TRANSCRIPT: Press Briefing with Acting Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Don Yamamoto
Africa Regional Media Hub
Press Briefing with Acting Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Don Yamamoto
Secretary Tillerson’s March 6-13 Visit to Africa
March 5, 2018
OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by and welcome to the Department of State conference call. At this time, all participants are in listen only mode. Later, we will conduct a question and answer session, and instructions will be given at that time. If you should require assistance during the call, please press * followed by the 0. As a reminder, today’s conference is being recorded. I would now like to turn the conference over to our first speaker, Mr. Brian Neubert. Please go ahead, sir.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon to everyone, from the Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I’d like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent. Thank you for joining the discussion. We’re very, very pleased today to have joining us from Washington, D.C. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Ambassador Don Yamamoto, who will provide a brief overview of Secretary of State Tillerson’s upcoming trip to the African continent, as well as an update on State Department Africa strategy in general.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Ambassador Yamamoto before turning to your questions. We will get to as many of your questions as we can. At any time during the call, if you would like to join the question queue, please press * and 1 on your phone. If you’d like to join the conversation on Twitter, you can use the hashtag #SecStateinAfrica. You can also follow us on @africamediahub and @AsstSecStateAF.
As a reminder, today’s call is on the record, and with that, Ambassador Yamamoto, go ahead, sir.
AMB. YAMAMOTO: Okay, thank you so very much for everyone joining in on this conference call. Let me just kind of go over a couple things. So first of all is that the trip to Africa really developed after the United Nations General Assembly, when President Trump hosted nine African leaders for a luncheon at the UN General Assembly in New York, and then of course the Secretary of State himself initiated the ministerial meeting in November, and that really was to focus on where does the United States want to position itself in Africa?
You know, the Secretary is an engineer, so he has a very scientific approach, and I’m a biochemist by background, so I think we kind of mesh together very well and we ask a lot of good questions about what is Africa going to look like in the year 2100 and beyond? If Africa is going to have a population of about 40% of the world’s population, over 30% of the world’s labor force, but more important is that it’s going to be really hugely youthful. Over 70%, probably, under the age of 25. But more important is the potential for high rates of unemployment if we don’t position ourselves now to look at how we can develop Africa and be a part of that development and really the opportunity. You know, we call Africa the “final frontier” for freedom and opportunity, and really that is the answer. If you look at Africa today, you see so many other countries in the Congo and other places, looking at the rare earth minerals and metals.
The United States looks at that, but more important, it looks at how can we help the African states and countries benefit from their own resources? How can the African states and populations continue to grow and develop? And really that’s our main focal point.
And so the Secretary is going on a trip to Africa. He starts tomorrow, and he’ll be going to several countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Chad, and Nigeria. We wanted to put in more countries, but given the time limits, we’re going to pick those countries on the second round. But those are some of the general highlights that will be going on. Some of the scenes - let me just tell you - the scenes in these countries are three of the countries that we will be going to house three of the four largest American embassies in Africa. So they are cornerstone, pillar countries, as Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria.
The other issue, too, is we’re looking at how these countries can play a really predominant role in growth, because they all have about 8-9% economic growth rates.
The other issue, too, is we’re looking at institution building, etc., because we can’t have really robust economic development and addressing the ingenuity, the creativity of the people of Africa, unless we have strong institutions, governance, strong economic institutions that will really ignite and stimulate growth. And of course, human rights is also another important issue.
So with that, let’s open up the questions. Over.
MODERATOR: Thank you again, Ambassador Yamamoto. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation and we’d ask that you limit yourself to one question. We have a lot of participants today and we are discussing Secretary of State’s trip to Africa and U.S.-Africa strategy. Again, for those of you listening to the call in English, you can press *1 to join the question queue. If you’re using a speaker phone you may have to pick up the handset. For those listening in French and Portuguese, if you have questions you can submit them by email to .
Ambassador Yamamoto, I’ll ask the first question that we received in advance from Coletta Wanjohi from Ethiopia with Feature Story News Agency. What is the Secretary’s specific mission in Ethiopia, particularly in light of the United States’ statement related to the recent declaration of emergency? Can you discuss what his focus will be with Ethiopian counterparts?
