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Africa Regional Media Hub

Telephonic Conference Call with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman

On Friday, March 9th, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman briefed journalists across the continent on the final stop of her March 3-11 visit to Nigeria, Angola, Malawi, Zambia and Kenya.  Under Secretary Sherman traveled to the region to hold discussions with national leaders to exchange views, underscore U.S. interests, and strengthen collaborative efforts that promote good governance, economic growth, regional security, social development, and human rights.  Speaking from Nairobi, Kenya, Under Secretary Sherman provided a read-out of her trip and answered questions from journalists.

PODCAST:

See transcript below...

BACKGROUND

March 2, 2012 Media Note:  Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Sherman to Visit Africa

BIO:

Available here

Wendy R. Sherman
Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Term of Appointment: 09/21/2011 to present

Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman was sworn in as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs on September 21, 2011.
Prior to this position, Under Secretary Sherman served as Vice Chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm, and a member of the Investment Committee of Albright Capital Management, an affiliated investment advisory firm focused on emerging markets.
 
Ambassador Sherman served as Counselor for the State Department from 1997 to 2001, as well as Special Advisor to President Clinton and Policy Coordinator on North Korea. From 1993 to 1996, under Secretary of State Warren Christopher, she was Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs.
 
Ambassador Sherman served as Chair of the Board of Directors of Oxfam America. She also served on the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Policy Board, a group tasked with providing the Secretary of Defense with independent, informed advice and opinion concerning matters of defense policy.
 
In 2008, Ambassador Sherman was appointed by Congressional Leadership to serve on the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation and Terrorism.
 
Ambassador Sherman attended Smith College, and received a B.A. cum laude from Boston University and a Master’s degree in Social Work, Phi Kappa Phi, from the University of Maryland.

 

TRANSCRIPT

MODERATOR [MR. HAYNES]:  Okay.  Welcome everybody.  Sorry for the brief delay.  I would like to welcome everyone here in the room and also the journalists that are participating from around the continent.  It is a telephone conference call so we share the questions and answers with other reporters around the continent.  We are here today to welcome Under Secretary for Political Affairs Ambassador Wendy Sherman on a five country trip here in Africa.  

We will begin with brief remarks from Under Secretary Sherman and then open it up for questions here in Nairobi, and then we will spread it out to journalists around the continent.  In the interest of time and having as many people participate, please keep your questions short, and also, because we are on the telephone, please speak up for those here in Nairobi.  For those who are calling in, you need to press “star one” on your phone to get your questions into the queue.  Just so you know.  And also when you ask your questions please state your name and affiliation.  Thank you very much.  Ambassador Sherman.

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Thank you very much, and thank you for this opportunity to talk with all of you and to talk with Africans throughout the continent.  I am delighted to be here.  I have spent the week in Nigeria, Angola, Zambia, Malawi, and now Kenya.  Needles to say, when one only can spend a day or day and a half in each country, you can only begin to understand the tremendous excitement of possibility and opportunity that is here in Africa.  Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and, of course, President Barack Obama, are very committed to supporting Africa in every way that Africans hope that we do as the United States of America.  

So, I am here to try to support economic diversification and development.  I am here to support long-term security for the people of Africa.  I am here to support and end poverty where it exists and to make sure that there is cooperation to fight elements of terror that might bring instability to areas.  But more than anything, I am here to support the democratization that is taking place in Africa by Africans, and to affirm the right of every citizen throughout the world to live in dignity, and peace, and security with opportunities for their families to prosper, for their children to be educated, for them to have the healthcare that they need, and the future that each human being deserves.  

I know that there has been a lot in the press that America has pivoted towards Asia but, in fact, America sees the 21st century as much as the African century.  We believe that there will be many businesses that will be investing in Africa.  There is a huge population here that really is going to form the leadership of the future, and we want to make sure that there are jobs here as well as jobs in our own country for our own citizens, but there is tremendous opportunity here, tremendous fervor.  Just this morning I have come from a breakfast with some of the women leaders here in Kenya who are moving the political reform process forward, and I can assure you that there is energy, vitality, purpose, and just a tremendous promise, and it is very exciting to be here.  So, thank you very much.  I would be glad to take your questions.

QUESTION:  Hi, I am George Obulutsa with Reuters News.   Many people are expressing concern about the President of Malawi, you have just come straight from that.  What was your impression during your visit of the country and the President’s recent actions?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN:  All right, thank you.  I came away from Malawi believing that Malawi has enormous possibility.  I met with a wide swath of members of both government, civil society, women leaders – it was International Women’s Day when I was in Malawi – with government officials as well.  I saw a country that is trying to diversify its economic base so that, in fact, it has an economy for the future.  I saw civic leaders who really want their country to move forward, and a democracy that has had, and is looking forward too another election in 2014.

