Africa: Press Briefing with Tibor P. Nagy, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of African Affairs

Assistant Secretary for Africa Tibor Nagy speaks at a breakout session on Addressing Challenges to Religious Freedom in sub-Saharan Africa at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C. on July 17, 2019.

MODERATOR : Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State's Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and all around the world and thank all of you for joining this discussion. Today we are very pleased to be joined by the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Tibor P. Nagy, Jr. Assistant Secretary will discuss his current trip to the continent, visiting the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Sudan, and Somalia. 

We will begin today's call with opening remarks from Assistant Secretary Nagy, then we will turn to your questions. We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the time that we have, which is approximately 40 minutes. At any time during the call, if you would like to ask a question, you must press 1 and 0 on your phone to join the question and answer queue. If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use hashtag #AFHubPress and follow us at @AssistantSecStateAF and @AfricaMediaHub. As a reminder, today's call is on the record. And with that, I will turn it over to the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Tibor Nagy. 

Assistant Secretary Nagy, your opening remarks.

ASST. SEC. NAGY : Hi, good afternoon from Khartoum. This is Tibor Nagy. This is the sixth stop of our current visit to the continent. This time, we were visiting several countries which have some very serious issues going on. We started out with the Central African Republic, which everyone knows is facing some problems of stability, security, and trying to get ready for the elections that'll be in December. There we had discussions with the president, also some of the other international organizations; for example, the UN and others that are involved in trying to promote peace and stability. Then from there we stopped briefly in Nairobi. We also spent a day in Mogadishu. We all know the problems that Somalia's facing. This was my very first visit to Somalia and I was very eager to engage with our ambassador on the ground, Ambassador Yamamoto, but also had an opportunity to hold discussions with various elements of Somali society, as well as his Excellency the Prime Minister.

From there, we spent some time – just a very short weekend – in Ethiopia, had an opportunity there to talk with some Ethiopian officials, and I also did a day trip to Mekelle in northern Ethiopia, in Tigray. That was to visit the University of Mekele, which gave me an honorary degree a few years ago, and we had an opportunity to open our sixth American Corner in Ethiopia. Five other universities, but we opened one at the University of Mekelle. And then today we are in Khartoum, where again we'll be meeting with a number of officials. I was in Sudan shortly after the events of last spring. I was there in June; since that time I've had an opportunity to have a number of meetings with Sudanese officials. Most recently, her Excellency the Foreign Minister was in Washington, and I wanted to follow up on some of those meetings, but also I wanted to see firsthand some of the developments on the ground.

Also, we visited South Sudan.  It was also my first time visiting Juba, where I had an opportunity to engage both with President Kiir and with Chairman Machar, specifically talking about the prospects for the unity government, how to move forward. So it's been a very intense trip. When the questions start, you guys have me at an advantage this time, because I think my brain may be on one of these 12 international flights that we've taken so far. So with that, I have to also say the sound quality is not that great, but I'll do my best to answer the questions, and I would ask, again, if you would please just ask one question at a time. Thanks so much.

MODERATOR : Thank you, Assistant Secretary Nagy. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today's call. For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today's briefing: the Assistant Secretary's current travel to the continent. For those of you listening to the call in English, please press 1 and 0 on your phone to join the question queue. If you are using a speakerphone, you may need to pick up the handset before entering 1 and 0. For those of you listening to the call in French, Portuguese, and Arabic, we have received some of your questions submitted in advance by email and you may continue to submit your questions in English via email to

Our first question is from Michael Tantoh of AllAfrica Global Media. Could you clarify the U.S.'s role in the mediation of the Grand Renaissance Dam dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt? Since there were reports of Russian involvement in mediation and President Ahmed asking South Africa to assist with talks on his recent state visit there.

ASST. SEC. NAGY : Yeah, I can't comment on anybody else's mediation efforts, but as you know, the countries involved have been pursuing this for quite some time. The negotiations were really not moving forward that much because the countries were coming at the position from different points of view. At that point the United States government, President Trump, Secretary Mnuchin, invited the parties to Washington. They have now been, I think, through three sessions. They will be there again this week.

I personally am not following those discussions closely because they're being very well managed, and hopefully they – I am always an optimist. I just hope that they will come to a successful conclusion this week, keeping our fingers crossed, because it would be wonderful. The interesting thing is everybody is wanting the exact same outcome. We've also thanked the parties for being cooperative, being positive, being flexible. So we'll just see what happens. I don't want to say anything in advance of this week's events, but I think everybody is very optimistic. Over.

