26 February 2014

Africa: Assistant Secretary Outlines Obama Administration Policy Initiatives

Photo: U.S. State Department
Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield and U.S. Ambassador James Entwistle with Kano youth NGO leaders.


Following are the remarks by the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs at the Andrew Young Lecture Series sponsored by the Africa Society and hosted by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Good Evening everyone. First of all, I would like to thank Ambassador Adefuye of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for inviting me here. Also, let me thank and recognize Bernadette Paolo and the team from Africa Society for organizing this event. Thanks to all of you for coming.

Andrew Young is a distinguished American leader, civil rights activist and influential former Ambassador to the United Nations and mayor of Atlanta, so I am honored to be part of the lecture series that bears his name.

Let me start by apologizing since we were supposed to get together in December, but unfortunately had to postpone. So I am glad you all could make it tonight.

Tomorrow, February 27th, Nigeria will celebrate its Centenary. Let me congratulate you on this momentous occasion. Having just returned from Nigeria and out of deference to our hosts, I would like to make a few comments about the relationship between our two countries and the many ways we are working together.

Beyond that I would like to talk with you about our broader engagement with Africa, especially President Obama's major initiatives - Power Africa, Trade Africa, and the Young African Leaders Initiative or YALI.

Then I will preview some of the major events taking place in 2014, which really demonstrate just how engaged we are with our African partners. It is an exciting time for U.S.-Africa relations. There are a lot of good stories out there to tell.

First, a few words about my trip to Nigeria - my third in the last three months. I co-chaired the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission's Working Group on Good Governance, Transparency, and Integrity. This commission was set up almost four years ago in recognition of the critical relationship between our two countries and the important role Nigeria plays in the region. I'm happy to say that we had very honest and open discussions.

They focused on the integrity of Nigeria's 2015 elections and the roles that citizens and institutions must play in that process. There is clearly a commitment not just to "do better than 2011," but to have free and fair elections that meet international standards. Nigeria must get this election right not just for Nigeria but for the region, the continent and for the world. All eyes will be on Nigeria throughout 2014 through the election in February 2015 and I know Nigeria will not let us down.

We also talked about how to arrest the cancer of financial corruption that eats away at Nigeria's democracy and economy. Nigeria knows the issues they face on corruption better than anyone. Our role is to provide support, as we have done with training and mentoring for financial investigators and prosecutors from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and for several other Nigerian anti-corruption agencies.

We will continue to work with the Commission and all other anti-corruption partners. At the request of Nigeria's Minister of Petroleum, we sent a delegation in December to discuss oil theft and revenue diversion. In Nigeria and elsewhere, we work with governments to help find solutions, but we know it is the job of every citizen to fight this battle. No matter where we live, as citizens we must know our rights and demand accountability from our government, each other, and from ourselves.

Nigeria is fighting against violent extremism. Boko Haram continues to carry out horrendous attacks on civilians across Northern Nigeria. The recent attacks in the past weeks attacking innocent civilians, innocent school children, says loudly and clearly that Boko Haram must be stopped.

In Kano last week, I met with students and Governor Kwankaso. The message I carried was that the United States strongly believes the best way to undermine the agenda of those who resort to violence is to make sure that governments are responsive to the needs of people and they follow rule of law.

We support a comprehensive approach to address legitimate concerns of minority populations and provide a strong security response that respects civilian rights. For that reason, we are working with the Nigerian government to enhance security force professionalism; to improve forensics and investigative capacity; and to strengthen the criminal justice system.

I share these details about our relationship with Nigeria because it is an excellent example of our complex and multi-dimensional ties to Africa and how we approach these issues as partners.

President Obama's strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa reflects the depth and breadth of these partnerships. The strategy has four pillars:

strengthening democratic institutions, improving governance, and protecting human rights; supporting economic growth, trade, and development; advancing peace and security; and promoting opportunity and development.

These are broad goals, based on long-term objectives that the United States and our African partners share. They are not things that we in the State Department can or want to achieve alone. We are working together with you on the bilateral level and through regional bodies, particularly the African Union, to advance these objectives. The AU itself is evolving and growing stronger. Last month, I spent a week at the AU summit in Addis. The message that came through loud and clear in my discussions there is that Africans want to take ownership and leadership of the issues they collectively face. So let me be clear, the United States respects and supports that desire.

In his trip to Africa in 2012, President Obama launched three transformative initiatives - Power Africa, Trade Africa, and the expanded Young African Leaders Initiative or YALI.

Power Africa is a partnership between the United States, African governments and the private sector to double electricity access to sub-Saharan Africa. Increased access to power means improved infrastructure, education, and healthcare for citizens. The initial phase of the program is focused on adding more than 10,000 megawatts of energy to 20 million households and businesses in six countries - Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, and Liberia.

Twelve U.S. agencies are involved in these efforts. So far, we've identified projects to reach half of that 10,000 megawatt goal. The United States will commit more than $7 billion over five years, largely in loan guarantees from OPIC and the Ex-Im Bank. Initial private sector commitments total $14 billion, and future investment will depend on implementation of country reforms, including politically unpopular ones like unbundling regulators and raising tariffs to cost-recoverable levels.

The goal of Trade Africa is to remove barriers to regional trade, which will in turn spur greater economic ties between Africa and the United States and other global markets. Trade Africa is starting off with the member states of the East African Community, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania. As Trade Africa develops, we are hopeful to expand the initiative to other regional entities, including West Africa.

