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 the Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland. Under Secretary Nuland will discuss the activities and outcomes of her travel to South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, and Niger.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Under Secretary Nuland, 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. At any time during the briefing, if you would like to ask a question live, please indicate that by clicking on the “raise hand” button and then typing your name, media outlet, and location into the “question and answers” tab. Alternatively, you can type your full question directly into the Q&A for me to read to our speaker. Again, please include your name, media outlet, and location when you do so. If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag #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 Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland for her opening remarks.
AMBASSADOR NULAND: Well, thank you, Marissa, and thanks to everybody for being with us today. As Marissa said, this is the last stop, speaking to you from Niamey, Niger, on a four-country, four-day swing through some of our strongest democratic partners in Africa, starting with South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, and now Niger. I am accompanied by an interagency team. We have our deputy assistant secretaries for the different parts of Africa from the State Department, we have a one-star general from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and we have had Africanists from the White House National Security Council with us. And this is part of President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Secretary Blinken’s commitment to reengage strongly with Africa, and particularly with the African democracies, across all of the lines that we work on together – security, prosperity, returning to good health and beating COVID, and, of course, strengthening democracy, human rights across the continent.
So we’ve had a very good set of encounters. In South Africa on Monday – if it’s Thursday it must be Niger, so Monday was South Africa – I co-hosted – I was – participated in what we call the WGAGI, our regular dialogue with South Africa on African and global issues, which we had not conducted since 2019. I also had the honor of being present when the United States delivered 5.66 million doses of COVID vaccine from the American people to the South African people with no strings attached. We obviously talked about lots of the regional challenges that we work on together: Mozambique, Eswatini, Ethiopia. We also talked about our longer-term efforts in health security, including our investment through our Development Finance Corporation along with some of our allies in Aspen Pharma, which is an entity that is going to finish and fill vaccine in South Africa that’ll be available both for that country and for all of Southern Africa. So not just beating COVID now, but being more prepared with regional centers for vaccine manufacture in Africa as we’re also doing on other continents.
Then on to Botswana, where we also talked about health security. We talked about the Mozambique challenge as well. We talked about economic recovery and COVID recovery. And we also dug in on another major project that we have with Botswana and Namibia called Mega Solar, where we are investing. Botswana is blessed with some of the best sunshine in the world, and we are working to support a Botswanan-Namibian project to bring that sun down in the form of solar power and turn those countries into net energy exporters, including to South Africa and other parts of the continent.
Then on to Tanzania, where we talked about the full range of security, economic, and democracy challenges, including the opportunities to deepen and broaden trade and investment between the U.S. and Tanzania. It’s also the 60th anniversary of our partnership, so it was good to be there then. We also talked about the situation with opposition leader Mbowe, who has recently been arrested, and we were quite frank about our concerns there.
And then today, in Niger, a plucky democracy in a very, very rough Sahel neighborhood, where we have deep, longstanding security partnership; we also have supported development, food security, women’s education and empowerment. But we want to take this relationship as well to the next level, including moving from aid to trade and improving the climate for business. I also had a chance to talk to a group of fantastic women here who are leaders in their communities in working on women, peace, and security and counteracting terrorist violence against women, and went out and saw some of our spectacular training that we do both with the military and with counterterrorism forces.
So all of this and our mission – as Marissa said, we are the most senior-ranking delegation to come in person to Africa, and the countries that we chose are democracies where we are already doing a lot but we think we can do even more together. And this is embedded in not only President Biden’s commitment to deepen and strengthen relationships across the continent and subcontinent, but also to do it multilaterally and to address African challenges with Africans, and to do in Africa what we are hoping to do at home, which is to build back better. So as we recover from COVID, we’re looking to invest at home in infrastructure, in strengthening our democracy, and in taking that next leap into good-paying, middle-class, green, high-tech jobs. We want to see our African partners do the same, so a lot of our conversation was about that on these four stops.
And the last piece was Prosper Africa, which is our investment program across the continent, which the President and the Vice President want to reorient towards investing in small and medium-sized businesses, women-owned businesses, and diaspora-owned businesses.
