Africa: Top Trump Administration Diplomat Addresses Africa's Toughest Issues

The U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary for Africa, Don Yamamoto,
20 December 2017
press conference

The current U.S. administration's top diplomat on African affairs, Acting Assistant Secretary Don Yamamoto, recently completed a 10-day trip to Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda which included talks on a wide range of issues with the African Union. Upon his return to Washington, D.C., he was questioned by African journalists in a telephone news conference. Excerpts:

Assistant Secretary Yamamoto - Introduction

... [I]t was a 15-day, 10-country journey, really hectic, but we got a lot of things done. And it's really a follow-up to Secretary Tillerson's hosted ministerial meeting for African foreign trade ministers here in Washington. And the basic theme we continue to delve into with all the leaders was on how do you address Africa's future challenges in trying to develop economic development, create jobs, when population growth rates will be such that Africa will be the most populous continent in the world?

And just looking at some of the data that we were giving out, between 2017 and 2050, 2.2 billion people will be added to the world population, and 50% will come from Africa. And so given those data points, how are we positioning and preparing not only U.S. companies and industries, but also Africa, to address the really growing, heavy demand for jobs? And also the great youth bulge.

The other issue, too, the theme, was that you can't have economic development without it being integrated fully into security sector reform, economic reform, political reform, and also the protection of human rights.

And based on those issues we went to Somalia to look at stabilizations, but also economic futures and opportunities, security challenges, and then off to Kenya, where we talked with opposition leaders, the government, on reform issues and then the future. And including Ethiopia. Then we went up to Europe to discuss issues that we can all coordinate and cooperate on, and then finally we went down to Rwanda to talk to the new incoming president of the African Union, President Kagame. So with that, I turn it over to you all for questions.

What are your perspectives for the U.S. government about cooperation with Angola in this era?

So as you know, Angola is one of the original three countries that we had a strategic dialogue with, and that continues, and those dialogues have expanded, but Angola remains one of the cornerstones, given not only its developing economy and also political changes, as well. The recent election of a new president really underscores Angola's direction and also the openness that Angola's taking.

Angola remains a very critical country in regional political stability, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; also the development and rationalization of resources, also its own oil sector, but more important is the new president has taken steps and measures that really underscore, I think, the growing commitment and direction towards fighting corruption and streamlining government and opening the government processes. And this will not only be great for the people of Angola but also for the southern regional organizations, as they address other issues from the DRC to elections in Zimbabwe, and economic reform....

...A few months ago Ambassador Nikki Haley was in South Sudan, talking fairly tough to President Salva Kiir, threatening to even cut off U.S. aid. Since then, Kiir's government has undertaken offenses in multiple states, including attacking rebel bases just as a new round of peace talks starts; he's given top jobs to three generals facing UN sanctions, and humanitarian access, one of the things that Ambassador Haley argued so forcefully for, seems to have either stayed the same or gotten worse. Given all this and given the Ambassador's insistence that the U.S. see action, not words, out of Kiir's government, is the U.S. prepared to do the same and take concrete action beyond sanctions in South Sudan, and if yes, what and when?

That's a great question and thank you very much. That was an issue, a topic, that was really on the minds of not only the officials of the African Union, but also the regional leaders, and also the subject of our discussions in London with our donor community.

South Sudan continues to be a highly frustrating issue. When we were at the UN General Assembly, we talked to the First Vice President of South Sudan and really laid down very clear markers about what we expected to see. I know that President Salva Kiir has responded to Ambassador Nikki Haley with a letter outlining a lot of things that he's taking now to address those issues. But again, we really want to see concrete examples, not words.

So what we looked at in Ethiopia is that Prime Minister Hailemariam is leading the high level discussions that are taking place in Ethiopia currently, and the course of the meetings between the 18th and 22nd with the South Sudan government really is to push them on not only stopping the violence, but also looking at the high rates of refugee flows, now 1.3 million into Uganda, but also the high rates of internally displaced people in South Sudan. And also the outflows of monies and finances due to corruption. So those are some of the subject lines that they were addressing.

We support Prime Minister Hailemariam and the IGAD as well as the African Union, but again we like to see benchmarks, concrete measures, and progress towards really ending the violence, which really undercuts and puts at jeopardy the stability and security not only of the countries north of South Sudan but also the countries south of it.

So what measures and actions are we taking? We're continuing to review those actions, but let me assure you that we really need to get this issue under control and South Sudan moving in a right and proper direction. So I think this will be an ongoing dialogue and we'll be huddling with the IGAD and the Ethiopian Prime Minister as well as the African Union on next steps after this meeting. But we are very focused on this and also next steps....

