MS. JENSEN: Hi, welcome to LiveAtState, the State Department’s interactive web chat platform for engaging international media. I am delighted to welcome those of you joining us from around the continent in Africa today. I would like to send a special shout-out to those of you joining us from our watch parties in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Mozambique, Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Uganda. And we’d like to say a special hello to those of you joining us from the Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany.
For the first time, this program will be having simultaneous interpretation in French and Portuguese. If you would like to listen to this press conference in either of those languages, please dial the phone numbers provided to you in the lower right-hand portion of your screen. If at any time you have trouble, you can always email your questions to us at LiveAtState.gov.
Today, we’ll be speaking with Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and she will be discussing our commitment to sub-Saharan Africa. And with that, I would like to turn it over to you. Welcome. Thank you for joining us today.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. Thank you very much, and I’m very, very happy to be back, and I welcome all of you who are on the screen. As many of you probably know, if you’ve been watching the news, I just came back from a week-long trip to Africa with Secretary Kerry. We visited four countries and had the opportunity to meet with leaders from across those four countries. We also had our annual high-level dialogue with the AU. We met with IGAD representatives regarding the situation in South Sudan. We had extensive talks with the Government of Ethiopia. We met with the president of Somalia.
And then we made an unannounced visit to South Sudan, where the Secretary met with President Salva Kiir. He also called former Vice President Riek Machar. We urged both of them to put down their – put away their differences and work to find a solution that was for the good of the people of South Sudan and for South Sudan. And as you know, last week, they did sign a peace agreement. It’s only a first step. It’s a small step and we know that a lot more work needs to be done, and we intend to stay engaged until we help them find a solution.
We also visited DRC and Angola, and I know that we have a watch party from DRC, so I expect that I will get some questions from DRC as well. We engaged with both of these governments concerning the situation in the Great Lakes. In DRC, we also engaged on their upcoming election.
As you are not surprised, we’re very much engaged with working with the Government of Nigeria on assisting them in addressing the brutal kidnapping of almost 300 girls by the terrorist group Boko Haram. This is part of a long, terrible trend that Boko Haram has been involved in, and we join with the people of Nigeria, and particularly with the family, the parents of these girls in expressing our outrage. We will continue to work with the Nigerians until these girls are found and until Boko Haram is stopped.
I’d like to just end on a positive note. In spite of all these things that are happening, as you know, we’re in the throes of planning for what will be a summer of Africa in Washington. We will be hosting the Young African Leaders Washington Fellowship program here in Washington from July 28 through 30. We have 500 amazing young people from across the continent who will be here for six weeks of training, and they will have the opportunity to engage with the President, engage with other leaders in the Washington area, and then return home to really show their leadership skills. We had the opportunity to meet with some of those young people when we were in Africa with Secretary Kerry, and I can tell you they are very, very impressive.
After the YALI Washington Fellowship summit, we will be hosting the African Leaders Summit, a heads of state summit, here in Washington on the 5th and 6th of August. We have invited leaders from across the continent to engage with President Obama and his cabinet to talk about issues of concerns to all of our governments. We will also have, as part of this, a CEO forum where we will bring business leaders from across the continent and the U.S. to engage with African leaders on investment opportunities.
So with that, I look forward to taking your questions, and again, I’m happy to be back with you.
MS. JENSEN: Great. Our first question comes from Addis, from the watch party in Addis: “There are reports that suggest a breach of the agreement signed in Addis between South Sudan’s army and the rebel forces. If both sides fail to respect the ceasefire, what is the U.S.’s next course of action?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you for that question. And as – you will note, as I’ve said, that the signing of the peace agreement is only the first step. We have to work closely with the leaders in the region to make sure that we get IGAD troops on the ground who will be put in the position so that they can monitor the agreement and ensure that anyone who is involved in breaking that agreement will be held responsible. So we had a number of discussions with leaders about getting the UN resolution through that will allow these troops to deploy as quickly as possible, and this is one of our highest agenda items right now in dealing with South Sudan.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from La Prosperité in Kinshasa: “Should Kerry’s Africa trip be construed as a stronger U.S. commitment to the restoration of lasting peace to the Great Lakes region?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Absolutely, absolutely. That is one way of construing that visit. There’s nothing more we want for the people of the Great Lakes than a lasting peace. We see some progress taking place right now. As you know, we have a special envoy, former Senator Feingold, and he has been working around the clock with Special Envoy Mary Robinson and the other special envoys to help find the solution.