MODERATOR : Thank you. The next question goes to Nick Turse. I'm sorry, correction. The next question goes Geoff Hill of The Washington Times. Operator, please open the line.

QUESTION : Ambassador, I hope you can hear me.

ASST. SEC. NAGY : I can. Thank you.

QUESTION : Oh, nice to speak with you again. We were together on your visit to Pretoria. Ambassador, the new government in Sudan has said that it wants to chase after millions, billions, allegedly embezzled by previous regimes, and although parties haven't changed in Angola and Mozambique, new leaders there are trying to do exactly the same with their predecessors. Is the U.S. engaged in Sudan or anywhere else in these attempts to get hold of money that may have been removed illegally from these countries and perhaps even run through the U.S. system? Over.

ASST. SEC. NAGY : Okay, thanks very much for the question. Number one, I'm not an international lawyer, so I cannot give you the technical details on that. I have followed such issues even back when I was in Nigeria because of the obvious activities of the Abacha regime. So, I mean, we applaud very much, in principle, governments that try to undo the corruption, that go after the ill-gotten gains. These are done legally, through judicial processes. Depending on where the money is, each country has different regulations so it's very difficult to talk in general terms, but the bottom line is I have publicly applauded, for example, the efforts of President Lourenço to confront corruption. We know the long history, a very sad history, of corruption in Sudan under the Bashir regime.

So absolutely, we support, you know, governments that try to undo the corrupt practices of the past and in going after the ill-gotten gains. The bottom line is it has to be done through the legal procedures, and depending on which countries are involved that are holding the funds. Thank you. Over.

MODERATOR : Thank you. The next question is from David Herbling of Bloomberg in Kenya. What is the status of talks to strike the U.S.'s first free trade deal in sub-Saharan Africa? Which countries is the U.S. engaging and are you confident of a deal by 2025 when AGOA expires?

ASST. SEC. NAGY : Okay. That came in very, very broken. I'm getting nothing but a lot of static right now. If the question was what is the status of our negotiating a free trade agreement, we are engaged with some countries. We are very interested in negotiating a free trade agreement. I am not going to say which countries we're talking to; there may be some announcements about that in the near future. We're very optimistic because that is a priority for this administration. Over.

MODERATOR : Thank you. The next question goes to Isabel DeBre from Associated Press in Egypt. Operator, please open the line.

QUESTION : Hi, can you hear me?

ASST. SEC. NAGY : I can. You're coming in perfectly clear.

QUESTION : Hello? Okay.

ASST. SEC. NAGY : Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION : Oh, great. So I just wanted to follow up on the obligations or conditions of the new government in Sudan to get off this list of state-supported terrorism, that it's trying to get delisted from. So I just kind of want to get a sense of what kind of progress has been made, what signs of progress have been shown, if you can talk about any conditions that are remaining or anything completed. Thank you.

ASST. SEC. NAGY : Yes, thanks for asking the question. Of course, you know that question comes up almost every time. We have to remember one thing; the new government has been in power in Sudan for approximately six months. What we're talking about is not just the SST, the State Sponsor of Terrorism, but it's literally like peeling away an onion, because there are a number of restrictions on what we can and cannot do with Sudan. Remember, these were built up literally over decades. So bottom line, we see the new government of Sudan as a very positive partner, with whom we can do business. We can sit down; we can address these issues. We have active negotiations going on in a number of areas. We are optimistic. I wish I could give you a timeframe.

Important to remember: this is not like flipping a switch on and off. This really is a process. Everyone wants a positive outcome. There are some thorny issues involved which have to be overcome. We want a successful Sudan; we want to be partners for Sudan. So we are working together on this, but obviously I can't go into technical issues because they're very specific and our two governments are dealing with them. Over.

MODERATOR : Thank you. The next question goes to the listening party in South Sudan, from Chuol Juany, The Radio Community. How will the new program between the U.S. and African universities work to deepen students' knowledge, to become creative, and develop innovation to change their societies?

ASST. SEC. NAGY : Thank you very, very much for that question. The U.S. university and African university partnership is one of my absolute passions; it's one of the reasons I came back and took this job. I believe from the bottom of my heart that African universities can be and are one of the best instruments for national development of their countries, and as you all know, I'm also very passionate about the young people of Africa, so you put all of those together. U.S. universities have a lot to offer, some tremendous possibilities for African universities, and vice versa. African universities offer tremendous research possibilities for U.S. universities. We teach the type of degree programs which are very appropriate for Africa, especially for African development.

