US Assistant Secretary of State speaks out on Africa policy, Zimbabwe

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 thank all of you for joining the discussion. Today we are very pleased to have, for the first time, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Ambassador Tibor P. Nagy, Jr. Assistant Secretary Nagy will discuss U.S. policy in Africa and preview his upcoming travel to the region.

As always, we will begin with brief opening remarks from our speaker, from Assistant Secretary Nagy; we will then turn to your questions. We have 30 minutes for today’s call, and we’ll get to as many of your questions as possible. If you’d like to follow this conversation on Twitter, please use #AFHubPress. You can follow us on Twitter @AfricaMediaHub as well as @AsstSecStateAF. As a reminder, today’s call is on the record, and with that I’ll turn it over to Assistant Secretary Nagy.

AMB. NAGY: Thanks so much, Brian, and good afternoon, everybody. I am just delighted; I’m especially looking forward to getting back to what I like to call “the continent where I left my heart” as quickly as possible. It’s a very, very cold morning in Washington, D.C., so I cannot wait to return to the warmth of Africa. This time I’m heading out to West Africa, and it’s just coincidence that three of the places I’ll be visiting were places where I served, either as ambassador or deputy ambassador. But I promise that I will get around to all of the regions of this wonderful continent. I’ll make my comments very brief, because mostly I want to hear from you.

The reason I’m back here has, again, to do with as some of you know, I was a U.S. diplomat in Africa for just about 22 years. I had served in eight different countries, one of them twice, and then I retired and went back to academia for 15 years. And then, lo and behold, one of my predecessors, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, asked me to come back to Nigeria for part of the summer of 2016, and when I walked back into the embassy in Abuja, I had two very, very dramatic experiences, which really made me realize what a critical time this is for Africa.

One of them was having to do with the very tragic situation which is going on in northeast Nigeria, which made me very, very depressed over the whole state of that region. But then the next day I had an opportunity to meet the returning Nigerian Mandela fellows, who had been in the United States that summer, and I have never in my life met a sharper group of young people anywhere in the world. So that made me realize that the future of Africa is not the horrors that are going on in the Sahel with Boko Haram and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, but the future of Africa are those phenomenal young people that I met, and everybody knows that the population of Africa is going to double by 2050. It’s going to be an incredibly young continent, and these young people will represent either a tremendous opportunity to have maybe the most dynamic, economically progressive continent in the history of earth, or—if governments really do not make any progress in democracy, human rights, opening up economic opportunities—then we may have a continent of extremely, extremely upset, distraught young people that will be very much vulnerable to radicalization, and the continent will be unstable. So I was very eager to come back here and do everything I could to help advance a scenario which would lead to that brighter future.

So with that, I will stop, because I really want to hear what is of interest to you so that we can have a discussion. Thanks very much.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador Nagy, for that. We’ll turn now to the question and answer portion of today’s call. Please state your name, country you’re calling from, and your outlet. We ask that you’d limit yourself to one question, to get to as many people as possible. And again, we’d like to talk about U.S. policy in Africa and the Assistant Secretary’s upcoming travel to the region. To join the question queue, you must press *1 on your phone. For our listening parties, if you’re on a speaker phone you may have to pick up the handset in order to dial *1.

I see that we have two embassies on the line already. I think we have Juba, and we’ll go to them first.

QUESTION: Joseph Akile from Juba, South Sudan. My question to the ambassador is about the policy. We understand that here in South Sudan, many government officials have been considering the U.S. policy toward South Sudan, they look at it as a regime change. So what is the clear policy of the U.S. towards South Sudan? Thank you.

AMB. NAGY: Thanks very much for that question. That hits a much larger issue. You know, what you talked about, regime change: no. This is true for whatever government is in place, and this really is more for anywhere in the world, or also for elections, because I get this question a lot for elections. You know, who is the U.S. candidate? And most of the time people assume that it’s the opposition; no. The United States never has a candidate in any election, or as far as regime goes, the United States has a candidate, which is called “the process.” We support totally an open, transparent, democratic process, whether it’s for an election or where governments go, you know, we look at a government to try to see, is that government in place to serve the benefits of its own people?