Our visit to Angola was to engage with President Dos Santos as the president of the International Contact Group for the Great Lakes. He has taken a very proactive role. We are – we wanted to commend the active role he has taken and encourage him to continue to work with the governments in the region to ensure that we have a lasting peace. This is what the people of the Great Lakes deserve, and every effort will be made not just on our part, but I really strongly believe by all of the leaders in the region to bring lasting peace to DRC.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from WBS in Uganda – they’re watching from Kampala: “Is it true that the U.S. had a hand in forcing Kiir to sign the peace agreement with Machar? And what happens now since the agreement seems to be failing?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, let me disagree with you on the last part of that question. I would not say the agreement is failing. The agreement was just signed. And there was no forcing of hand that took place here. We urged the leaders on both sides to make the right decision in the best interests of their people. This is what the people of South Sudan deserve. They fought for 30 years for their independence. Secretary Kerry was there for the inauguration and for the election, and he’s invested a lot of his own career in supporting the – supporting peace for South Sudan. So we still have a lot more work to do. We continue to encourage the two protagonists on both sides to put the goodwill of their people first, ahead of their own wishes, and to bring peace to South Sudan.
There is a famine that is looming if this fighting does not stop. More than 900,000 people have been forced from their homes either in IDP camps inside of Sudan or they’ve crossed the border into refugee camps in neighboring countries. This is the planting season. The humanitarian organizations asked, when I was there in South Sudan with the Secretary, that we have a month of tranquility to allow people, at minimum, to go and start planting their farms so that we can address some of their humanitarian requirements.
So again, this is just a start. We cannot predict failure days after the agreement was signed. We have to work to ensure that the agreement takes root and that we start moving forward to provide a peaceful solution for the people of South Sudan.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from our Kampala watch party: “Is the U.S. concerned with the close relationship that China is creating with countries in the region?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you. That’s a great question. And no, we’re not concerned about China having a close relationship with people in the region. We know that China has an interest in the region. The Chinese premier was in Africa shortly after our visit to the continent. And what we say to the people of Africa is that they have to ensure that as they negotiate with the Government of China, that they get the best deal possible for the people of their country.
We have been working closely with the Chinese on the situation in South Sudan. China has a special envoy as well. He has been working with our special envoy, because he knows that a peaceful Africa is an Africa that can prosper. So we do want Africans to benefit from the largesse that China may be able to provide for them, and we want to work with the Chinese to ensure that what they are providing helps to pursue a prosperous Africa for all of its people in the future.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Le Phare in Kinshasa: “The election roadmap that has been introduced by the National Independent Electoral Commission has polarized the Congolese public. How does the U.S. intend to help Congolese iron out the differences regarding that issue?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, this is an issue that the Congolese people have to work to find a solution for themselves. We are encouraging, and as the Secretary did during his visit, encouraging all the parties to talk to each other to figure out what the best way to move forward in ensuring that the elections in DRC are peaceful, fair, transparent, and that they express the will of the people of DRC.
We met with the head of the Election Commission. We met with civil society. We met with the government. We encouraged all to move forward, abiding by the constitution, to ensure that these elections take place as planned. How the elections take place, this is going to require negotiations between all of the parties. I know that the Electoral Commission has made some recommendations that have to be supported by the legislature. But as they are moving forward, the Secretary encouraged them to communicate, communicate, communicate on a regular basis with the people, with the parties, so that they understand what is being done; they can ask questions; they can get their concerns addressed.
So again, this is in the hands of the Congolese people. We’re there to support. We announced $30 million in additional funding to support the efforts to move forward with a strong democratic process. Our Embassy there, our special envoy, and we here in Washington will continue to work to support the people of Democratic Republic of Congo.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Said Hassan Anteno from Universal TV and Star FM in Kenya: “There was a security crackdown since April 2014 in Kenya. Many incidents against human rights violations occurred through this time, like ethnic profiling, harassment, and intimidation against Somalis from Somalia, and also Somalis from Kenya. Does the American Government know, and what can you do to combat these atrocities?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: On the situation in Kenya, we know that Kenya has experienced horrendous terrorist acts over the past year, and we want to work with the Kenyan Government to ensure that we address the incidents of terrorism taking place, because we know that terrorism in Kenya affects all of us. That said, we have expressed our strong concerns to the Government of Kenya. You know what our views are on the commission of acts of human rights violations. We have expressed our concerns to the Kenyan Government. We will continue to express our concerns to the Kenyan Government and raise those concerns whenever we see evidence of human rights violations being committed.