But I also saw some areas of concern.  There is an economic crisis in Malawi.  We have urged the government to work with the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the World Bank to put an economic plan in place so that, in fact, they can meet their energy needs and have a strong economy into the future.  We hope that, in fact, the government takes those decisions, because the people of Malawi expect that from their government and want that from their government.  

The U.S. Government has a long history with Malawi, over decades of partnership.  I went to Bunda University at the beginning of the day, which is an agricultural university which was started, in large measure, with American assistance.  And now the future leaders of agriculture in Malawi are being grown in Malawi as opposed to other places in the world.  So, there is great promise, great possibility, but it is clear that a decision has to be taken to ensure the economic future of the country.  

MODERATOR:  All right, now when we get a Malawian journalist on the line they will have to ask a quick Kenya question when they get the chance.  Sara, do you have anything?

QUESTION:  I was just wondering, sorry; I am Sara McGregor, from Bloomberg.   In your talks about Kenya was there any discussion about preparations for elections and whether you were trying to encourage the decision of an election date for the upcoming general election?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Well, I just arrived here last evening, so I will be having two days of meetings here in Kenya.  We think that the decision about an election date is, of course, up to Kenya, not up to the United States.  We have urged that a date be set as soon as possible so that the timelines for identity cards, registration, all of the mechanics of elections have time to be put in place, but this decision is up to Kenya of course.  

QUESTION:   My name is Judy Kaberia.  I am from Capital FM in Kenya.  It is about the post-election violence.  Of course, the next election that we have in either late 2012 or early 2013 will test the commitment to reform and the efforts to avoid election violence in Kenya.  What do you think about Kenya, and its commitment to deal with post-election violence?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Well, I think my sense is that Kenyans are very committed to this constitutional reform and to the political process, that Kenyans have made a commitment to their own future.  You can’t ask for any more than that from citizens.  They understand, I think, that this is a process, that it will take time, that there will be ups and downs.  Even in my country, with all humility, we are the oldest democracy in the world, and yet we are still perfecting our process.  We still have bumps and problems and issues that we have to address every single day to perfect our democracy.  

So, I know Kenyans do not want to return to violence.  I know that Kenyans want a peaceful process and are working very hard to put the mechanics and the pieces in place – the legislation, the infrastructure – to ensure the reforms that they have chosen.  And that is a very exciting and promising process.  I should have mentioned at the start, I am sitting here, for those of you who can’t see, with Ambassador Scott Gration, who is the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya who works with a large team here in Kenya to do whatever we can to support Kenyans in the choices they have made for themselves.  And with Dr. Reuben Brigety, who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the African Bureau out of the State Department.  And all of us are here, along with our colleagues, to support the decision that each of the citizens of each of the countries I visited make for themselves.  

QUESTION:  Ambassador Sherman, my name is Mabu Sibanda, of The Nation newspaper here in Malawi.  I have one question for you.  After your visit, I wanted to find out if there was any discussion with the political leaders on the suspended energy grant to the MCC that the U.S. suspended in July last year?  And I wanted to know if there are any efforts or whether the status has changed on whether this decision will be reversed on the grants?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN:    Thank you for that question.  For those of you who don’t know, the reporter is asking me about the Millennium Challenge Compact [MCC] that the U.S. has been working through with the Government of Malawi that would finance some of the power sector needs which are quite severe in Malawi.  That MCC agreement was put on operational hold because of some of the concerns of putting an economic plan in place and ensuring that, in fact, if the investment were made it would have a good chance of being successful, which is of course in the interest of Malawi.  

We, of course, had discussions about it.  I think the government of Malawi understands what we hope they will be able to do.  The MCC officials will be meeting soon to decide on the next steps, and we certainly hope, whether it is at this moment or at a moment in the future, that we can move ahead with that project, and we will just have to continue to work through the issues and the concerns.  

Whether the MCC moves forward at this moment or not, the US Government provides an enormous array of assistance to Malawi in healthcare, in agriculture, in community development, and all of that assistance will continue as will our strong partnership with the people of Malawi.  

MODERATOR [JOHANNESBURG]:  Ben, do you have another question in Malawi?

MODERATOR [MALAWI]:  Yes, we have one more question from Malawi please.  Thank you.

MODERATOR [JOHANNESBURG]:  Thank you.

