8 March 2018

Africa: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki At a Press Availability

Photo: US Dept of State
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat participate in a press availability at the African Union Commission Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on March 8, 2018. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

A transcript of a media briefing at African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa after a meeting between visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki:

MODERATOR:  (In progress) Excellency Chairperson of the African Union Commission Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat, Excellency Secretary of State of the United States of America Mr. Rex Tillerson, ladies and gentlemen of the media, representatives from the diplomatic corps, thank you very much for joining us this morning for this press conference.  We're very pleased to have our key principals today, who are going to make brief statements, in addition to the discussions that they had this morning.  And without further ado, I will kindly ask His Excellency the Chairperson of the African Union Commission to address the members of the media.  Thank you.

CHAIRPERSON FAKI:  Thank you.  (Via interpreter) Ladies and gentlemen of the press, first of all, I would like to welcome the Secretary of State and his delegation once again.  I have just had a very fruitful meeting with the Secretary of State Mr. Rex Tillerson.  And first of all, I would like to state that we appreciate the visit of the Secretary of State.  In this visit, we see the illustration of the will of the United States to strengthen the partnership with the African Union and the continent.  The visit of Secretary of State Tillerson is taking place at a time when Africa is firmly embarked on the path to integration and reform.  We informed him of our efforts aimed at establishing a market of more than a billion people, and to stress that a strong African Union is in the interest, not only of the continent, but that of our partners also, including the United States of America.  We have agreed to work for the strengthening of the trade and commercial relations between Africa and the United States, including the post-AGOA arrangements.

We discussed other aspects of our cooperation, particularly the support to the African Center for Disease Control, agriculture, food security, as well as cybersecurity.  In all these areas, initiatives are underway which we now have to intensify.  We also talked of some conflicts or crisis situations faced by the continent, and the best way the United States can support the African efforts in order to promote peace and security.  I earnestly requested the support of the United States for the ongoing initiatives in order to mobilize a more sustainable and perennial support, financial support – the support to AMISOM and to the – in the Sahel, the G5 Joint Force, the G5 Sahel Joint Force.  And also, the fight against corruption as well as control of illicit financial flows.  All of these were discussed.

We underscored the importance of nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, calling for the scrupulous observance and compliance with international instruments.  I recall the commitment of the African Union to multilateralism as being the most effective tool to promote peace and prosperity.

Finally, on this International Day of – the International Women's Day, we seize the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to gender equality and the promotion of the gender.  The African Union and Africa in general in this matter have made special efforts, and particularly at the last summit of the African Union, we have adopted a decision which, by 2025, will bring about gender parity in the African Union – that is, the balance between men and women.

Thank you.

SECRETARY TILLERSON:  Well, first, let me thank Chairperson Faki for taking the time to meet with me.  We had a very good meeting when I was able to host him at the high-level dialogue in Washington this past November, when we met with many other African leaders as well.  And I'm really pleased to be here in the continent and I expressed to the chairperson and his colleagues that it was appropriate that I begin my visit to Africa here with the African Union leaders as well, to further our partnership with the African Union.

I, too, want to acknowledge and celebrate International Women's Day, a day where we recognize the social, economic, cultural, and political achievement of women across the world.  And I also want to amplify our support for the very strong statements that have been issued by the African Union in their efforts to encourage women's empowerment and their participation in economic activity across the continent.  We know that when we enable women's economic participation and entrepreneurship in local communities, it really has a transformative effect not just on their families, but in that community at large, and I have seen this myself firsthand around the world.  So we celebrate Women's – International Women's Day today with others.

The African Union truly is a force for good, and we're grateful to the African Union's role in seeking solutions to help this continent move towards greater stability.  Recognizing health security also advances national security, economic development, and political stability.  We applaud the Africa Centers for Disease Control, which has been quite successful in tracking and responding to disease outbreaks on the continent.  We look forward to continuing our close cooperation with the African Union on this important initiative, and we're currently in very important discussions to update our joint memorandum of understanding to guide our future efforts, our collaborative efforts in that regard.

On trade, we also support the African Union's economic regional integration efforts to lower intra-trade barriers on the continent, boost more intra-regional trade, which we know has been a central goal of the negotiations around the continental free trade agreement which we are quite supportive of.  We look forward to engaging further with the African Union once that agreement is in place on how this will also promote greater participation of U.S. private sector business interests as well.

I mentioned to Chairperson Faki that we appreciate the African Union's very strong statements made on South Sudan at the recent AU summit.  We truly call on all parties to abide by the cessation of hostilities and be open to compromise for the good of the South Sudanese people.  We urge the AU and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development to keep their maximum efforts moving forward to push for a solution to this conflict for the good of the people in South Sudan.