Interesting, I met yesterday with a group of university [inaudibe] in Ethiopia, in Addis Ababa. We were talking about what programs are appropriate for today's environment and African societies. We were talking about business and entrepreneurship, and I asked "how many of your universities actually offer degrees in entrepreneurship." No one raised their hand. So we do in the United States have those programs, so we fit together like a hand goes into a glove, and that's why I'm so keen and enthusiastic about pursuing such kind of partnerships. Over.

MODERATOR : Thank you. Next question goes to Luke Perry from AFP. Operator, open the line.

QUESTION : Hi, Assistant Secretary. I was hoping to ask about South Sudan and your conversations with the President Kiir. The U.S. has obviously been one of the strongest workers pushing both the warring parties there to meet the February 22 deadline to form a unity government [inaudibe] leverage sanctions to get [inaudibe] by him. I was wondering if you could provide feedback on your assessment of the progress on those sticking point issues, such as the number of states and boundaries, and also the formation of unified forces. Do you think they will meet that deadline? Over.

ASST. SEC. NAGY : Yeah, thanks very much. I really appreciate that question. Here's the situation, and in this respect we can also bring in the whole –  events and processes in Sudan. There are a number of sticky issues still outstanding between the two principals in South Sudan; we know about those. You mentioned one of them, which is the number of states. And here's the deal: if they try to, as we say, cross every "t" and dot every "i," who knows when they can get around to announcing a unity government?

Here in Sudan, they had even more complicated issues to deal with during last year, when they formed the transitional government, and instead of trying to find solutions to all of these very difficult problems, they decided and agreed to just put those to the side, form the transitional government, and then deal with the issues during the transition period. I made the same pitch to both of the protagonists in the South Sudan scenario, because there is no reason why they cannot go ahead, form the unity government, and then agree to deal with those issues.

I mean, take the number of states. It's really not going to be a technical decision, because you can get a committee of experts to come up with very, very precise lines on, you know, exactly where the state should be, but at the end of the day it's going to be a political decision. You know, just like congressional districts in the United States. They're political decisions. That's what they're going to have to agree on. It's going to be a lot of give and take, you know, 10, 23, 24, 32, whatever; they have to agree to it. So why not go ahead, form the unity government, and then deal with these very, very difficult issues, because each party has their own constituents, to resolve. Otherwise, we'll be having the same conversation in a year or – who knows – five years. Over.

MODERATOR : Thank you. The next question goes to Manuela Pokossy-Coulibaly from Côte d'Ivoire. The question is: We all know the critical situation in which the G5 Sahel finds itself today. It is struggling to withstand the threat of jihadism. France is heavily involved in the region, with its soldiers mobilized in Operation Barkhane, but its presence is not enough to contain jihadist attacks. Where exactly are the American soldiers? What is the United States advocating to stem this cycle of violence?

ASST. SEC. NAGY : Okay, that again is an excellent question that goes to the heart of one of the most complicated and troubling problems in Africa. That is one part of Africa where unfortunately the progress, if there's any, is very, very minimal. At the end of the day, the problems in the Sahel are not going to be solved by France or by the United States or the international community. They have to be solved by the states in the Sahel. We know that there's the Algiers Accords that have to be implemented in Mali; there has to be very strong political will to go forward on a number of those issues that come up in the Algiers Accords.  The same thing in some of those other states, because to beat back the terrorists, what you need is good governance. And as you take back the space from the terrorists, you need to fill that space up with government, to bring in security, to bring in medical services, to bring in health services, to bring in education.

The United States is very actively involved through a number of programs, whether it's the Department of State, whether it's the Department of Defense, whether it's U.S. Agency for International Development, partnerships are absolutely vital. We have the G5, we have ECOWAS, we have several other organizations. At the end of the day, it comes down to governance by the individual states, by their will to move politically, to really address these serious systematic issues, which really fuel the terrorism problem. You can have as many international partners as you want, but at the end of the day it comes down to the will of the states involved to confront and to solve these problems. Over.

MODERATOR : Assistant Secretary, we've had a number of questions from journalists about the election season on the continent. What actions does the United States intend to take to maintain peace and stability during this election season on the continent? Over.

