Moderator: Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants from across the continent and thank all of you for taking part in this discussion. Today, we are very pleased to be joined by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. She is speaking to us from Libreville, Gabon.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Deputy Secretary Sherman, 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 allotted. If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use #AFHubPress and follow us on Twitter @AfricaMediaHub.
As a reminder, today’s briefing is on the record, and with that, I will turn it over to Deputy Secretary Sherman for her opening remarks.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Thank you. Just getting a little help from my friends here. Thank you, Marissa, and thank you all for joining this afternoon. Thank you for joining as I wrap up my first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as Deputy Secretary of State. I’ve been here before, of course, but this is the first time as deputy. After visiting North Africa earlier this year, I am just concluding an excellent and productive trip to South Africa, Angola, and now Gabon.
As Secretary Blinken said in Abuja last November, the United States knows that, quote, “We can’t achieve our goals around the world – whether that’s ending the COVID-19 pandemic, building a strong and inclusive global economy, combating the climate crisis, or revitalizing democracy and defending human rights – without the leadership of African governments, institutions, and citizens.”
This trip was about deepening partnerships – and we truly see these relationships as partnerships. It was about consultation and open dialogue to identify areas of common ground where we can solve problems together, as well as discuss areas where we may not always agree, since no two nations have perfectly identical interests all of the time.
I traveled first to South Africa, where I spent three days on the ground in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Pretoria. I met with business leaders and entrepreneurs, including at Nike Soweto, to discuss deepening our trade and investment relationship with South Africa. Over 600 American businesses operate in South Africa and employ over 200,000 South Africans, and we want to do more to strengthen our economic relationship and our support for the young population of South Africa looking for a future, looking for a job.
I also had the privilege of meeting with inspiring young women who are leading the way in South Africa. I carried with me all the way from Washington the International Women of Courage award so I could deliver it in person to Roegchanda Pascoe, a community leader and activist working to address gender-based violence and to help young people access psychosocial services. She is the first South African to win the award and is an incredible inspiration.
It was deeply moving to visit the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation, where a video was on display of then-Senator Biden courageously call for global sanctions against the apartheid regime.
And it was humbling to visit Soweto and Nelson Mandela’s home, and to hear from former Justice Cameron at Constitution Hill.
The people of South Africa have inspired the world in their pursuit of democracy and equality, and while no country is perfect – including the United States – it was an honor to hear and learn from everyday citizens and activists on the ground.
In Pretoria on Wednesday, I had an excellent meeting with Foreign Minister Pandor and a warm and productive meeting and lunch with Deputy Foreign Minister Botes. We discussed opportunities to strengthen our broad and strong relationship. That includes trade, investment, and our shared commitment to fight against climate change and the COVID pandemic. We also discussed regional issues and global issues of peace and security, as the United States considers South Africa not just a regional leader, but a global one. As you know, President Biden had a very productive call last month with President Ramaphosa, and Secretary Blinken has had several very productive conversations with Minister Pandor.
In Angola, I was proud to launch the Global VAX initiative in partnership with the Angolan Government. Global VAX is all about getting shots in arms to help nations overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, since, as Secretary Blinken has said, no one is safe until everyone everywhere is safe. In Angola, the United States will be providing more than $25 million in new resources through Global VAX to do just that.
I also had excellent and productive meetings with Angolan President Laurenço, Foreign Minister Tete Antonio, and Minister of State General Furtado about our strategic partnership. We discussed all we are doing to deepen cooperation between the United States and Angola on everything from maritime security to renewable energy to public health, and to further improve transparency in Angola’s business sector and help increase U.S. investment.
I also had an extraordinarily inspiring meeting with several alumni of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program in Luanda who are working on women’s entrepreneurship and youth engagement. The Mandela Washington Fellowship is the flagship program of the United States’ Young African Leaders’ Initiative, which aims to help young people across Africa build their leadership skills and build connections with the United States and probably even more importantly with each other.
Finally, here in Gabon, I met this morning with President Ali Bongo Ondimba and with Foreign Minister Michael Moussa Adamo to discuss our strategic partnership and close collaboration on climate change and environmental conservation, among many other issues. I was honored as well to meet with Defense Minister Félicité Ongouori Ngoubili to discuss and deepen our security relationship. And later today, I am so looking forward to visiting the Raponda Walker Arboretum and receiving a briefing from ANPN experts about Gabon’s leadership on forest preservation and environmental management. Over 80 percent of Gabon’s territory is made up of forests, and over 10 percent of the country has been set aside as national parks, and I want to acknowledge and applaud Gabon’s leadership on conservation – not just in Africa, but globally.
