This video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.
MS. JENSEN: Hi, good afternoon, and welcome to LiveAtState, the State Department’s interactive web chat platform for engaging international journalists. I’m your host Holly Jensen, and I am delighted to welcome our participants from around the world, and would like to give a special shout-out to our watch parties at our embassies in South Africa, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Malawi, Zambia, Niger, Tanzania, and Nigeria.
Today, we’re going to be speaking with the Commander of AFRICOM General David M. Rodriguez and the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield about U.S. foreign policy and security cooperation in the Sub-Saharan Africa.
Before I turn it over to them, I’d like to just make a couple of housekeeping notes. You can start to ask your questions now in the lower left-hand portion of your screen titled: “Questions for State Department official.” And if at any time you lose connectivity or you drop off, please feel free to email your questions to Live@State.gov and we’ll get them in the queue.
We’ll get to as many questions as we can in the time that we have and with that I’ll turn it over to you, Assistant Secretary. Thanks for joining us today.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. Thank you very much, Holly. And let me begin by thanking our LiveAtState colleagues for organizing this opportunity to hold a direct conversation with all of you joining us from across the continent of Africa. I’m honored to be joined by General Rodriguez, the current Commander of AFRICOM. We are here together today to discuss our shared commitment to implementing President Obama’s vision for U.S. partnership with Sub-Saharan Africa.
In August 2013, I started my new role as Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs at the Department of State. But I’m not new to the continent or new to African issues. I’ve been around for quite some time, and I’m very proud to say that I lead a team of very committed professionals in the United States and across the continent, some whom you’re sitting in the room with today who are guided by our mission. And that mission is to build on Africa’s traditions and advance U.S. interests while contributing to an environment of freedom, prosperity, and security in the U.S.-African partnership.
Partnership. That’s the theme that you will hear throughout our conversation today, and I know very well that now that is – this is a critical time for our partnership with Africa. President Obama demonstrated the same perspective and commitment during his recent trip to the region, and during that trip he introduced some exciting new initiatives that I know all of you are aware of. For example, the Young African Leaders Initiative, or YALI, which beginning in 2014, will bring 500 young leaders to U.S. universities and colleges across the United States. We will be doing this each year to provide them with training and our goal is to reach up to a thousand participants over five years. The participants will receive world class training in business, entrepreneurship, civic leadership, and public administration.
The President almost announced Power Africa and Trade Africa initiatives. Power Africa aims to increase access to electricity by at least 20 million. And I will say that again: 20 million households and commercial locations by matching government resources with private sector commitments. Trade Africa, the goal is to double intra-regional trade in the East African community and increase trade – and also increase trade with the United States. These initiatives and many others share a common theme – our commitment to partnering with Africa.
Speaking of partnership, I’d like to pass over to my colleague, General Rodriguez. General.
GENERAL RODRIGUEZ: Okay, well, good morning and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today about the United States Africa Command, and how we strengthen U.S. partnerships in Africa. And as the Under Secretary stated – the Assistant Secretary – “partnership” is the key word.
Our strategy is to develop partner-security capacities, strengthen relationships, and enhance regional cooperation. We conduct all of our military activities in close coordination with our African partners and our partners in the U.S. Government. Every team has a leader. And in the countries where we operate, that leader is the U.S. ambassador.
AFRICOM was established five years ago to improve the coordination and effectiveness of the U.S. military activities in Africa on the premise that a safe and secure Africa is in the best interest of Africans, Americans, and the broader international community. Today, regional partners are making significant progress in addressing security challenges on the continent. Partners in East, North, and West Africa have made progress in countering violent extremist organizations such as al-Shabaab and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, with some U.S. capacity-building and enabling support.
In Central Africa, regional operations against the Lord’s Resistance Army, combined with the activities of civilian agencies and non-governmental organizations, have reduced the threat to civilian populations. AFRICOM’s defense institution-building activities have supported partner efforts across the region, and this includes our work with the new armed forces of Liberia, where my distinguished friend and colleague, Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield served as the U.S. Ambassador not too long ago.
