Africa Regional Media Hub
Briefing with Ambassador Johnnie Carson on the Situation in Mali and the Sahel, Somalia and the DRC
October 1, 2012
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson held a briefing at the New York Foreign Press Center during which he discussed the situation in Mali and the Sahel, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and answerred questions from journalists.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon to everyone from the Africa Regional Media Hub of the United States Department of State. And good morning to those joining us from the U.S. I would like to welcome all of our participants. Thank you for joining us. Our speaker today is Ambassador Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Ambassador Carson will brief us on U.S. foreign policy in Africa as it pertains to the current situation in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mali and the Sahel.
We will begin today’s call with remarks from our speaker and then open it up to your questions. To ask a question, please press *1 on your phone and you will be placed in the question queue. As a reminder, today’s call is on the record and will last approximately 45 minutes. And now, I will turn it over to Ambassador Johnnie Carson.
AMBASSADOR CARSON: Yvonne, thank you very much for the warm introduction, and thank you all for participating in this briefing. I would like this morning to talk about the U.S. participation in last week’s UN General Assembly, where there was significant discussion and debate on issues related to the situation in Mali and the Sahel, Somalia, Sudan, and the Eastern Congo. I’d also like to give you a briefing on some of the Secretary’s activities and some of our own engagement.
Last week was an extraordinarily busy week at the UN on African-related issues. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hosted no less than four regional conferences on Africa – on Sahel, Somalia, Sudan, and the Eastern Congo. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participated in two of those sessions, one dealing with Sahel and Mali and a second one dealing with Somalia. The U.S. Government was represented at senior levels in the Sudan discussions and in the Eastern Congo, DRC, Rwanda discussions.
In addition, the Secretary of State met in a trilateral meeting with President Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and also participating was President Paul Kagame of Rwanda. On Friday afternoon, the Secretary also met with Sudanese officials, including Foreign Minister Ali Karti from Khartoum. The Secretary also participated in sessions on HIV/AIDS hosted by the head of UNAIDS and also a session on food security, where we are also very much engaged.
Let me talk briefly about the four key areas under discussion last week that the Secretary General hosted and talk about where our policy is with respect to each of those four areas. First on Mali and the Sahel, we in the United States are deeply concerned about the ongoing situation in Mali. We think that Mali is an enormously complicated situation, comprising four separate problems that are interrelated. One is an issue of governance and the need for a return to a civilian elected creditable government, which does not exist and has not existed since the coup d’etat that took place in March of 2012.
Second is a political issue related to the Tuareg. That is an issue of political marginalization and a government which has not provided economic and social services to a minority community in northern Mali. The Tuareg feel politically marginalized; this has been a historical problem that dates back prior to Mali’s independence, and it must be resolved politically – not militarily but politically.
Third is a very serious problem, a problem that affects Mali and affects the neighboring states as well, and this is the issue of terrorism – terrorism carried out by AQIM – al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb – as well as another associated group, MUJAO. Both of these groups have been responsible for the desecration of historical writings and buildings and artifacts in Timbuktu. They are responsible for trying to impose Sharia law on various parts of northern Mali. They are responsible for terrorism, for kidnapping, and for robbery. This is an issue that must be dealt with through security and military means.
And the fourth problem in Mali is the issue of the humanitarian situation. Always a food deficit region, it has been further impacted by the failure of rains sufficient this year to meet the needs of the community and by a growing refugee population displaced as a result of the al-Qaida and MUJAO activities in northern Mali. So four very complex problems.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon proposed that the UN establish a position of special envoy to deal with this issue, to coordinate UN activities, to work with the regional governments, and to work with others in the international community. He also said that there would be a strategy developed by the UN that would take into account strategies being worked on by ECOWAS and others in the region. We support the establishment of a UN Secretary General Special Representative for Mali and the Sahel. We support the coordination efforts that would be under this individual. We support the development of a broad-based and comprehensive strategy. And we support the establishment of some kind of a core group or working group that will integrate the work of ECOWAS, Algeria, Mauritania, and Chad – and those three countries are not a part of ECOWAS but have great interest in the situation – as well as the United States, the European Union, France, Great Britain, and Germany, who also have interests there.
So we’re very much focused on the Sahel. We think that some progress was achieved with this meeting, and we hope that the Secretary General will move swiftly to mount a special envoy for the region.