In all three countries, we also discussed Russia’s war in Ukraine. African voices matter when it comes to Ukraine. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is shattering the lives and livelihoods of the Ukrainian people first and foremost – and the Russian people, for that matter. But it is also affecting people around the world, with higher energy prices and food prices, all caused by President Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. In our conversations, we discussed how Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine violates the fundamental principles of international law enshrined in the United Nations and African Union charters – principles including sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the right of nations to choose their own alliances and partnerships. All of us – all of us – share the objective of ending this war as soon as possible.
The challenge of food security, unfortunately, will persist so long as Putin is prosecuting his war of aggression against Ukraine. That is why the United States is making food security a major focus of our presidency of the UN Security Council this month. And it’s why we have before the Congress of the United States a robust aid package to help countries around the world manage the effects of Putin’s war. And we will continue to work with allies and partners around the world – including our partners here in Africa – to address the food security crisis Putin’s war has created.
I want to again express my sincere gratitude to all of the government officials, business leaders and entrepreneurs, young people, civil society activists I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with over the last several days. I also am thrilled with the magnificent weather I’ve had everywhere I’ve gone. I look forward to continuing to make progress together on all the issues we discussed in the months ahead.
With that, Marissa, ready to take questions. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you, Deputy Secretary Sherman. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. We ask that you limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing: The Deputy Secretary’s trip to Africa and the Biden administration’s Africa strategy.
Okay, our first question will be a question sent in to us by Mr. Dusabemungu Ange de la Victoire, Top Africa News, out of Rwanda. His question reads: “You recently met with Rwanda’s foreign affairs minister and you discussed various issues, including the environment and climate change. Can you tell us in detail what you discussed on that topic, and how does the U.S. rate Rwanda’s climate fight and its leadership in environment, environmental management?”
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Thanks for that question. Climate change, the environment, conservation have been major themes on this trip. In South Africa, in Angola, here in Gabon, it’s been top of mind for everyone because African countries are really countries that will suffer enormously if we don’t get to 1.5 degrees Celsius on the timetable that was set out in COP26.
So it’s top of mind, and people are providing extraordinary leadership. We’ve had nationally determined commitments that are very bold and very aggressive, very tough, but we want to do whatever we can working together with others to meet those commitments and to do even more. We’ve urged every country to join the Global Methane Pledge, which is a voluntary commitment to get to 30 percent reduction in methane by 2030, because it’s one of the single easiest ways to, in fact, try to get to that 1.5 degrees Celsius.
So I’m really grateful for everything everyone is doing to try to move forward on this very serious issue that really is an existential one for our entire planet.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we’ll go live to Simon Ateba of Today News Africa. Mr. Ateba, you may ask your question.
Question: Thank you, Marissa Scott, for taking my question. And thank you, Secretary Wendy Sherman, for doing this briefing and congratulation for being the first female deputy secretary of state in U.S. history. This is Simon Ateba with Today News Africa in Washington. As you mentioned, you met with President Laurenço of Angola yesterday in Luanda, and President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon today in Libreville. Can you give us some of the highlights of your meetings with President Laurenço and President Ondimba that you might not have mentioned at the top? What type of feedback did you get from President – from President Laurenço and President Ondimba? And can you confirm report that when you discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with the South African official, a possible mediation role by South Africa came up – this especially because President Biden discussed with – spoke with President Ramaphosa last month? Thank you.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Thank you. I am very grateful and honored to have had an audience both with the presidents of Angola and Gabon, very grateful for that, and we had quite wide-ranging discussions. Everything about economic investment and trade, how American businesses can further invest in each of these countries – same in South Africa. We talked about democratic governance in both countries and the efforts that are being made to end corruption and to increase accountability.
We talked about regional security issues, things that are confronting and creating potential instability here in West and South Africa and south part – Southern Africa – sorry, not South Africa – but in Southern Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and ways that these governments are trying to provide leadership to, in fact, address these threats and concerns and ways the United States can be helpful. We discussed climate. We discussed COVID-19 and all of the work that’s being done to make sure that everyone gets shots in arms, everyone is safe from the pandemic and all of the mutations.