In East Africa, we’ve seen major progress in maritime security. Maritime crime continues to be a major challenge though in the Gulf of Guinea, where our programs are helping partners to strengthen maritime security and counter illicit trafficking. We back American – African peace support operations primarily by helping the State Department train and equip forces from countries in east and northwest Africa that contribute to regional peacekeeping and security mission.
Our humanitarian and disaster response activities have also helped to strengthen relationships and promote inter-operability. A recent U.S.-South African joint exercise on humanitarian response included both the South African military and the South African Ministry of Health. This was a great example of both military-to-military and civil-to-military cooperation. In West Africa and other parts of the continent, we are working closely with partners to help build their capacities to help counter illicit trafficking in all its forms.
AFRICOM will continue to look for opportunities to better coordinate our strategy with multinational and our interagency partners, and we will align our resources with our strategy and do our very best to ensure we are applying our efforts where they are most effective and most needed. We are committed to being effective members of a team that includes the whole of the U.S. Government. With shared interests and shared values, we will go forward together with our African partners.
Thank you and I look forward to your questions.
MS. JENSEN: Great. Well, they’re already pouring in. So our first question comes from Golden Matonga from Daily Times, Malawi: “We would like to find out if the recent events such as the Westgate attack in Kenya have necessitated the change in U.S. strategy across the continent?” And I’ll send that over to you Assistant Secretary.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you very much for that question, and let me take the opportunity to express our condolences to all people, but particularly to the Kenyans who lost people in Westgate Mall. We watched that situation on – as it unfolded and we were horrified at what happened. But I think for us, in terms of our policy related to al-Shabaab, it highlighted to us that we were pursuing the right strategy. And it just showed us that we need to bolster that strategy. Al-Shabaab will look for efforts. They start looking for soft targets because the harder targets – other targets are being made harder for them to go after. And as we continue to work with our colleagues in AMISOM, in the Kenyan Government and other partners with AMISOM, Ethiopian Government as well, we know that we must continue those efforts to go after al-Shabaab so that we don’t see those kinds of attacks happen again. Thank you again for that question.
GENERAL RODRIGUEZ: And we support, as the Ambassador mentioned, we work very hard with all the troop contributing countries to help best prepare them to support their operational efforts in AMISOM, and we also help coordinate activities with AMISOM to make them – and improve and make them as effective as they can be. We think that many of the successes that AMISOM has had over the last several years have actually led to this response by al-Shabaab. And as the ambassador has said, this really validates our strategy, and we’re going to continue to work with our partners to strengthen their capabilities to stop al-Shabaab from having the incredibly negative impact on both the people of Somalia as well as the region. Thank you.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Jama Abshir from Radio Daljir, Somalia: “Now that the world has recognized al-Shabaab as a clear and present danger to the region and to the world, what is the U.S. and the Horn of Africa in particular doing to train and equip the emerging security forces of the federal government and those of the member states, Puntland and Jubaland in particular?” Sorry. I’ll send that to you.
GENERAL RODRIGUEZ: Okay. Well, as was mentioned, the ACOTA training, which is a State Department-led initiative, which trains all the troop contributing nations to the AMISOM, is a long-term effort to prepare those troop-contributing nations to support AMISOM in their objective to defeat al-Shabaab. And both State, which leads the program, and AFRICOM, which provides mentors and teams with State Department to better prepare those soldiers as they head into the fight in Somalia, is how we best can support our AMISOM partners. We also work with all our AMISOM partners with intelligence sharing to help improve the effectiveness of their activities. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: And if I can just add to that, we’re also working very, very closely with the Government of Somalia, with the President, to help improve the capacity of the Somali national army as well, so that the government can provide the services that its people need so that they can feel secure in Somalia. This is an ongoing effort. It’s not something that we can achieve overnight, but we’re committed to continuing to help build Somalia so that the people of Somalia feel confidence in their government.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Brooks Tigner from Jane’s Defense Weekly: “One of the big security risks to the Sub-Saharan region is Libya’s wide open southern border across which arms and other illicit traffic easily move. (A) Given that the international community involved in reforming Libya’s security sector is largely boxed up in Tripoli due to security threats, does the United States Government have a plan for addressing the north-south movement of arms across Libya’s southern frontier?
