Below is an edited teleconference held on Friday by United States Assistannt Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Tibor P Nagy, Jr.
MODERATOR: We are very pleased to be joined from Nairobi, Kenya, by the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Tibor P. Nagy, Jr. Assistant Secretary Nagy will discuss US policy in Africa, as well as outcomes on his current travel through the region.
We’ll begin today’s call with opening remarks from Assistant Secretary Nagy.
ASST. SEC. NAGY: Thanks so much. Good afternoon, everybody. Bonjour, tout le monde. It’s a pleasure to be with you. I am in the process of concluding my second African trip. This time we visited Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, interestingly, and we’re finishing up in Kenya. We will be returning to Washington over the weekend.
I especially wanted to come out to East Africa second; if you remember, my last trip was to West Africa, but I wanted to visit East Africa to – number one – personally see some of the positive and very exciting developments going on in the Horn of Africa, thanks to the opening in Ethiopia both for their external relations and some of the internal opening that Prime Minister Abiy has been pursuing. And also, beyond that, I wanted to visit traditional US partners, such as Kenya and Djibouti, and take a look at the close partnerships and bilateral relations that we have.
And I’ll be happy to answer your questions in a minute, but I have been just so encouraged by what I have seen, the positive changes going on, and for the first time in my career, to be able to engage directly with the leadership of Eritrea about the possibility of much better relations in the future. So I don’t want to monopolise the time; I wanted to give it to you. With that, I’ll stop and I’ll be delighted to take your questions.
MODERATOR: You mentioned, sir, your visit to Eritrea and we have a question from Radio France International in Kenya, asking: Did you raise the dire human rights record with the Eritrean government, and what was their response?
ASST. SEC. NAGY: We discussed the full range of interests between the two countries, both externally and internally. I’m not going to go into any specifics, but rest assured that the human rights considerations are very much a part of US consideration in our bilateral relationship with Eritrea.
Overall, let me say this about Eritrea: our intention is, hopefully, to get to the point where our relations with Eritrea are just as warm and cordial as our relations with Ethiopia, because both countries are vitally important. In many respects they complement each other, so that is the goal that we are pursuing. It will be step-by-step. It will obviously take time, but we felt that this initial opening dialogue was very important.
MODERATOR: Our next question, again in advance, comes from Geoff Hill. He is with the Washington Times and is currently in Poland at the COP24 meetings. He notes that the United States, India, and South Africa have all stated they will continue to use coal for energy production, but seeking to burn it cleaner. And his question is, will the United States share its know-how in clean coal technology?
ASST. SEC. NAGY: Okay, on that one I’m sorry. I am not an expert on energy policy. I follow African issues very closely, so I don’t want to be misinterpreted or go off in the wrong direction, so on that one I will have to – in the words of American football – punt. Sorry.
MODERATOR: We have at least one question from the US Embassy listening party. I’ll ask you to introduce yourself and your outlet and ask your question.
QUESTION: My name is Joseph Muraya from Capital FM Kenya. My question is, Kenya is currently involved in a major crackdown on graft… how does Kenya as a country – can it do?
ASST. SEC. NAGY: Absolutely, what I want to talk to you about is we discussed with the Kenyan government, on an ongoing basis, the whole issue of graft and corruption. It is of key importance to the United States, and it is of key importance to your president’s administration. Both sides are taking a very active and dynamic approach. There have been some real, real significant movements on the part of the government recently, and we very much look forward to engaging on this future as we go forward in the political progression and good governance.
MODERATOR: The next question is coming from here in South Africa, from Bloomberg. Prinesha Naidoo asks about the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act eligibility review and would like to ask you, sir, when that review will be made public. When is the announcement expected?
ASST. SEC. NAGY: Sorry, I wish I could respond to that with a specific date, but that I do not know. We are absolutely discussing some next steps after AGOA, related to pursuing possibly some free trade agreements, some bilateral free trade agreements, that would be complementary to the Africa-wide continental free trade agreement. But as far as the specific date goes for the review, I do not know that at this time.
QUESTION: My name is Joseph Muraya from Capital FM, Nairobi, Kenya. My question is, the US has been helping Somalia to give it stability. Are we gonna see more effort from the US to that – the Al Shabaab’s militants’ continue to pose a serious security challenge to Somalia and the region.
ASST. SEC. NAGY: Yes, thank you very much for that question. Peace and stability in Somalia are very important to the United States. We know that they are critically important to Kenya, because, of course, of your common shared border, and we certainly recognise and thank Kenya for its energetic combatting of Al Shabaab, and we also recognise the sacrifices that the Kenyan people have had to make because of their courageous battle.