I also appreciate Chairperson Faki's role in leading the African Union through a number of security challenges, and as you might imagine, that was a substantive part of our discussion today as well.  The African Union's Mission in Somalia, clearly an example of countries coming together to counter terrorism, promote stability, and enable delivery of much-needed aid to the Somali people.  We encourage the African Union to continue these efforts.  We will continue our own efforts as well.  We have not yet won that battle in Somalia, and we must stay at it.

We also discussed ways to ensure the G5 Sahel forces have the necessary resources to continue their fight against terrorism, and how we can put in place more sustainable funding models where there's – they have greater certainty around how to plan the future fight against terrorism in the Sahel region as well.  And we applaud the brave efforts of the – on the part of the G5 Sahel forces.

We discussed African Union reform and the chairperson's efforts to increase member-state financing for the African Union and really put in place a more sustainable funding model with greater certainty as well.  Last year's self-financing of African Union programs expanded to more than 40 percent, which is up from 26 percent just the prior year, so clearly the chairperson's efforts are yielding very good results.

Fighting corruption is another area of common cause, and we're very pleased to see that the African Union has named 2018 as the year for winning the fight against corruption.  From high-level secret deals to petty bribes on the street, corruption really does steal the precious resources from job creators and entrepreneurs and others who would promote benefits to the greater society and to the citizens of those countries.  Good governance and transparency are essential to creating the conditions for economic growth and prosperity, and we look forward to continuing our joint efforts with the African Union to improve the business environment on the continent.  But transparency really is an essential requirement for good business conditions and will attract greater investment and economic activity as well.  That includes supporting greater intra- and global-trade investments in Africa as the environment creates competitive conditions.

And finally, I reiterate our desire for more African nations to apply concrete diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea.  The goal of the global maximum pressure campaign, which has been supported by multiple UN Security Council resolutions, is to motivate North Korea to achieve the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  African nations can contribute to this goal, and we need, country by country, for nations to take action to support this international effort towards a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Again, I want to thank Chairperson Faki for his warm welcome and the hospitality during our discussions here at the African Union, and most importantly, for your leadership of the African Union.  Thank you very much, Mr. Chairperson.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much, Excellency.  I will now open the floor to questions.  And in honor of International Women's Day, I'll take the first question from a female reporter, and I'll invite one of our guests from the American media corps to ask a question.  Ms. Nike?

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, this is your first trip to Africa as a top U.S. diplomat.  You are calling it a listening tour, but how much listening do you expect to be doing about the President's allegedly derogatory remarks?  How committed is the United States to the security and investment in Africa?  Separately, what is your message to AU and the proposal to self-finance by levying tariffs on imports?

Chairman Faki, if I may, first question:  Ethiopia is the host of AU and a member.  How concerned are you about the decision to impose a state of emergency that restricts freedom of speech?  And do you believe the arbitrary detentions have violated people's rights?  Separately, has the AU requested an apology for the U.S. President's recent remarks?

Thank you very much.

SECRETARY TILLERSON:  Well, the United States and the African continent have enjoyed many, many years of very strong and positive relationships.  In fact, we have diplomatic relations with some countries on the continent that span more than a century now.  With the creation of the African Union, it has provided yet another area in which we can cooperate, collaborate, to address security issues more broadly on the continent as we discussed in both of our remarks, and bring greater stability to the continent, and to discuss ways in which we can create economic prosperity which will attract U.S. foreign direct investment.

So the purpose of my trip to this continent is to listen.  I think it is important that we listen to what the priorities of the countries here on the continent are and see where there is good alignment between their priorities and our areas of greatest interest as well.  And I think we've already found there are many, and that should not surprise anyone.  We have important joint security activities underway and we appreciate the commitment made by many countries on the continent, not just with their own financial resources, but with their own men and women in uniform who are going right out on the front lines to fight this war against terror that we all are fighting globally.

So this is an important trip.  I think it is an indication of the importance the continent plays in the future of the United States, both from a security but also an economic standpoint.  Africa, as a continent, is going to undergo significant population growth.  Five of the world's fastest-growing – 12 fastest-growing economies are here in Africa, so clearly there is significant opportunity for American interest in the future.  So it's important that we have very open dialogue with one another to understand our priorities and to understand how we align those priorities, and we support each other.  So this is a vitally important continent to the U.S. and our future interest as well.

