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TRANSCRIPT: Foreign Press Center Briefing with Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnie Carson
<i>During a briefing at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, D.C., February 24, 2010, Johnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, fielded questions from various media outlets regarding his recent two week tour of
During a briefing at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, D.C., February 24, 2010, Johnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, fielded questions from various media outlets regarding his recent two week tour of Africa. The transcript below is being posted on the U.S. Africa Command website in the interest of explaining U.S. foreign policy with African nations. The role of U.S. Africa Command is to coordinate ongoing Defense Department support for U.S. foreign policy. Ambassador Carson: Thanks for the very kind introduction. It's a pleasure to be with you here in Washington and also with your colleagues in South Africa and in New York. I'd like to start this morning by making just a few brief comments about the return of President Yar'Adua to Nigeria. That is the story that I think is attracting the most attention in Africa this morning. All of you know that Nigeria is an extraordinarily important country. It is probably one of the two most important countries in Africa. It is the largest in terms of its population. It is the second largest Muslim state in Africa, the seventh largest Muslim state in the world. It is one of America's most important trading partners. U.S. investment in Nigeria is larger than any other place in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria supplies 12 percent of U.S. oil. It is the source of the largest amount of sweet crude oil. Nigeria is an important regional player. It is a prominent leader in ECOWAS. It has been a source of stability in West Africa, has played a very important role in stabilizing and helping to bring about peace in Liberia and Sierra Leone. It's a major troop contributing country to the UN, not only in West Africa and Central Africa and Darfur where its officers have led the [UNAMID], but also in places like the Middle East, is one of the largest troop contributors globally in the world. It is also a member of the UN Security Council. It's a country that none of us can afford to dismiss or ignore and that's why the United States seeks to have a strong and positive and productive relationship with Nigeria. But it's important that Nigeria continue along its democratic path. The United States thus welcomes the news of President Yar'Adua's return to Nigeria last night. We hope sincerely that his health is sufficient to enable him to fully resume his official duties. Nigeria needs a strong, healthy and effective leader to ensure the stability of that country and to manage Nigeria's political, economic and security challenges. Recent reports, however, suggest that President Yar'Adua's health remains fragile and that he may not be able to fill the demands of his office. We hope that President Yar'Adua's return to Nigeria is not an effort by senior advisors to upset Nigeria's stability and create renewed uncertainty in the democratic process. We all need a strong, stable democratic Nigeria. We need it for Nigerians, we need it for West Africa, we need it for Africa, we need it for the global community. Nigeria is extraordinarily important to its friends and its partners and all of those in positions of responsibility in Nigeria should put the health of the President and the best interests of the country and the people of Nigeria above short term political ambitions or gains. As a nation of 150 million people, Nigeria's democracy and its continued adherence to constitutional rule should be the highest priority of all of its leaders. I'll stop there and I'll take a few questions. Voice: We'll go to South Africa. Voice: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. The first question we have is from Andre LeRoux from Media 24. Media 24: Thank you, sir. Good morning. Can you elaborate on your concerns about the effects on the stability in Nigeria? You seem to be very concerned that his return might be abused. Do you have reason for that more specifically? Ambassador Carson: Thank you very much, Andre. I keep a News 24 favorite item on my web site at home and I look at you every morning, at least on-line. Let me say that we are concerned in part because for nearly three months the President has been out of the country in Saudi Arabia receiving medical attention. During that three month period very very few people have had access to the President. Almost no ministers, including a delegation that flew to Saudi Arabia two days ago in order to see the President yesterday have been able to see him. The only communication that anyone has reliably seen or heard is a very short two-minute BBC news clip that was done approximately a month ago. I know from my own visit to Nigeria just two and a half weeks ago that a number of governors, a number of senior officials, have all traveled to Saudi Arabia and virtually none of them during this three month period in fact have been able to see the President. The President returned to Nigeria last night. It must have been somewhere between midnight and 2:00 a.m. and was quickly moved from an air medical ambulance to a vehicular ambulance, and not many people have seen him. I think that approximately ten days ago the most senior leaders in Nigeria, the members of the National Assembly in the Senate and the House of Representatives, also the members of the Federal Executive Council and the Governors Council all unanimously passed individual resolutions that stated that the Vice President should be moved up to the position of Acting President. That gave a sense of stability to Nigeria and confidence that the government was going to be able to move forward and to discharge its responsibilities. Now we see the sudden return with very little notice of the President to the country. As I said before, we hope very, very much