The second major issues under focus was Somalia. Secretary Clinton also participated in this meeting. Somalia is a good news story for the region, for the international community, but most especially for the people of Somalia itself. Over the past 12 months we have seen the completion of the transitional roadmap ending the TFG and creating a new Somali Government. For the first time in nearly two decades, Somalia has a new provisional constitution. It has a newly selected parliament which is half the size of the former parliament and comprises some 18 percent women and whose membership is comprised of some 60 percent university graduates. There’s been a new speaker selected and a new president elected. Great progress has been achieved in Somalia, and this is in large measure because of the combined efforts of IGAD, the African Union, the UN and the international community, and especially the United States.
At this meeting, we heard from Somalia’s new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, and it was broadly agreed that the international community would support the new emphasis in priorities of the government.
For our part in Washington, we are determined to do three things. One is to help the new government put in place the infrastructure so that it can run effectively. This means helping to create effective government ministries, have those ministries staffed with effective civil servants and advisors so that they can carry out their government functions.
The second is to help to create a new Somali national army, an army that is subservient to civilian and constitutional control, an army that is able to work alongside of AMISOM and take on increasingly new responsibilities that are much broader than anything AMISOM has been equipped and manned to do. But creating a new strong Somali army, to eventually replace AMISOM is a second priority. And third priority is to provide assistance to the government so that it can deliver services to the people so that it can rebuild and refurbish and re-staff schools, hospitals, and medical clinics, provide assistance so that it can begin to deal with some of its smaller infrastructure issues, providing clean water to populations, helping to restore electrical power and also opening up markets. We also want to help in developing small enterprise and microcredit operations to help the government as well.
So we will be working there. As I said, Secretary Clinton was there. We think Somalia has made enormous progress. We also believe there has been significant military progress against al-Shabaab. AMISOM deserves an enormous amount of credit in driving al-Shabab out of Mogadishu and its environs and also moving against the city of Kismayo. Much credit for the operations in Kismayo go to the Kenyan forces who were a part of AMISOM, but we must praise the leadership of the Ugandan commanders who have led the AMISOM mission over the last four years. But Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya all deserve credit, and they will soon be joined by forces arriving literally today and tomorrow from Sierra Leone to help strengthen AMISOM. But the international community has been in unison with IGAD and the AU, and the U.S. has been a significant and major contributor to this effort.
On Sudan, the third issue which was brought up and hosted by Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon – we have seen very great progress there in the last three days. On Thursday evening in Addis Ababa, we saw an agreement signed by President Salva Kiir of South Sudan and President Bashir of Sudan to help resolve a number of outstanding issues related to oil, to revenue sharing, to citizenship, to pensions, and to debt. We recognize that there are a number of issues still outstanding related to Abyei, related to political consultations with respect to Blue Nile and South Kordofan, and to the important issue of humanitarian access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile, particularly in the Nuba Mountains. But progress has been made there in reducing tensions, reopening the borders, and getting those countries back to a position where we can see two viable states living in peace internally as well as with one another. So much discussion on Sudan. We were represented a high level at those meetings by Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, and we think progress has been forged there.
On the Eastern Congo, the last issue that was of great focus in New York last week, there was a meeting that brought together all of the regional Great Lakes states, including Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, but most importantly Eastern Congo with President Kabila and the DRC, with – sorry – and with Rwanda with President Kagame. Our objectives and the objectives of that conference were to do everything possible to reduce the tensions that exist between Rwanda and the DRC, and to restore trust and confidence between the leaders there, and to do as much as possible to help in the recurring violence that persists in the Eastern Congo, largely as a result of the incursion and the rebellion of the M23.
There, we are calling on all states not to support the M23 rebels; to denounce their activities publicly and to contribute as much as possible to the resolution of the problems in the DRC. We believe that it is absolutely critical that the countries in the region respect the sovereignty and the borders of their neighbors, that they not engage in supporting rebel activities across the borders, and that everyone take responsibilities for their action, the protection of their citizens and their resources, the protection of those people who are in their countries, and that they not, in effect, undermine the sovereignty and stability of regional states.
I’ll stop right there and take your questions.
OPERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador Carson. We are now ready for the question-and-answer portion of our call. To ask a question, please press *1 on your phone. Please state your name and affiliation before you ask your question. And our first question comes from Drew Hinshaw with the Wall Street Journal.
QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon. I wanted to ask – I was hoping you could elaborate a little bit on the outcome of the UN summit. You mentioned that the UN is drafting a strategy that will take into account the strategy being drafted by ECOWAS. I was wondering if you could elaborate. Is it fair to say that the UN is now the primary author of the strategy going forward? Are they working with what ECOWAS has already written? Has ECOWAS presented the broad outlines of a strategy yet? But --
AMBASSADOR CARSON: Thank you for the question. I think that the UN will try to coordinate effectively with all of the players in the region. ECOWAS clearly has a very important role to play. Many of its member states are neighbors of Mali. But we also have to recognize that there are other states in the region that have borders with Mali, whose views also need to be taken into account. And we also must recognize that there is an international dimension to this issue, and so there are reasons to make sure that the wider views of the international community are there.
ECOWAS has played a very valuable and important leadership role, but it is important to make sure that the views of Algeria are included. Algeria has a long border and history and relationship with Mali. The views of Mauritania are also critical, valuable, and important. They too share long borders with Mali. And in fact, Libya also is a critical player because they too have shared borders and shared interests there. All three of those countries – Algeria, Mauritania, and Libya – are not a part of ECOWAS. And in addition, countries like Chad have an interest and they are not a part of ECOWAS. The United States, France, the European community also are concerned about the situation there, and their views should be taken into account.
I stress that in the case of Somalia, where we have seen enormous progress over the last 12 months, and in fact, continuously over the last three, three and a half years, there has been a clear commitment by all who were engaged there to follow a common strategy and adopt a set of common views. EGAD and the East African community, who are the most important players around Somalia, the AU, the U.S., the UN and others have all had a common position. And I think that’s why Somalia has achieved so much success over the last 12 months in terms of moving to a more permanent government and making the strides in success against al-Shabaab. We look to try to have the same kind of both regional and international cooperation on Mali.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from the U.S. Mission in Kampala. Please state your name and your affiliation.
QUESTION: I am Julius Odeke from Kampala. I work with The Independent magazine. My question to Assistant Secretary is that initially, America was looking for a base to be stationed in Africa, but they recently they said they will not do that. Is that a sign that America is withdrawing from its military engagement in Africa?
AMBASSADOR CARSON: Julius, thank you very much for your question. I think you are referring to AMISOM, and I can say that there is at this moment no – and I repeat, no – intention to have an AMISOM headquarters located in Africa. AMISOM is located in Germany, and at this point its headquarters is likely to remain – sorry – I’m sorry – AFRICOM. I’m saying AMISOM; I should have said AFRICOM. AFRICOM is located in Stuttgart, Germany, and there’s no intention to move the AFRICOM headquarters outside of Germany at this point. I said AMISOM; I meant to say AFRICOM.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Tanzania. Please state your name and your affiliation.
QUESTION: My name is (inaudible). I work for the Tanzania (inaudible) newspaper. My question first of all is about the shift of America’s – or U.S. foreign policy. We have seen a lot of attention paid to Africa. We want to know whether there is any serious concern that what is going to be achieved is going to have an impact on the development of the region. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CARSON: Yes. Thank you very much for the question from Tanzania. The United States has just recently published a new strategy for Africa. It was published in June of this year and is available on both the White House and the State Department website. That strategy for Africa is very clear. It says that we want to develop our friendship with Africa based on mutual respect, mutual interest, mutual responsibility. We want to base it on a partnership and not patronage. We want to elevate Africa’s importance in the international arena and we want to achieve – work with Africa to achieve four strategic objectives.
One is to strengthen democratic institutions and good governance. The second is to spur economic growth, investment, and trade between the United States and Africa. But we also want to help spur economic growth and trade amongst African states as well. Third, we want to help to bring about greater peace and security across the African continent. And in this area we continue to work with the international community – the UN, and others – to bring about greater peace and stability in places like Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan, and the Eastern Congo. And we will continue to work towards promoting peace, security, and stability in Africa. And fourthly, we want to work to help promote development and greater opportunity for all of Africa’s citizens, and there we will continue to focus on a number of priorities under the Obama Administration, including but not inclusive or exclusively working on things like Feed the Future, which is a program to help promote a green agricultural revolution across Africa, to end food insecurity, to grow agro industry.
