Africa: Transcript - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on U.S. Support for Africa's Fight Against COVID-19

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaking the the United Nation Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa
27 April 2020

Washington, DC — Opening remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by telephone to an international group of seven journalists focused on Africa - transcribed from the call:

Good morning, everyone, and hello. I hope you're all staying safe and healthy. A few thoughts to get us started. It was just two months ago now that Susan, my wife, and I visited Senegal, Angola and Ethiopia. We had a fantastic trip. I went there to re-enforce America's long-standing partnerships with our African friends - wanted to do so in person.

Today I thought I would make a couple of comments about what those partnerships actually involve and then take a series of questions.

First - historic public health work. We've invested about 60 billion dollars in public health on the continent over just the past two decades. This is unrivaled. Saved a lot of lives - more than 17 million thanks to Pepfar alone. We trained 265 thousand healthcare workers as part of that as well. I think that's point number one. We are working with you - the African countries - to save lives everyday.

READ: Pompeo - No Drop in U.S. Africa Funding, Says WHO Under Review, Blasts China on Debt

Second, we have a massive effort to help more African partners fight Covid-19. The vice president calls this an all-of-America project. He got it right. No other nation is doing more than we are. We've committed more than 170 million dollars to this fight in Africa - part of  more than 775 million that the United States has pledged worldwide.

It's not just aid. I know that's the focus oftentimes. It is important. We're proud of the fact that no country will rival what the United States does in terms of just direct assistance. But think about it - in Ghana, Senegal, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Mauritania, we repurposed field hospitals, tents and ambulances from international peacekeeping missions for Covid-19 efforts. In Ethiopia, the state department, led by USAID, has trained more than 500 Covid-19 rapid-response workers. In Nigeria, for example, even in [Nigerian] states ravaged by Boko Haram and Isis West Africa, the State Department and USAID have trained hundreds of volunteers to help slow the spread of the virus.

You should remember, too, we're still a big part of multilateral efforts, in addition. We have CDC teams working with many African health ministries [indecipherable]. And we have epidemiologists posted to the African Union as well. And last, with respect to this point, all-of-America means non-governmental organizations, charities and businesses as well. They continue the renowned American generosity. A good example is Catholic Relief Services - still going strong in South Sudan, providing emergency assistance to the most vulnerable. And it is ExxonMobil that has donated now almost 7000 masks, 25 thousand pairs of gloves, in Mozambique.

I don't want to belabor this. I could go on. But when the outbreak subsides – and I know it will –  we will keep helping our friends to achieve greater prosperity by liberating Africa's entrepreneurs, a topic that I spoke about when I was in Addis Ababa just a couple months back.

And finally, I would be remiss if I didn't thank all the African governments, airlines and others who have helped repatriate more than 10 thousand Americans. We are supremely grateful to our partners in Africa that we got them all back home. So thank you to them for that.

Questions and answers

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus: Thank you, sir. Now we'll begin with AllAfrica Global Media, Reed Kramer :
Good morning Mr. Secretary. Does the U.S. government support  debt relief or cancellation for African countries,  something that's being advocated by African leaders and economic experts?

Secretary Pompeo: We're  constantly evaluating both the how and the when. The G20 made a good first step, a critical debt relief. We're proud of having been a part of urging all the G20 countries to do that.  We played a leading role there, as well as at the G7 on Covid-19 response. I welcome this critical financial support that's been provided to low-income African countries and debt suspension, both on a bilateral basis and debt from the G20 and Paris Club members.

I would also remind everyone that there's an enormous amount of debt that the Chinese Communist party has imposed on African countries all across the region. It is something that the African countries should consider, too, in asking China to [unintellgible ] debt relief on some deals that have incredibly onerous terms that will impact the African people for an awfully long time, if relief is not granted.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus: Thank you, Reed. Now we'll go over the BBC Africa, Andrew Harding :
Good morning, sir. We're aware of the enormous efforts America has made over the years – Pepfar, in particular, had had such an impact in Africa. At the moment, when I look around the continent and talk to people here they are talking about Cuban doctors. They're talking about the WHO. They're talking about Chinese help. And when it comes to America, they're talking about the withdrawal of your administration's financial support for the WHO. And they're talking, frankly, about President Trump's comments about disinfectants, about chloroquine and other unproven suggestions for how to deal with Covid-19. And I wondered whether you were concerned about that reputational damage and the fact that America's efforts here do not seem to be getting though or appreciated?