AMB. YAMAMOTO: So going to Ethiopia is really an important stop, because it’s the host for the African Union. And so on the one hand, he will be meeting with Moussa Faki and the African Union commissioners to talk about the fundamental issues that are challenging Africa, which are South Sudan, DRC, Somalia, also the G5 countries, support for security, but more important is looking at economic growth opportunities. And again, we look at the African Union as the umbrella arm for the entire African region.
The second thing to going to Ethiopia is that we’re looking at a transition of a prime minister. What is that going to hold? And Ethiopia plays a really critical role, not only because it is the number one troop-contributing country to peacekeeping operations, and really that’s really very unique anywhere in the world, is that Africa really dominates and predominates in its own security. One factoid that I keep on giving is 53% of UN operations are in Africa; 87% of the world’s UN troops are in Africa. But over 50%, if you include the African Union, then it brings it up to 70% of all peacekeeping troops in Africa. And really in a lot of peacekeeping operations in the world are Africans. So Africa is doing its part with sacrifices and commitments.
Now going to Ethiopia specific, is that we’re looking at not only the transition of a prime minister, but also the institution and the strengthening of institutions. We’re also looking at the problems in Oromia and the Somali region, and we’re looking at probably about a million people displaced. The issue comes in as how is it that we’re going to address and support and resolve the tensions? And you know, this is not unique to Ethiopia. We’re looking at throughout the continent, a lot of areas we’re having problems over land development and land rights; water rights; ethnic, tribal, religious, geographic issues and challenges and tensions. And so we want to know is how can we, the United States, play a role in supporting, resolving of tensions and problems, and then really looking and addressing all the other challenges that we face in Ethiopia?
The other issue, too, is again, human rights issues that we’re looking at as well as all this contributing to stronger institution building in Ethiopia, and for Ethiopia to continue to play a positive role regionally and Africa, continent-wise, and also for the people of Ethiopia. Over.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Ambassador. We’ll stay with Ethiopia for a moment. Our embassy in Addis Ababa is hosting a listening party. If you could state your name and ask your question, please, from the listening party in Ethiopia.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, my name is Birhanu Fikade, I work for The Reporter Newspaper. His Excellency Rex Tillerson’s visit comes at a time when Ethiopia is having a very critical political crisis, and at the same time his visit is going to be overlapped by a visit of the Foreign Affairs Minister from Russia, Sergei Lavrov. So does it mean, is it a coincidence or is there something going on that these two countries are focusing on in this country? Can we know something going on behind the screen that they are going to talk about political issues in East Africa with that respect? Thank you very much.
AMB. YAMAMOTO: Thank you very much for your comments and also to your paper. So if you look at what the Secretary is going into, I’ll kind of remind you that the UAE Foreign Minister will be there, as well as Lavrov from Russia. But the Secretary’s focus is clearly and squarely on the African Union and on Ethiopia. Those are the two main focal points, and all the meetings will be focused on those officials.
Again, we’re looking at what are the Ethiopians looking at on transition? I think that will be a point of interest, what is the next government going to look like? How is it that the United States can play a role supporting the new administration? But let me just kind of go, too, that Ethiopia is not unique in the transitions that it’s undergoing. And transitions are good; transitions really signal changes and modifications to strengthening of institutions. So you look at Kenya; you have Odinga and Kenyatta. You have Nigeria, you have the election in Nigeria coming up next year, probably the most important election in Africa in the next 18 months. And then you go to Ethiopia itself, is another political transition. So it’s not unique, but it’s very important for the stability of not only the country but also the region. And so the focus is not on what Lavrov is doing or the UAE, but on what the Ethiopians are going to do, and also the African Union. Over.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. We’ll turn now to Kenya, we have a question from John Aglionby. Sir, if you could introduce yourself and also your media outlet. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, this is John Aglionby from The Financial Times. During the Secretary’s visit to all these countries, is DRC going to come up very much? You mentioned it in your introduction briefly. And what sort of messages will the Secretary be giving on DRC, if any, and what would you like to see there? Thank you.