And (B), the U.S. military has a base for drones in the region. Is it considering armed ones to discourage arms movements?”
GENERAL RODRIGUEZ: For the – as you mentioned very clearly the challenge in Libya and the movement of those arms across the northwestern part of Africa is a concern to all the regional partners in Africa. And they are all working together to help improve their border security capacity, and we are supporting their efforts with training as well as advising to help them stem that flow of arms, ammunition, and explosives, as well as personnel that flow back and forth out of Libya.
As far as the international effort to help build the capacity of the Libyan armed forces and the security forces writ large to address this problem, that multinational community is coming together and will start. We’re thankful that NATO has just agreed to start building the security sector reform, and then the UK, the Italians, and the French will all help provide some support. Plus, there’s the UN mission there, and all of us are working together. Also the European Union to help build the capacity of the Libyan national security forces to properly secure Libya.
MS. JENSEN: Okay. Our next question comes from George Sappor from GBC, Accra: “How will you describe the current state of partnership between the USA and Africa with development in some parts of northern Africa?” I’ll send that to you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Wow. It – that’s a great question because northern Africa is not part of my portfolio. But I think it’s a question that’s relevant for us in Sub-Saharan Africa as well. I think our partnership on development has been a strong one that has extended over many years. It is not a new partnership. We have worked across the continent in helping to build the capacity of African countries to develop its agriculture. We have worked very closely in our PEPFAR program to provide support to African countries dealing with AIDS and other health issues. We have worked to build the capacity of countries to work on democracy and governance issues so that elections are free and fair across the continent. And I think that’s true whether it’s North Africa or it is Sub-Saharan Africa.
I think it’s great that your question is coming from Ghana because Ghana is a great example of success – of the success of the people of Ghana, but also the success of our partnership with Ghana to help Ghana advance its own development.
MS. JENSEN: All right. Our next question comes from Siaka Momoh, Vanguard Newspaper: “Boko Haram is Nigeria’s big security headache. The problem has been established to be externally influenced. How are you partnering with the Nigerian Government to help stop this problem?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you for that question. We are very concerned about the impact of Boko Haram in Nigeria but also outside the border of Nigeria. We have had a number of conversations and discussions with the Nigerian Government on how to address this issue in terms of addressing the broad development issues in north Nigeria, but also in how the government responds to the threat that Boko Haram is posing in that region.
We are – our suggestion to the government is that they need a broad perspective. It’s not all about security. They do have to take into account the impact of their operations on civilian populations, and hopefully as they go after Boko Haram, that they build a partnership with the civilian community. We are prepared to work with the government on training so that they can deal with human rights concerns as they approach the government – as they approach this issue. But also, we want to make sure that we help them with their capacity as well to deal with the security threat.
I think, General, you might have some more to say on that.
GENERAL RODRIGUEZ: That’s a – as you mentioned, that’s a – exactly the route that we’re working with our Nigerian military compatriots and partners with, because it is a whole of government approach that has to be done, how they have to integrate that, and some of the challenging lessons that we’ve learned over the last several years on how we have to do that is critical. So we are working the military-to-military relationships and advising them in the same manner as the Assistant Secretary mentioned – to do a whole of government approach that includes the people, the security forces and, of course, the government. And I think that it’s going to be a challenge. It’s a tough, tough issue up there in that northeast where Boko Haram is, and we’re all working together from many different directions to help move this forward and support the Nigerians in this struggle.