Now, the United States is not in regime change, but if the government is in place and it is not serving the interests of its own people, then we will minimize our dealings with that government. That is not to say that we will not do our best to alleviate human suffering, because the United States, as long as we’ve had relations with Africa, we have been very supportive of humanitarian assistance. What that means is we’re not going to be supportive in other ways and policies, even going to qualities like development assistance. You know, why should the United States, when development assistance is limited, give development assistance to those governments which will squander it, or which will not use it wisely, or which will put it in their pockets? So the United States absolutely supports humanitarian assistance, immaterial of the government in place.

I’ll never forget; I was in Ethiopia in the mid-eighties when the terrible famine came, and the U.S. president was President Reagan, and many people said, you know, “Ethiopians are starving to death, but don’t help them because it’s a terrible government.” And President Reagan said, “A starving child knows no politics.” And that is pretty well, the American policy has been, always will be: that starving people know no politics. But as far as helping governments, that’s a totally different area. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Thanks, Ambassador Nagy. Before we turn to our next question, just a reminder for those listening in French and Portuguese. We’ve received some questions in advance, and you can continue to send those in English to afmediahub@state.gov. Again, to join the question queue, press *1 on your phone.

We have our colleague Ayo Durodola on the line. I know you’re at a U.S. embassy listening party, but I don’t know which country, so if you could tell us what city and country you’re calling from and have your journalists identify themselves and their outlet and ask your question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, my name is Victor [UNCLEAR]. I’m calling from the U.S. Consulate Lagos. You were in Nigeria between 1993 and 1995. Could you tell us why you’re coming back to Nigeria?

AMB. NAGY: Well, that’s an excellent question but it’s an easy answer. I mean, Nigeria, most populous country on the continent. Nigeria, either the first or second largest economy on the continent, depending on how you measure it. Nigeria, several very, very serious issues going on at the same time. We have the crisis in the northeast. We have the historical problems in the middle belt, which unfortunately recently has led to serious loss of life. We have an election coming up, which will be very, very interesting. So Nigeria, of course, is in many respects the gateway to Africa. How could I not be coming to Nigeria if I was going to West Africa? Over.

MODERATOR: Thanks again, Ambassador. We’ll turn next to our colleague Daniel Mezzin. You’re also hosting a U.S. embassy listening party. If you could have your journalist let us know where you are and give us his or her name and outlet before asking your question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello, Ambassador. Thank you so very much indeed. My name is [UNCLEAR] from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in the U.S. embassy. In one of your recent interviews with the VOA, or TV to Africa, you said, quote, “All the young African people going to want exactly the same thing young people want anywhere else.” You were specifically talking about jobs, and we have now—in Ethiopia—new leadership, which is really a promising one, but from what you said, you’re not going to give this development assistance for governments which are very oppressive and corrupt leaders, but now we have this very promising prime minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, and everybody is so very much excited about this. So what would be this economic program, development assistance to Ethiopia? That’s one of my questions, and the other question…

AMB. NAGY: Ah, ah, one question. One question only.

MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Go ahead. Thank you. Go ahead.

AMB. NAGY: Okay, my friend. Thank you very much for asking that question. Let me tell you a clear fact: No amount of development assistance is going to actually move a country from developing to developed, from low income to middle income. What moves countries towards prosperity is direct foreign investment, meaning businesses from around the world will invest in that country. China did not even have a Ministry of Development when it went from a fairly poor country to a fairly wealthy one.

The way to make Africa prosperous is to put in place a kind of environment which will attract a massive, massive amount of foreign investment, which is sitting out there around the world looking for a place to invest. The new government in Ethiopia has been extremely promising in that regard. You would not believe the amount of interest of companies that now are seriously looking at Ethiopia and want to invest there.

Another thing about foreign development assistance. Foreign development assistance does not create jobs. Governments do not create jobs. Governments are wonderful at spending money; they’re not that great at making money. It’s the private sector, the businesses, that make money that create jobs that create wealth for a country. That’s what’s going to create jobs for all the millions and millions of young Africans coming, and yes, I absolutely agree. I say in many of my remarks that we all know that young Africans today, through modern technology, know exactly how young people are living other places, and they want exactly the same things in their life that young people want in America or Europe or China or anywhere else.

So the governments that put in place environments which attract private investment are the ones which are going to meet the opportunities and the optimism that their young people require. Over.

MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. We have another listening party at the U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana. If you could introduce yourself and your outlet, and limit yourself to just one question, please.

QUESTION: Good morning. My name is Iddi Yire, speaking from Accra. My question is, what does the ambassador make of Ghana’s democracy, and is the U.S. having a special package for helping to deepen Ghana’s democratic process, especially [UNCLEAR]? Thank you.

