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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 Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee, who joins us from Kigali, Rwanda.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Assistant Secretary Phee, 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.
As a reminder, today’s briefing is on the record, and with that, I will turn it over to Assistant Secretary Phee.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE: Thanks very much, Tiffany. Hello, everybody. Thanks for taking the time to join us. I’m with Judd Devermont, who’s the Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council, and we’ve been traveling this week with Secretary Blinken. We visited South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda, where we are now.
This visit illustrates the administration’s approach to Africa, which the Secretary outlined in his speech in Pretoria on Monday. Our approach recognizes that we can’t achieve any of our shared priorities – whether that’s recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, contending with the climate crisis, managing the economic crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and increasing economic prosperity for both Africans and Americans – if we don’t work together as equal partners.
In South Africa we revived our Strategic Dialogue, which is a formal exchange of views and policies. At the direction of both Presidents Biden and Ramaphosa, we focused on health, climate, trade and investment, and infrastructure. In the DRC, we discussed with the leadership and with civil society our support for free, fair, and timely elections next year in 2023; our efforts to support the Congo’s commitment to serving as a solution country by responsibly managing its irreplaceable rainforest; and our role in helping Congo responsibly develop its mineral sector.
We also had a frank and open conversation about the challenges in eastern Congo, a conversation we also held in Kigali. In both sets of discussions, the Secretary emphasized the following. First, any support or cooperation with any armed group in eastern DRC endangers local communities and regional stability. Second, he also stressed that every country in the region must respect the territorial integrity of the others. He pressed for an end to hate speech. And fourth, he welcomed the commitment of President Tshisekedi to actively pursue reform of the DRC’s armed forces. Following his engagement, both President Tshisekedi and President Kagame agreed to directly engage.
The Secretary also confirmed U.S. support for the regional diplomatic efforts underway. And I’d like to mention, he really stressed to everyone involved that we need to keep our focus on the humans, the people that are suffering in east Congo, the men, women, and children who have suffered for so long.
Finally, I’d like to note that Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield was also recently in Uganda and Rwanda, and Judd and I – I’m sorry, Uganda and Ghana – and Judd and I joined her for that trip, and USAID Administrator Samantha Power was recently in Somalia and Kenya. So all of these visits demonstrate our commitment to our partnership in Africa.
So we’re delighted to talk to you and I’ll stop there and open it up for questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Phee. 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: Secretary Blinken’s trip to the continent and the U.S. strategy for sub-Saharan Africa.
We have received some questions in advance. We’ll start with one from Mr. Daniel Anyorigya from Citi FM in Ghana. He asks: “How does the U.S. strategy align with the Agenda 2063 and its objectives?”
MR DEVERMONT: I’ll take that one. Hi, everyone. This is Judd Devermont. Thank you for that question. This is a strategy that was highly consulted with a host of partners. So Assistant Secretary Phee and I asked all of our embassies on the continent to share their thoughts, engage with partners, so we got a lot of input that way. I engaged with the diplomatic corps, so did Assistant Secretary Phee, individually and in groups, and then we engaged with a range of African and U.S. experts to get their best insights. And the document that came up most in that conversation was Agenda 2063, so I read it over and over again and I think that you can see some of those themes throughout the strategy, and I expect that we will have further conversations in public and private about how the two documents work together and how do we ensure that we achieve the outcomes outlined in both of those documents. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next we’ll take a live question from Milton Maluleque from Deutsche Welle-Africa, based in Mozambique. Operator, can you open the line, please?
QUESTION: Yes, good afternoon and thank you very much for allowing me to put this question. United Nations – Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, recently in Kampala she said that African nations are free to import Russian grain and fertilizers, but that they are – they would suffer consequences if they trade with – in Russian oil, which remains sanctioned by the U.S. And this announcement comes just days after the minister of mineral resources and energy of Mozambique, Carlos Mesquita (sic), said that if the option is viable, they will buy the fuel from Russia.
So the question is, are the countries not free to trade with the countries of their choices, and this that is seen in Mozambique as a threat is not a way of forcing the African countries to take a stand in this Russia-Ukraine conflict?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE: Thanks very much for that question on such an important topic at such a critical time in global events. The United States is joined by many partners in Europe and elsewhere in seeking to deter the Russian aggression in Ukraine. As you’ve seen, since February Russia has attempted to seize the territory of Ukraine by wrecking terrible damage on the civilians and the infrastructure of the country of Ukraine. And in an effort to stop that aggression and to deter Russian attempts to seize Ukraine, we have agreed to an embargo on Russian oil. But as Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield emphasized when she was in Kampala, we worked very hard to exempt all Russian food products from sanction because we knew they were important to many consumers around the world, including those here in Africa.
So yes, it is true that we are seeking to deprive Russia of the revenue that it receives from oil sales, which it is using to conduct this terrible, illegal campaign in Ukraine.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next there is a question that was submitted live by Brooks Spector from The Daily Maverick in Johannesburg. He writes, “In reading the new strategy, I was struck by the fact that there was more than an echo of statements on Africa from the Clinton and Obama administrations. Was that intentional or does it represent some other reason for congruence?”