In order to deal with terrorism, there has to be a two-pronged approach. There is a military side of it, but there’s also a side of it that involves dealing with the population in a free and fair and transparent way so that the population understands what is going on, and the population does not become a victim of both sides, of the terrorists as well as the government.
So again, this is a conversation that we will continue to have with the Kenyan Government.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Emma Farge– the West and Central Africa Correspondent for Reuters: “A number of African presidents are about to reach the end of their final terms, but there are some signs that they may not step down from power. Burkina Faso and DRC are examples. What is the United States doing to ensure that African leaders respect their own constitution on term limits?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have urged African governments to respect their constitutions, to respect the term limits, and if there are not term limits, that they should put term limits in. Our government had that experience. For years, we didn’t have term limits. And as you know, President Roosevelt ran for four terms. And at that point, we decided to put term limits into our own constitution. And the 22nd Amendment of our constitution has lasted.
We know that it is important for people to see transition to feel that they have a role and a possibility to play, and we’ve encouraged leaders to allow for there to be change. In countries where we have seen free and fair elections where the opposition has an opportunity to participate in the electoral process, and sometimes even win as we saw in the case of Senegal a few years ago – we saw that in the case of Ghana – these countries have very stable democracies.
And our message is: There is life after the presidency. We encourage these presidents to look for opportunities to contribute to their countries in other ways. We’re seeing the active role that President Obasanjo is playing not just inside of Nigeria, but also across Africa, using his leadership skills to provide support to young people. He is heading the Commission of Inquiry to look at the situation in South Sudan. So there are opportunities for these leaders to show that they are committed to the continent, that they are committed to their countries.
So this is a conversation that we will continue to have with leaders. As you know, Secretary Kerry made a statement regarding this when we were in DRC. We have engaged with other governments on this issue, and we will continue to engage with governments on this issue.
MS. JENSEN: Christine Holzbauer from New Africa in French would like to know: “Can you tell us how many African presidents have already been invited or will be invited to the upcoming Africa Leaders Summit on August 5th and 6th in Washington, D.C.? Indeed, the White House press release suggested that leaders will come from across the continent, but not quite explicit that all leaders will be invited.”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, thank you very, very much for that question. We have invited leaders from across the continent of Africa, including North Africa, to the Heads of State Summit. There are some leaders who have not been invited because they are either not in good stead with the AU, because they’ve had coups – Egypt is one of those countries, Central Africa Republic is one of those countries, and – I’ve forgotten – Guinea-Bissau is another.
Or they are countries that are not in good standing with the United States, either because we have sanctioned them or we do not have a bilateral relationship with them, and you know what those countries are: Zimbabwe, Eritrea, and Sudan.
MS. JENSEN: The next question comes from the Embassy in Addis from The Reporter, and I’m not 100 percent sure I understand. Hopefully you will. “I know the American Government is friendly with both Egypt and Ethiopia. What is the position of America on the Renaissance Dam Ethiopia building?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We’ve had intensive discussions with both sides on this issue. And our position is: They need to talk. They need to communicate. They need to work out their differences. And we know that some talks have taken place, and we encourage them to continue to have these talks so that they can find a solution that benefits both sides on the use of the water from the Nile.
MS. JENSEN: We’re going to go back to the Africa Leaders Summit. Edmund Smith-Asante from the Daily Graphic, Ghana, would like to know: “What would be the nature of the African Leadership Summit?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you. We’re still working out the fine details of the summit, but we are looking forward to a dialogue with African leaders. We’ve, in fact, consulted with countries across the continent to get from the issues and things that they would like us to focus on. So we will be focusing on peace and security, we will be focusing on democracy and governance, and we will be focusing on trade and development as well.
So the first day of the summit on the 5th, as I mentioned, it will be a CEO forum where we will look for opportunities for companies to engage with African leaders to talk to them about investment possibilities; for these leaders to talk to companies about what their needs are. And hopefully they will come together in such a way that we’ll see deals being struck by companies at this meeting.
