and jobs that Africa’s young people need now and going to the future.

Other events that we held, I was able to participate in two high-level UN events, one on Mali and the Sahel and then another one on Sudan and unfortunately the Sahel is one of the more problematic areas on the continent. There has been serious deterioration over the last year. So the international community is very engaged on trying to figure out a way on how to address that.

Sudan was much, much more optimistic because the entire international community is extremely excited by the positive developments in Sudan and how we can help Sudan through its transition to a very successful outcome. I was joined by my team here in the Africa Bureau. And between us, I think we had 31 separate meetings with African leaders. As I said, UN General Assembly week is speed dating for diplomats. Our Undersecretary for Political Affairs also co-hosted one of the high-level events and that was for Somalia. That’s another part of the continent which as we all know has been very problematic. But there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

So with that, I will stop and open it up for any questions that you might have. And again it’s an absolute delight to be with you guys. Over.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Nagy. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to one, I repeat one question related to the topic of today’s briefing: recent events at the UN General Assembly.

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY: Yes, one question is very important.

MODERATOR: Yes. For those of you listening to the call in English, please press *1 on the phone to join the question queue. If you are using a speakerphone, you may need to pick up the handset before entering *1. For those of you listening to the call in French and Portuguese, we have received some of your questions submitted in advance by e-mail and you may continue to submit your questions in English via e-mail to afmediahub@state.gov.

Our first question goes to Assira Nambatingar, journalist with Chadian National Television. The question is, what does the United States propose to fight terrorist expansion in the Sahel?

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY: Okay that is like the question of the day. As I said, unfortunately the Sahel, of which we all know Chad is very much a part of, has been one of the more problematic issues across the continent last year. A year ago the situation and the extent of terrorist activity was basically within the Sahelian countries. As we all know, very unfortunate events during last year that what I call a virus has spread to Burkina Faso. During my past year as Assistant Secretary, I had the privilege now traveling to 22 different countries, including many of the coastal states of West Africa. And I can tell you that the governments of those costal states are also quite concerned over the virus spreading further.

The best way to address this is the way doctors address viruses. It’s a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted approach. It cannot just be on the security side. Because if we address it uniquely on the security level, we can, working together, get rid of terrorists. But then what? If it’s a blank space that’s left, then who’s going to fill that?

If we immediately do not have development, governance filling that space, then sometime later, another group of extremists will show up and in many cases are worse than the ones that left. So it has to be an absolutely multi-faceted approach working with the governments in the region, working with friends and partners across Africa and other friends and partners from further afield whether they’re in Europe or North America.

Luckily there’s an awful lot of communication. There’s an awful lot of coordination. We are all talking to each other to see what we can do better in the future so that we can start reversing this trend. Because we realize, we absolutely realize how much the people impacted are suffering from the scourge. Over.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to the listening party at U.S. Embassy Accra. Embassy Accra?

QUESTION: My name is Iddi Yire with the Ghana News Agency. You said that you have hope for Africa. Can you elaborate on that?

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY: That I have hope for Africa? Yes, okay, I can certainly elaborate on that. I have been following Africa and living in Africa since 1978. From the time I arrive in Africa, I think until the time I die, I will remain an Afro-optimist. Which is not to mean that I think that Africa is always the continent of the future. I think that Africa is a continent of the here and now.

If you look at the statistics in Africa, some people are scared by the fact that Africa’s population will double between now and 2050. I am excited by that. Because to me those millions and millions of young people represent a tremendous opportunity, an opportunity for economic growth, an opportunity for prosperity, an opportunity for dynamism. What we need, basically, is to get out of the way of those young people, which means better governance, better rules, better environments for business so that all those businesses around the world that want to invest in Africa will come in and invest in Africa and create jobs for all of those millions of young people.   Because they want, as I’ve said, exactly the same things that young people in America, China, India, Europe want. Which is to have a chance at moving up the economic ladder, a chance to provide for their families, and a chance at that good life, which modern technology offers.