MS. JENSEN: We’re going to go back to Westgate. The next question comes from Kevin Kelly from Nation Media Group in Kenya: “In light of the al-Shabaab – in light of al-Shabaab’s attack on the Westgate Mall, does the United States agree with Kenya’s argument to the UN Security Council that the ICC trials of Kenya’s leader should be deferred on the grounds that the proceedings will distract them from countering a threat to international peace and security?
And will the U.S. support the deferral request made by the African Union to the Security Council?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you, again, for that question. We are very, very aware of the Kenyans’ concern about having to deal with Westgate and the fact that they have, with the support of the AU, sent this to the Security Council. And we are reviewing that as others are reviewing that request. That said, we do want to continue to work with the Kenyan Government to address the situation in Westgate, and we want to continue to have discussions with the Kenyan Government about how they move forward. We encourage the government to continue to cooperate with the ICC. We think that is extraordinarily important for the victims of the violence that occurred in Kenya in 2007. So we will continue to have discussions on this issue.
MS. JENSEN: The next question is for you, sir. It comes from SABC News in South Africa: “Given the increasing security concerns in Africa, what steps is AFRICOM taking to increase cooperation with the AU?”
GENERAL RODRIGUEZ: We have a great relationship with the African Union. We have liaison officers there, and are part of the State-led team that has a mission that is partnering with the African Union, and we continue to work with the African Union, the regional economic councils, and all the partner nations who contribute to the peacekeeping operations to advise and assist them and help build their capacity and strengthen their defense capabilities.
MS. JENSEN: Great. Our next question is from This Day in Tanzania: “There are assumptions that terrorism activities are supported financially by money obtained from poaching wildlife, specifically elephant tusks and rhino horns. What is your comment on this?”
And I’ll send that to you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you for that question. We know that terrorist activities are being supported by all kinds of illegal activities. And I would not be surprised if it’s being supported by illegal poaching of elephant tusk in East Africa.
We have a very, very strong policy to work with our partners in Africa to address wildlife poaching across the continent. We want to work with the governments in that region to ensure that this wonderful resource that they have continues to be available for their children in the future, but also that it is not used to fund the activities of terrorists or other criminal elements that will bring problems to our partners in Africa. So it’s something that we’re very concerned about, and again, I appreciate your asking that question.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Ethio Channel Newspaper, and this is for you, General: “In recent weeks, we have heard Navy SEALs are in Libya and Somalia. Will this continue?”
GENERAL RODRIGUEZ: The – as you mentioned, the Secretary of Defense has explained what those operations were about and why we will – if required, will continue those operations. And it’s all about staying after the international terrorists that threaten both the people of the African region as well as others. And the war against – or the getting after these terrorists is hugely important, because again, we’ve got to understand that terrorism is a common interest to finish that and protecting the people, because the ones who are hurt most from the terrorism are the African people themselves. So we are supporting the Africans and all countries to ensure that this scourge does not have a negative impact on the world.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: And if I can add to that, terrorism anywhere affects people everywhere, and we’re all impacted by terrorist activities wherever they may occur. If we just look at the situation in Westgate, there were so many people who were killed there. They were not all Kenyans. They were people from all over the continent. On 9/11, there were people killed from many, many different countries. So it impacts all of us, and our efforts to go after terrorists are – benefit everyone, not just the United States, but everyone who can say that they’ve been victimized by these activities.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Raymond Baguma from Vision Group in Uganda: “Since the deployment of military advisors in 2011, hasn’t the situation on the ground changed for the United States to consider sending in more advisors or reducing their numbers? This is in light of the success against the LRA, which has accused – or which has caused defections as well as the capture of LRA commanders. In your view, what more needs to be done?”
GENERAL RODRIGUEZ: Well, I think that mission from the African Union Regional Task Force has been very effective in moving in the right direction, and all the trend lines are moving forward, as you say.