The next day will be an intense engagement with our President to look at the issues that I listed. And we’re going to talk to countries about what commitments they might make, for example, in the area of peace and security and what commitments we can bring to the table in the area of peace and security, what commitments they might make in the area of youth, because we will have a huge component of youth because the conference is about investing in the next generation.
So again, we hope this is a dialogue where we will be listening and we will be speaking and African leaders will be speaking and they will be listening. And at the end of it we hope we come out with some common ways to move forward to invest in Africa’s future.
MS. JENSEN: The next question comes from our watch party in Tanzania: “More than 85 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa have political conflicts which deteriorate the economy. As one of Big 5+1 nations, how could you implement strategies which would overcome that problem so that the continent will develop with less obstacles?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I hope you’re wrong. I don’t agree with you that 85 percent of Africa is involved in conflicts. We know that there are some high-profile conflicts taking place on the continent, but there are also examples where countries are moving forward in a very positive way, they’re building on opportunities to invest in their economy, and we want to work with those countries. We have a number of initiatives, some of them announced in the President’s trip to Africa last year – Trade Africa, where we’re working with the six countries of the East African community to help them improve trade opportunities between the countries of East Africa, but also to provide more opportunities for global trade for these countries. And we hope we can expand that.
Power Africa is huge. There are six countries there as well in the early parts of this initiative. We’re hoping that we can expand that. There has been a tremendous amount of excitement about Power Africa because we know that power will drive investment, it will support the economies of these countries, it will help to build the capacity of its people. I always use an example in all of my speeches, and I’m sure people are tired of me – hearing me say it, of being in Liberia and seeing young kids around streetlights doing their homework, and what it would mean if these young kids could have electricity in their homes, they can have electricity in their schools, they can have access to computer technology. We would see Africa really, really move forward rapidly.
So we are working on very, very positive opportunities to move the African economy forward.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Aloyce Ndeleio in Tanzania: “The U.S. and other developed countries will assist in Nigeria in rescuing the 200 girls abducted by Boko Haram in West Africa. If so, could they use the same force to fight against al-Shabaab activities which now is a threat in East Africa?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have been working with the countries in East Africa to address the threat of al-Shabaab for many, many years. And we will continue to work with those countries. I’d have to say that working with AMISOM, with the African troops in Somalia, we have made some significant success in pushing al-Shabaab from many of the locations there. It still requires a great deal more work in supporting the Somali National Army, building their capacity to come in behind AMISOM to ensure that al-Shabaab does not come back. We know that because of their efforts and their success that al-Shabaab has changed its strategy, and this is why we’re seeing the kinds of threats and attacks that are taking place in Kenya. But we will continue to work with all of the governments in the region on this.
On Nigeria, we are working with the Nigerians. I don’t want to build hope that we are working with the Nigerians and that this will lead to a rescue of all the girls. We’re working with the Nigerians to help them to deal with Boko Haram and also to find a solution to the situation in Nigeria that has led to Boko Haram. And it is our hope that all of the girls are brought back home to their families. We join again the Nigerian parents and the Nigerian people in praying for those girls’ safe return.
MS. JENSEN: We’re going to stay on the same topic. Dana Hughes from ABC wants to know: “Can you tell me whether the United States plans to send a representative to this weekend’s meeting on Boko Haram being held in Paris? And also, you spoke to the two-pronged approach to fighting terrorism. Are you and have you had this conversation with the Nigerians as they fight the Boko Haram?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you, and let me commend the Government of France for hosting this meeting on Saturday. We have been invited to the meeting and I’m very pleased that all of the African leaders from the five countries will be there. We will have a representative there as well to help – to work with our partners to find a solution.
In terms of the discussions, we have had discussions with the Nigerians, and in fact the team that we have on the ground in Nigeria is a multidisciplinary team. It includes not just military people but civilians, you have State Department people who know how to work on civilian – on a civilian response. General Rodriguez and our Under Secretary for Global Affairs Sarah Sewall were in Nigeria earlier this week to talk about a multidisciplinary approach to dealing with terrorist threats. This is something that they both have had experience with, and it is hopeful that the Nigerians will continue to work with us on addressing this from both sides.