So we talked about all of those things, and the bottom line of this is, as President Biden likes to say, it is now time as we come out of COVID for the democracies to demonstrate to their citizens and across the planet that they can deliver. That’s what we’re trying to do at home as we strengthen our own systems, and it’s what we want to do together with our African partners and our multinational partners in Africa.
On to questions, Marissa.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Thank you, Under Secretary Nuland. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. For those asking questions, please indicate if you would like to ask a question and then type in your name, location, affiliation into the Q&A tab. We ask that you limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing: the activities and outcomes of Under Secretary Nuland’s travel to South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, and Niger.
Our first question, we’ll go to one sent in to us from Mr. Michée Dare of Afrimag, based in Côte d’Ivoire. His question is about the direction of Joe Biden’s U.S. foreign policy in Africa. “What is its essence and what are the major differences with the previous administration, specifically on trade and on the security situation in the Sahel?”
AMBASSADOR NULAND: Well, I would say it starts with showing up, which is what we’re doing today – coming to Africa, engaging here with our partners both in government and the NGO sector and in the business sector to talk about what more we can do together. But it is also, as I said at the – during the opening, about embedding our Africa strategy in our larger strategy to strengthen the democracies, strengthen our partnerships, strengthen our multilateral approach to common challenges, whether they are health challenges, economic challenges, or security challenges, and to do them together; and also, to encourage and support African-led efforts to solve African problems, again, whether they’re in the security realm or whether they’re working to integrate economies, build infrastructure, recover from COVID, all of those kinds of things.
So that’s how – those are the – that’s the main difference. I think you will likely see President Biden invite African leaders to convene sometime in 2022. You’ll see a lot more travel. I am the appetizer – let’s put it that way – and hopefully folk who are even – who are more senior than I am, we are laying the table here.
With regard to the Sahel, as you know, we do a lot here to support African efforts, primarily to restore security to deal with the terrorist threat that is obviously a toxic mix with smugglers and traffickers and all of the bad things, and goes to the problem of governance and getting into far-flung and hard-to-reach parts of some of these countries. We strongly support – have supported French efforts over the years, and now as France seeks to multilateralize its own efforts, bringing in more Europeans, we’re providing support there too on the security side.
But I think there are two aspects to Sahel policy, or U.S. Sahel policy, that we want to look a little bit more strongly, and I was very pleased to have a chance to have an in-depth conversation about these issues with President Bazoum here in Niger today. We see a lot of different organizations, a lot of different countries working on security, working on development, but are we well enough coordinated? Are we integrating what we’re trying to do with high-end military support with what we’re trying to do, with counterterrorism forces, with police, with governance, with development? Because it’s not enough to clear areas of terrorists; they’ll just be back if you don’t provide citizen security, if you don’t provide a better, more optimistic future for people, if you’re not answering their basic needs for justice, for jobs, all that kind of thing.
So we’re going to look at pulling some of our efforts more coherently together and trying to pull international efforts more coherently together, and also work as tightly as we can with the G5 Sahel partners because they know their countries better than we do, so that we are targeting our efforts where the problem is and so we’re bringing sustainable solutions and sustainable hope and prosperity and opportunity to these parts of the Sahel that really have been terrorized.
MODERATOR: Excellent, thank you. We have quite a few hands up in our – with our participants. So we’ll start first with Pearl Matibe and then go to Peter Fabricius. Pearl, please state your question and your affiliation.
QUESTION: This is Pearl, and with Power FM 98.7. Ambassador Nuland, I’m glad that you made yourself available today, so thank you so much for that. What I wanted to ask you is I’m glad you’re traveling with your colleague from the Joint Chiefs. We’ve just seen military exercises regarding the maritime domain awareness in that area that are supposedly ending tomorrow. Also, the last administration – Secretary Pompeo – only came to Africa three years after Trump took his oath of office. So my questions to you are this. You’ve gone to South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, and so on, and with your previous experience with democracy, NED, and Eurasia, Russia, China, and so on, we see elections in Zambia and a deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe specifically, though it is a smaller country, but it is a significant player in that region.