AMB. YAMAMOTO: That’s a good point. On the Democratic Republic of Congo, we continue to look at that with a tremendous amount of concern, and not only us but also the African Union. And in our conversations with the African Union incoming President, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, as well as Moussa Faki, the Chairperson, the DRC election is critical.
If you look at the rise of a lot of the tensions in eastern Congo, particularly the increased violence, the sectarianism, and other challenges, yes it’s a security problem but it really stems from the insecurity of the electoral process being delayed and the indefiniteness of the election processes. And that’s why we’re pushing, along with the African Union and the neighboring countries, to look at working with President Kabila and the other opposition groups to move that election process by December of this year, in accordance with the agreement made.
And the next issue, too, is we’re looking at the influx and increase in outsiders in the mining sector of the Congo. And then you’re talking Russia, Iran, China, North Korea, and other countries, looking at their metals and rare earth minerals, and that’s focusing on the titanium, thallium, tungsten, tin, coltan, etc. and we’re trying to see how is a rational way of benefitting the people of Congo and also the region?
And then the other issue, too, is the Inga dam project, which is a good electric power plant. But you can’t have any of this until you really have political will, political stability, strong institutions, and those are the things that we’re looking at very, very closely and carefully with the African Union and the other states surrounding the DRC, and the instability in DRC will have tremendous impact on neighboring countries, so that is why we’re really focused on the DRC and what happens there. Over.
MODERATOR: We have another question we received in advance, from David Herbling with Bloomberg News in Nairobi Kenya, a two-part question about Secretary Tillerson’s visit to Kenya. Will he meet with opposition leader Raila Odinga during his visit? What is America’s strategy related to Kenya’s political impasse, and then also if you could comment on the Kenyatta government and the apparent clamp-down - or apparent clamp-down - on civil liberties in Kenya? Thank you, sir.
AMB. YAMAMOTO: So, as you know, our American Embassy in Kenya is the largest in Africa. And there’s a reason for that; it’s because Kenya is a critical country and it’s an important regional hub. It’s not only for economic development, institutions, but also because of its contributions to African Union and United Nations operations in the area, and it hosts a number of international organizations.
So what’s happening in Kenya is the Secretary’s going to look at talking to President Kenyatta and the government and noting exactly how is it that we can work to bring dialogue and discussions and political and economic reform, because that is exactly what the opposition and also what the Kenyatta government is looking at. Because that will strengthen not only the institutions, but also economic development and political reform.
On the opposition, the issue comes in as we’re all developing, and you know, these schedules are still fluid, but the main focus point in any country is, again, to talk to the government officials and the president, the prime minister, the foreign minister, community leaders, and we’re looking at how to strengthen institutions and also to engage oppositions in really a constructive dialogue on political and economic reforms, because that’s in the interest of all parties and also the people of Kenya. So I think when we get to Kenya it will be a lot clearer, but at this point we’re talking about strong institution building in Kenya. Over.
MODERATOR: We have a question from Harare, if you could identify yourself and also name your media outlet and ask your question. That’s in Zimbabwe.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you very much. My name is Anna Chibama, I write for newzimbabwe.com. Do you recognize the current government which is in Zimbabwe, which came out of a coup in last November? And I’m also asking on the renewal of sanctions in Zimbabwe, which the U.S. government did a few weeks ago, so I would want to know if Mnangagwa, if he’s to hold free elections are you going to remove him on those sanctions? Thank you.
AMB. YAMAMOTO: Thank you very much for your questions. Really, I think when the transition between Mugabe to Mnangagwa took place, the SADC countries, as well as the African Union, held out high hope that this will be the start of really making profound economic and political reform issues, and of course President Mnangagwa’s focus point has been on the economy.