We were also in Nigeria in December with a multidisciplinary team, working with the police, working with the military, and working with other civilian elements of the government to help them develop a strategy to address this issue.
MS. JENSEN: Agence de Presse Mediatogo wants to know: “When it comes to training, the United States provides a great deal of assistance to African militaries. But the U.S. is practically invisible when it comes to armed crisis on the continent. How do you explain the United States resistance to getting involved with a resolution of armed conflicts in Africa?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We’re not invisible. We are assisting not just in training, which is a key component, but we want to support Africans leading in this process. But if we just look at the situation of CAR, where we have provided $100 million to support the MISCA efforts on the ground there; we helped provide airlift to the Burundian troops, to the Rwandan troops; we have provided equipment. And we also have advisors who are on the ground supporting those efforts. So again, I disagree that we are invisible. We’re there in force in terms of supporting the efforts of Africans to work on solutions to conflicts across the continent.
MS. JENSEN: The next question comes from Horn Cable TV: “The Kenyan Government are harassing and ethnic-profiling the Somali community in Kenya. And we know that the U.S. Secretary Kerry’s recent trip to Africa did not come to Kenya. But I am looking forward to know that the role of the U.S. Government and about what is going on in Kenya.”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have continued to have discussions and conversations with the Kenyans regarding their response to the recent terror attacks and that they ensure that as they attempt to address terrorists that they do not victimize honest, innocent citizens. As a former refugee coordinator in Kenya, we – and having worked on these issues in Kenya in previous years, we have pushed the Kenyans to ensure that refugees in Kenya continue to have their rights, that those who are in refugee camps not be harassed, that those who are living in the communities who have been given support by the international community not be harassed by the government. So this is a conversation that we have continued to have with the Kenyans. We have issued public statements on this issue, and we will continue to push the Kenyans to ensure that rights are adhered to for all of the people of Kenya.
MS. JENSEN: The next question comes from David Lumu from The New Vision, Uganda, from the Kampala watch party: “U.S. has had” – excuse me – “U.S. has for a while been at the strategic level in the hunt for LRA leader Joseph Kony and his group crusade. What do you say about the allegations by the Ugandan Government that Khartoum has resumed support to Kony? And what is your assessment of the Kony hunt crusade? Any idea of where Kony is?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: If we knew where Kony was, we would be going after him. But let me just say that I think you would agree that we, working closely with the Government of Uganda, that we’ve had a great deal of success in this effort. We have not seen any recent attacks by Kony and his group against communities, and they are on the run. I have not seen information that they are – that the Sudanese Government is resuming its support for Kony, but I would say to the government that this is something that is unacceptable and if they are involved with supporting Kony that they cease doing that. Kony’s actions and activities had a negative impact across the region and I think the Sudanese Government would agree with that, and I would hope that your statement that they are involved in supporting them is not true.
MS. JENSEN: Denis Lubindi wants to know: “The U.S. is a prominent human rights champion. Why does the Obama Administration keep mum about the deportations of DRC nationals from Brazzaville, Republic of Congo? What’s the U.S. Government’s view on this crisis?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Our ambassador in the Congo and our ambassadors in – our ambassador in DRC, this is an issue that is on their agenda. We have not been mum. We have raised our concerns with these governments regarding those deportations.
MS. JENSEN: “The presence of the USA in Somalia via humanitarian assistance and financial support used to be visible before, but now it’s not so. What made the U.S. disappear from Somalia?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Let me state categorically that we have not disappeared from Somalia. While we are not present there because of the security threat, we have a large operation working out of our embassy in Nairobi, we make regular visits to Somalia, we have a USAID office, as well as our special representative who’s based – he and his staff are based in Nairobi. And they are regularly in Somalia engaging with the government, working on humanitarian issues, but also on development issues, and on ways to build the capacity of the government to address the situation in Somalia.