Yes, the United States will continue to pursue trying to bring peace and stability to Somalia with our regional allies, and of course the brunt of the sacrifice, unfortunately, is being taken by the African neighbours, whether it’s Kenya, whether it’s Ethiopia, and of course the brave AMISOM soldiers, who are confronting Al Shabaab every day.
As with such problems, of course it comes, at the end, to the Somali people to be solving it most readily, and we are, of course, supporting the Somali government. We are doing training. We are helping stand up the Somali National Army and then working with other like-minded and interested parties to help Somalia economically, and because the key is, in such efforts, that you can confront the combatants, you can get rid of the combatants, but then the question is, then what? What fills the vacuum? Because if you simply get rid of the bad guys, if you don’t then provide government services, you don’t provide protection to the people, then unfortunately a new group of bad guys will rise up, which is what has happened in Somalia before. So we – all of us in the international community – and again, thanking Kenya for its sacrifices and efforts, we want to make sure that that does not happen this time.
MODERATOR: This is Brian Neubert at the Media Hub, again, asking a question that we received in advance, this one from Radio France International in Paris. One is a follow-up to what you were just addressing, sir. Could you comment on the recent announcement of the permanent presence of the United States in Mogadishu, and the significance of that announcement the day before yesterday?
ASST. SEC. NAGY: I think it’s a very significant announcement, because finally we have what we call a US Ambassador on the ground, the very distinguished Ambassador Don Yamamoto, who was, in practical terms, my immediate predecessor in this position as Assistant Secretary, is now the U. Ambassador, and Ambassador Yamamoto has had a long and illustrious career in Africa.
This is his third embassy as ambassador, and he will be engaging now directly with the Somali government on a day-to-day basis, instead of what we had been doing before, of sending personnel very temporarily to Mogadishu and then bringing them back to Nairobi. So Ambassador Yamamoto will be there as a full-time ongoing interlocutor for the Somali government, for other interested parties, to the rest of the international community, so that we can have a much better sense of how we can be helpful in restoring peace and stability to Somalia. We are all delighted, and we thank Ambassador Yamamoto for his willingness to do this critically important task.
QUESTION: My name is Kevin Kelley, I’m the US correspondent for the Nation Media Group in Kenya. I’m calling you from New York. So I just want to follow up a bit on what the colleague asked earlier regarding US anti-corruption efforts in Kenya. I’m sure you’re aware about the Akasha brothers’ trial in New York. They’ve pleaded guilty now to multiple counts of felony activities, international drug trafficking.
One of the counts they pleaded to was obstruction of justice, and that was based on their systemic bribery of Kenyan officials. Judges, prosecutors, police, all up and down the line. So I’m asking, will the United States be pushing for the extradition or in some way accountability of the Kenyans who have been bribed and who have, for a long time, prevented the Akashas from going on trial for their crimes?
ASST. SEC. NAGY: Normally I like to give full and effusive answers; on this one I have to plead a “no comment”; it’s an ongoing investigation involving multiple US government agencies, so for the time being – and unfortunately, you can ask me this three different ways, but I’m gonna have to say “no comment.”
QUESTION: This is Prinesha Naidoo from Bloomberg. I just want to follow up on the AGOA question, whether the review has been completed already and if you can also provide some more information on what these bilateral free trade agreements would be, that would complement it.
ASST. SEC. NAGY: Okay, could you repeat the part on AGOA? Because I’m not sure I got what you were asking about AGOA.
QUESTION: Has the annual review for the countries’ eligibility to participate in the AGOA program been finalised already?
ASST. SEC. NAGY: That I really don’t know. I will have to check when I get back, so I wish I could give you a full answer on that. On the free trade agreements, here’s the background on that. Currently, the United States of America has no – that’s no – free trade agreements with any sub-Saharan African country. The only one we have with the continent of Africa is with Morocco, so this administration is very eager to pursue the first ever free trade agreement with a sub-Saharan country, which in effect would serve as a model.
So we’re going through the process now of talking to a number of countries to try to decide which one would be an ideal country for a model, and you know there would be many considerations for such, but part of my visit to Addis Ababa was two parts: it was both bilateral with the Ethiopian government, but it was also with the African Union, and while I was there for the African Union, we had our annual high-level dialogue, and the whole issue of a US free trade agreement versus a continent-wide free trade agreement came up for considerable discussion, and we kept emphasising the point that absolutely we support – the United States supports – the continent-wide free trade agreement, because we support Africa’s attempts at regionalisation, sub-regionalisation, and continental consolidation.
So we don’t want it to be in any way conflicting with or competitive with; we want it to be complementary to. So we’ll be undertaking bilateral discussions with potential countries, and then we’ll make a selection and take it from there.