ASST. SEC. NAGY : Yeah. This is quite an interesting year, because I think if memory serves me right, they're having about 23 elections across Africa, in all regions of Africa. Now, the way we look at these elections, you know, I've spoken about this many, many times in many places. The one assumption is that the United States is always in favor of the opposition; that is absolutely false. At the end of the day, the United States doesn't care about, you know, who wins the election. What we care about is that the people win, and two, that there is a fair and transparent process. So we're all about the people and the process.

Our embassies will be very heavily engaged. They will look at the situation in the countries where they are represented. They will let Washington know what they propose doing, whether it's election observance, whether it is working with the political parties ahead of time, whether it's working with the governments on the electoral list, whether it's to empower NGOs to help, you know, the process. Each election will be different, but I can assure you that the United States of America cares greatly about the people winning and the process winning, and we're delighted that there's so many elections. We really, really hope that they lead to the kind of outcomes that the people want. Over.

MODERATOR : The next question is from Sudan, from Al-Muthan Abdelgadir from Al Intibaha newspaper. Question is: what is the shape of the next U.S. sanctions if the parties of South Sudan fail to set up transitional government and do not end outstanding issues between them, especially the security arrangements? Over.

ASST. SEC. NAGY : Here's the thing about sanctions: you know, I'm not going to talk ahead of time to say who we are or we are not going to sanction. Here's the bottom line: the United States of America reserves the right to sanction any individual or organization on several different criteria: gross human rights violations, corruption, and other similar kinds of activities, and we don't announce ahead of time who we're going to sanction. We look very closely, say, at somebody who may be hindering the peace process or serving as a spoiler, and, you know, we will apply them. We have gotten several in South Sudan, and it's not one-sided. If there are people or organizations on the government side, you know, who merit such a sanction, we will do that. If there are people on the opposition side, the same thing.

We want the process to succeed. And this is the common theme: we want the people of South Sudan to win. They have suffered enough, they have been abused enough. The elites need to get to the point of serving their own people instead of their own selfish interests. The international community is sick and tired and fed up with providing the government services that the government of South Sudan should be providing for its own people. Over.

MODERATOR : Thank you. The next question goes to Layla Quran of PBS NewsHour. Operator, open the line.

It looks like Layla just dropped the line. The next question is, again from Sudan, from Mohamed Abdelaziz from Al Sudani. Sudan's success is overcoming its current challenges during the transitional period, and it's primarily reliant on the U.S. position with regards to lifting Sudan from the state-sponsored terrorism list or providing certain measures that would allow Sudan to enter the international banking system, to say the least. What is your response to that?

ASST. SEC. NAGY : Okay. That question came in very, very broken. I know it's about SST again, but I've lost the gist, because the gist did not come through. Over.

MODERATOR : I will repeat. What is the U.S. position in regards to lifting Sudan from the state-sponsored terrorism list so that they may be able to participate in the international banking system?

ASST. SEC. NAGY : Actually, the State Sponsor of Terrorism listing is not preventing Sudan from participating in international finance. There are a number of other criteria; for instance, Sudan has considerable arrears to international financial institutions which prevent those international financial institutions from making additional loans or grants to Sudan, so that's one of the problems. In fact, I believe it was in 2017 that we lifted sanctions regarding international trade and being able to participate in international finance. So the issue is, number one, reputational; number two, it is the arrears that Sudan has built up that will need to be negotiated in the future. The SST really refers much more to how the United States is obligated to respond to Sudan's request for broad projects and programs in international financial institutions. Over.

MODERATOR : Thank you. Next question is from Guy-Assane Yapi, economic journalist from Côte d'Ivoire. What place does the United States grant today to economic diplomacy in African states, and particularly in Côte d'Ivoire?

ASST. SEC. NAGY : Okay, as I've said many times, our number one priority is to dramatically increase U.S. trade and investment in Africa as a way of providing jobs for the millions and millions of young Africans who are emerging onto the scene between now and 2050, with the continent's population doubling. We know that those young people are going to need good jobs to promote a dynamic Africa which is stable, prosperous, and it's fully integrated into the global economic system.