that the President has recuperated and is healthy and is able to resume his normal duties as President, but it is very important that those who are in responsible positions put the health of the President of Nigeria first, that they think of the interests of, the stability, and the continued democracy of the country as a primary focal point of interest. This is not a time where personal political ambitions should in fact take precedence over the stability and continued democracy and adherence to the constitutional rule that governs Nigeria today. Voice: Sir, next up we have from the Voice of Nigeria, Tony Nicata. Voice of Nigeria: Thank you, Ambassador Carson. During your visit to Nigeria you had a few consultations apart from your visit with the Acting President Dr. Goodluck, Jonathan. It was reported that [inaudible], the former head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida, and there was speculation about [inaudible] media as to why you decided to visit General Ibrahim Babangida. If you had a message from the U.S. government to him, or if he was considered a factor in the so-called [inaudible], or the so-called [inaudible] of Nigeria [inaudible]. Ambassador Carson: As an American diplomat and as the most senior day-to-day individual in the U.S. government responsible for Africa, I think that it is important for me to talk to as many high level officials as I possibly can in places like Nigeria. I indeed did travel to Minna to speak with former head of state Ibrahim Babangida. But let me also say that over the past month I have had an opportunity to speak with a wide range, a wide range of Nigerian officials, all of whom have held senior positions in the government. Probably the only senior official, former official that I have not spoken to is former President Obasanjo and that is a fact that is attributed to only, that I was not able to speak to him on the telephone. I had hoped while I was in Nigeria to be able to speak and meet with him. Schedules did not permit. But I have spoken over the last month with former presidents, with former vice presidents, with former army chiefs of staff, with governors, and with the heads of the senate and the house, the head of the Governors Association, Governor Siraki. I also met with a number of other governors. My discussions in Nigeria and with Nigerians from Washington is extraordinarily broad, as it should be. As I said, I regard Nigeria as the U.S. does as one of the two most important countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We have a broad range of deep relationships. We have an enormous respect for the importance and significance of that country. And I think it only appropriate that I talk with everyone. But let me also say that I took the opportunity to go to Minna and talk to Ibrahim Babangida to express my condolences for the loss of his wife. I'd spoken to Ibrahim Babangida approximately 30 days ago, 35 days ago when his wife was, unfortunately, here in the United States suffering from cancer. I will continue to have a broad dialogue with Nigerian officials, but one of the reasons was to express condolences to him. But also to seek his thoughts and advice on what he saw happening in Nigeria. Just as I would think that a Nigerian diplomat in the United States might go up to the Hill or to the House and Senate and talk to both Republicans and Democrats, north and south, about how they see U.S. relations towards Nigeria. Voice: From the Guardian, UK, David Smith. Guardian, UK: Thanks. A different subject. I wonder if I can ask your thoughts on security and the threat of terrorism during the soccer World Cup in South Africa. Will you be taking any special measures above and beyond the normal for a major sporting event? Is there any different advice? And are you aware, are there any plans for President Obama to visit South Africa during that time? Ambassador Carson: Let me thank you for the question. I'm also a fond reader of the Guardian on line, and was a fond reader of your weekly. It's one of the best for wrapping up foreign affairs issues. At this point there is no plan that I am aware of of President Obama visiting South Africa during the World Cup. I think that this will be an intensely active period for South Africa. South Africa's political leadership. I think it's also an opportunity for the international community to see and witness an African success story. South Africa has turned out remarkably, remarkably well over the last 15 years since Nelson Mandela's release from prison and the political transformation that has moved forward there. So it is an opportunity for South Africa to showcase Africa's progress, its success, its democracy, and its vibrant rainbow, multicultural, multiethnic nation. I think with respect to security, the South African authorities recognize the enormous challenges of putting on major sporting events. They have done so in the past with great success. They after all held the international Rugby World Cup without any problems nearly a decade ago. I think they are more than capable of handling this. Yes, we believe that they have consulted as any nation would, with other security services, and we have, when we have been asked for advice, been willing and more than willing to provide it. But I think they're aware of the challenges. I think the South African government is more than capable of meeting them when they've reached out for advice and assistance. We in the United States have been more than willing to provide it. But this is a South African show and we think they're capable of doing it extraordinarily well. We wish them luck. The nicest thing for all of us at the end of the day, with all due respect to the Guardian and the UK origins of that paper, would be a final in which [Bafama Bafama] was playing against the United States. [Laughter]. Voice: From Bloomberg, we've got Franz Wild. Bloomberg: Hi, Ambassador. Franz Wild. I wanted to ask you about Ethiopia, actually, the elections coming up in May. Would the United States consider the elections there to be free and fair, given that one of its, if one of their main