And we talked about global issues, including Russia-Ukraine and the food insecurity and economic insecurity just as countries were coming out of the pandemic that were caused by Putin’s unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated invasion of Ukraine.
So incredibly wide-ranging discussions, including, as well, our own security relationships. So I’m very grateful for all of the time that’s put in, and I think the most important thing about all of my meetings in South Africa, in Angola, and in Gabon: this is a two-way dialogue. This is not anybody coming to tell each other what each other must do. This is trying to solve issues and problems together, bring all of our expertise and all of our resources to bear on problems that affect all of us. This is what true partnership is about.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we’ll go to a question sent in to us from AFP in Johannesburg, from Susan Njanji. Staying on the topic of Angola: “Did you discuss the upcoming elections in Angola with President Lourenço? And if so, can you tell us more? Did you get any commitment that the elections would be free and fair?”
Deputy Secretary Sherman: The United States is well-known for saying that every country, including our own, should have elections that are free and fair. This is something that is really critical to make sure that every citizen’s voice can be heard and everybody can have a say about what they want for their government and how they want to be governed. And so, of course, in every place we go we talk about the importance of free and fair elections. We talk about everywhere in the world how it’s useful to have observers whenever possible because that adds to the credibility of an election.
But we try wherever we go in the world to have humility, because we know we’re not perfect. We’ve had some tough times. We want to make sure that all of our citizens have access to the voting booth and are able to vote, and we wish that for everyone.
Moderator: Thank you. Just a reminder to our journalists, our Deputy Secretary has limited time, so please limit your questions to one.
Next we will go live to Pearl Matibe. Pearl, you may ask your question. And I remind journalists, one question.
Question: Thank you. Deputy Secretary, first allow me to extend my sincere condolences on the passing of Secretary Albright. She, too, a quarter of a century ago visited Angola, met with then-President dos Santos in Luanda, talked about the Lusaka peace process, and today Zambia has come a long way. But just two years ago, former Secretary Mike Pompeo visited Angola and so did many of his predecessors – Colin Powell, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton. And now, a year into your tenure, you’ve visited Angola. And on South Africa, many of the same that I just listed have visited there. My question is: In your role as Deputy Assistant [sic] Secretary and beyond what Secretary Blinken did at the end of last year, coming to Africa, what more from your role is different?
Because – how should I put this? – beyond just maybe restressing the shared values and all of these items, even after a black U.S. president in former Barack Obama, who also came and visited South Africa, and Bill Clinton and so on, there are some – there’s a portion of our audiences out there who say that even then they didn’t see any paradigm shift in U.S. policy towards Africa. So I’m interested to find out from where you sit, what more beyond, Deputy Secretary, Akunna Cook, the people from the Bureau of African Affairs, or Ambassador Nuland coming out, what more could you have done and maybe might you go back with any recommendations for President Biden to come and visit South Africa? Will we see him in Southern Africa?
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Thank you for your question. Diplomacy is not about just one visit. It’s the visits that we all do, our respect and recognition and building the personal relationships for a really strong and vibrant partnership, but the work really comes after. It’s the day-to-day work of our embassies and the people in it. It’s the day-to-day work of my colleagues, some of whom are with me but many of whom are not only back home but in missions all over the world, to actually get the work done – to work with American business to shepherd them through the system in a country so that they can invest. It’s about our Pentagon colleagues talking with military forces abroad and seeing where they can train together and exercise together and share knowledge and share security strategies. It’s about our youth exchanges – that YALI network, the young African leaders network that President Barack Obama began had 500 slots when it started, and 50,000 young African entrepreneurs applied for that. Those young people, some of whom I met in Angola yesterday, have stayed in touch with each other, they’re collaborating with each other, they’re networking with each other, and we’ve kept those 50,000 young people online with each other.
So the real hard work is not always seen by those who are covering the news, because you all tend to go for the headlines of the day, but it is that nitty-gritty work that knits our countries together in shared commitment. It is why we can go to COP26 and make progress on climate. It is why we can work together to try to defeat COVID-19. So that is what we are about: doing work together to solve real problems for real people in people’s everyday lives.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we will go to Julian Pequet of the Africa Report and Jeune Afrique. Mr. Pequet, you may ask your question.
Question: Hello, can you hear me?
Moderator: Yes, we can.
Question: Oh, great. Thanks. Hopefully you can understand me. I just got home from the dentist. [Laughter.] Thank you so much for doing the call.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: We feel your pain. We feel your pain.