Secretary Pompeo : I always am concerned when people have a misunderstanding of the facts. I always want to make sure that disinformation isn't being propagated by anyone, whether that is by other governments or by particular media outlets that may be influenced by some of those governments or may just have a bias. I went through the facts. It's incomparable – if you stare at the facts of what the United States is doing to assist Africa, not only in this time of Covid-19 but what we have done over the years. Your point about Pepfar, your point about all the assistance that we have provided is quite true. It's quite accurate. And so, if there is a misperception there, it is important that that get corrected. The people of African countries ought to understand the facts. I hope that they will. I hope we'll communicate. That's our responsibility, but it's an equal responsibility of folks like you, Andrew, to make sure and tell the real story about what's taking place.

You can't compare what it is the United States is doing. That we've contributed $500 million-plus to the World Health Organization. That is 10X what China has ever contributed. President Trump has been very clear. We want to make sure that money gets to the rights places.

We're not reducing the amount of money that we're providing for global health assistance. Indeed, far from it. I'm confident we will actually increase that number. But we need to make sure its part of a multi-national institution that functions, that can actually deliver good outcomes for the people in some of the poorest countries in the world that are there in Africa.

Our review of the WHO's failure – and I can attest to the failure. You can too. You can see the Covid-19 pandemic that began in Wuhan, China, now having spread to Africa. It's important that there be accurate information, that a disinformation campaign launched by other countries doesn't dominate the news stories. We want to stick with the facts. We want people in that region to understand that the United States is there. We will continue to be there after this virus is over, and our commitment to things like Pepfar, to things like pandemic relief, polio – all the things that the United States has delivered to help the region in this region will continue – are continuing and will continue. I hope that answers your question, Andrew, at least in part.

Harding : It did, in part, Thank you. On the WHO, no plan then to begin committing money back on a continent which relies so heavily on the WHO, for instance, for polio relief and other issues?

Secretary Pompeo : We're going to make sure that the money gets there. Absolutely. Your question was, is there any commitment to providing money. I just ripped through it, Andrew. I just told you precisely what we're going to do. The vehicle for that has to work. The methodology by which that is distributed has to work. And that's the review we are conducting.

When a multi-lateral institution fails in its primary mission, which is to ensure one has accurate timely information and makes good decisions to stop the spread of things like Africa is suffering so greatly from today, there's a responsibility of the nations who use their resources, there's a responsibility for the people of the African countries, to make sure that we get that right. And that's what we are going to do.

There is no diminished support for the very mission that we've been engaged in for 20 years throughout Africa. When I hear reporters talk about the United States withdrawing funding, that's just - nothing could be further from the truth. Look at the data set of the resources that we provided, I think any good faith analysis that will tell you that the United States will provide more resources for assistance across a broad base. It's not just about dollars - technical support and epidemiological support - all of the elements that I described my opening statement, I'm confident that if you write that up accurately, you'll concur that the United States is doing the right thing for global health in a way that no other nation in the world ever has, or ever will.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus: We're now going to turn to the Daily Nation. We have Aggrey Mutambo :
Thank you very much. My question is about the exact programs coming into the Africa region. We have seen increased cases over the last 10 days or so and are wondering what the U.S. government is doing about it.

Secretary Pompeo : I walked through the various means of support that we're providing with respect to the [undeciperable]. I talked about three things.

One is the CDC support, the technical support that we have provided for years throughout the region are continuing to surge capacity so that we can help with the technical elements of how countries have to think about their individual highly tailored responses to the virus.

Second, there's a piece that is happening here in the United States, which is our massive effort to ensure that there is equipment needed for those countries. And we will be able to provide enormous assistance to countries throughout the region as well, we believe, over time, as the virus begins to become less aggressive here in the United States. I'm very confident we'll do that.

And finally, the United States is engaged in an all out effort, an all out effort to provide both capability for therapeutic response and ultimately a vaccine. When we have that, that will certainly be something that will benefit not only people in United States or our area but of the entire world as well. And we are very focused and dedicated a great, great amount of resources to that element of what will ultimately be needed to push back against this virus.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus: Thank you so much. And now from the Daily Maverick we have Peter Fabricius :
Thank you, Secretary, for your briefing. I want to ask you specifically about U.S. bans on the exports of certain vital equipment such as ventilators and respirators. And also -  particularly for South Africa - it is reported to have run into some problems, importing special-use test kits, which are adapted for the use of its mobile test laboratories. And I just wanted to know if that's a problem you're aware of, and could you address?

Secretary Pompeo : So I'll leave responses about particular transactions to the task force that's working the logistics and supply chain issues around that. I don't know the answer to that.

Fabricius: Just in general, Mr. Secretary, is there a ban on the export of ventilators and respirators from the U.S.?