And we will also work on public health issues through our Global Health Initiative, working to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, cholera, and to help build Africa’s public health institutions so that they are better able to provide services to their people. But we will do this through our USAID missions, we will do this through our centers for disease control, we will do this through the Millennium Challenge Corporation which provides multimillion dollar grants that are used to deal with major economic development and infrastructure challenges. But those are the four things that we will continue to work on.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Kigali, Rwanda. Please state your name and affiliation.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Ambassador Carson. My name is Edmund (inaudible). I work for the East African Nation Media Group. My question is about the Congo. I saw in the news in the morning that the U.S. Government has asked Rwanda to denounce M23 rebels. It appears there’s no one asking the DRC Government to address its internal issues, particularly the ones M23 are fighting for. I believe some of the issues they are asking the DRC Government to address are legitimate. So the way forward now, what is the position of the U.S. Government towards the issues inside the DRC? Are we going to see the U.S. Government asking DRC to address the issues now that we see in the papers that (inaudible) speaking Congolese feel that a genocide will happen soon? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CARSON: Thank you very – Edmund. Thank you very much for that question from Kigali. First of all, our desire is to see peace and security and development in the Eastern Congo just as we see peace and security and development occurring in Rwanda, in Uganda, in Tanzania, and other neighboring states in the Great Lakes. We seek for the people of the Eastern Congo what you enjoy in Kigali, what people enjoy in Tanzania, in Lusaka, in Kampala.
Each of these states in the region have responsibilities, and their leaders have responsibilities. In the DRC, President Kabila clearly has the responsibilities. His challenges are great, but his responsibilities are equally important. President Kabila, amongst other things, must in fact protect all of the Congolese citizens irrespective of their ethnicity and their language, and this includes the large Banyamulenge and Rwandaphone populations that exist there in both South Kivu and in North Kivu. He has that responsibility as the president of his country.
He also has the responsibility to protect women and girls. We know that the Eastern Congo is probably the most violent place in the world for girls and women to live. There must be better protection of the rights of women. He has a responsibility to go after and to eradicate all armed rebel groups operating in his country – the exFARfar, the Interahamwe, the FDLR, and also the M23 as well. They are rebels. They are a dissident group. He has a responsibility to ensure that the minerals of his country are exported and handled in a transparent way and that they are not the source of corruption or misuse. He has the responsibility to improve dramatically his security services so that they protect people and not prey on them. All of these are responsibilities that President Kabila has in his country.
But let me also say that there are responsibilities for the neighboring states as well, and those responsibilities are clear. They are not to support rebel groups operating against the country or a neighboring country. It’s not to train or to politically influence or to ship arms to rebel groups that undermine the security of a neighboring state. And it is not and should not be too much to ask the Government of Rwanda to denounce a rebel group that is preying on the lives of people or undermining the stability of a neighbor. So the call for the Government to reject the territorial and political and rebellious ambitions of the M23 are not and should not be too much. The M23 is led by individuals who are ICC and IT. They’re led by people who’ve carried out serious human rights violations. So it should not be too much to ask the Government of Rwanda to do this, to ask that. And that’s a responsibility on that side of the border as well.
There are responsibilities held by all, and it is when everyone exercises those responsibilities appropriately and correctly and transparently that we have peace and stability. It is important that tensions be defused between the regional states, including Rwanda and the DRC, that trust be restored between these two countries, and that confidence be rebuilt. And so each country has responsibilities, and when those responsibilities are lived up to, we have a greater chance for peace, stability, and the harmony that can and should exist throughout that region.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Jo Biddle. Please state your affiliation.
QUESTION: Good morning. Jo Biddle from Agence France-Presse, phoning in from the State Department. Thank you very much for organizing this call. Last week I was at – I watched the Sahel meeting that was happening in the United Nations, and there were many calls from African countries, supported by France, for a military force to go into Mali and try to flush out the rebels, the Islamic rebels that are spreading terror in that region. You mentioned that you thought the issue of the Tuareg was – should be resolved politically and not militarily, but on the Islamic side of things, is the United States going to support a military ECOWAS-led mission for the Sahel region, and – yeah, could you talk to that, please?
AMBASSADOR CARSON: Let me – thank you very much for the question from Agence France-Presse. The – all four issues that I mentioned earlier are critical, and they must be done simultaneously. It is absolutely critically important for there to be democratic progress in Mali, that there be a restoration of the civilian democratic constitutional government, and that needs to be done as soon as possible. It needs to occur alongside of progress in these other areas.
But let me tell you why I start there, because if you don’t have a strong, creditable government in Bamako, the ability to negotiate a political solution with the Tuareg, one that has credibility, one that will be carried out, will be weakened. If you don’t have a strong, creditable government in Bamako, it will be difficult to have a military which is capable of leading as it should the liberation in the northern part of the country. Any ECOWAS military activities in Northern Mali should, in fact, have the Malian military as the lead and ECOWAS fighting alongside of it. But it is not just ECOWAS. It is important that what goes on up there have the support of all of the states in the region. The ECOWAS states, as well as Mauritania and Algeria and others in the area, must also be a part of this policy. After all, the states in the north have long borders with Mali.