So yes, I am very much an Afro-optimist and I’m very bullish on Africa. And hopefully during this next year, I can get around to visiting the countries I have not been able to visit last year and again engage with the governments, engage with the business community to see how we can partner better. Over.

MODERATOR: Thank you. The next question comes from journalist Sani Martin from Radio Miraya from South Sudan, also listening at the U.S. Embassy Juba at A listening party. We are entering the sixth year of conflict. The international community has expressed ‘donor fatigue’ and reluctance to finance the deal until they see concrete steps with the ongoing progress in the transitional security arrangements. Would the United States say that they are satisfied with the progress and be able to reconsider extending direct support?

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY: I love that question. That is another one of the important questions of the day. I will be able to answer that question better on November 13th. Because right now, the entire international community is focused on having that transition government in place by November the 12th. That’s the expectation.

You know, on many international issues, there’s a plan A, a plan B and a plan C. Regarding South Sudan, there’s only a plan A. That means having that transition government in place by November the 12th. We’ve had, not just me, I think a lot of the partners of South Sudan, have had extensive discussions with members of the government. We’ve had meetings of Friends of South Sudan and on and on and on. But everybody is focused on that.

You know, regarding other issues and other questions, the truth is that some of those other questions are irrelevant if there is no transitional government in place. Now, as far as the money goes, again, international communities’ point of view is, as we all know there have been some issues with corruption in the past. South Sudan has tremendous oil assets. South Sudan has significant revenues. We believe that the South Sudanese government should be using some of its own resources towards that process, making strict accountability for the revenues, for the expenditures.

And once the international community is satisfied as to what use of that money is being put to, at that point we can maybe discuss additional support. Of course the United States of America continues its support for humanitarian problems, for refugees, for those who are, you know, innocent victims of circumstances. But as far as paying to help the transition, we believe South Sudan has its own resources that can be used towards that. Over.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll continue along the vein of Sudan. We have two reporters, one, Wasil Ali from Sudan Tribune and Gabriele Steinhauser from the Wall Street Journal who have similar questions. The transitional Sudanese government seems frustrated by Washington’s apparent unwillingness to remove Sudan from its list of states that sponsor terrorism and seeming moving goalposts. Is there any hope for delisting Sudan in the near future or will it be a lengthy process? The other question, could you provide some details in regards to Sudan’s new government and the U.S.’s removing the country from the list of state-sponsored terrorism? And when do we think such removal could realistically happen? Do we see any avenues for stabilizing the country’s economy while it is on the list and cannot qualify for IMF or World Bank aid?

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY: Okay that’s quite a lot of issues there in two questions. But let me talk about that because again, I’m delighted with the questions this afternoon because they really do go to the heart of some of the most important issues on our continent. Okay, number one, and I think this is very significant and this should be noted because let’s talk about the paradigm.

You know, oftentimes people talk and use that phrase paradigm shift lightly. This time paradigm shift really has a tremendous amount of meaning because until the transition government came in and until Prime Minister Hamdok took over, the United States of America viewed Sudan as a very problematic country. In many respects, we had huge problems with Sudan because we saw it as a source of instability. We saw it as a source of exporting terrorism. That’s why it was on the list of states sponsors of terrorism. Very important to note. That relationship unfortunately existed for a long time. Can we even say decades?

And over those decades, the United States of America, Congress, the administrations put together a number of laws that restricted on what we could and we could not do with Sudan. Fast forward to today. Total change in the paradigm. The United States now sees Sudan as a partner, sees Prime Minister Hamdok’s government as one that we can cooperate with. We are working with international partners to make sure that Sudan can succeed because we see Sudan now as transforming into a country which will promote stability in the region. We hope to have full, normal relations with Sudan. We hope for a very prosperous Sudan that will afford its own citizens every opportunity and every economic benefit.