MR DEVERMONT: Hi. Thank you for that question. I think I understood it as is there – that there was an echo between the Obama and Bush strategies, and I would say that we are really proud of our bipartisan support for and engagement with this region. As many of you know, the key initiatives out of the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, as well as Trump administration, have been – continue on and are embraced. Each administration adds to them and makes them purpose-fit for the moment, but it’s one of the things that’s very special about Africa policy.
And so in this strategy, we both celebrate the things that we’ve done and also try to look forward in the things that we need to do in this moment. And I would say the strategy is really focused on what is the tone that we need to have in terms of our partnership; what are the ways that Africans can provide greater input into how we do our business jointly; and then what are the areas that we need to go forward on as the continent is young, connected, and increasingly urban.
So there is a throughline from previous administrations, but there’s also an expansion of horizons in terms of what we do, with whom, and specifically in what sectors.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE: I’d just like to add, (inaudible) that the PEPFAR program was started under President Bush. It’s had an enormously positive impact on the lives of individuals suffering from HIV/AIDS, and it helped strengthen health sectors in Africa and it’s been the backbone of the most recent effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic under the Biden administration. Also, under President Obama, he established the Feed the Future program, which is designed to build African self-sufficiency in agricultural production; also, Power Africa, which is designed to help electrify Africa. And under President Trump, he established a program we call Prosper Africa, which is designed to expand American trade and investment here.
So just as Judd said, all of these programs are generally popular and well supported by both parties in the United States and by the American public, and we’re proud to continue developing those programs for the benefit of both Africa and the United States.
MODERATOR: Thank you. There was another question sent in advance from Mr. Getu Hailu from Deutsche Welle in Addis Ababa. He asks, “How much has the U.S. committed to end instability in Ethiopia due to internal and geopolitical impacts, as the current instability in the country obviously puts a big pressure on the economy of the country?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE: Thanks very much for that question. Of course, first and foremost for us was the concern about the human toll of the conflict in Ethiopia, which was just devastating, and reports of grave abuses by all the fighting forces. And so our first imperative was to try and help end the conflict. Since March, the – there has been an effective cessation of hostilities with a so-called humanitarian ceasefire between the Ethiopian Government and the forces of the TPLF, and that has held and that is really important.
Second, we are trying to make sure that all communities in need in Ethiopia receive desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Of course, that started first in Tigray, where we’re proud, based on efforts by the UN, the United States, and other key partners, that there is now a regular flow of humanitarian assistance and also the fuel needed to disburse that humanitarian assistance to Tigray. But Ethiopia, like other countries in the Horn, is also now experiencing a terrible drought of historic proportions. Samantha Power, as I mentioned earlier, was recently in the region to announce nearly a billion dollars in American aid to help the countries affected by the drought.
We’re also very committed to supporting talks between the parties, and we’re hopeful that the AU high representative for the talks in Ethiopia, former President Obasanjo, will soon announce a location and a time for those talks.
So we remain very committed to helping Ethiopia recover its stability so it’s in a position to develop its economy the way that we think it can, to resume its role as a strategic player in all spheres in the Horn and on the continent.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next we’ll take a question live from Martin Plaut in the UK. Martin – operator, can you open his line, please?
QUESTION: Hello. Thanks for taking the question. What I wanted to ask was really one about your relationship with South Africa. I mean, there’s a tendency – certainly been in the UK – to regard South Africa as a done deal, that it’s – at the end of apartheid that was the end of the problem. But the country is heading for a grave crisis now, I mean, both according to its own internal — the department of finance and other – and the World Bank. And they’ve all looked at it and said that it is really in a very, very difficult position, both politically and economically. And I wondered what your assessment of both the South African situation is and what you plan to do about it.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE: Well, of course, I think as our strategy makes clear, first and foremost, we respect South Africans’ leadership in addressing the grave concerns that you have outlined in their own country. But we believe South Africa’s success will be our success. We share important values with South Africa. We have important relationships. There are some 600 American companies in South Africa. We have about $8 billion in foreign direct investment. We have an enormous investment in their health system. We’re working very closely with them and other G7 partners on helping them manage a transition to deal with climate change. So there are so many ways in which we have close ties to South Africa, and we would like to support them as they navigate the challenges that you’ve described.
MR DEVERMONT: Maybe I’ll just add, as Assistant Secretary Phee mentioned, when we went to South Africa for the Strategic Dialogue, the issues that we talked about are issues that get at the questions that you raised, Martin, about how do you have more trade and investment in South Africa; how does it deal with the impacts of climate change; what are the opportunities for infrastructure and how do we do with health and other challenges.
And in Foreign Minister Pandor’s sort of press statements, she talked about how this engagement is aligned with the priorities that the South Africans have identified. So I think that the relationship, really starting with the President’s call with Cyril Ramaphosa in April, has really had some momentum. I think we are – we have – we’ve found a lot of common ground, and we’re working really with a shared agenda.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’d like to stay with South Africa for a moment. And we’ll read a question that was sent to us in advance from Carien du Plessis from Business Day. She asks, “Do you think that the strategy has allowed enough room to recognize that China and Russia have also done things on the continent that can be perceived as positive? Also, as South African Minister of International Relations Naledi Pandor said, the U.S. isn’t a neutral actor and has itself done a lot of damage on the continent, too. It appears that the U.S. wants to compete with these rather than to see how it can cooperate for the better. Or do you think there is no space for complementarity and cooperation?”