AMB. NAGY: You know, we depend on our embassies are our outposts around Africa, and the U.S. ambassadors are the representatives of the American president. We depend on our embassies to recommend to us whatever projects we should be engaged in, relative to helping countries, either with the electoral process or with other projects which advance democracy, human rights; whether it’s supporting NGOs, whether it’s working with all the political parties—again, I underline: all the political parties, because the U.S. does not have any favorite parties—to develop their techniques for, you know, party organization, for election monitoring, and things like that.

We have seen tremendous progress in so many parts of the continent. You know, Ghana is one of those that has moved forward incredibly. I remember when I was in Lomé, Togo, on assignment. Those days, Ghana was not what you would call a model of political openness, but it has developed incredibly since, as have so many countries of the continent. I am very opposed to the concept that when people say Africa, people think about the bad old days, that every country had an autocrat and a tyrant, and one-party states. One of the other slogans that I like to use is, “Everybody should look at Africa through the windshield,” or we say wind screen, “and not the rearview mirror.” And that applies to Ghana, but that applies to so many other countries on the continent. Over.

MODERATOR: Next we will go to the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. If you could limit yourself to one question, let us know your name as well as your outlet. We have many people in the question queue, and we’ll get to as many of you as we can. Thank you for your patience. Go ahead, Nairobi.

QUESTION: My name is Irene, calling from Nairobi, [question interrupted].

MODERATOR: Excuse me, Irene. We were not able to hear your question because of the Marine in the background. If you could please briefly repeat your question for Ambassador Nagy, we would appreciate it. Thank you. There was an announcement on our PA system; okay, it just stopped.

QUESTION: Hi, it’s Irene again from Nairobi. I was asking that one of the pillars [UNCLEAR] that serve as a foundation for the U.S. policy towards Africa is strengthening democratic institutions. How would you support that with so many cases of corruption that have been reported in Africa or in Kenya?

AMB. NAGY: Yeah, absolutely. Supporting the democratic institutions is key. The corruption is so endemic in so many countries that it really will require a generational shift to literally wrench it out of the systems. That is one of my biggest hopes with the young people coming up, because I have met so many young people in Africa, everywhere—every single country—who are just sick and tired of what the older generation, people my age and even older, have been tolerating.

No amount of programs are going to address and eliminate corruption. It has to be a total cultural change from the leadership to the bureaucrats to the policemen on the street, and on through. It will be through education, it will be honest-to-goodness empowering women, you know, in various societies. We can help it along through supporting various NGOs, supporting other types of political opening programs, but at the end of the day that has to be a culture shift which comes from inside Africa’s young people itself, who will just say, “Enough is enough. We no longer will tolerate it.”

And, you know, when you have younger leaders coming up, recently the last questioner was talking about the tremendous changes in Ethiopia. You will see that around the continent, I think, more and more. So I’m really praying that corruption will be less and less of an issue as the young people come in and as women become more empowered. Over.

MODERATOR: We’ll turn next to Simon Ateba. If you could introduce yourself and your outlet and ask your question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Secretary Nagy. Glad to have you here for the first time. My name is Simon Ateba from Today News Africa here in Washington, D.C. We know that China is expanding its reach in Africa, virtually taking over the African continent with heavy debts and flooding the continent with substandard materials and bringing in its own laborers instead of using Africans. It is also causing regime change, supporting dictators from Cameroon to Zimbabwe and overlooking human rights. How does the U.S. intend to counter China in Africa, especially under President Trump, with the corruption in Washington, D.C. and you know, the State Department [UNCLEAR] in Africa?

MODERATOR: Thank you, Simon. Thank you.

AMB. NAGY: You ask a great question about China in Africa, and you know, this is a topic that we could discuss for the next ten minutes. I can’t, but here’s what I’m going to tell you: It’s not an issue where I look around and I say, “Oh, it’s Africa’s fault that they’ve opened the door to China, and the Chinese are getting all the contracts and they’re building shoddy roads that fall apart and anyone beyond the skill level of turning over a shovel comes from China instead of being hired locally.”

When someone knocked on the door to come and do business in Africa, and the African governments opened the door and the Chinese were the only ones standing there, I cannot blame African governments for doing business deals with China. The solution is twofold. On one hand, I will do everything I can to encourage American businesses to invest in Africa, and that is happening already with countries like Ethiopia, with countries like Kenya, more recently with countries like Angola, where American businesses cannot wait to invest.