Secretary Pompeo : Good gracious, no. You''ve seen the president in the last course of the last - goodness, I don't how many days, a handful days, a week - talk about the fact that we are now beginning to export significant numbers of ventilators. As our companies here ramp up, that number will grow increasingly. No, indeed, not only is there not a ban, we're doing the right thing for the entire world. We're going to create a supply chain for the world so that this equipment is available for all citizens all across the world. I'm highly confident that will achieve that.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus: Let's go over to Elias Meseret (Ethiopia):
Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I just want to expand on the last question. The President has pledged support for many countries like here in Ethiopia in the form of sending ventilators after their conversation with Prime Minister Abiy Ali. At the same time, we are hearing governors asking for these ventilators from the Federal government. So do you think the U.S. would really send ventilators or it's just a pledge that you [indecipherable] after it meets the demand for the ventilators?

Secretary Pompeo : I think I just answered that question. The President's made a commitment. I'm very confident that we will live up to that commitment. But there's a there's a global shortage - there's been a lot of focus on ventilators - but there's been a global shortfall across a broad range of items that have been needed to push back against this virus. The United States is engaged in a economic effort that is unrivaled anywhere in the world, to meet that demand, and as our supply chain begins to kick in, we're going to do the right thing for the citizens of our country for sure. But we'll do the right things for citizens all across the world as well. And the President over the last number of days has made a number of commitments to countries around the world. Specifically, I know that that's been done at other levels as well, and will absolutely make good on those commitments.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus: Great, thank you. I will now turn it over - from LUSA News Agency Raquel Rio :
Hello. I would like to ask about the impact of the repatriation of American citizens in Angola or other places with investments in the oil industry. So I know that Chevron, here in Angola, sent lots of their people home. I would like to know if this compromises in any way the American investments in the oil industry in Africa, mainly in Angola, or in other countries such as Mozambique, in terms of postponements of projects and delays. So, how does this epidemic impact the oil industry here in Africa?

Secretary Pompeo : Obviously, those companies will have to make their own business decisions about those projects and the timing of those projects. These repatriations broadly - I can't talk about the specifics in Angola or elsewhere - but those were repatriations were designed to make sure that we got U.S. persons who wanted to return home during this global pandemic, to be able to get them back home. And I know in most every case, these companies were doing that on a temporary basis, and they have every expectation that people will return. You'll have to talk to those U.S. companies about particular instances and about the timing of their projects.

The second thing I will say - more broadly - is that those are, if I understood correctly, both significant energy projects. And the global energy markets have been upended by this virus. This virus that began in Wuhan, China, has now caused demand for petroleum products to decline at an enormous rate. There's never been this rapid decline in demand for energy resources around the world and that's caused there to be crude oil glut. You can see as we sit here this morning, you can se record WTI pricing for crude oil.

It is every country's mission - and we want to work alongside our partner countries throughout Africa - to get the global economy going back again. When we do that, many good things will happen. They'll be employment in Africa. There'll be wealth created in Africa. There will be demand created in the United States and Europe and around the world. And when we do that, we can get life to return to back where it was where there were good paying jobs all throughout.

When that happens, when those opportunities happen, when we get the global economy back up and running, I'm very confident that most of the people who came home on a temporary basis from all across the world will returne to where they were before the pandemic struck.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus: Thank you, Rico. And finally, from Le Soleil (Senegal), we have Aly Diouf :
Good morning Secretary of State. My question is about African public and private debt.  President Macky Sall asked for the cancellation of African private debt and the rescheduling of the private one. He got the support of President Macron and Chancellor Merkel. What do you think of the request?

Secretary Pompeo : Thank you. Thanks. Very much. I appreciate that. We've seen President Mackey Sall's request for cancellation of the debt of poor countries, We saw that. Look, each of the situations on the ground - it is not unique to that country. It is not unique to any country, and it's not just Africa. There are other places around the world, including some poor countries and some that are just going to struggle as a result of the pandemic. There are going to have to be financial readjustments.

So, I don't think it's possible to make a blanket response to what you described. But I think if you see what the United States advocated for at the G20, and the G7 and our role in welcoming how we can provide critical financial support as a bridge to get through the pandemic, I think you'll see the United States be supportive of those activities all around the world. These are complicated situations. Every country has its own set of issues. And our teams - our teams from Treasury and our teams that are working with multilateral financial institutions -  are working to make sure we evaluate the situation properly. And we respond, both -we've been talking about the health aspects, but the economic and financial aspects of the fallout from the pandemic - we do so in a responsible way as well.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus: Great. Thank you so much. Sir,  that concludes our questions. Anything else?

Secretary Pompeo : No, ma'am. Morgan. Thank you, everyone. Thanks for joining me today on the call. You all have a wonderful day and do stay safe and healthy, so long.

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