12 March 2012

Africa: Resolving Conflicts Remains a Top U.S. Policy Priority, Carson Says

Photo: USAID Photo/Jenn Warren
Johnnie Carson with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan E. Rice, and Ambassador R. Barrie Walkley inaugurating the new U.S. Embassy in Juba, South Sudan on July 9, 2011.

When he took office nearly three years ago as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson outlined an ambitious agenda for the Obama administration. During a wide-ranging interview in his sixth floor office, Carson reviewed progress and problems he has confronted in carrying out what he has defined as "five pillars that serve as the foundation of U.S. policy toward Africa." In part one, he discusses U.S. efforts to address devastating conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Sudan. Excerpts:

One of the five pillars of our policy has been to prevent wherever possible, mitigate wherever possible, and resolve wherever possible, conflict in Africa. Nothing does more to destabilize a country, destroy societies, disrupt economies, create refugees and rip asunder any prospects for progress than conflict.

We have been focused laser-like on trying to deal with several of the most longstanding conflicts in Africa. One is eastern Congo, where Secretary of State Clinton visited in 2009. Another is Somalia, which has been unstable for nearly 22 years. The other is Sudan, where we have had some measurable progress over the last year but again are facing turbulent times.

Secretary Clinton and the White House have shown their commitment to engage on all of these three difficult issues by diplomatic efforts and the tremendously experienced people recruited to work on these issues. At the beginning of the administration we brought in Howard Wolpe to work on Great Lakes and the Congo. With his tragic illness and passing away, we brought in Barrie Walkley as special envoy to the Great Lakes Region. He helped us last year on Sudan [serving as Consul-General in Juba]. He was DCM [deputy chief of mission] in Kinshasa and ambassador to Guinea-Conakry and to Gabon. He's also served in Somalia - first as a Peace Corps volunteer, when Somalia had Peace Corps volunteers.

On Sudan, we brought in two very accomplished diplomats after Ambassador Scott Gration moved on to be our ambassador in Kenya - Princeton Lyman, who served as ambassador to several African countries, as special envoy, and Dane Smith to back him up to work on Darfur. Dane served in Sudan as Deputy Chief of Mission some time ago and was ambassador to Senegal and to Guinea. Running our efforts in Somalia, based out of Nairobi, is Jim Swann – very experienced in the region, former ambassador in Djibouti, who, as a young Foreign Service officer worked on the ground when we had an embassy in Somalia.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo remains a high-level concern. We continue to support the UN presence and believe MONUSCO [the UN mission] must remain in the country until the government is able to take over security and protect civilians. We are also assisting efforts by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Uganda to combat the common threat posed by the LRA [Lord's Resistance Army] with a small contingent of U.S. forces playing a supportive role.

On Somalia, we believe that a substantial amount of progress has been made helping to generate greater security and stability in and around Mogadishu. We believe that progress has been made, both on the military and the security side, and a little bit on the political side over the last three years.

Has the administration's policy become heavily reliant on military options?

Military is one side of the coin. The African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) has 'outperformed' under the leadership of Ugandan officers and including troops from Burundi and Djibouti. Over the last year Amisom has effectively expelled Al-Shabaab from Mogadishu and has pushed Shabaab further north. We look at the re-hatting of Kenyan troops [Kenyan forces are becoming part of Amison] as an effective way of putting continued pressure on Al-Shabaab from the south. Andwe see Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a - ASWJ as it's called - and Ethiopian troops putting pressure on Shabaab [in central Somalia].

This has been enormously effective. Shabaab have been dispersed, they have been weakened, and they've been pushed back. No one can say Shabaab is no longer a threat but they're effectively out of Mogadishu as a fighting force, and they're being pressured from three different directions, and this is a good thing.

The other side of the coin is to ensure that the political progress keeps up with the military and security progress. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has not performed as well in delivering services as Amisom has in delivering security. We have encouraged them. We have supported them in their efforts to do more service delivery in those areas in which they control - starting micro-finance programs for women and unemployed youth, creating jobs for young men, restocking clinics and opening some small ones, trying to re-open schools and delivering government services. This is what we're encouraging them to do.

But we're also telling the TFG that now is time to fulfill its obligations under the political roadmap that they've agreed to. The TFG should go out of existence on August 20 when their official mandate ends. We're hoping that the TFG will come up with a new constitution and will put in place more permanent democratic institutions and will also elect a new president, a new speaker, a new parliament, a much smaller parliament and will have in place a new set of permanent institutions that will help shape the future of Somalia. We're pushing very hard - and encouraging others in the international community to push for this to happen.

We also have our dual track policy to reach out to groups in south-central Somalia - groups that are opposed to Al-Shabaab but are not allied with the TFG - to help them with small development projects that will help to strengthen their capacity to govern and deliver services in expectation and hope that at some point these groups will find it in their interest to work alongside of and inside of a larger political context in the south.

We're also, as a part of the dual track, strengthening our relationships with the governments in Puntland - President [Abdirahman Mohamed] Farole, who I met with a couple of weeks ago in London - and also with Somaliland - President [Ahmed Mahamoud] Silanyo, who we expect will probably come to the United States at some point in the course of the year for private purposes, and, if he does we will see him. We're working with those governments on development issues.

Our policy is not a military policy. Our policy is designed to bring about greater stability and peace under a government leadership that is less dependent for its security and its existence on the international community and on Amisom.

With tensions rising between north and south and violence increasing, is Sudan a policy priority for the United States or has there been a reduction in engagement since South Sudan became independent last year?

We were extraordinarily pleased at the beginning of last year to see a successful, peaceful referendum in the south. We believe the referendum in January paved the way for independence in South Sudan on the 9th of July. But many elements of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended the conflict between north and south, were not completed and many issues remain to be resolved. The transitional financial arrangements, particularly related to oil, were never resolved. Issues relating to borders, to debt were not resolved. The political disposition of Abiye was not resolved, which has left a high level of tension between both sides.

Moreover, we have seen the eruption of violence in both Blue Nile and South Kordafan, in large measure because the political consultations which were called for under the Naivasha agreement in these two most southern states of the north were not carried out.

We believe it is absolutely critical that both sides work as hard as they can in a sustained fashion to deal with the issues of oil. We have now seen a shut-off of oil from the south and the ongoing dispute with the north about transit fees and export fees. We need to see these serious issues resolved. Both sides have to realize that it is in their interest to resolve these issues quickly – for their own economic and political well-being and for the well-being of their people, and in order not to create the conditions that will lead to a recurrence of conflict. It's absolutely critical that they do this quickly. Both of these countries have seen too much conflict over the last 50 years.

We are engaged. We continue with our support of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel, led by [former South African President] Thabo Mbeki and supported by President Paul Buyoya and President Abdulsalami Abubakar. And we continue to have Ambassador Princeton Lyman work on these issues in conjunction with the AU High Level Implementation Panel and with the UN special representative in the area.

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