opposition leaders remains in jail? And if not, would the United States consider reducing its aid to the country, given that it's one of the top beneficiaries? I'd also like to ask you about Kenya, if possible. Last year I think the United States restricted access to Attorney General Wako. Is the United States planning to do the same with anyone else in the political elite there? Can you tell us anything about that? Ambassador Carson: First on Ethiopia. It would be premature to pronounce the Ethiopian elections either good or bad prior to the holding of those elections. Let's see how they turn out. What we do say to Ethiopia, to the government, to the opposition parties and to the citizens, is that we hope that this election will be run freely and fairly. That there be a level playing field for all. That the government and the opposition take their responsibilities seriously. That both sides respect the political rights of the others. That both carry out their responsibilities. We also strongly urge that these elections that are coming up be better, substantially better in their aftermath than the 2005 elections in which there was very bitter and serious violence in their wake. We all want Ethiopia to continue to move along an upward and more inclusive and stronger democratic trajectory. Elections are simply an important process in the selection of democratic leaders. We want this to go well. A lot of responsibility rests on the shoulders of the government to ensure that this works well. But we're not going to pronounce these elections either good or bad until they've been run. As I say, we're looking for an outcome which makes things better for everyone. Free, transparent, open, with both sides taking their responsibilities seriously, with a level playing field, and no recurrence of the violence that followed the 2005 elections. Kenya, I'll say this if I could. We continue to encourage the President, President Kibaki, the Prime Minister Raila Odinga, to work towards the full implementation of Kofi Anan agreements that were worked out after the conclusion of the violence in that country in January and February of 2008 following the very difficult presidential elections there. It is important that in the run-up to the next elections in Kenya that there be a consensus around key reforms related especially to the constitution. Both of those individuals, as leaders of their parties, have a responsibility to ensure that there not be a repetition of the violence there that followed the presidential and parliamentary elections. Constitution making is at an advanced stage. It is important that both men form a consensus behind it and that they deal with the issues of executive power, regional devolution and issues of impunity and issues of corruption. There are also issues related to land that must be dealt with. They have, again, a responsibility to put the interest of the citizens and the country above their own partisan interests to move forward. And yes, if in fact we see individuals like Amos Wako who are standing in the way of justice and progress, and who violate our statutes in the United States, we will take action against them. We took the action against Amos Wako for very very clear and manifest reasons. He has been Attorney General in Kenya for a decade and a half and during that decade and a half we have seen both grand corruption and minor corruption. We saw a billion dollar scam shortly after he was named attorney general, and we saw most recently, two years ago, another scam called Angle Leasing in which another 150 to 200 million dollars of government money was stolen. During his term of office as attorney general he has not successfully prosecuted one, not a single one senior government official. No ministers, no deputy ministers, no permanent secretaries. Yes, he seems to be able to find the stockroom clerk, but he cannot find the senior officials who are there. Moreover, there has been a rash of high level crime in which impunity seems to be the day. A number of high level civil society leaders have been gunned down in the streets of Nairobi. Civil society leaders who have been investigating police criminal gangs. He has not successfully prosecuted any of those individuals as well. The bill of particulars are on the table. They're well known in Kenya. And we will not pull down the curtains in front of our own eyes when individuals like this continue to hold positions of responsibility but yet do not in fact carry them out, especially in the defense of the law. Voice: From Business Daily we have Coldwell Kadabe. Business Daily: Hi. [Inaudible]. Do you have any opinion about the developments in Niger and Cote I'voire? Ambassador Carson: Yes. We are following developments in both of those countries very very closely. Let me first say something with respect to Niger. We have been deeply concerned and troubled by events in Niger since July and August of last year. Around that time former President and recently deposed President Tandja has started to unravel the democratic institutions of his country in an effort to advance his own personal political agenda. In a quest to have a third term in office which was prohibited by the constitution, he overrode the views of the parliament, he overrode the views of the supreme court, and he overrode the constitution itself. He then arranged for a sham referendum which had a low turnout which ultimately allowed him to illegally extend his term of office. The United States government along with others engaged President Tandja, encouraged him not to move forward in those efforts. Warned him that there would in fact be consequences. So when he extended his term of office illegally on the 23rd of December of last year, the United States had already taken action. We suspended Niger's participation in AGOA. We ended the MCC program that we had in the country. We terminated all of our USAID support with the exception of humanitarian assistance. We asked Nigerian military officers who were studying in the United States to return home. And we cut all but humanitarian and emergency assistance. We