But yes, I say that there will have to be, at some point, military action to push the AQIM and the MUJAO out of the north and out of the control that they are exercising over towns like Timbuktu and Kidal and Gao. But any military action up there must indeed be well planned, well organized, well resourced, and well thought through. And it must, in fact, be agreed upon by those who are going to be most affected by it.
So it is not something that should be taken lightly. There were strong calls, including from France, for action to be taken. We, too, in Washington have been appalled by the destruction of many of Mali’s valuable historical texts, by the destruction of mosque and historically important buildings, and by the attempt to impose extremist ideology on the communities. Clearly, some action must be taken. But as I said, it should be well planned, well organized, well executed, and well resourced. I think this is important.
All of these things must be done. They must be done simultaneously. But it is imperative that things move forward democratically in Bamako and that we see a restoration of democracy there. If we don’t have that, it will not – the other activities will not be nearly as effective and strong. All things must be moved simultaneously.
OPERATOR: We now have time for one more question, and that comes from Kevin Kelly with the Nation Media Group.
QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Thanks very much to Ambassador Carson for agreeing to do this, but I actually have two questions. One pertains to his mention before about the United States helping to build a Somali national army. I’m wondering if you could give me details on that, what the timetable and the funding might be for that.
And related to it, do you have concerns, Ambassador Carson, about what will happen next in Kismayo? Do you see that the Kenyan presence there might be interpreted eventually as an army of occupation? As you well know, there’s a lot of nationalist feeling in Somalia that outsiders are not generally welcome in these circumstances. Thanks a lot.
AMBASSADOR CARSON: Thank you very much for those two questions on Somalia. First of all, we applaud the work of AMISOM and what they have done in helping to degrade and defeat and push al-Shabaab out of Somalia’s main cities and towns. We believe that this will help to bring about a return to stability in Somalia and will reduce, over time, the terrorist threat to Somalis and to neighboring states. We believe that the Kenyan role in liberating the south as a part of AMISOM is important and deserves the support of both IGAD, the African Union, and the international community.
We recognize that Kismayo is comprised of a number of clans and sub-clans in Somalia, and that there will be clan competition. We hope that the Kenyan presence there will not be seen as an occupying force, and that the government in Mogadishu, working alongside of AMISOM and the UN, will go in very quickly and establish political stability and a political system that takes into account the various clan and sub-clan interests. The Kenyan presence is not intended to be a military occupation. It is intended to be a part of a temporary – a very temporary liberation strategy that quickly allows Somali leadership to take control. And this leadership should come from Mogadishu, should come from the new government led by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
I think that the Kenyans have no interest in trying to establish political authority there. They simply want to help drive out al-Shabaab, help liberate the country, help create the stability that has been long absent. But we hope that the Somali Government will move in quickly, working with IGAD to restore the political leadership that’s important for running Kismayo. But this has been a major step forward. We should applaud what has been done. And we want to work to encourage the political forces to move in to help stabilize the situation.
On this – on the first question that you asked, we have in Washington been strong supporters of AMISOM, major contributors to the AMISOM effort, largely by training and equipping AMISOM battalions that have gone into Somalia to help fight the al-Shabaab. Going forward, we would anticipate that most of our new and additional resources, as they come to us, will be directed at helping to train and provision a new Somali military, not to continue to expand AMISOM. The focus should be on creating a national Somali army that will take over from AMISOM and will assume the responsibilities of providing national security and defense for the nation.
I do not at this time have any dollar figures that I can share with you on what we would be providing to the Somali Government to train Somali military forces. We have done some of this in the past. We have trained small units of Somali TFG troops in Bihanga, Uganda at a military camp. We would expect that we will, over time, continue to do this and expand it and to make more of the training local in Somalia for both cost effectiveness and for political reasons. But we look at the focus going forward being directed at strengthening the Somali national military and not expanding the AMISOM effort, which has been extraordinarily valuable and important.
MODERATOR: That concludes today’s call. I would like to thank Ambassador Johnnie Carson for joining us, and thank all of our callers for participating in today’s call. I know many of you did not get the opportunity to ask your questions, so if you have any questions about today’s call, you can contact the African – the Africa Regional Media Hub at AFMediahub@state.gov. Thank you.