MS. JENSEN: The next question comes from Ghana: “What does the U.S. intend to do to boost the economy growth of the region, especially Ghana?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, again, I think it is the region that we are working on and Ghana is a key player in the region. As you know, Ghana is one of the six countries in our Power Africa initiative, and Ghana is a key partner for us on the continent of Africa. So we will continue to work with governments who are looking for ways to build capacity, looking for ways to boost their economy, looking for ways to find jobs for their people. We’re there with them to assist them. And again, Ghana is one of the key partners in this effort.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from AFP: “In South Sudan, if the two parties fail to implement the ceasefire, will the U.S. impose targeted sanctions against Kiir and Machar? Thank you.”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have already imposed sanctions on individuals in South Sudan who we believe have stood in the way of peace and people who have committed acts of atrocities. And we have had conversations with both Riek Machar as well as President Salva Kiir to encourage them to hold their people accountable, because if they do not hold their people accountable, then they are accountable for the actions that they are taking.
MS. JENSEN: The next question comes from Somali National TV: “During his visit in Ethiopia Secretary Kerry met with President Hassan Sheikh Mahamud. What was talked about during their meeting in Addis? And how does your government see the ongoing operation between AMISOM and the Somali army to liberate some parts of the country from al-Shabaab?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We had an excellent meeting with President Hassan Sheikh. We talked about his vision for the way forward for Somalia. We talked about efforts to build on the federalist model and continuing to work with the other regions of Somalia. We had intense discussions about elections and also about the work that AMISOM is doing in connection with the Somali National Army and how we can build better capacity for the Somali National Army to move in and hold ground once the AMISOM has successfully pushed al-Shabaab out.
So these discussions will continue. We encouraged him in his efforts. We encouraged his team to continue the work that they are doing. We see progress in Somalia for the first time in more than 20 years, where people in Somalia can see light at the end of the tunnel. So we want to continue to build on that and hopefully find a lasting peace for Somalia.
MS. JENSEN: We’re going to go back to Nigeria: “Why has the U.S. waited so long – or this long before intervening to help the Nigerian Government combat Boko Haram?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Combatting terrorism is a long-term proposition. And when President Jonathan met with President Obama in September he asked for our assistance, and we have been consulting and working with the Nigerian Government since that time. We didn’t wait a long time. Certainly, I would agree with you that the urgency of the situation, with the kidnapping of these girls that captured the attentions internationally seems – would appear as if we waited that long, but because it became international news does not mean we just started working on it.
So this is something that we had been working with the Nigerian Government on for quite some time.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Addis: “Kerry has visited Ethiopia, and what is his opinion about the detained journalists and the politicians by the Ethiopian Government?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: If you read some of the Secretary’s comments and statements you will know that we did raise this with the government; we encouraged the government to release these individuals who were arrested. If there are investigations that are taking place, we encourage them to speed those investigations up so that these journalists can be given due process.
This is a subject that we have continued to have with the Government of Ethiopia. We see Ethiopia moving forward in a positive direction, but it needs to make sure that political space is open, that press freedoms are supported, so that Ethiopia can continue to provide an atmosphere that allows all of its people to participate and all of its people to be part of the progress that is taking place.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from the U.S. Embassy in Maputo: “I feel that there are two approaches of making U.S. foreign policy to Africa. Barack Obama, when visited Africa, he chose African countries that have a better performance in democracy, governance, and human rights – Ghana being an example. However, the Secretary of State John Kerry chose to visit those countries with bad performance – Angola, DRC, and Ethiopia. Am I right? And if so, why am I right?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: That’s an interesting analysis and assessment. Certainly, we want to encourage those countries moving in a positive direction, but that does not mean we ever ignore countries that need attention. And we felt that at this time and space that it was really important that we engage on South Sudan, and even the President has been actively engaged on South Sudan.
Our initial decision to visit Addis was to host – be hosted by the AU for a high-level dialogue, and we saw the opportunity while we were there to engage with the Government of Ethiopia on what the Ethiopian Government was doing to help find a solution for South Sudan, but also have bilateral discussions with the Government of Ethiopia. And we also saw it as an opportunity to meet with the President of Somalia. We went to DRC because we actually see – again, if I can use the phrase – we saw light at the end of the tunnel. The defeat of M23, the signing of the Nairobi Agreements, the efforts to find a solution to provide support to the people of eastern DRC – these are all positive signs that we wanted to encourage, we wanted to support. We wanted to make sure that the government stayed on the right track.
And equally with Angola. Angola has played a very, very positive role in moving forward the agenda in the Great Lakes and supporting efforts in CAR. So this was the reason we made this trip. It was not made as a way of highlighting those countries that were problems, it was made as a way of supporting efforts to find peace for the people of Africa. And I think, actually, we had some success.