QUESTION:   Ambassador Sherman, my name is Marcus Muhariwa from the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation.  You said that you had a chance of meeting some government officials.  I just wanted to find out if you can share some of the things that you discussed with them?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Well, we discussed a whole range of interests between our countries.  We discussed our strong historical partnership.  We discussed our ongoing friendship and desire to support Malawi’s democracy and its economic development.  We noted that Malawi is due to host the AU [African Union] Summit in June and the importance of Malawi’s regional role as a leader.  I am sorry; I think the AU summit is in July.  

We talked about U.S. assistance, of course, our tremendous programs.  I visited Bwari Hospital which is just an extraordinary facility where we are using PEPFAR [President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] funding, CDC funding, funding from, actually, our military in support of treatment for HIV/AIDS and maternal and child health.  I mentioned having gone to the agricultural university.  So we discussed a very wide range of concerns including broad regional security concerns.  So, it was a wide-ranging, substantive and useful discussion.

MODERATOR [JOHANNESBURG]:  Thank you.  Just a reminder to callers to press ‘star one’ to join the question queue.  Our next question comes from Brooks Spector, from The Daily Maverick in Johannesburg.  Brooks, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Good morning Ms. Sherman.  I want to turn your attention a little further south than Malawi and ask you at this point what is the U.S. Government’s view on how South Africa is going to have to exercise more leadership in getting to a final settlement and resolution of Robert Mugabe’s rule in Zimbabwe.  How would you describe the American role in this process?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Thank you.  Actually, at almost every stop that I have made on this particular trip to Africa, I have asked for advice and thoughts and council about how we can help, and urged leaders here to urge then, in fact, in Zimbabwe to move forward on the roadmap that has been laid out for where we are headed, and on the global political agreement that has been agreed to.  And urged everyone to urge Zimbabwe to move forward in making that global political agreement real, but this is a very tough situation, and so we welcome every government effort to move forward in that direction.  Any thoughts they have for us in ways that we can be more effective in that, but it is a very difficult situation, no doubt about it.  

MODERATOR [JOHANNESBURG]:  Thank you.  John, I will turn it back over to you, but let me remind callers again real quick to press ‘star one’ to join the queue.  John we will hand it back over to you for questions in your room.  

MODERATOR:  Okay, thank you.  All right, let’s go over here.  

QUESTION:   Hello, I am Fred Omulo, KTN, Kenya Television Network.  The intervention of Kenya in Southern Somalia by Kenyan forces has resulted in [begins again], the intervention of Kenya in Somalia has resulted in a brief insecurity situation.  Is America thinking of ways to partner with Kenya as it trys to address security problems in Somalia?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Thank you for that question.  We are obviously supporting the re-hatting of Kenyan forces as part of AMISOM, and we hope that Kenya will, soon, either through some mechanism, affirm that with the African Union which is really in the lead on this effort, and, in that regard, as now a part of AMISOM.  The U.S. supports the overall effort through our peacekeeping fund.  We urge other countries to make financial contributions to that as well because we are now increasing the force significantly of AMISOM peacekeepers.  So it is an expensive undertaking.  But we are also talking with Kenya about ways that we can help Kenya specifically, bilaterally, now that they are re-hatted, to improve their capabilities and even be more effective than they have already been.  

QUESTION:  Dinah Ondani, The People newspaper.  Can you tell us the message that you have for the Kenyan leadership that you are going to meet over the next two days?  Another question is regarding the elections, can you [words indistinct] quantify U.S. support for the next general elections?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Thank you.  I think my message here is what I have already said to you, which is, really, encouragement and affirmation of the choice that Kenyans have made for themselves on the future they want, which is a future of reform and democracy and not one of violence, and we see that the institutions are being put in place.  Civic education is quite crucial to that process, so we would encourage that to occur and that investment be made into civic education so that Kenyans throughout the country understand that even though this will be a process of devolution, it is about Kenya as a nation and how all the pieces fit together and how all Kenyans need to participate in the process.  

We will be urging that all of the reform processes move forward – legislative, constitutional, there has already been judicial reform that has begun – that the election mechanisms be put in place, as I said earlier, that a date be put in place as soon as possible.  The date is totally up to Kenya of course, but a date so that the timelines for identity cards and so forth can be put in place.  We give a lot of support and assistance to Kenya.  We will, of course, be providing whatever assistance is appropriate that we can for the election process.  I will be glad to let Ambassador Gration speak for a moment about some of the pieces of that particular kind of assistance.  Ambassador.  