I think with respect to the support for the counterterrorism efforts, we had a very good exchange on various ways that we can consider creating a more sustainable and certain funding model for the counterterrorism efforts both – not just through the G5 Sahel, but also AMISOM and other activities to win the war against terror on the battlefield.  But we also discussed the need to win the war in the social media and cyber space as well.  With Africa's very large and growing youth population, we must create good opportunities for education, for future jobs, so that the youth of Africa do not become easy targets for recruiting violent extremist messaging, and we had a good discussion about that as well today.

So, a very broad canvas of common interests that we have to discuss.

CHAIRPERSON FAKI:  (Via interpreter) Before I reply to the question on Ethiopia, I want to add that I am satisfied with discussions that I have had with the Secretary of State Tillerson, the commitment of the United States to support the African continent in its fight against terrorism in the – whether it is the Horn of Africa, the support to AMISOM, or in the Sahel, ready to support the G5 Sahel Joint Force, through the mobilization of financial and material resources in order to support these important missions.

As regards Ethiopia, I would like to recall that in the beginning of the year, in January, the Ethiopian Government has adopted a number of measures that is to expand and open up the democratic and political space.  And I react to this important issue by encouraging the Ethiopian authorities and also congratulate them on this important decision.  We have also followed the resignation of the prime minister, whom I met later on, and also the commitment of the authorities of this country that is in a consensual manner to pursue and continue the reforms and to have a representative government.  It is an ongoing process, and we have been reassured by the authorities of the country, and we think that in a concerted manner, through dialogue, through consensus, this is a way the country can move forward.  You know Ethiopia is an important country; not only it is the headquarters, hosting headquarters of the African Union, but also its role it plays in the region.  So the situation in Ethiopia is of capital importance.  And I have been reassured by the authorities that the political and social forces of this country through consultation and dialogue will find the formula that will allow this country to pursue and continue its way, because at the economic level it has produced early substantive results, and we hope the reforms will enable the country to move forward.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, Chair and Secretary.  Mr. Chair, my question is:  At the moment, there is no clear policy towards Africa from President Donald Trump's administration.  Does that bother you?  Do you want more from the U.S. administration at the moment?

And number two, Mr. Tillerson, you've made a statement about China, saying that China encouraged dependency, utilized corrupt deals and endangered Africa's natural resource.  Is it something that you want to say again, and what's the base of that?  And Mr. Chair, do you agree with the comments of Mr. Tillerson?

Final question:  President Donald Trump, we've heard, has called Africa a "shithole," and Africans.  This is something that Africa is still digesting.  Do you agree with that and do you believe Africa – I mean President Donald Trump owes Africans an apology?

Thank you very much.

SECRETARY TILLERSON:  I think the United States commitment to Africa is quite clear in terms of the importance we place on the relationship.  The President himself wrote a personal letter to the chairperson, reaffirming the importance of this relationship from the standpoint of all aspects that I covered in answering a previous question.

With respect to China's approach, as I've said to others around the world, we are not in any way attempting to keep Chinese investment dollars out of Africa.  They are badly needed.  However, we think it's important that African countries carefully consider the terms of those investments, and we witness the model that the Chinese follow.  They do not bring significant job creation locally; they don't bring significant training programs that enable African citizens to participate more fully in the future; and oftentimes, the financing models are structured in a way that the country, when it gets into trouble financially, loses control of its own infrastructure or its own resources through default.

So our message is for countries to consider carefully what the terms of those agreements are, and not forfeit any elements of your sovereignty as you enter into such arrangements with China.  We welcome Chinese participation, but we hope they will follow international rules, international norms, and respect the sovereignty of countries and respect the need to develop the citizens of those countries and create a future for their own – for the people of those countries as well.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  I've received a request --


MODERATOR:  Sorry.  Excuse me, Chairperson.

CHAIRPERSON FAKI:  (Via interpreter) Yes, I confirm that I received a letter dated 25 January written by President Trump to myself, and which I have also copied to all the leaders of Africa, and I believe that this incident is of the past.  Africa – and with the visit of Secretary of State Tillerson.  And the evidence of the relations between Africa and the United States is personified through his visit.  I believe reasonably this partnership has produced results.  It is useful for both parties, whether in the area of trade or investment, or whether it is peace and stability in Africa.

You are aware the African continent has many partnerships.  I think the Africans are mature enough to engage in partnerships of their own volition which will be useful for the country – for the countries and the continent.  So there is no monopoly.  We have multifaceted, multifarious relations with other parts of the world.  We know where our interests, and it is our full awareness I think that is most important.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Your Excellencies.  Would you be willing to take one or two more questions from the audience?  Well, okay.  All right.  Ladies and gentlemen, due to the schedule of the key principals --

QUESTION:  I think that the U.S. side has one more question.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  We'll take the questions after, so they need to proceed to the next session.  Thank you very much.


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