... You talked with the President Kagame and you are in charge of Africa of Africa, and Kagame is in charge of the African Union reform... Are you going to help him to reform the African Union?

Really, President Kagame is coming at a very historic moment, where you have really a lot of dynamic changes taking places in the African Union. And I think the President is situated well to address those issues, given a lot of things that he has articulated over his years in the leadership in Rwanda.

But I think we have commonality towards some basic fundamental issues: on the security front, Somalia and how to stabilize that area; how to support the new government, actually outreach with the regional leaders from the Presidents of Puntland to Somaliland down to Baidoa, and the Jubaland area.

But then also the South Sudan crisis, the G5 issues facing ISIS and Boko Haram, stability in Nigeria, and then going all the way up on the Nile River issue with Egypt, and trying to ease tensions and really have a cooperative relationship with Egypt. And I think President Kagame, being a very neutral person on a lot of these issues, is situated very well.

But again, we also all agree that we've got to go move forward on institution building. And as we always say, if you take Africa as a snapshot today, we see a lot of challenges. But over the last 20 years, the number of democratic or democratic-leaning countries with free open elections has really increased to almost two dozen. And so that means you have greater stability in Africa, and what we want to do is build on that, and the fragile democratic state, is to strengthen them. And I think we'll have a great relationship with the President, President Kagame, but also the other leaders from the African Union, and the regional states. I look forward to a very dynamic, open, and progressive movement when he takes over the African Union....

.... My question is regarding your talks with the opposition and the government in Kenya recently, Raila Odinga has this on-again, off-again thing about being inaugurated as the people's president. I know that the U.S. has suggested in the past that this is not a wise move, but what's your current take on this? Is he gonna go forward with this? Does the United States still regard this as unhelpful to the democratic process in Kenya? And finally, have you gotten commitments from President Kenyatta regarding outreach to the opposition, regarding the importance of healing the divisions that were so prominent? And many people were killed in the recent two rounds of elections, so what's the U.S.'s view of what Kenyatta needs to do?

... [R]eally the focal point in Kenya is, you know, Kenya is our largest American embassy. But more important, it's one of our cornerstone, pillar countries in Africa. And we've discussed this with the government as well as with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, and we've known personally the former Prime Minister over the years, as he ran numerous times for the presidency. But again, the underscoring is he has a great story, and that is the issue of the need for political reform; it's an issue that President Kenyatta and the ruling government also addressed, that it needs to be done, and we look to Kenya really as the guiding, leading light on reform.

If this is going to really strengthen institutions, and to really move the electoral processes forward, not only in Kenya, but in other countries, as you were saying, as we look to the African Union in 2018, institution-building is important, accountable elections to the people is important. But going back to our discussions with Raila Odinga, we really highlight and focus his agenda and also his legacy towards political reform, and he really stands as a symbol and as a model for those reform areas.

And those are things that we say we will stand and support, but again forming a separate or parallel government is really unhelpful, in the sense that it really detracts from his overall message, which is reform, which is really what he is famous for and he's noted for and he's respected for. And those are areas that we really highlighted for the former Prime Minister. And it's something that I think he can take the Kenyan [INAUDIBLE] forward on. And in that context, too, in speaking with the government, the issue comes in as outreach and really working with not only just the opposition but with all sectors of the Kenyan society to move reforms forward.

Because - and the Kenyans are really aware and conscious about this, that they really stand kind of as a model for what could happen and also for what must be done. And those are things that we're gonna push the Kenyans towards. If this is going to be one of our most important countries in Africa, then we need to have and demonstrate the high standards towards the electoral and free open process. So we'll continue to work with the government, it's a process, and we'll continue to work with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his group, and this is a long-term relationship and we view it as a very constructive relationship....

.... [C]ould you please shed some light on the U.S. suspending military aid to Somalia, and what the way forward is considering the security threat still remains and the Somali army still needs to be built up?

Yeah, and that's really the crux of some of the challenges we face.

First of all is the temporary suspension. This is an issue that we've discussed with the Somali government as we establish work with the African Union, AMISOM, the United Nations, and the regional countries, that's the TCC, is like Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda, Djibouti, Burundi, who are contributing troops and making a lot of sacrifices. Let me add that the Kenyan troops have also made tremendous sacrifices in trying to secure Somalia and stabilize it.

So the suspension really affects about 10,000 of the troops, it really is to enhance better accounting. We still continue to provide assistance to specialized groups that are providing assistance and support within Somalia. But again, this is really our effort see and to really review on how we can form a coherent and effective Somali national army that integrates fully and completely all the other groups and military, militias, in the regional states, is that we need to have an umbrella national army that is fully integrated with all of the regional states and that is deployed to the - an agreement from London earlier this year is that the national army will deploy into the southern areas where the Shabab is located.