So on recognition, the issue comes in as we recognize the countries. And we have an ambassador in Zimbabwe who is taking the lead not only for the United States, but also in coordination with our allied countries and partners, the UK and others, and also our SADC country partners, and looking at how we can work together with Zimbabwe. But, you know, our ambassador, Harry Thomas met with and spoke with President Mnangagwa to look at how we can work together on a wide range of issues, and it’s not just only the future of Zimbabwe but also the role Zimbabwe plays.
We’ve been having talks, too, with the Zimbabwe ambassador here, and we hold high hopes because really Zimbabwe is important to the region. Its economy, you know, used to be extremely vibrant and supportive and you really can’t have a currency that’s based on the U.S. dollar, it has to have a base on its own currency. The other issue, too, is that Zimbabwe used to be the breadbasket of the region. We want to see that again. I mean, Zimbabwe has a tremendous amount of potential and opportunity, and its people are creative and talented, and so we want to unleash those talents and how to really build strong institutions that will be able to support this creativity. And so that’s what we’re looking at, and we’re working very closely with the SADC countries and the African Union. So it’s going to be a long, evolving process, but let me just say the United States is firmly committed to the future of Zimbabwe. Over.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll turn next to Jonas Gerding, he’s with us from Nairobi. Go ahead and introduce yourself and your outlet, please.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Jonas, I’m with the German television with ZDF in Nairobi, and I would like to know whether the announced cut in aid spending and the reintroduction of the global gag rule, whether this will be addressed during the visit.
AMB. YAMAMOTO: Thank you very much. So assistance, I wouldn’t say - I think it’s much more streamlining our foreign assistance, and we look at foreign assistance as an investment, an investment in sectors that are critical and important to Africa’s future development, but also in promoting our relationship. As you know, the United States, we don’t do a lot of infrastructure development, except in Kenya of course you have the Bechtel road construction between Mombasa and Nairobi, which is probably a major U.S. infrastructure program. We look at really building institutions and helping the people. So girls’ education, entrepreneurial programs, the youth development program, which is the YALI program. The other issue, too, that we’re looking at really developing and expanding education, strong banking institutions, which really are the impetus for development.
The other issue, too, is addressing the rising indebtedness in Africa. And that’s the challenges. And so for those areas it’s not so much assistance as it is commitment to fighting corruption, finding ways that will help countries develop. In other words, as Africa develops from agriculture to industrialization to a consumer-based industry, we want to see if we can set Africa up for a success. Now on our assistance levels - actually, investment levels - we’re looking at kind of focusing, streamlining, on those core areas, which would really be supportive. And I’ll be honest with you, there are a lot of programs that we need to eliminate because they don’t make sense. And then other areas that we need to really highlight and emphasize. And so if you have suggestions and recommendations, we’re all ears. We need to have robust discussions with community leaders as well as government leaders, because we just can’t do this in isolation. It has to be a joint partnership with implementing and instituting programs and projects that make sense and that meet the needs of the people of Kenya and also the people of Africa. Over.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have, I believe, Deutsche Welle, Sella Oneko, next. If you could introduce yourself and confirm your outlet, ask your question.
QUESTION: Yes, hello, my name’s Sella Oneko and I’m calling from Deutsche Welle in Germany. My question is Mr. Tillerson’s also visiting Chad and Djibouti, where the U.S. mainly has security interests, and many people in the U.S. were also surprised by the U.S. presence in Africa there. Could you speak about that, about Mr. Tillerson’s security plans, or the U.S. security plans?
AMB. YAMAMOTO: Sure. Thank you very much, and you know, I was the ambassador to Djibouti when we first started Camp Lemonnier. As you know, it’s the main U.S. military location in the region, and really its coordination is providing training, security assistance support; it also houses the task forces 150 and 151, which is aimed at providing security along the borders and also fighting piracy and also interdicting the flow of illicit weapons and fighters coming in and out of Africa.
And the security aspect certainly is, how is it that we can support Djibouti? As you know, Djibouti is part of the TCC [Troop Contributing Countries] or the AMISOM [African Union Mission to Somalia] operations in Somalia, as well as providing assistance and support to the French military, which has their major military base in Djibouti. And so how do we coordinate that?