said that we were opposed to the hijacking of democracy, even by civilians and we meant it. The coup that has just taken place offers an opportunity for those who now are in power to move Niger back into the ranks of democracy. No coup, whether it is a civilian coup or a military coup, is a good coup. Coups are by their nature bad. They are a disruption of the political and the democratic process. We encourage the military junta that is now in power to live up to what they say they stand for. If they are indeed there to restore democracy, they should do so quickly and expeditiously. They should set a time table, a short time table, six months for the return of democracy in Niger. In that way they will demonstrate that their words really have meaning. If they did this to restore democracy and liberty to the country, then they should move forward with doing so very quickly. Niger has had very successful political elections in the past. They've had multi-party politics. They're established parties, they're institutions that we're working, institutions that were defending democracy against President Tandja. It should be very easy for that country to move back towards the democratic process. If it does, we will be in the forefront of restoring as quickly as possible our support for that country. Ivory Coast. We remain very much concerned by the eruption of violence that has occurred in the wake of the decision by President Gbagbo to dismiss the government and to suspend the movement towards elections. Elections have been too long in the coming in Ivory Coast. They have once again been set back as a result of the current political situation. We think there is a need to return swiftly to the [Wagadugu] Accords. We encourage President [Blaise Kampori] who has been one of the facilitators in West Africa to encourage that there be a resumption of the [Wagadugu] Accords, that there be quick movement towards the cleaning up of the electoral disagreements over the electoral roles, and that there be a date fixed and firm for national elections. National elections have been postponed a half a dozen times over the last two and a half, three years. It is time for a serious effort to be made to resolve the political disagreements that have continued to tear apart what once was the most important economic country in [Francophone] Africa. Voice: Thank you, South Africa. We come back to Washington. Good morning to all of you. Interpress: Jim Loeb, Interpress Service. Can you tell us, what is the situation with regard to humanitarian relief, U.S. humanitarian relief in Somalia and the concerns about the relief falling into the wrong hands? Ambassador Carson: As you know, the United States has been the largest contributor of food aid and humanitarian assistance to Somalia, not only over the last two calendar years, but for much of the last decade. We remain as we have always been, committed to providing as much food assistance as we possibly can to those in need in Somalia, particularly in the southern part of that country. The continued conflict in the south between the TFG and El Shabab, between warlords and others has always, always made food delivery in that part of the country extraordinarily difficult. Despite this, we have remained committed to working with the international community, with NGOs, international organizations, to get food into the area. Last December the World Food Program indicated that it felt no longer able to be able to put food into South Central Somalia. They took this action because of the danger and the difficulties of moving food assistance in. If you look back over the last year you will note that the organizations that the WFP and others have worked with have suffered thefts. But more importantly, loss of life of deliverers of food aid. This has complicated life for everyone and complicated life for the United States as well since they were our major partner in the distribution of food. We continue to watch the food situation very carefully. We remain committed to working with a variety of recognized regional and international NGOs, some in the UN system, many outside of the UN system, to continue to push food aid into the region. And we continue to explore both old and new ways to ensure that food is there and available for people. It's an important issue. It's one that I think about every day as do my colleagues in the Department of State who are responsible for refugee and food relief issues. It is a priority for us, and we continue to look for ways to ensure that we can meet the needs of those who are in greatest need of assistance. Maghreb Arab Press: My name is Fouad Arif from Moroccan News Agency [inaudible]. Sir, first of all thank you for doing this and I have two questions. The first one concerns Nigeria. What if the situation keeps going on and on to a point that it becomes constitutionally and politically unsustainable? Does the United States have a Plan B? And my second question is with regard to the Al Qaeda in the Maghreb which has recently released a French national which used to detain as hostage. I'd like to have your assessment to the threat of AQIM in the Maghreb and Saha region. Thank you. Ambassador Carson: With respect to Nigeria, the primary responsibility for running and managing Nigeria's affairs rests with the leadership of Nigeria. We in the United States and the international community can encourage as much as we should the responsible and thoughtful behavior of leaders. And we have an obligation to do so given the significance and importance of Nigeria which I outlined before. But Plan A, B, C, and D are all in [Abudja]. All of those plans rest with the responsible behavior of all of Nigeria's senior leadership. They must be committed to strengthening and maintaining Nigeria's democracy. Keeping the country stable, keeping the country constitutionally and democratically aligned. It's their primary responsibility. They hold all of the plans. We hope that they will take Plan A, which is the one which will lead to both democratic and economic success. We have no Plan B's, nor should we. With respect