But it’s been more than just that African Union Regional Task Force. It’s been a tremendous effort from many nations and many non-governmental organizations, and again, a whole-of-government approach that has had the positive benefits that you speak of. So I think that the efforts will continue as they are, to continue to decrease that – keep that on the right trajectory as we move forward, to continue to lessen the negative impact that the LRA has on the civilians in the region.
MS. JENSEN: Great. “Niger is on the forefront of counterterrorism primarily because of its strategic location. In February, Niger will host Flintlock 2014. How we can we ensure that this exercise is a success and supports the role of Nigerians leading the effort?”
GENERAL RODRIGUEZ: Well, as you said, the Nigerians are at a strategic location and are part of the partnership and the solution to the challenges of what is happening in Libya and the movement of the arms, ammunition, explosives, and personnel across Northwest Africa. So we are working with our partner nation, and the best thing that we can do, I think, is – during the Flintlock exercise or anything else – is help them where they need it most. So we are listening to the leaders to ensure that what we help provide them, and the exercise and the training we provide them, is what they most need to help support their security on that northern region.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Joanna Biddle from AFP: “How concerned is the U.S. about the declaration by the former Renamo rebels in Mozambique that they will no longer recognize the peace deal in place for 20 years or so? And do you fear an eruption of violence in a country which has been reasonably peaceful?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We’re very concerned about that announcement. I think I may have heard something this morning that they may have recanted that announcement, and I hope that that is true. Mozambique is a country that has been moving forward in a very positive way, and we hope that that continues. It benefits all people in Mozambique, not just the government. Renamo has individuals who are in the government, they are members of the legislature, and we encourage that they continue to work toward peaceful solutions to their concerns with the government. There is a way of doing that, and we are encouraging the government also to be prepared to work with Renamo. This is a setback, but it – I believe it’s only a temporary setback, and hopefully we can move forward from here.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Guy Martin from DefenceWeb in South Africa: “To what extent is AFRICOM’s role in Africa changing in light of the increase in terrorisms in places like Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, and the Sahel region? Is counterterrorism taking precedence over training and peacekeeper development training?”
GENERAL RODRIGUEZ: Well, I think when you look at the counterterrorism struggle that’s going on there, it’s not a soda straw look at anything. So the solution to that is multifaceted, it’s about the whole-of-government approach. So the capacity-building efforts are just as important as any efforts that are focused purely on counterterrorism. So I think it’s much broader than that, and I think our focus continues to be on strengthening the African defense capabilities so the Africans can solve this problem themselves. Thank you.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Le Soleil newspaper in Senegal: “Usually when it concerns the fight against terrorism, the United States is strongly involved, but not in the case in northern Mali. How come?”
GENERAL RODRIGUEZ: The United States has supported the efforts in Northern Mali in a very, very positive and effective way, I believe. First, of course, was the support to AFISMA. And again, the State Department-led ACOTA training prepared those forces to head in to support that mission in Mali. And now there are nine nations that are – participate in that. It was a great regional effort to solve that problem. And then the United States provided support to the French with both aero-refueling, air mobility, as well as intelligence and surveillance and reconnaissance, and we continue now to work with the UN mission to support them in the same way to help prepare the troop-contributing nations to execute their mission in Mali.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: If I can add to that, we’ve also worked very, very closely with other African countries in the region and with the newly elected Government of Mali to address some of the underlying causes of the problems in northern Mali. We have supported the government’s effort to work toward reconciliation discussions and dialogue. And we think, again, as the general has said, Mali is a success story, and we were there, but not there alone. Again, we give tremendous credit to the French, to the Chadians, to ECOWAS, to the neighbors who supported efforts to help Mali get through this difficult time.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Lawrence Freeman: “When I met with the AFRICOM leadership in 2010, I discussed the reality that without massive economic development in regional and transcontinental infrastructure to alleviate abject poverty, insurgency would increase. Billions of dollars needs to be invested in energy, water, and transportation. A mere 8,000 megawatts is totally inadequate, for Africa needs thousands of gigawatts of power. Will the U.S. actually spend the money to develop the continent?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Why don’t I take that question? (Laughter) Power Africa addresses just that need. The President’s initiative is to bring power for the first time to 20 million Africans who have never had power before. We know that infrastructure development such as power is really the key to Africa’s development. So that is a very prescient question at U.S. AFRICOM, and we are working to address that.