MS. JENSEN: Our next question comes from Jason Straziuso from AP. “What is the U.S. reaction to President Kiir’s announcement that elections will be postponed from 2015 to 2017 or 2018?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think this is something that the parties in South Sudan will have to work to address themselves – how they will have elections, what kind of process they will have leading up to the elections. I can’t comment on the decision that the president made, but hopefully this is something that the entire SPLA and – as well as other parties have been involved in discussions about and hopefully they will find a way to move forward to have elections as quickly as possible.
MS. JENSEN: The next question comes from Diana Lilian Kago from Deutsche Welle. “The case of al-Shabaab’s attacks is growing in East Africa region and the Great Lakes countries. Don’t you see there is a need of approaching an advanced security strategies to make sure that terrorist activities in the zone is history?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I absolutely agree with you. I’m not sure if I can comment any more on that, but yes, we have seen that al-Shabaab has changed its strategies somewhat, and they have been involved in attacks across the East African region. We will continue to work with governments in those regions to try to address that threat.
MS. JENSEN: The next question comes from the Daily Monitor in Uganda. “Washington has time and again reiterated its commitment to promote rule of law and good governance in Uganda. But in light of recent developments like the adoption of the anti-human rights laws, like the outlawing of public gatherings and the banning of homosexuals, the relationship needs mending if necessary. What does Washington think about this?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We are very concerned about these recent laws that were passed in Uganda. As you know, the President made a statement that indicated that the passing of these laws will complicate our relationship with the Government of Uganda. Our ambassador has been working relentlessly to encourage the government to reconsider these laws. This is a huge, huge problem for us, because our values say this is wrong and that all people deserve human rights regardless of their associations and regardless of who they determine they want to spend their lives with.
So we will continue to work with the Government of Uganda. We have some areas where we work with the Government on – where we are cooperating with the Government, and we have areas that we have issues. And we will try to address those issues in a way that will lead to positive solutions.
MS. JENSEN: The next question comes from The Herald newspaper. “After signing the peace agreement, South Sudan’s president said that he was forced to sign the agreement by the U.S. Government – of Ethiopia and the U.S. – and the Government of Ethiopia. What do you think of this?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think President Salva Kiir – and I did not hear that he made that statement, so I’m not confirming that statement by any means – but I think he made the right decision to sign this peace deal so that he could work as the leader of this country, as a democratically elected leader of South Sudan, to find the solution that will bring peace to the people who elected him. So we are pleased that he made the decision to sign the agreement, and I have to say no one forced his hand. But we’re happy he made the right move.
MS. JENSEN: Ghana’s neighbor is suffering from the atrocities of Boko Haram. In your analysis, is Ghana at threat of facing similar situations in the future? And if yes, what should be done to forestall such a threat? And if no – if no, why?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think, as we have regularly said, terrorism anywhere affects people everywhere. And while we have not seen any evidence of Boko Haram in Ghana, I think it’s a concern that the Government of Ghana needs to have. And they as well as we need to continue to work on a regional strategy to address these issues.
MS. JENSEN: We have time for one more question, and it’s a follow-up from Jason Straziuso from AP. “Does the U.S. have any concerns about working with the Nigerian military on the kidnapped girls, given the history of human rights abuses? And also, can you confirm that the U.S. is flying surveillance flights from its base in Niger?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: First of all, yes, we have raised concerns to ensure that the Nigerian Government adhered to human rights as they approached this. We were pleased that they asked us for our support, and part of our work with the government is to help train members of their security on how not to commit human rights violations. As you probably know, we were working with the government for quite some time on what we were hearing, what conditions in (inaudible), where many of the people who were arrested, who were either Boko Haram or associated with Boko Haram, to ensure that they were treated humanely and that they were provided due process.
And yes, we have provided commercial assistance to the government with overflight, and have tried to work with the government so that we can provide them with actionable intelligence to help them address this issue.
MS. JENSEN: Well, great. Thank you for joining us today. And that’s all the time we have today. I would like to thank all of you for joining us and joining Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield for our conversation. We will have a video and audio links available for you shortly after the conclusion of this program, and if you would like to continue today’s conversation, you can do so on Twitter by following us @StateAfrica or @StateDept. We hope you can join us for another LiveAtState soon.