to al-Qaida in the Islamic lands of the Maghreb. We have watched over the last two, two and a half years the increasingly active presence of AQIM in Mauritania, in Mali, and we have seen what they are capable of doing in the Sahel. They have killed French citizens in Mauritania. They have been responsible for the kidnapping of British, Swiss and Germans in Niger and moving them into Mali. They've been responsible for killing and kidnapping. They remain a concern. We encourage, strongly encourage, all of the countries in the region, particularly Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Algeria, to work together to recognize that AQIM does not constitute an individual threat to each of the governments that can be responded to on an individual basis. They must collectively work together and see this as a common threat and as a common problem. So encourage Mali, Algeria, Mauritania, in particular those three countries, to work together to deal with a common threat, which today remains containable, but if not dealt with could become much more lethal and serious in the future. It's key that none of them try and do it on their own. They must do it together collectively, because AQIM doesn't recognize a border or a national frontier as they move arms and people across them. These three countries really have to concentrate on working together. PGTV: Menelik Zeleke from my African TV channel. Ambassador, again thank you for coming and speaking with us. I have one question in regards to the relationship of the Chinese investment in Africa. It has been stated that in many cases that the Chinese are doing primarily fair practice investments in Africa to the degree of they loan the country money but there are conditions in regards to how much more or less they have to use their people to do the work, that's the number one thing. Number two thing is that you have to buy their materials, the second phase of that. Thirdly, they do not invest anything into the country such as buying material that you sell for in your country. Fourthly, they will set up a little store next to your mom and pop store and run the mom and pop store out of business. Fifthly is that they do not, they act as though they do not speak the language, so that when you state that you're paying less money than the value of doing the business in the country to the workers, they act like they don't understand. Is this another stage of colonization and new days phase as we have had in the past? Is there also a relationship with the United States investment in Africa? Ambassador Carson: Thank you very much for the question. China is increasingly engaged economically and commercially across the continent of Africa. China's interests appear to be focused in large measure on trying to acquire as much hydrocarbon and mineral resource rights as they possibly can to fuel the growth of China's rapidly expanding economy at home. Equally, China is looking for markets for its own consumer products. Those both at the middle and the lower end of the economic consumption scale. In this context Africa is a place where they see enormous opportunity because of the large amount of oil and gas and mineral resources that are there. They also see an enormous market which they think is under-served. They tend to be more active economically and commercially in places where they can get paid because there is oil. Nigeria, Angola, Gabon, Algeria, places like that. They're also attracted to countries because of the desire to put in major infrastructure projects. It is up to African countries to manage very skillfully and carefully their relationship with China on the economic and commercial side. What you referred to or what you were alluding to is something that can be seen in many parts of Africa where in effect the Chinese will come in and have a major construction project and they not only bring in the architectural designs and drawings but also the engineers and the day laborers. Not only the people who draw the blueprints, but the people who move the sand, lift the bricks, mix the cement and put in the electrical fixtures. In effect, doing things that Africans themselves can do. This can be seen in many parts of Africa. It can be seen in government buildings in downtown Luanda. It can be seen in the construction of housing projects in Algiers, just outside of the airport area. It can be seen on the roads and the road projects in some parts of Ethiopia. It can be seen in places in other parts of Africa as well. But it is for African governments to manage carefully their relationship with the Chinese and how they determine that relationship should be handled. There is no question that a lot of the economic benefit from the Chinese involvement is good and helping to build important infrastructure. But we have seen reactions from some African trade union organizations, labor groups, business groups, saying that is this right for China not only to bring in the engineers and the architects, but also the brick layers and the cement mixers as well? So this is an issue that pertains to countries and it differs from country to country, relationship to relationship, but this is an issue where it's important to be able to have democratic institutions so that the voices of people at the bottom who are engaged and involved in all of these things can speak effectively about the consequences to their leaders. This is what good governance is all about. I think to draw an American parallel, I think yes, it was great to have Chinese investment in a factory here in the United States, but is it appropriate for the owner of that factory to bring in the bricklayers and the cement layers, mixers as well? The design, the engineers, the architects, absolute. They own it. But there is a balance, and each country has to determine its own balance, and it's not for us to say what that balance is. It's for African countries to look and see what is best for them and responsible for them. We ask both sides to be responsible partners in the process. Voice: Ambassador Carson, we thank you so much for being with us this morning.