We can’t do it alone, however. The U.S. Government doesn’t have that kind of funding resources. We have to partner with African countries, those that happen to have resources. We have to partner with the private sector. And we’re doing just that with Power Africa.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Siaka Momoh from Vanguard: “The Gulf of Guinea has become a hotspot for pirates, and Nigeria is losing millions of naira to hoodlums. What’s the latest – or what latest strategy do you have to help combat the menace?”
GENERAL RODRIGUEZ: We have two major programs that work for that. We have an African Partnership Station, which is where we work with the partner nations’ navies, and we also have a legal – a partnership legal review for all the maritime legal issues that are part of the solution in the Gulf of Guinea. We’ve also helped build some capacity for some operation centers for several of the nations around the Gulf of Guinea to coordinate their efforts, and that is a regional problem and a regional challenge that everybody is going to have to work together to solve because of the challenges that occur in the Gulf of Guinea.
So that’s our efforts thus far, and both of those have made some progress, but there’s, as you mentioned, a lot of challenges out there and a long way to go.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Mark Simuwe from the University of Zambia Radio: “Is the United States ready to work with Zimbabwe to fight terrorism owing to sanctions on Zimbabwe?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: If I understand your question, it’s are we prepared to work with Zimbabwe to fight terrorism. And I can say we’re prepared to fight terrorism wherever it is and to work with any country that is prepared to partner with the United States to fight terrorism.
The terrorist fight really has not been related to our sanctions on Zimbabwe. Those sanctions are a result of violations of human rights and violence and lack of democracy and free and fair elections that have taken place in that country. We are hoping to continue to work with the people of Zimbabwe and the member-states of SADC to help the people of Zimbabwe move forward. And if that requires us working on issues related to terrorism, I think that’s a discussion we can have.
MS. JENSEN: Geoffrey York of the African bureau of the Toronto Globe and Mail wants to know: “What is your view of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic, and whether there should be international military intervention? Should the military intervention be African-led? And how much of a role should be played by French or other non-African troops?”
GENERAL RODRIGUEZ: Well, the challenging situation there is very, very detrimental to the people in the entire region, and for the military efforts there, and what we think – we’re absolutely supporting the French efforts to do some in that area and also supporting some of the partner nations and surrounding nations who can help that. But we believe, in almost every single case we can think of, that it has to be African-led, and that’s why we’re best looking at ways we can help partner with those African nations to help improve their capacities to handle that type of situation. But it’s a tragic situation in that country, unfortunately.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: And let me just add we’re very, very concerned about the situation in CAR. It’s not just the humanitarian situation; it is what has led to the humanitarian situation that we need to address. We, of course, are contributing to helping to alleviate some of the suffering that is going on in CAR as a result of what is happening there. We want to continue to partner with our African partners who are contributing to the effort, providing them with training, with equipment, and whatever they require to address those issues.
But we’re also working on the political front to try to find a political solution to that situation, to disarm the Seleka rebels and also discourage any opportunities that are being taken by negative forces who may try to move into CAR. We know that an ungoverned space is welcoming to terrorists and it’s welcoming to the LRA, so we need to make sure that the government is prepared to address that with our assistance and the assistance of governments in the region.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question is from John Vandiver of Stars and Stripes: “Is there any evidence of AQIM, Al Shabaab, and Boko Haram collaborating? And if so, what kind of relationship is it? Each group has separate interests, so what if anything unifies them?”