The other issue, too, is China has recently established their base in Africa. We have other locations by other countries. But we want to know, and we’re looking at having a discussion with China in Washington D.C. later in the springtime about what their overall goals and operations are on the continent. And I think we need to have that discussion with China, and we are looking at what China is doing, not only in Djibouti but in other countries, particularly on the area of concessionary loan rates, which is providing high rates of indebtedness. But on the other hand, what China’s doing in support of infrastructure development. They’ve played a positive role in UN operations in Sudan, so it’s a very complex relationship, but again, it goes to the heart of how can we coordinate on security? And again, it’s not just security with the other countries, but also security with the African Union, the East Africa Cooperation, the IGAD, and others.
The other issue is on Chad. Chad is a critical country in the G5; as you know they provide troops in the other countries, particularly Niger and Mauritania. We’re looking at the one area is how we can support their institution building; also, I know that they were slapped with these sanctions, but again, we work very closely with Chad and we’re very confident that they’ll get off that list because they’ve done really remarkable efforts to improve security, not only for their own security but also as a model for other countries to follow, and I think that’s going to be a very positive example going into the future. Over.
MODERATOR: Just a reminder to our participants, to ask a question you can join the queue by pressing *1 on your phone. You may have to move close to the speaker or the microphone if you’re at one of our listening parties. Now we will turn to Kevin Kelley; if you could introduce yourself and your outlet, sir, and ask your question. Thanks.
QUESTION: Yeah, hi, thanks for doing this today. Yeah, Kevin Kelley, I write for The Nation Media Group in Kenya. Ambassador Yamamoto, I’m just going to follow up on what you had said a few minutes ago about Secretary Tillerson’s visit to Kenya. It sounded like you were not confirming that there would be a meeting with Raila Odinga. So that seems possibly a problem from the U.S. perspective, in that the opposition, NASA [the National Super Alliance], has been highly critical of Ambassador Godec, the U.S. ambassador’s performance in Kenya, saying that he strongly favors the government, is not taking into account the opposition’s claims about rigging of the election, etc. Isn’t it going to exacerbate problems between the U.S. and the opposition if Secretary Tillerson does not meet with Mr. Odinga? Thanks a lot.
AMB. YAMAMOTO: Yeah, thank you very much for your question. You know, Ambassador Bob Godec is probably our most senior ranking officer in the region, and we have 44 embassies and 6 consulates and offices. We really look to him as kind of the model for leadership and not only support for his people but the engagement.
And so, you know, I personally have met with Prime Minister Odinga over the years, and so has, recently, with Bob Godec. We met with Odinga in Nairobi, and when former Prime Minister Odinga was here in the United States we met with him and his family and his group, and really we’ve had robust relationships. I've spoken with the former prime minister on the telephone, and I think what we said to him, and really to the opposition leaders, is that you have a really tremendous opportunity for historic times to really push forward political and economic reforms, and to really work not only within the opposition group but also with the government on this issue.
I think you should probably interview Bob Godec, because he’s really worked behind the scenes not only with the government, the opposition parties, but also with our partner countries, in looking and finding ways that we can promote discussions and talks between the government and opposition groups in a much more constructive manner, from the parliament to open dialogues and behind-the-scenes, and I think those are happening, and I think we’re going to promote those as best we can.
Again, the Secretary is coming, this is his initial trip as Secretary of State. As you know, in his prior life as Exxon Mobil executive, he made quite a number of trips throughout Africa, so he knows Africa very well. And he’s going to be coming back to Africa again and again, and we’re not ignoring the opposition. The opposition plays a critical role, and we’re going to continue to engage the opposition at all levels. And I don’t think you should come away with saying that we’re ignoring the opposition; we’re not. We continue to engage now; we’re doing behind the scenes, we’re looking at it, and probably talk to Ambassador Godec for more details, but we are firmly engaged with all sides. Over.
MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone on the line, for your patience. We’ve got quite a number of callers and questions in our queue; we’re doing our best to get to all of you. We’ll turn next to Peter Fabricius. Peter, if you could introduce yourself and your outlet, ask your question. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks very much, Brian. Assistant Secretary, I’m Peter Fabricius from Daily Maverick online journal in South Africa. I just wanted to ask you whether the U.S. government is concerned about the recent decision by the South African Parliament to authorize amendments to the constitution to allow the expropriation of land without compensation, really whether you consider that to be a worrying factor in terms of investment and other relations of the U.S. with South Africa. Thank you.
AMB. YAMAMOTO: So that’s an interesting question, thank you very much. I think the issues that you’re looking at, we’re looking at much closer. I don’t think I can make any definitive comments at this point. All I can say is that the Secretary wanted to go to South Africa, we wanted him to go to South Africa, but I think with the transition from Zuma to Ramaphosa, and still the formation of a government, we wanted to kind of hold back and maybe do a future trip later, but again, South Africa is for the United States really the number one country economically and trade-wise on the continent, as it is for a number of countries.
However, South Africa deals on trade and investment really will affect the rest of the continent, and we continue to work there, our American Chamber of Commerce will obviously be in confrontations on a whole host of issues and challenges that will be coming up in our relationship. But I’m very positive on South Africa; South Africa is a very important country and really it’s been kind of the leading country on a lot of development. As you know, our investment in Africa from the United States is about $57 billion in direct investment. That’s really very low, but we’re trying to stimulate that, and South Africa’s going to play a critical role in attracting more U.S. investments and trade. So I think the jury’s out and let me kind of go back and we can provide probably a better discussion for you later on. Thank you.
MODERATOR: We will turn now to Geoff Hill. Please introduce yourself and your outlet, and ask your question. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. Zimbabwe [UNCLEAR] Johannesburg [UNCLEAR] Zimbabwe was very happy to hear your comments on a robust relationship with Kenya. [UNCLEAR]
MODERATOR: Geoff, I’m sorry, your line is breaking up; I can’t hear you at all. Let us try to reconnect. We’ll turn instead to another question from the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe, and we’ll try to get Geoff Hill on a clear line, Ambassador.
AMB. YAMAMOTO: Okay, thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, my name is Richard Chidza, I write for The News Day in Harare. Secretary, you didn’t address the issue of sanctions that has been imposed on the Harare administration. The U.S. has, in the past few days, confirmed that they have been extended for another year. Does this mean your interactions, or the interactions of the embassy in Harare with President Mnangagwa have not been that critical that the U.S. needs to continue watching the events in Harare with sanctions hanging over their heads?
AMB. YAMAMOTO: Yeah, as you know, the sanctions are directed on individuals, and thank you for the question. I apologize for not answering before. So when the United States has done sanctions and they’re really based on Treasury, it’s called OFAC [Office of Foreign Assets Control], so in other words the targeted sanctions on individuals based on governance issues, etc., and this derives obviously from the Mugabe period. Those are areas that are always on review and constantly being reviewed and we refer to our Ambassador Harry Thomas and his team on working with the Treasury on the future.
But as far as the overall relationship with Zimbabwe, let me just reaffirm and assert what our embassy has stated, and that is that we look at this opportunity right now in the post-Mugabe period, that here’s an opportunity to move Zimbabwe forward on fundamental economic and political reforms. And that is for Zimbabwe to take control of its own currency, to expand economic development on the agricultural sectors, and really to make a strong transition to industrialization and consumer-based industries, and really to be the powerhouse for the region that it really was intended to be in the past. And I think this is an opportunity. So as far as looking at sanctions or whatever, those are always under review, but I think for the overall challenges is that we want to see a much more dynamic and broad-based investment in Zimbabwe. As you know, right now, our level for Zimbabwe is very low; it’s under $300 million, and I think that we would like to do a lot more, and I think as Zimbabwe engages much more on the economic reform front and stronger institutions and democratic processes, I think you’ll see a lot more opening on all sides. Over.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll turn to Matina Stevis next, in Nairobi. If you could introduce yourself and your outlet and ask your question. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for doing this; this is Matina Stevis in Nairobi for the Wall Street Journal. I’d like to focus a bit on a country you know quite well, Somalia, and you recently visited. With regards to U.S. policy in Somalia and the Secretary’s potential discussions of Somalia with Ethiopia and other partners, can you just comment or elaborate on U.S. foreign policy goals in Somalia, in particular as we’ve seen in the last few months a sort of resource weakening of the embassy, including with the departure - the resignation - of the Ambassador to Somalia, which has come in tandem with the increase of drone strikes etc.? Can you tell us how you guys assess the sort of switching, the further militarization of that relationship, and [UNCLEAR] political [UNCLEAR] priority for the State Department?