MR DEVERMONT: Thank you for that question. One of the things that the strategy acknowledges in – is that – how much the continent has changed and how many countries across the globe see opportunity in Africa. And so we can look at diplomacy, trade and investment, security ties, and almost for every country that has increased over the past decade-plus.
What Secretary Blinken has said, and it still remains at the core of our focus, is that it’s for Africans to decide who their partners are, to identify what are in their interests, on their agenda, what kind of standards and transparency that they want from their partners. That’s – that’s paramount. And he’s elaborated in other places when – with respect to China that our relationship, the U.S. relationship with China, will be competitive where it should be, collaborative where it can be, and adversarial where it must be. So the strategy identifies some of the things that are concerning about China, but it doesn’t negate some of the things that Africans value in their relationship with China.
So what I think the strategy really does highlight and center on is a commitment to Africans driving this conversation about their foreign partnerships. And we feel very good that we are in a place to answer many of those questions because we listen to both governments but, more importantly, we also listen to public civil society, to environmental groups, to labor unions. That is really our North Star in how we engage and that, I think, is central to the strategy, this — this shift in sort of listening and then acting in partnership.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We will take a live question now from Simon Ateba in the United States. Can you open the line, please?
QUESTION: Thank you, Tiffany, for taking my question. This is Simon Ateba with Today News Africa in Washington, D.C. Well, these are really interesting times for Africa right now. The Chinese coming in, grabbing all the natural resources that they can, signing a controversial contract that mainly benefit them; the Russians coming in and selling weapons, inviting mercenaries, setting up RT media network in South Africa to spread their propaganda. And now the Americans are showing up again with a new strategy for Africa, promising heaven on Earth with their beautiful voices, colorful anecdotes.
I was just wondering, is there anything – what is – what is there for average Africans? Why is all this happening right now? What types of opportunities do you see for – do you see – do you all see in Africa right now that Africans themselves don’t see? And how will you involve Africans in the U.S. to help drive this new strategy? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE: Well, I think if you ask what Africans see in the strategy or, more broadly, the U.S. approach to engagement in Africa, they see, just like Americans, they have to deal with COVID-19. So that’s what we’ve done. We’ve stepped up to help both with the distribution of vaccines as well as, for the first time ever, to support the manufacture of vaccines on the continent.
Africans, like Americans, have dealt with the terrible economic consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And here again, America has stepped up to partner with Africans both with humanitarian assistance where needed and also use of our donor funding to help particularly in the agricultural sector, particularly with the Feed the Future program I discussed earlier.
Africans, like Americans, are contending with the negative impacts of climate change. We’ve seen this past year, all over the world, dreadful impacts. And so we’re working to figure out how we can do better together to develop responsible sources of energy that are sustainable for the future of the planet.
Africans, like Americans, want government that delivers. So we’re engaged in helping to push and prod and support governments so that there is better service delivery and more inclusive government systems that engage a plurality of citizens.
So that’s what I see in terms of our engagement with – with Africa.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much. We have time for one last question. We’ll take a live question from Kemi Osukoya from The Africa Bazaar magazine. Operator, open the line, please. Kemi, are you unmuted? Can you speak, please?
Okay. I think what we’ll do is we’ll go to a live question submitted from Pascal Airault from L’Opinion. “What would be the next themes” – sorry. “What would be the themes of the next U.S.-Africa summit in December? Are you going to invite all the African leaders, in particular the presidents from military juntas?”
MR DEVERMONT: Well, thank you very much for that question. We’re really excited about the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which will happen December 13th through December 15th. Some of the themes that you saw in the strategy will be front and center at that event. But also, I think Assistant Secretary Phee noted some of the things that we know both Africans and Americans care about right now with respect to food security and climate change.
So I think that we’ll have three days of really vigorous conversation inclusive with both African leaders but also civil society and diaspora. So I think it’s going to be really an important milestone in our bilateral relationship as we – and multilateral relationship as we move forward. We’re – our approach is to make — is to invite everyone, African leaders that are in good – African countries that are in good standing with the African Union and that we have full diplomatic relations with.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And unfortunately, that is all the time we have for today for questions. Assistant Secretary Phee, did you have any final words?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE: Well, it’s great to have the interest and we appreciate the time and energy that you’ve all invested in this discussion. Just to say that I think the Secretary will go home from this trip feeling that it was very productive. We – we had really serious sets of conversations – substantive, wide-ranging – with all three countries. And I know he looks forward to our continued engagement across the continent.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. And with that, that would – will conclude today’s briefing. I would like to thank Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee for speaking to us today, and thank all of our journalists for participating. If you have any questions about the briefing, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at AFMediaHub@state.gov. Thank you.
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