But the responsibility also lies on the African side to put environments in place which are transparent, which give everybody an equal chance at the contract, where if an investor has a business dispute because the junior brother of the landowner shows up and claims that the factory now belongs to him, that both parties receive equal justice. I think everybody understands what I’m talking about there.

So it has to be the correct environment to attract investment of the types of investors that deal honestly, openly, transparently, instead of trying to buy their way into contracts and paying off the big men who control licenses and things like that. That’s how we will create jobs, that’s how we will bring prosperity. So yes, the next time that investors knock on the door I very much want American investors to be there as well. Over.

MODERATOR: Thank you again. We’re going to get to as many questions in the remainder of time that we have, but there are at least ten of you waiting. We won’t get to everyone. You have our email address, afmediahub@state.gov, and we’ll work on following up on your questions. Our colleague Jacques du Toit is on the line; I don’t have the embassy listed, so let us know where you are and have your journalists identify themselves and their outlet and ask the question. Go ahead, just one question.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. My name is Jacques du Toit, U.S. Embassy Windhoek in Namibia. I’m asking the question on behalf of Rodney Pienaar from The Villager Newspaper. The question is, when moving to southern Africa, what is the U.S.’s main goals in the SADC region, and which policies do you have to reach these goals?

AMB. NAGY: The SADC region, just about more than any other region, because of historical circumstances, is the most developed part of Africa when it comes to infrastructure, even outside investment, and there we really want to work with the region to help push prosperity, economic openness, as much as possible. You’re very fortunate that you have a regional organization which is so well developed. You have a number of countries which have a longer history of institutions, and democratic transitions, so our working there is—we also have a large number of American companies involved in the region—so our work there is to help the regional organization, help the individual countries, further their prosperity, further open up their political space, support NGOs, and also, of course, the sad part, the negative part of the southern African region, is that that has been more devastated by HIV/AIDS than other parts of Africa, and we have a very, very well-funded PEPFAR program which directly assists those suffering from HIV/AIDS. Over.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Embassy Harare, go ahead. We have time for just maybe one last question, one or two questions. Go ahead, Harare.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. I’m [UNCLEAR] from U.S. Embassy Harare. I’m a journalist with the NewZimbabwe.com online. My question is, there has been quite considerable progress being made by the new finance minister in resuscitating the economy. Is the U.S. going to review the relations? I understand the sanctions were just renewed sometime this year. Do you have plans, are you pleased with the progress that is going on?

AMB. NAGY: I have to tell you, I have really appreciated my meetings with your new leadership. We are very much encouraged by some of the things they say. We are now looking for some concrete examples of moving forward.

I can tell you that Zimbabwe’s another country that the American business community could be very excited by, based on concrete achievements, and I also have to add that for me, Zimbabwe’s very special because my own children were born in Zimbabwe. They were the first triplets born in independent Zimbabwe in 1980. So I have very fond memories of Zimbabwe, and I am very much hoping that Zimbabwe has a chance to move forward, because it is one of the countries in Africa, given its very high level of educational achievement, again, quite a good infrastructure base, very entrepreneurial people, which could make dramatic economic progress, based on government providing the appropriate environment to attract investment. Over.

MODERATOR: Let’s try, quickly, one last question from NPR. Eyder Peralta, go ahead and ask your question.

QUESTION: Ambassador, I have a small question. As you know, South Sudan is going into a very critical period right now, and one of the big problems we journalists face is getting into South Sudan. They’ve basically banned most foreign journalists, and even local journalists, from covering South Sudan. I’m wondering if the U.S. is advocating for a free press in South Sudan.

AMB. NAGY: Of course we are. We advocate for a free press everywhere. That opens the windows and the doors and lets in the fresh air more than anything else in the world.

Thank you very much. My time is up. Over and out, and I greatly appreciated the questions and I’m looking forward to being there, because I have found that I can be somewhere one day and learn more by being there than reading about it for weeks and weeks and weeks. Over.

MODERATOR: Thank you so much, Ambassador Nagy. That concludes today’s call. I know we did not get to all of your questions, and again we will follow up afterward. I want to thank Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Ambassador Tibor Nagy, for joining us today. Thank you to all of our callers for participating, and thank you to the U.S. embassies that hosted listening parties. If you have questions about today’s call and other follow-up, you can contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at afmediahub@state.gov. Thank you.

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