Finally, the YALI program. I get excited when I start talking about YALI because it is all about engaging with young people and helping them find and maximize opportunity for themselves and their communities. As part of YALI, 500 young people from across Africa will travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Washington Fellows program this summer. This is an in-depth academic and leadership training program to provide tools in business, public administration, and civil society to the next generation of leaders.

On their return to Africa, we will continue to support the Washington Fellows through networking, professional development, and mentoring opportunities, as well as helping them implement plans for community service. We are excited to meet these Fellows, as well as developing programs for the thousands of other young African leaders who want to be part of this network of Young Leaders.

We are also looking forward, as I hope you are as well, to the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in August. President Obama has invited African Heads of State to Washington for a two-day dialogue, the first time that a U.S. President has done so. This summit is designed to develop plans of action and support the efforts of African leaders to propose solutions to the most pressing issues on the continent. We have heard from you, our partners in the diplomatic corps, that peace and security must be on the agenda, but that you also want to talk about trade and economic growth, democracy and good governance.

A word on that last item, democracy and good governance. We already spoke about Nigeria's upcoming election in 2015. But in 2014 alone, there will be fourteen elections taking place on the continent.

Democracy, we must remember, is a process, not an end state. Free, fair, and transparent elections are the hallmark of this process, as is the peaceful transfer of power. We are committed to working with governments, with the public, and with regional bodies like the AU, the Southern African Development Community, and the Economic Community of West Africa States to ensure that each one of those elections represent a true expression of the people's will. We've seen some examples lately, in Guinea, in Madagascar, and in Mali, where we hope the process of reconciliation which began with that election turns into a lasting peace for all Malians.

No matter how high the political stakes, as leaders, you must ensure that your elections are free, fair, and transparent. Your citizens should not have to accept crooked tactics, electoral tampering, vote selling or buying, and even worse, violence against them. Anyone who violates this trust must be held accountable.

Likewise, we must push back against those who entertain constitutional amendments as a way to consolidate or hold on to power. Such action is never in the best interest of the public.

In an address at the AU summit in 2004, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan eloquently stated why we should all advocate against this practice:

"This institutional balance cannot be achieved without the peaceful and constitutional change of power. There is no truer wisdom, and no clearer mark of statesmanship, than knowing when to pass the torch to a new generation. And no government should manipulate or amend the constitution to hold on to office beyond prescribed term limits that they accepted when they took office. Let us always remember that constitutions are for the long term benefit of society, not the short term goals of the ruler."

It is not just at the polls and voting stations that African people are determining their future. In education, health, food security, and across the sectors, Africans are now more than ever the architects of their own development, not just beneficiaries. The United States is committed to a collaborative approach to development.

Across the continent, primary school completion increased from 53 percent in 1993 to 70 percent in 2011. Ethiopia, for example, has achieved 95 percent primary enrollment. Since 2006, the U.S. government has helped to educate more than 375,000 school-aged children across Somalia and trained more than 10,000 teachers. In Nigeria, USAID programs support equitable access to quality basic education. We do teacher training, infrastructure, reading and literacy skills development. And not only in public schools, but also Qur'anic and Islamiyya schools, so that lessons in basic reading and math skills are integrated into the traditional Qur'anic curriculum

Child mortality has dropped by nearly a third over the past 20 years, thanks in large part to support for vaccine research and distribution.

The maternal mortality rate in sub-Saharan Africa has dropped by 41 percent in 20 years. For the first time since the epidemic struck, the numbers of Africans infected with HIV is decreasing, partly due to assistance provided by PEPFAR.

In less than a year, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, a joint initiative among the United States and other G8 countries, has resulted in commitments from 70 global and local companies to invest more than $3.75 billion in African agriculture. The U.S. portion of that, Feed the Future, is working because its country plans were created in consultation with and then led by the countries themselves, making the program better tailored to local needs and opportunities. In Nigeria, for instance, farmers in Benue State, increased their rice production by an astounding 400 percent, and over 28,000 growers have been organized into 255 farmer groups that help improve quality.

So there is a lot of positive news coming out, the result of sustained engagement and investment in our partnerships. We strive to balance these long-term priorities with the urgent needs that natural disaster, political upheaval, and violent extremism continue to create.

Tonight I have covered many topics. Our strategic vision for how we want to partner with you. The exciting opportunities we have for direct engagement and the progress we have seen. We all know that there are also many ongoing conflicts and crisis situations. When these crises emerge, when neighbors turn on each other or political rivalry turns violent, it is difficult not to become discouraged. But in thinking about Africa's future, I think back on my own country's past as an example. I think of the words of Andrew Young, in whose honor we have gathered for this conversation. He said,

"There's no problem on the planet that can't be solved without violence.That's the lesson of the civil rights movement. There were serious problems here. We could have had a bloodbath. We made democracy — which is a substitute for violence — work. And we could not have made democracy work with violence."

With that, I would like to again thank our hosts from the Nigerian Embassy. I wish you the very best on the eve of your Centenary. Thank you all for your attention.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who was sworn in on August 6, 2013 as next Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, is a career foreign service officer who served previously as the Department's Director General and as Ambassador to Liberia from 2008 to 2012.

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