My question is: How should Southern African countries, number one, deal with Russia and, separately, China’s growing role in Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and other countries in the sub-Saharan Africa region? But I also would like to hear from you or from your – what your Joint Chiefs colleague may have shared with you in terms of, if they’re doing military exercises in those waters, in the seawaters, but not inviting South Africa to participate in those military exercises, how do you expect your security cooperation program to succeed when these are significant players in the region? So if you could please, perhaps, address that, the democracy element with Zimbabwe, and Zambia. Thank you so much.
AMBASSADOR NULAND: Well, thanks very much, Pearl. That was about 17 questions in one, so that invites me to pick and choose or to try to do them all.
First, with regard to the maritime exercises off the coast of Tanzania, this was a bilateral exercise that the U.S. conducted with Tanzania. We have not done much maritime work recently, or for some time, with South Africa. I think one of the things that I felt in South Africa is there is much more potential if the South Africans are interested for security cooperation, and I think that we will, as we go home, look at what more we can do. For example, we only have four South Africans in U.S. military training. Traditionally for a country that size we would have 20 or 25. I think we would be very interested in doing maritime and other kinds of exercises, but that’s a part of our relationship that stands to be developed. And I would say that we had a very warm, open, frank set of meetings in South Africa. There have been times in the past when that relationship has been more scratchy. So we think that we’ve got a foundation to build on, and if South Africa is interested in doing maritime or other kinds of military training or exercises with us, we would absolutely welcome that and we’ll be testing that going forward.
I think with Tanzania, as you said, this was the first time we’d done maritime together, and it was important given the strategic crossroads that those waters are, and we’ll evaluate the results and keep moving there.
As you said, there are democracy challenges all over Africa. There’s backsliding. Some – I remember being in Zimbabwe in the ‘90s and it was one of the most beautiful and prosperous and relatively open countries, and it’s a far cry from that now. We are not going to be shy. President Biden is not shy, as you saw when he met with President Putin in Geneva, a meeting that I was honored to join, about our concerns about democracy, human rights. And we will speak honestly and candidly to countries when we have concerns. And frankly, if countries are choosing a more autocratic path, it will constrain what we can do together.
So, and with regard to China, nowhere in the world will the United States ask its partners or its allies to choose between the U.S. and China. That’s not what we are about. We are about insisting that trade and investment be open, be transparent, support labor rights, support high environmental standards, that lending be transparent and non-predatory and advantageous for the country where it is happening. And we have concerns about the way China’s investments in Africa have gone. They have often benefited China and not necessarily benefited the beneficiary countries.
So what we want to do is compete, and that was one of the things we said in Tanzania: If they’re going to put out a tender for Bagamoyo Port, we’d like to have American and European companies in a position to compete and to bring the financing, as China has traditionally done for its companies, because we think we can make a better offer. So that’s what we’re about. We’re not about a choice; we’re about a fair, level playing field for competition and we’re about encouraging open economies, open political systems, et cetera.
With regard to Russia, Russia has traditionally been underinvested in Africa. We see a little bit more activity in the Sahel now, not all of it advantageous to those countries, often focused on the money that Russia can get out of Africa’s mines or other things. So here again, if Russia is bringing true partnership and true development and true economic opportunities that benefit Africans, then that is – that’s absolutely fine. But we just encourage all of our partners to check their pockets, check their wallets before they cut the deal.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have very little time left, folks, and I ask the journalists, please, limit your questions to one. We don’t have much time left with the Under Secretary. So we’ll go live to Peter Fabricius. Peter, please ask your one question. Thank you.
QUESTION: Can you hear me?
AMBASSADOR NULAND: I can, Peter.
MODERATOR: Yes, we can. Ask your question.
QUESTION: Yes. Thanks very much, Under Secretary. Thanks, Marissa. I just have a question. You raised the question of the arrest of Freeman Mbowe. Could you give me some idea of what your message was and what was the response? Is the Tanzanian Government going to do something about it? And are you generally more concerned that a president who seemed to be headed in a different direction from Magufuli seems to have relapsed into the old authoritarian pattern of their predecessor? Thank you. I hope that’s one question.
AMBASSADOR NULAND: Thanks, Peter. Well done. We had a very open, warm, frank conversation with President Samia yesterday on all aspects of the relationship – the security aspect, the economic aspect, what we’re trying to do together in COVID and public health and all of those kinds of things. But we were also very candid that when you arrest an opposition leader, it sends – the major opposition leader – it sends a chill through the environment. And President Samia has taken some very important steps to open the political space. She’s released a lot of political prisoners. She’s been far more accepting and open with regard to a free press. She did say she was eager to reach out and have a dialogue with the opposition.
