Africa: Powell Defends Obasanjo on Taylor and Calls for Greater Support for Africa

10 May 2005

Washington, DC — Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo should not be asked "to be unfaithful to the commitment he made" to provide asylum to former Liberian President Charles Taylor in 2003 in a successful effort to end the civil in that west African nation.

"The United States was a full partner in that agreement," Powell told a dinner in his honor hosted by the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation on Saturday. He said he consulted personally with President Obasanjo to find a solution that would stop Liberia's mounting death toll. "Ultimately, Charles Taylor will face justice," but for the moment the agreement that was made must be respected, Powell said.

Obasanjo, who was in attendance to pay tribute to Powell, is being pressured by Congressional Republicans and Democrats, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as human rights organizations here and in Nigeria, who want the Nigerian leader to hand Taylor over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The tribunal issued a 17-point indictment two years ago accusing Taylor of supporting war crimes committed by rebel forces against civilians during Sierra Leone's bloody conflict in the 1990s.

Obasanjo has pledged that he would send Taylor back to Liberia if requested to do so by an elected government there after elections that are scheduled for October. "We worked together," the president said, referring to Powell, "to end the bloodbath in Liberia and prevent more bloodshed throughout the region."

He said it is vital that the United States and Africa cooperate in various spheres to reduce suffering and improve living conditions across the African continent.

Powell said he is proud of the fact that the United States substantially increased assistance to the developing world during President Bush's first term. But he called the total foreign aid budget of $20 billion an "insufficient" portion of a federal budget that exceeds $2.5 trillion - which is $2500 billion, he emphasized.

"It is not enough," Powell said. "Africa deserves much more, and we must do more for Africa."

He said much more must be done about the situation in the Darfur region of Sudan, where he said he is convinced there has been a genocide "no matter what anyone else says." And he called the HIV/Aids epidemic "the greatest weapon of mass destruction in the world today."

Obasanjo called Powell "a great African American who has made great contributions to the position of America in the world" and praised him for his commitment to Africa. "There is still a lot you can do, a lot that humanity expects you to do and particularly a lot that Africa expects you to do," Obasanjo said.

The dinner was attended by nearly 600 people, including members of Congress, the African diplomatic corps and senior administration officials. Constance Newman, the departing U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, was singled out for special recognition by the Foundation chairman, former United Nations ambassador Andrew Young, for her service in the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, where she headed the Africa Bureau before taking up her current post last year.

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