GENERAL RODRIGUEZ: I think the unifying thing that gets any of those people working together is the overall ideology and the impact that they want to have to destabilize the countries to provide them more opportunity to spread their challenging ways of life to the region and the people. They – it’s just like everything else in this terrorist network out there. They’re loosely affiliated. They help here and there. They coordinate movements of people and equipment and arms. But all of it is – has a negative impact on what the African nations desire and what they deserve and what they’re working to end.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Peter Fabricius – and this is for you, General – from Independent Newspaper, South Africa: “There has been some speculation that AFRICOM might be reabsorbed into the European Command because of budget cuts. Can you tell us how your future looks?”
GENERAL RODRIGUEZ: That doesn’t – is not part of the plan right now, and we’ll continue to look at that in the future. But right now, the United States believes that the focus of having a headquarters focused on Africa to improve the effectiveness of our military support to the State Department and the region is going to remain separate. And we’ll just see how that goes in the future, but right now there are no plans to consolidate.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from the U.S. Embassy in Sierra Leone: “Corruption and bad government have led to conflict in Africa. How is the U.S. partnership with Africa to help address these issues?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I can start by saying I absolutely agree with you, and I think in most countries you will find that people understand that corruption does not contribute to prosperity. We are working with all of the countries across Africa to deal with issues related to corruption. Sierra Leone and other countries know that in order to qualify for MCC consideration that there is an index on corruption, and that is something that we watch very, very closely. My colleagues and friends in Liberia, where I served for three and a half years, also know that this is an issue that was always on my agenda with the government and with the people of Liberia.
If corruption is not addressed, countries will not prosper. So we want to continue to work with countries and with governments to address those issues to provide opportunities for people so that they don’t see corruption as the only opportunity that they might have for prosperity. It’s a challenge, it’s a work in progress, but it’s something that we hope to continue to work. It’s a message that we want to continue to deliver on the continent.
GENERAL RODRIGUEZ: And we deliver that every day and we have a role to play in that as we develop the partner security capacities, because unfortunately, sometimes they are part of the challenging situation with corruption. And we work very, very hard with all our partners to ensure that their defense institutions do not contribute negatively to the corruption challenge, and also play the proper role of a military in a democratic nation.
MS. JENSEN: We have a question from Ghana: “How has the 14-day government shutdown affected the U.S. international relations with Sub-Saharan countries? As we wait a total healing of this process, will the U.S. Government back out of on foreign interventions like security and aids to these countries?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you for that question. I can tell you how it impacted my bureau – significantly – during that 14 days. We were not able to travel. We were not able to do the kinds of engagements that we wanted to do on the continent. So we were very pleased when it ended, and we hope to continue to move forward with our development assistance and our programs in Africa. We certainly have to look carefully at what we’re doing to ensure that what we’re doing has positive impacts, that we can justify what we’re doing to American taxpayers and to our Congress. But we are still committed to support Africa development, whether it’s health, whether it’s democracy and governance, and infrastructure.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Ajong Mbapndah from Panafricanvisions.com, and this is for you, General: “There has been quite some skepticism among Africans on the mission of AFRICOM. Can you restate or sum up what AFRICOM represents and reassure Africans that there is nothing to fear or be wary about American military presence in Africa?”
GENERAL RODRIGUEZ: Yes. What – again, African Command has always been focused on trying to figure out how to best support the African nations and the African partners, and strengthen their defense capabilities, so that the African solutions are the way of the future. So I think that there has been a lot of speculation and a lot of news about this since its inception and everything, but I think the track record over the last five years has been that AFRICOM has helped to support the defense institutions in the improving of capacity in AFRICOM so that African solutions are the way of the future all around.