Those are some of the things that we are still striving to do, but we're really got to get this national army in place, trained, and fully coherent under a unified command, but also integrated with the regional states. And in that context, one of the agreements from London in May was that we have transparent, open accounting practices and financial institutions, and that's really critical. And that's why we need to have programs that are very accountable to that. It's the same issues we face in the Democratic Republic of the Congo under MONUSCO, and other countries as well. And so we need to get this right.

But let me just also add one more point is that the Somali national army alone is not the answer; we need to have a functioning police force; that is critical, because as the national army goes and stabilizes and liberates areas, the police is important to stabilize areas. So it's a really a 1-2 approach, and we have all the countries from the donor countries to AMISOM, to TCC's on board on this. So we're very lock-stock on this, as well as President Farmajo from the Somali national government....

[Questions on Ethiopia]

First of all is going back to the question on the IGAD process. Ethiopia really is a critical partner and leader. As you know, Ethiopia is in the chair for IGAD, leading the high-level discussions in South Sudan. But more importantly is that Ethiopia contributes troops to peacekeeping operations in Southern Sudan as well as Sudan. And Ethiopia is one of our largest troop-contributing countries for peacekeeping operations in Africa, and that is really a very important point to highlight.

The second point is, yes, we did note and we did discuss with the government about a lot of the challenges, not only the efforts of Ethiopian troops to stabilize Somalia, prevent terrorism and elements from Shabab and ISIS coming into Ethiopia, but also the internal domestic challenges that you face in Ethiopia and the Somalia area, based not only on ethnic divides, land tenure problems, obviously procedures, government procedures, local practices, etc. but it's an issue that the government is fully focused on, but it's an issue also that we as very close partners with the government and the people of Ethiopia will work cooperatively to address and resolve.

The reason why Ethiopia is so critical, if you look again, just like Kenya, Ethiopia has one of our largest missions. Ethiopia is a pillar country for Africa. It has an 8% economic growth rate, it is addressing really fundamental challenges of food and security and shortage, and over the years through partnerships with USAID and what we know as the Fuse Net Network, which is the early warning system, we've been able to mitigate and address a lot of the food security in Ethiopia, which has now become really a model for how you address food and security in other parts of not only Africa but the world.

So we will continue to work with Ethiopia on a wide range of issues, and it's a close partnership. We're gonna have differences. We're gonna be arguing on issues. But at the end of the day it's a very close partnership. What we discussed with the Prime Minister and the government, you know, I defer to them because those are very private, secure conversations, but let me just say that those discussions were very warm, cooperative, but what's more important is we share a lot of issues and that we really do need Ethiopia as we do Kenya, as we look toward the 22nd century, because we're gonna have high population growth rates and we're gonna really need to address how you address those issues of job creation, economic development.

Ethiopia has some good ideas; Ethiopia has some great practices. And so we're going to take those lessons learned and join them with other countries, and then hopefully have a strategy that will benefit all of Africa. And then correct issues that are not helping and not working, and that's a very good relationship if everyone's very open to discussion and if they're willing to continue to bolster that....

The number of terrorist groups recognized by the U.S. on the African continent has.... increased markedly since 2001, and this has been concurrent with the expansion of U.S. military activity, special operations missions, outposts, counter-terrorism funding. I wondered if you can comment on this and does it suggest a problem with the American tactics or strategy.

The approach towards security in Africa is not an American approach alone. It's really a very unique approach. You know, I served in Afghanistan, and there in Afghanistan and in those called "traditional" war zones, we've taken a heavy burden in a lot of areas and combat operations, etc. You know, my son's in the U.S. army, he was deployed there twice, and looking at how the U.S. Army operates, etc., and I was embedded with the Third Infantry Division for part of my time in Afghanistan, it's a very different approach than what we're taking in Africa.

In Africa it's much more working with partner countries. And sorry to kind of belabor the point. So the State Department has trained about 300,000 troops as of this year, with 26 African countries, and the main focus is peacekeeping operations. And so our use of military, unlike in other areas, does not take the lead in operations but really works with these partner countries, and that's really the basic fundamental area, is support.

So if you look at all the troop operations, so we have 63% of the UN Ops is in Africa, that means you're taking 87% of the UN troops are in Africa, that's about over 70,000. And of those, 70% of the total number are Africans, coming by African states. Most of them are trained by the U.S. And looking at the training programs we've done in Uganda, to Ethiopia, and then to the G5 countries and Mali, Nigeria, that the leadership that the Africans have [UNCLEAR], those are the areas that we're trying to highlight as we form these units to carry on operations.