As far as the state sponsor of terrorism goes, this is also very important to note. You know if we could flip a switch and end it that would be one thing. But the removing the state sponsor of terrorism designation, it is not an event, it is a process. We can work with Sudan and the new government to make that process go as quickly as possible, but I cannot sit here today and give you dates, how long, when will happen what because there are a number of legal constraints tied up in that process.

So while we sympathize with all of our friends around the world who are calling for an end to the state sponsor of terrorism, the United States of America has to follow the legal process working with the government of Sudan. And I can assure you we have a very cooperative relationship. We communicate with each other continuously. We have an extremely energetic and effective special envoy, Ambassador Donald Booth who, I like to joke, but it’s really unfortunately not a joke, I say his office is onboard an airliner as he goes from country to country and conference to conference. And we will be hosting here in Washington D.C. in the next couple of weeks, the next Friends of Sudan meeting which we, the United States started shortly after the events took a positive turn, where we get together and really discuss on how can do what to help Sudan succeed.

But those of you remember in antiquated Rome, there was a Roman senator who ended every speech with Carthage must be destroyed. I’m getting to the point where I end every speech with Sudan must succeed.

MODERATOR: Thank you. The next question goes to a listening party at U.S. Embassy Harare. Operator, please open the line.

OPERATOR: What was the location?

MODERATOR: Embassy Harare, Zimbabwe.

OPERATOR: Thank you. And that line is now opened.

QUESTION: Okay, good afternoon. My name is Muchemwa Norman from Sunday Mail in Harare, Zimbabwe. And my question is as you mentioned earlier on that you hoped for Africa and that is an encouragement for American businesses to invest in Zimbabwe. You know that Zimbabwe is open for — in Africa, rather, you know that Zimbabwe is open for business. What measures are there in place for a win/win arrangement regarding the issue of investment for the benefit of the long-suffering Zimbabweans?

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY: Well I love that question too because I’ve had occasions several times to have dialog at highest levels of your government and our dialogue has been very frank and honest and I’m not going to go into details because those are private discussions. But your leadership understands what the United States is looking for, before we can begin to have a normal, constructive, positive relationship with Zimbabwe.

Now, I told you guys this before, that I have a very special place in my heart for Zimbabwe because not only did I help open up the embassy there shortly after the Lancaster House Agreement in 1980, I think my vehicle was the second one to cross the Chirundu Bridge going from Zambia to Zimbabwe. But my kids first trip was born in independent Zimbabwe were born in Harare. So I really, really appreciate the country. I appreciate the tremendous talents, the positive attributes. Unfortunately it’s no secret, we have a problematic relationship with Zimbabwe. There’s the ZIDERA Act which restricts to a certain extent what the United States can and cannot do.

However, there’s a very false narrative out there which I want to correct. Some people say that the United States has sanctions against the country of Zimbabwe. We do not, repeat, do not have sanctions against the country of Zimbabwe. We have sanctions against certain individuals and certain corporations and there could be greater detail on that, but not against the country of Zimbabwe. There is nothing to stop U.S. businesses from investing in Zimbabwe, from going to Zimbabwe.

However, again, let’s be very frank. Zimbabwe has a reputational problem. We have great concerns over how the government treats its own citizens. We have great concerns over the space that’s available for democracy and governance in Zimbabwe. We have been alarmed with how the government has treated its own citizens. So those are the issues. But as I said, we’ve had very frank, honest and open discussions between ourselves and the highest levels of your government. So you know, hopefully, again, you know my dream and prayer is that we can have fully normalized positive relations with every country in Africa. And Zimbabwe is near the top of my wish list.

Again, given the personal connections I’ve had with your beautiful, beautiful country and your wonderful people. Over.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question goes to the listening party at U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Operator, please open the line.

OPERATOR: It’s open.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Bereket from Ethiopian News Agency. I see information from the UN General Assembly from Africa leaders who had their —

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY: Slow down my friend, slow down.