So our message was to – was simply to encourage her to stay that democratic course, and with regard to Mr. Mbowe, to have – to ensure that there is an expeditious, just, transparent process for dealing with this case, and frankly, not to allow that to stop her from talking to him or any of the other opposition leaders if her aspiration is, in fact, to build a large political tent, as she says that she wants to do, and to lend her support in that regard.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have a question from our chat from one of our francophone journalists from Guinea. Amadou Diallo asks: “What are the objectives of Prosper Africa?”
AMBASSADOR NULAND: Well, thank you for that. I spoke to it a little bit in the opening. Prosper Africa was launched by the previous administration. It was aimed at big business. Our sense is that big business, at least American big business, usually can find its way in the world and has a lot of resources to do that, and that’s the same for large businesses in Africa. What we want to do is broaden and deepen our economic relationship now and use Prosper Africa to focus on medium- and small-size enterprises that often have difficulty, whether they’re American businesses or African businesses – finding partners, working through the doing business in another country things, figuring out the export rules, getting the trade preferences organized. And we also want to focus – so we want to focus particular support for folks on both sides of the Atlantic who want to deepen from the medium and small community; but also to focus on women-owned businesses, because when women work, that other half of the sky gets well held up and they can provide for their families and it helps blunt extremism as well and encourage the next generation of women to work as well; and to harness the U.S. African diaspora, which you know is rich and varied and very passionate about their home countries, to come back and do some investing here as well.
So that’s what we will focus on with the new Biden-Harris Prosper Africa, and I encourage you to look at the press conference that was given last Friday in Washington on that subject.
MODERATOR: Under Secretary, do you have time for one more question?
AMBASSADOR NULAND: I do. Go for it, Marissa.
MODERATOR: Okay. Since you’re in the Sahel, we have a question from Pierre Donadieu of Agence France Presse in Cote d’Ivoire. His question is: “Regarding the reshaping of Barkhane in Sahel through the Takuba force, what can we expect from U.S. forces’ deployment in the coming years to fight terrorism in the region?”
AMBASSADOR NULAND: Well, thanks, Pierre. We were at the joint base in Niamey today, earlier. We had a chance to meet your French commander there, who is the man with the rudder to transform Barkhane into the next phase of French deployment and to encourage and support Takuba. I think what we’ll see is that Barkhane will redeploy some of its forces to a more central location, the French will, so that they can support a more multinational set of outposts in Mali. And we will continue. U.S. support will not change, either for Takuba or for redeployed French forces, which will also stay working on high-end counterterrorism missions. We provide, as you probably know, a lot of the intelligence and ISR support and other logistical support for those forces, and we will continue to do that.
But I think, as I said at the beginning, what we would like to do both with regard to our own contributions on the security, governance, development side and with regard to the way we cooperate with our European allies in the G5 countries, but particularly in Mali and Niger and Burkina and in Chad, is to try to be more integrated, share the load better, and ensure that the security mission happens but then what follows behind is a governance and development issue. That’s our mission. That’s our aspiration. That’s what we talked about with the president and foreign minister here in Niger and at the base. It’s going to take us some considerable effort to reorient, but we’re committed to do it and we think it’s the right way to go for these countries.
Thank you, Marissa. What a great opportunity to be with all of you today.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Thank you. That is all the time that we have today. Under Secretary Nuland, do you have any final words, final remarks?
AMBASSADOR NULAND: Just to say that this is a vibrant, impressive, important, young part of this planet. We are committed in investing in a positive, democratic future for all the countries of Africa and standing with African citizens, but mostly young Africans, as they recover from COVID, rebuild their economies, and start thinking about that leap towards the future. And it was really a joy to be here, get a chance to meet people and talk to people, and I’ll take the learning from this trip and the relationships we’ve built back to Washington to try to strengthen our policy and our approach.
MODERATOR: Excellent. That concludes today’s briefing. I would like to thank the Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland for speaking to us today, and thank 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.
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