MODERATOR: Turning back to a question from Radio France International in Paris, on the other side of the continent, sir, what is the US position on the crisis in Cameroon between the government and the Anglophone region?
ASST. SEC. NAGY: Yeah, that is a problem that has been worrying me greatly since I’ve come to this job. I know Cameroon quite well; I served there. Even when I served there, back in the early 1990s, there was a considerable amount of friction between the Anglophone area towards the Cameroonian government, because the Anglophones, in many respects, felt themselves as second-class citizens. Unfortunately, the issue literally grows worse by the day, and one of my big fears is that this deterioration will end up radicalising a number of the Cameroonian Anglophones, also known as Ambazonians.
If you recall, in Nigeria a number of years ago, Boko Haram was a relatively minor organisation involved in Islamic education, and it was largely through the brutal reaction of the Nigerian government at the time which turned Boko Haram into a much more radical organisation and actually increased Boko Haram’s membership.
The last thing we need is for the radicals in Anglophone Cameroon to just add to their numbers because of the overreaction of the Cameroonian security forces. The United States would really, really call for dialogue between the two sides so that it could lead to some kind of a compromise, maybe some form of decentralisation. Cameroon, in effect, has put forth a potential constitution, which includes decentralisation and quite a bit more local control for each of their regions, including the northwest and southwest provinces, which are the Anglophone provinces.
That constitution has not yet been put into place, but anyway, to answer your question broadly, I am very concerned with what’s going on there, and I fear that it could get much, much worse if there is not some type of resolution now.
QUESTION: What is the specific role of the U.S. in the Horn of Africa, and what kind of relationship do you envision establishing with Eritrea, and what specific areas and sectors are you looking forward to work?
ASST. SEC. NAGY: As I said in my introductory comments, I hope that in the not-too-distant future, the United States of America can have the same warm, cordial relationship with Eritrea that we have with Ethiopia.
We found our discussions with Eritrean government officials to be very positive. We talked about a number of issues of mutual interest, including the possibility of US companies investing in Eritrea, because we all recognise that Eritrea needs urgently to create jobs for its many young people, and beyond that we agreed that it’s going to be a step-by-step moving forward, and we look forward to continuing that discussion, both in Asmara and in Washington.
On the Horn of Africa, we are very encouraged by recent developments with Prime Minister Abiy in Ethiopia, extending a hand of friendship towards Eritrea, which is washing over the entire region. I think it is also impacting Somalia. Hopefully it will also impact South Sudan, and hopefully soon the relationship also will be normalised between Djibouti and Eritrea. As the Ethiopian foreign minister says himself, “We should now call it not the Horn of Africa but the Hope of Africa.”
QUESTION: The Clinton administration, its signature initiative in Africa was AGOA. The younger President Bush’s signature initiative was PEPFAR, the very successful anti-AIDS programme. And the Obama administration has Power Africa and Feed the Future. I’m wondering if the Trump (pictured) administration is contemplating some sort of signature programme in Africa that would be remembered as a, say, major contribution to US-Africa relations.
ASST. SEC. NAGY: In the very near future we will be rolling out a formal Africa policy, but what I can tell you now: I think a good indication was the recent passage and the signage by the president of the BUILD Act, which I think is extremely significant because it doubles the investable assets of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation from $30 billion to $60 billion. Much of that will be directed at the developing world, i.e., Africa, and it will provide a tremendous amount of flexibility, and not just for American companies, but for others to undertake bankable projects.
So I think that you can see that a lot of that focus is going to be on bringing foreign direct investment to Africa, because as we all know, that for an area to truly, truly develop, it requires tremendous amounts of outside direct investment. You know, we can talk about the development assistance, but there is never really enough money in any kind of development assistance to actually develop the country, but there’s a tremendous amount of foreign direct investment out there looking for a place to invest, and as I have told a number of African leaders, I will be delighted to push US investors towards Africa; I need their help in pulling them by establishing an environment which is friendly to investors and what we call a “level playing field” so American businesses can have the same chance as businesses from other places, and a rules-based system.
So I think what I want is by the end of the administration that we can say that some of the countries in Africa will have made tremendous progress towards actually developing and not eternally being developing, but to get to “developed.”
MODERATOR: Do you have any final words before we conclude?
ASST. SEC. NAGY: No. Thanks so much for doing this. Hopefully I will get around to the entire continent before my first year is up as Assistant Secretary. I’m into it five months now; we’ve visited two regions, we remain with central Africa and southern Africa for the next two trips, and I’ll visit as many countries as possible.