MS. JENSEN: Ajong has – oh, do you want to add something?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah, let me add something. As I told the general when we started, I was at AFRICOM at the beginning. I was the principal deputy assistant secretary in the Africa Bureau when we rolled out AFRICOM. And I think I can say American military – the American military was working with partners in Africa before AFRICOM. We have always had an interest in Africa. What is new with AFRICOM over the past five years is that we’re more engaged, it’s more direct, it’s more coordinated, it’s more strategic than it’s been in the past. So I see that as a tremendous positive development for African countries. And I think if you spoke to African military leaders who have worked with AFRICOM, they would also agree that this has been a positive advancement in our relationship.
MS. JENSEN: Ajong has a follow-up for you: “In the suspension of military aid to Rwanda, an acknowledgement of its role in the crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and considering the suffering of the Congolese and the length of the crisis, when are we going to see a more robust engagement from the USA in the quest for lasting peace?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think we’re seeing a robust engagement right now from the United States in dealing with the situation. As you know, Secretary Kerry appointed former Senator Feingold as our Special Envoy for the Great Lakes. He has been working very, very closely with the other special envoys – Mary Robinson, the UN Special Envoy – and he’s actually in the region right now working with the countries in the region to help to find the solution. The Kampala talks over the weekend were extraordinarily intense. We are still hopeful that those talks will lead to a solution with the M23 and that we will start seeing efforts to address the broader issues that are in Congo so that we can start moving that country forward and building on the resources that they have.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Jessica Stone from CCTV: “To what extent is China being a partner in efforts to secure parts of Kenya, Somalia, and Northern Africa in light of the al-Shabaab threat? And can you please speak to the question of whether there are any plans to arm the drones in the region to discourage armed movements?”
GENERAL RODRIGUEZ: I know that the Chinese, I believe, have started to have a couple of contributions to the UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, and I think that’s – so I’m not sure there’s been much in the Eastern part against al-Shabaab, but they’ve volunteered to support the UN efforts in Mali and other places. And we are welcoming that effort, just like we do with everybody who’s helping to achieve a peaceful solution to the challenges there.
No, there are no plans right now on the drones. And again, we support a range of security issues on the continent and everything, and we’ll – we work with our – the host nation partners to coordinate all our efforts to support their efforts to solve their problems.
MS. JENSEN: All right. We have time for two more questions. The next one comes from U.S. Embassy Ghana: “What has been the U.S. contribution to the local integration policy for countries in Africa that accommodate refugees?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: That’s a great question for me. As you know, I’ve spent most of my career working on refugee issues. As a Foreign Service officer, that’s somewhat unusual. So I’ve been across the continent and worked in Geneva on refugee issues. And I am extraordinarily proud of the contributions that are made by the U.S. Government to refugees across the world, not just in Africa. The refugee bureau, known as the Population, Refugee and Migration Bureau, hit the $1 billion mark for total contributions in the past year, and we are the largest contributor to all of the international organizations, whether it’s UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, ICRC, the various federations of Red Cross Societies. The U.S. Government is always there. It is a mark of our commitment and a mark of the genuine care that the U.S. Government and people feel for people who are in need.
MS. JENSEN: This is our last question and it comes from Marissa Scott. She wants to know: “AFRICOM has been present in West Africa since 2008. However, there have been terrorist attacks in Mali and Niger. How can you combat these negative forces and help find a definitive solution to terrorism in the region?”
GENERAL RODRIGUEZ: Well, the solution to terrorism in the region is a long-term, broad, whole-of-government approach by all our partners as well as all the international community, because it’s not solved just by military operations. As the Assistant Secretary talked about, it’s about the economic development, it’s about the improvement in governance, it’s about the rule of law and law enforcement. So I think that we work with our teammates at the country teams and the embassy and across the whole interagency to help build those capacities in the African nations. Thank you.
MS. JENSEN: Well, great. Thank you both for coming today. That’s all the time we have for today. I’d like to thank you for all of your really great questions, and I especially want to thank you, General Rodriguez and Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield, for joining us.
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