In that regard, the administration has brought forth a number of new policies; for example, doubling the capitalization of what used to be the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, now is the Development Finance Corporation, to $60 billion. DFC, Development Finance Corporation, is now active and actively looking for projects to fund throughout the continent. That's one. They have another major administration initiative called Prosper Africa, which will for the first time unify the African-related promotion of business activities of a number of U.S. government agencies or entities in every single African country. We now have established what we call Deal Teams to not only help promote U.S. trade and investment and support U.S. businesses, but also to work with the African governments that they serve to improve their business environment and their [inaudibe] environment, to make it attractive to American investors and other investors who want to do business in an ethical, environmentally supportive way that also promotes the rights of women, transfers technology, and really creates types of jobs that young Africans need to prosper going forward in this century. Over.

MODERATOR : The next question goes to Helen Epstein, freelance journalist based in the United States. Operator, open the line.

QUESTION : Thanks so much. I have a question about one of the countries that you didn't visit, but I hope you don't mind. I'm curious about your sense of what's going on in DRC at the moment. It seems, especially in the east, things seem very unstable at the moment, and I'm wondering what you make of it, what's going on. There've been a number of serious massacres. There was an attempt at an offensive by the Congolese government that didn't go very well, and now things seem extremely tense with the countries surrounding it, as well. So I was wondering if you could give us your sense. Thanks so much.

ASST. SEC. NAGY : Yeah. The situation in eastern DRC is very concerning, because not only is there the complicating factor of various militia, the ADF, which is a terrorist-linked organization, but also, of course, the problem with Ebola, which not too long ago it was starting to decline; now it's increasing again. It's a very serious situation; Congo [inaudibe] very much involved in [inaudibe] figure out how to address it. There may also be underlying domestic politics involved in there, which is absolutely not helpful.

As we all know, it's just about exactly a year ago that President Tshisekedi came on the scene, and he has really made remarkable progress given the very tight political state that he has had to operate in. So even right now he is trying to address the problem. He's cooperating with friends that are trying to help him address the problem, but there's an awful lot of underlying tension, especially given the very complicated regional dynamics in Rwanda and Uganda as well. So there are a lot of unfortunate chemicals, and we hope to make some progress [inaudibe].

MODERATOR : Thank you. Our last question goes to Gezahegn Yohannes from Ethiopia. Operator, please open the line.

QUESTION : Thank you. My name is Barakat, my name is Barakat from the Ethiopian News Agency. My question is what is the main reason for [inaudibe] I think we are informed that the United States to increase or uplift the Ethiopian population [inaudibe]. Thank you.

ASST. SEC. NAGY : Okay, I have to say that I did not understand any of that because it came in totally garbled. Could somebody please repeat the question for me so I can answer it?

MODERATOR : Ethiopia, please repeat the question.

QUESTION : Okay, my question is like, what is the immediate success from your trip to Ethiopia? You have informed us you are coming here to boost, or uplift some partnership, so what is the success in terms of making a linkage between Ethiopian university and the U.S. universities?

ASST. SEC. NAGY : Did the moderator get the question?

MODERATOR : Sir, did you hear the question?

ASST. SEC. NAGY : Did anybody get the question?

MODERATOR : Yes, from what I could hear: could you discuss your trip to Ethiopia and its successes, and particularly anything related to university partnerships?

ASST. SEC. NAGY : On university partnerships, yeah. We're very, very much involved, and the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa is a very strong supporter of the partnerships between Ethiopian and American universities. As some people may know, Ethiopia has gone through a very rapid building process of universities. When I left as ambassador in 2002 there were three national universities. As of yesterday now there are 46 national universities, and they have a very strategic view on the types of programs they want, on how to partner with the private sector and what kind of majors would help the Ethiopian people develop further. So they're very good candidates for U.S. university involvement; there are a number of U.S. universities that are currently already engaged in [inaudibe].

MODERATOR : Thank you, Assistant Secretary Nagy. Do you have any final remarks?

ASST. SEC. NAGY : No, again, we are very [inaudible] situations in the countries that I've visited. I am an optimist. It is absolutely possible for South Sudan to have a peaceful transition this year. It is absolutely possible for the Central African Republic to continue rebuilding the country, to have positive elections in December. And there's even a possibility for moving forward constructively in Somalia. So, you know, we look around the continent. Yes, there are some serious problem areas, such as in the Sahel, but in each of the rest of the trouble spots on the continent, there is the possibility and the opportunity for peace, for stability, to help move the entire continent forward. So, you know, we just need to keep working towards that, engaging and maintaining our interests. And thanks, everybody, for your participation.

MODERATOR : That concludes today's call. I want to thank the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Tibor P. Nagy, for joining us and thank all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions about today's call, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at Thank you.

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