Somalia is a classic example, we have the TCC countries, that is the Ethiopians, the Kenyans, the Ugandans, the Burundians, Djiboutians, are leading the stabilization efforts in Somalia. And that's also the G5 countries, you know, for Mauritania, Chad, Niger, are taking stabilization in that area, along with Burkina Faso.

So when you talk about increasing U.S. military presence and operations, I defer to General Waldhauser and the Department of Defense, but let me add that traveling with the General, who is by the way a classmate of mine with the National War College - in our time together over the years, we are committed to the three D's, and that's diplomacy, development, and defense. And as we were talking in Somalia, you can't have U.S. operations or U.S. leads alone. You need to have a joint operation, and that is you have to have political institution building, you need to have the ability of these countries to dialogue and engage, and also to create economic opportunities for its people.

We always take surveys of all the countries that we're working in, and interestingly, the surveys show that yes, security is an issue. But the other area is job creation, economic development, healthcare. Especially in East Africa we have high rates of infant mortality and maternal mortality, so if those are issues and challenges, those are issues that we need to address as well, and defense and security and U.S. military might alone is really not the answer. It has to be in a comprehensive approach and it has to take into account what France, Germany, UK, other countries are doing, and to look at what the African Union and other units are doing as well.

And one final point, I'm sorry to go on and on about this, you're saying that the number of terrorist organizations has increased in the African continent, and that's accurate. One of the things that was really of concern to a lot of the leaders and people we spoke with during this trip was they were saying press articles and views about ISIS fighters leaving Iraq and the Middle East, and they're asking, "Well, where are they going? Are they coming to Africa? Are we going to be the next front line or a much more dynamic operation by terrorist groups and organizations?"

We're looking at ISIS formations in Somalia. We're looking at ISIS West Africa. We're looking at Boko Haram. We're even looking at the militias in Eastern Congo, which are transforming. And so these are a lot of warning concerns that security alone can't address. That a lot of has to take place in community-based development, giving opportunities, really working to diffuse problems and situations at the community level as well, so it's really a comprehensive approach.

Do you think Zimbabwe is now capable of having free and fair elections? What reforms do you think should be implemented before elections in 2018?

... [U]ltimately, the electoral process is in the hands of the people of the country. And it's up to them to direct and dictate the future direction of the country. We in the United States as well as the other communities in the African Union, in this case SADC, which is taking the lead in Zimbabwe, is looking at how we can create institution-building and really build on this opportunity as we head towards elections next year in Zimbabwe. And that's something that we were discussing very closely.

During our discussions in London, we looked at Zimbabwe and said, "How can we play a positive role, constructive role, in helping Zimbabwe - the people of Zimbabwe - head towards much more free and open elections and a government accountable to the people?" As you know, the United States and other countries do have sanctions on Zimbabwe. Even though we've provided $220 million this year in assistance levels, it's gone to community-based groups.

What we want to do is we want to open and expand this opportunity, because again, you know, Zimbabwe was an economic great country in the past, it was the bread basket of the south. Today it imports food; its financial institutions are not in great shape. They have to go into the U.S. dollar. That's good and bad; I mean, it stabilizes, but it's bad because Zimbabwe should have control of its own finances, it shouldn't be dependent on United States or outside.

And those are some of the reforms that we recognize need to be done immediately in short term and also long term. And so were committed to working with the Mnangagwa government, and also the people of Zimbabwe to really effect strong institutions, democratic processes and really economic and political reform that are meaningful and will get the country moving in the right direction....


What I want to just add is that really, as we look at Africa the continent, it really is, as we call it, "the Final Frontier" of hope and opportunity, and the reason why is because of not only the resources but also the dynamism that we see in Africa. If you look towards 2050 and beyond, 25% of the world's labor force is going to be African. We're gonna have the African resources are being used as an engine for growth for other continents, so what we want to do is we want to help and support Africa's resource development in a rational, coherent, and logical manner that benefits the people of Africa and the countries where those resources are.

So the example that I always give is, if you look at your cell phones, you know, 10% comes from parts of Africa. That's going to double, triple in the future. So if that's the case, then we should see a quadrupling of economic development in Africa, and the benefit to the people of Africa. And those are areas that we're committed to at the United States, is to see Africa really develop into the continent that we know that it's going to be, really the engine of growth, but more important, the final frontier for really development and dynamism for the future.

When you have a lot of young people you have a lot of enthusiasm and change, and so we're looking to Africa to really lead the onslaught for change and dynamism. So thank you very much and I look forward to talking to you in the future.

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