QUESTION: Some Africa leaders who had the chance to make a keynote speech at the United Nations General Assembly had both their counsel regarding the African representation in the United Nations Security Council. They say that Africa should have the permanent seat in the UN Security Council. As they asked this question for some years but they get no concrete response from the United Nations. [INAUDIBLE] and then what is the take of the Unites States on this issue. And my second question is —

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY: Okay, one question. Remember the rules, my friend.

MODERATOR: Just one question.

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY: One question. Okay, nice try though. You know, you guys are always very sharp at that. Okay, here’s what I can say as to representation in the Security Council, who does or does not have, you know, permanent representation, as we say, that is an issue that is at the highest policy levels. That’s not for me to decide or comment on.

However, I can tell you that we greatly, greatly value — the United States greatly values the work of the A-3, you know, there are always three African members on the Security Council. We always look forward to working with them, we consult with them very carefully and closely on every single issue. We will be doing that again this year. We have engaged in those capital cities. We’ve engaged personally with the representatives. So in the present Security Council, the way it is composed, we greatly value the African representation. Over.

MODERATOR: Thank you. The next question goes to a listening party at U.S. Embassy Eswatini. Operator, please open the line.

OPERATOR: Apologies, what city was that?

MODERATOR: Eswatini.

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY: In Mbabane.

OPERATOR: Okay, that line is open.

QUESTION: My name is Zwelethu Dlamini from the Sunday Observer and my question is what political and economic reforms is Eswatini expected to undertake to retain eligibility in the trade opportunities provided by the U.S. such as AGOA, MCC and Prosper Africa?

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY: Okay, what I wish I could answer in great detail on that question regarding your particular criteria. Unfortunately I cannot. I know the general eligibility criteria, I know what we’re looking for generally when it comes to increasing trade and investment with Africa. We count on each of our U.S. Embassies to deal directly with their host government on the specific issues that they have. I can tell you in general terms to bring U.S. investment to a country, American businesses and enterprises, what they look for, they look for what we call a level playing field, where all countries have to face the same rules of doing business. They look for honest and binding contracts so that they sign a contract in that country, if there’s a dispute, it will be looked at fairly. They look for an honest system of justice so that if there are contract disputes, the judge does not automatically find in favor of say who might pay the greatest bribe or who is related to the head of state.

They also will bring with them, wonderful opportunities for the citizens of the country. They transfer technology. They do not bring hundreds or thousands of employees from America. They like to hire people locally. They like to train people locally. They like to treat men and women in the country equally. They’re very strict and good on environmental safeguards. They do not smuggle out commodities, whether gold, diamonds or elephant tusks.

So you know, I’m very much in favor of sending American companies. But at the same time we do ask our host governments to put in place a type of environment that attracts business and I know the World Bank has an index that they publish every year called The Ease of Doing Business. And you can always look and see where your particular country shows up on that. Because I can promise you, American businesses that are thinking of investing in Africa, certainly look at that index. Over.

MODERATOR: Thank you. The next question comes from a listening party at U.S. Embassy Nairobi, Kenya. Operator, please open the line.

OPERATOR: The line is open.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, my name is Enzi Langa, I work for The Star newspaper back in Kenya. My question is, hundreds of Kenyans watching for eight years by the U.S. for example the U.S. president Donald Trump when he goes in September [INAUDIBLE]. Does the U.S. have any plans of creating jobs to Kenyans? And also the funding has opened from 57 billion – that is Shillings -to 60 billion last year. So also we have any — does the U.S. plan to increase funding in our country?

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY:  I missed the essence of that question. Can you please report — I mean repeat the essence of your question?

QUESTION: Okay, considering hundreds of Kenyans, what is the NGOS funded by the U.S. government [INAUDIBLE] And my question is, does the U.S. have any plans of creating employment to Kenyans and also the practice of the U.S. President’s Emergency plan [INAUDIBLE] supporting the position of [INAUDIBLE] and — yes, the funding has increased from 57 billion to 60 billion last year. So does the U.S. have any plans of increasing that sum in Kenya.