AMBASSADOR GRATION:  Thank you very much.  Of course we are interested in the process, to make sure that Kenya has everything it needs to ensure the process is free, fair, credible, transparent and, of course, peaceful.  The international community works very closely together because this isn’t just something that the United States is interested in, it is something that our international partners [are interested in].  So we have a big coalition that is working hard with the Kenyan government to ensure the process is the kind of process that you need and that you want and that civil society demands.  Of course the outcome, as Ambassador Sherman said, is up to the Kenyan people and we will certainly respect that.  

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN:    And we are providing some financial support to the process as we generally do.  

MODERATOR:  I have one more question from Kenya.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  My name is Abdirahma Hussen.  I’m from Radio Bar-kulan.  My question regards to Somalia is the TFG forces, along with AMISOM and Ethiopian forces, have recently been capturing cities which are in Somalia.  And the President of the TFG, Sharif, has requested the international community, that the arms embargo should be lifted.  Does America support it?  That is my first question.  My second question is, the Somali community has been complaining about Ethiopian troops, and that Ethiopia is actually invading Somalia without having the mandate.  What is your reaction to the thought of Ethiopia invading Somalia?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Thank you for that question.  I will be meeting with Somali officials tomorrow, and we look forward to hearing directly from them their interest and taking that back to the United States for further consideration.  I want to use this as an opportunity to say that there is, of course, AMISOM, there is, of course, the security process to ensure stability and peace, and to push back those who do not want to see Somalia in peace, but there is a political process as well.  I think the international community, understandably, has been focused on the security side, because that feels like an immediate threat. 

But the long term future of Somalia is really about a political process, and I will be urging the TFG, and I will be urging the people of Somalia to move forward with the Djibouti peace process, with the Roadmap for ending the transition, with the Garowe process, to ensure that there is in fact the institutions and the mechanisms for a government and for governance of Somalia.  So I think it is very important, as we are all focused on the re-hatting of Kenya, on the actions the Ethiopia has taken, and we are looking at that and considering what is the best way forward in that regard, that we also focus attention on the political process and the Roadmap to make sure that, in fact, if we get the security environment that everyone hopes for, for the Somali people, that we have a political process in place that allows the country to move forward in peace and security.  

MODERATOR:  We are beginning to run out of time.  Carrie, do you some in the queue?  

MODERATOR [JOHANNESBURG]:  We have another question from out embassy in Malawi.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  

MODERATOR [JOHANNESBURG]:  Your line is open.  

QUESTION:  Okay.  I have a short question for you.  This is on the relationship between Western donors and government.  I wanted to get your perspective on this in the context of the latest comments by the president that donors are planning to fund projects against his government.  What is your perspective on this comment and whether these issues [words indistinct]?

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN:  One of my colleagues heard the question, it was a little bit garbled coming through.  If I understand you correctly, you are asking about the relationship between Western donors and the comments made by the president the other day? Is that correct?

QUESTION:   Yes that is correct.  

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Okay.  We, obviously, regret the comments of the president the other day because it appeared that he had concern that donors were somehow undermining the sovereign decisions of Malawi.  We may have misunderstood.  I obviously wasn’t at the speech.  We are certainly open to hearing any explanations, and I heard some when I was in Malawi yesterday, of what the president was referring to.  

We believe in the importance of civil society.  We believe that civil society is crucial to the development and sustainability of any democracy.  We believe that international funding of NGOs is a common practice throughout the world, and our NGOs are funded by people from all over the world, not just by Americans.  And we certainly believe that in a democracy, citizens have a right to speak out for their objectives.  I don’t agree in the United States with some of our NGOs and what they say about President Obama and Secretary Clinton and what we are trying to do, but they have a right to say it.  And so I guess what I would say is, regardless of what the president said or didn’t say in that speech, that it is very important for leaders to welcome non-governmental organizations, to welcome civil society, to endorse free expression, the right of assembly, the right to organize, and as long as they are citizens of their country speaking about the aspirations and hopes they have for their country, the [words indistinct] should support that as part of any sustainable democracy.  

MODERATOR:  All right, we have a final question from Nairobi.  No.  One more?  All right.  

QUESTION:  Just a quick one, you mentioned about an upcoming AU meeting in Malawi.  Was there any talk with relation to whether they would invite the Sudanese President given his ICC indictment? 

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN:  I did not have any discussion about that, so we will see what happens in the days and weeks ahead.  

MODERATOR:  All right, if there are no further questions, I would like to thank the journalists here in Nairobi and also from around the continent for joining, and thank Ambassador Sherman, Ambassador Gration, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Brigety.  Thank you very much.  

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Thank you all very much.