Question: [Laughter.] Thank you so much for doing this call. You visited Africell in Angola and put out that tweet about 5G. I was wondering, can you tell us if that’s throwing some shade at Huawei and, more generally, did 5G also come up in South Africa and Gabon? And what can you tell us about American and Western companies’ ability to provide 5G services to African countries that the U.S. wants to wean off of Chinese telecoms? Thank you.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: The visit to Africell was really phenomenal. This is a company that has been in business now – gone live – for one month and has 2 million subscribers. They are going to bring capability to everybody in Angola. It was really an amazing effort. The vast majority of the people working for them are under the age of 30. So they’re providing training and capability that will outlast the older folks who came from abroad to start Africell. It’s really – was just very exciting.
It’s not about throwing shade on Huawei. We’ve been very direct. We believe that when countries choose Huawei, they are potentially giving up their sovereignty. They are turning over their data to another country. They may find themselves bringing in a surveillance capability they didn’t even know was there. So we’ve been very public about our concerns about Huawei, and so we are glad that Africell can provide to the people of Angola a safe, capable tool in their hands to reach out to the world.
Moderator: Thank you. Next question goes to Mr. Tim Cocks of Reuters out of Nigeria. Mr. Cocks, you may ask your question.
Question: Yes, hi. I’m actually based in Johannesburg, but it might be that my profile hasn’t been updated. I used to be in Nigeria. So just a quick question. I wondered, Deputy Secretary, whether you’d had any discussions with the South African Government about pledges that the U.S., UK, and EU made at the COP26 to fund its transition from polluting coal to cleaner renewables. There was talk of 8.5 billion, but my understanding is that if anything concrete has been agreed that there are still quite a few details to be worked out. I just wondered if you could shed any light on that.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: We did have discussion, Tim, about the Just Energy Partnership, and we certainly discussed about how to reach the climate goals for any country requires financing and working with partners and allies to bring together what is ever necessary to make that transition. This is hard for all of us, and obviously is made even harder given Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, which has upended energy markets as well.
So this is a very critical issue. We had a terrific discussion about it and started working through potential ways forward to meet this desire to have a transition – a transition which has already begun in all countries around the world.
Moderator: Okay, I think we have time just for one more question. We will go to Hariana Victoria out of TPA, again Angola. Hariana, you may ask your question.
Question: Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to ask my question. Thank you, Madam Secretary. So we have seen throughout the years many positive signs from the U.S. Government towards Angola, and just the fact that the U.S. now have more interest to boost trade and investment and do more partnership with Angola – this is all – this also sent a positive signal to Angola. So I would like to hear from the Secretary how the Biden administration evaluate Angola in the last five years under President João Lourenço, and if this administration have seen any progress and if the Secretary can give some examples of how Angola has been doing in the last five years. Thank you very much.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Thank you. So when I was in Angola, as in all places that I visit, I tried to meet with business leaders and entrepreneurs to get a sense of what it’s like to do business and whether American business feels they can invest in a country. And I see that happening more and more everywhere, and certainly in Angola when I met with American business, you’ve already heard me speak of Africell – they think they have just tremendous opportunities in Angola; they believe the ease of doing business has improved tremendously. Another company that is moving forward is Sun Africa, which will help in Angola’s transition to solar and be able to provide solar to all parts of Angola, even those provinces outside of Luanda where people right now have an uncertain energy supply.
And all of these companies, it’s not that the companies don’t still have some challenges and things they wish were different. I would say American business doing investment in America has things they wish the U.S. Government would change. So there are still issues to be worked on, but American business reported to me and my delegation that they have seen a chance that is positive, they see opportunities now that were not there before, and they feel more confident in their ability to invest and to have a long-term investment in Angola. And I would say that has increased everywhere I have gone.
Moderator: Thank you. Boy, do I wish we had more time, but that’s all the time that we have today. I would like to ask the Deputy Secretary if she would like to have any closing remarks.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: All I want to say is to thank you all for what you do. We aren’t far from Press Freedom Day, and I have to say I’ve done press everywhere I have gone because I believe that journalists hold all of us accountable to what our citizens expect of us. So I want to thank you for what you do and really affirm the importance of a free press. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you. Well, that concludes today’s briefing. I would like to thank U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman for speaking to us today, and all of our journalists for participating. If you have any questions about today’s briefing, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at AFMediaHub@state.gov. Thank you.