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY: Okay, you know here’s the deal. The United States of America, our official government funding that we spend around the world represents a very, very small percentage of what I would call total U.S. investment in countries. Because unlike those countries where everything is owned by the state, in the United States, the great proportion of investment going to Africa comes from our private sector.

If you look at the amount of money the U.S. private sector puts into Africa, it dwarfs anything else that any other country might do. I don’t know the, for example the proportion in Kenya, but I do know that for example in South Africa, U.S. investment is responsible for about 20 percent of their GDP, employing about 200,000 South Africans.   So the U.S. investment is enormous.

So just because the Unites States official government programs may decrease, does not mean that our overall investment in a country does not go up. With Kenya specifically, we have a very cooperative, positive relationship with the Kenyan government. As you know, during the past year, we had a high-level dialogue between the United States and the Kenyan government. And one other new thing that we had done last year that we’re very, very pleased with in Africa is that at each of our embassies to put in place what we call Deal Teams where the entire U.S. Embassy is engaged in looking for business opportunities from America to the country, from the country to America, working with the country’s government to improve the business environment.

And I assure you that the way countries develop, the way countries gain prosperity, to move from lower income to middle income, is through the investment of the global private sector and that’s what we really, really want to energize because official government funding is really not anywhere close. It’s not even in the same, as we say, the ballpark that the private sector brings. Over.

MODERATOR: Thank you. The next question comes from American journalist Nick Turse. Operator, please open the line -from The Intercept.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. Thanks for taking the time to talk today, Ambassador Nagy. You briefly mentioned Somalia in your opening remarks and a few days ago, for the second time this year, Amnesty International released a scathing report that found the U.S. had shown what it calls “appalling disregard for civilians” in Somalia, drawing attention to noncombatant airstrikes.

As the U.S. Africa command contends that after hundreds of airstrikes and ground missions over the past 10 years, the U.S. has killed or injured only two civilians in Somalia. So I wanted to ask you does that sound credible to you?   And are civilians being killed in U.S. strikes?

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY: Okay on that question I hate to punt but I have to. That is absolutely for the Department of Defense, that’s not for Secretary of State. So please take that to the Department of Defense and talk to their folks about it. Over.

QUESTION: Okay and in that case —

MODERATOR: Thank you. Thank you, Operator, close the line. The next question goes to a live party hosted by Embassy Juba, South Sudan. Operator, please open the line.

OPERATOR: The line is open.

QUESTION: Okay, I can talk? All right, my name is Emmanuel from Eye Radio in Juba. I believe Mr. Tibor, you have come across the recent report that was released recently by The Sentry about implicating some South Sudanese top government officials and actually come out with recommendations to the U.S. government, so what is your current recommendations?

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY: Thanks very much for raising that. Because I know the people involved in The Sentry very well. As a matter of fact, one of the key people John Prendergast, I have known and respected for a very long time. Our Department of State, U.S. government, we welcome the Sentry’s efforts to bring light to corrupt practices in South Sudan. We know for a long time that there’s been quite a relationship between corruption and conflict, unfortunately. Innocent people have suffered. The United States will very carefully review the material presented and the recommendations in The Sentry report and as you all know, the United States of America maintains the right to use all of the tools available whether diplomatic or whether financial or anything else to respond.

Right now there are allegations, they’re very serious allegations but they do require some careful analysis, evaluation and investigation. Thank you very much, over and out.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Thank you Assistant Secretary Nagy. We wanted to know if you had any final words.

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY: The only thing I would like to say is again, thank you very much for your interest. Thank you very much for your participation. We really do want to do this on a regular basis. We greatly appreciate our interchanges and exchanges with the journalists of the continent to continent. We all support, we all believe and as I said, our office here in Washington is absolutely full of Afro-optimists. So let’s make Africa succeed. Not just Sudan succeed but Africa succeed. Over.

MODERATOR: Thank you. That concludes today’s call. I want to thank Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy for joining us. And thank you to all the callers for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at afmediahub@state.gov. Thank you.