AMB. YAMAMOTO: Thank you very much for your question, because that really is a very important aspect, because Somalia is not a military solution. General Waldhauser, who is our AFRICOM [United States Africa Command] commander, and I, we went to the graduate school together, believe it or not, at the National War College, and we both share a fundamental perspective on Somalia, and I’ve worked there in Somalia for the last two decades, and I helped set up the American Embassy - the new embassy site there in Mogadishu - in 2016-17, and what we’re looking at is that the solution to Somalia is a political solution. It is based on political will. As we have spoken to President Farmajo, the Prime Minister, and the other issues, and our discussions when I was there with Tom Shannon, our Undersecretary (actually Undersertray Shannon was not there, I was there, I’m sorry) what we want to happen in Somalia is reaffirmation of the London discussions of last year, which is that the federal government engages with the community leadership, from Galmudug to Baidoa, all the way up to Somaliland and Puntland, to create not only institutions, a national army for Somalia, redeployment of their troops to provide their own security, also a police force that will support, also strong financial institutions. And eventually, on the political front, which we’ve been working on, is a one person, one vote in the electoral process, moving it away from clan-based selection of leaders to a much more good governance and a public selection of their leadership.
So it is a political issue, it is political-focused, and it has to be the federal government reaching out to all the federal states to create a strong federal government and federal issues.
And again, going back to what you mentioned on kinetic strike operations is that those are issues to help the security, to give the new government an opportunity, but the bottom line is that this is going to be a political solution, and the political will to bring Somalia together, as it is in other parts of Africa. Over.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We had a bit of technical difficulty with Mr. Geoff Hill but we did get his question by email. Ambassador Yamamoto, he was seeking to ask, in the case of Djibouti in particular but also Zimbabwe and elsewhere, could you comment on the role of China - Chinese economic interests, Chinese investments - in some of these countries, and how those are viewed by the United States?
AMB. YAMAMOTO: I kind of alluded to it before, and thank you for the question; we’re going to go into, hopefully, discussions with our Chinese counterparts here in Washington, if possible, and we want to talk about the wide range of issues. So some of the challenges and concerns we have are what is the economic objective of China in Africa? They have missions in almost all countries in Africa, except those countries which are pro-Taiwan. And we want to look at what is it that we can do to coordinate, cooperate, areas that we have concerns.
And the one area that I mentioned that we have concerns is the re-indebtedness of African states. Those of us who worked on the HIPC, the [Heavily Indebted Poor Countries], we took a lot of African countries off of debt in order to give them an opportunity for economic development, and so we would not want to see these countries get re-indebted again. And we’re seeing countries at 50%, 100%, and in one case 200% of GDP debt based on concessionary loans from China, but also other countries as well, and other institutions. And that’s going to other countries.
So what we want to do is what is it that we need to do to address the development needs but also provide the financial resources without getting these countries into debt? The second issue is exploitation of resources. We want to make sure that there’s a rational exploitation and development of resources that benefits the countries and people where these resources lie, and you’re talking not only the Congo, but also West Africa, Southern Africa, East Africa, and so that people really benefit and that you have profound and fundamental economic development that benefits the people of Africa.
The other area, too, is on security, UN operations, and there the Chinese have been supportive and helpful, and so let’s expand on that. And let me kind of go on one example that China has been very helpful on, and that’s healthcare. And looking at, with us - as you know, 81% of our assistance and investment in Africa from the U.S. is on healthcare. And China has really given us some good ideas about how we can improve healthcare services, given their challenges in China. And so I think there’s room for discussions, but also room for hammering out some areas that we don’t agree on. And so that’s, I think, going to be the basis for our discussions. Over.
MODERATOR: We have time for just one last question at the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia. If you could identify yourself and name your outlet and ask your question. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Ambassador, my name is Omer Redi for Spanish News Agency, Ethiopia correspondent. Ambassador, you mentioned in your brief at the beginning that you’re looking at the transition of prime minister in Ethiopia. I want to emphasize who the Secretary of State is going to meet in Ethiopia, if you’ll name who. Also you mentioned that you’re looking at the problems in Oromia region and Somali regions and the displacement of people. Is he going to speak to any regional officials? Thank you.
AMB. YAMAMOTO: Thank you for the question. No, as you know the Secretary’s trip is very quick. We wish we could have spent more time on the ground, but given the demands back here in Washington and also the things that we want to achieve in Africa, it’s going to be a very tight schedule. He’s obviously going to be meeting with the leadership, so the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the government, and the Embassy and a few others. Is he going to meet the regional states? I doubt there’s time to do that. We’ll be briefing the Secretary on the developments not only in Oromia and Somali, but it’s really across the continent - it’s Kenya, it’s Nigeria, it’s the DRC, it’s Sudan. And those are questions and issues.
The other issue, too, that we need to discuss with Ethiopia is that it’s the lead in the discussions in South Sudan. And you know, if you look at South Sudan, 2.5 million refugees from Sudan into Uganda and even into Ethiopia. You’ve got over 2 million internally displaced, so if you consider what is happening in South Sudan, they probably form about 25-30% of the total number of displaced refugees in all of Africa, and that’s a major problem. Along with the DRC, those form the two major problems on refugee flows and internally displaced, and again Ethiopia plays a critical role in those areas, so those are our discussions.
And also on Somalia, peace and stability there. And then again, the institution-building and what more we can do to support and help Ethiopia and its people and community development across the country. And again, Ethiopia with its 8-9% economic growth rate, really is kind of a bellwether and an economic stability for the region. So Ethiopia is a very complex country, as is Kenya and Nigeria, where he’s visiting, but also it holds a lot of opportunities, and we need to work with the government, the people, opposition groups, local groups, community groups, regional groups. And I refer you to our Ambassador Michael Raynor on the bilateral mission and Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard on the African Union side, who are doing an amazing job, a fabulous job, just working these issues and supporting and assisting and advising us. And I think interviewing them you’ll really get a true sense of the depth and breadth of our policy approach to Ethiopia and also to the region. Thank you very much for your question.
MODERATOR: Ambassador, thanks for sticking with us a few minutes after time. Ambassador Yamamoto, if you have any final words before we close.
AMB. YAMAMOTO: Again, I want to just emphasize that the Secretary’s trip to Africa, really, we kind of call this the “final frontier” for freedom and economic opportunity, because Africa is really changing and evolving. It really is going to be the pacesetter for the future, and if that’s the case then we need to be in Africa, we need to play a very helpful and supportive role, but we also need to listen, and that’s what we’re doing. And I think that this is going to be a great relationship and a partnership. And let me say the United States is committed to Africa, and we always will be committed to Africa. Thank you very much for all your support, attention, and your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador Yamamoto. For our participants, we will be sharing information about Secretary Tillerson’s speech in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. We also plan to do a call with colleagues from USAID on Wednesday about humanitarian assistance. Ambassador Yamamoto mentioned our ambassadors in a couple of the countries where Secretary Tillerson will be stopping. We’re going to do our best here at the Africa Regional Media Hub to host those ambassadors for calls with you to give you an opportunity to speak to them directly in this format. You can find information for that on our Twitter handle, @AfricaMediaHub, and we’ll also share it with our colleagues in the media. That concludes today’s call, I want to thank Ambassador Don Yamamoto, again; he is the Acting Assistant Secretary for African Affairs at the Department of State. Thank you to all the callers for participating. If you have any questions following today’s call, you can contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at email@example.com. Thank you very much.