U.S Secretary of State John Kerry celebrates Africa’s ( and Sierra Leone’s) progress

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry engages with young people at the University of Addis Ababa on his last visit to Ethiopia. Alongside him is BBC television anchor Zeinab Badawi.

What lies behind your decision to visit each of these countries at this time?

The progress being made across the African continent these days is extraordinary. Africa is home to eight of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world. There are more democratic governments than ever before. Best of all, each day more Africans are seeing these many benefits reflected in their daily lives. I’m visiting the continent to celebrate that progress and help advance it further, because there is always more to do. I’m here to encourage further democratic development, promote human rights, advance peace and security, and engage with civil society groups and young people. I’ve also come to promote trade, and celebrate PEPFAR and all it’s done to combat the scourge of HIV/AIDS across the continent. In Ethiopia I will co-convene the Fourth Session of the US-AU High-Level Dialogue. I will meet with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom to discuss peace, democracy, and the importance our lasting bilateral relationship.

In Kinshasa, I will meet with President Joseph Kabila and discuss the government’s progress in ending conflict and supporting those Congolese suffering from the violence. We will also discuss the DRC’s continued democratization and its long-term stability. And in Luanda, I will engage with President José Eduardo dos Santos on Angola’s leadership in the region and encourage the President’s continued personal engagement in the Great Lakes peace process. I will also discuss bilateral policy and trade issues with Foreign Minister Chikoti.

In Ethiopia, eight journalists are in prison for terms ranging from five to 18 years for offences under anti-terrorism laws. We understand Woubshet Taye is suffering kidney infections, and reports in the last few days suggest that Reeyot Alemu is being denied adequate medical attention after breast surgery. What can the U.S. do to alleviate their plight and secure their release?

This is an issue I feel very passionately about. A free and unfettered press is fundamental to any functioning democracy. That’s true in the United States, and it’s true across Africa. First, I will urge the Government of Ethiopia to fully adhere to its constitutional guarantees afforded to all its citizens. When I am in Addis Ababa, I also plan to reiterate my longstanding concern about the abridgement of the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

Given that Ambassador [Samantha] Power [the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations] has implicitly criticized both sides in the current conflict in South Sudan, and in particular that she has said the government in Juba should stop interfering with the UN’s mission there, is it appropriate that you should be visiting the country now?

After 30 years of support for their right to self-determination, we are gravely concerned about the deteriorating situation in South Sudan. The ongoing conflict threatens the gains made since I stood in Juba as the nation earned its independence three years ago.

Those responsible for targeted killings of civilians based on ethnicity and nationality must be held accountable. Recent acts of ethnic violence by those aligned with Riek Machar are particularly horrific. Such events are a betrayal of the trust the South Sudanese people put in their leaders. Both President Kiir and Riek Machar must make clear that these attacks are unacceptable, bring the perpetrators of violence on both sides to justice, and honor the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement they signed in January. The cycle of violence that has plagued South Sudan for too long must come to an end. Finally, I have great hopes for the talks led by the East African International Authority on Development, but it remains to be said that those who threaten or obstruct the peace, stability, and security of South Sudan will be at risk of U.S. sanctions. We are actively considering those now, unless we see a change on the ground.

What is the Administration’s assessment of the current prospects for real peace in the eastern DR Congo in the wake of the Kampala Accords?

The United States fully supports the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework Agreement signed by the DRC, Rwanda, and neighboring governments last year. It is the best mechanism for resolving the root causes of conflict in the DRC and the Great Lakes region. Last July, I appointed Senator Russ Feingold as my Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region and the DRC. Russ has traveled to the region nine times and met with all levels of government in the DRC and its neighbors to support the Framework peace process. He has told me about meeting with local leaders, civil society, and women’s groups to listen to their concerns, to encourage their participation in the peace process, and to support their efforts to effect change in their countries. I am optimistic about what he’s reported back, but there is still much to be done. Achieving lasting peace in eastern DRC will also require expanding economic opportunities through improved alternative livelihoods, empowering local communities, particularly women, and increasing conflict-free trade of natural resources. The U.S. is helping to accomplish these goals by supporting the implementation of security sector reforms, consolidating state authority, and strengthening government institutions.

Are you satisfied with the role Rwanda is now playing beyond its borders in the Great Lakes Region?

One of the clearest ways for Rwanda to accomplish its goal of being a regional leader is through cooperation with the DRC, because a lasting peace in the Great Lakes Region is the obvious next step for improving the stability of the region. That’s why we’re encouraging Rwanda to work with the DRC and Uganda to ensure that all M23 ex-combatants are permanently disbanded, that those who are Congolese are turned over to the DRC to complete the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration process, and that those responsible for war crimes or crimes against humanity are held accountable. Fostering lasting regional stability is key to Rwanda’s emergence. If Rwanda leads on issues of peace and security now, it can lead on other issues like economic security moving forward.

Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Angola at 153rd place of 177 countries. Some years ago American banks took action targetting the Angolan government out of concern at corruption. Is the Administration concerned at the level of corruption in Angola? What can it do about it?

Corruption not only saps a government’s resources, but it denies everyday people the services they deserve. I firmly believe that a free and open society is also one that will prosper economically. We will always support these ideals and principles in our bilateral relationships around the globe. That’s why we are monitoring the situation in Angola closely. We’ve been quick to highlight our concerns with the Angolan government and in the international community. But the United States also welcomes Angola’s leadership in Africa and world affairs. We are particularly encouraged by Angola’s leadership in the Great Lakes Region and with the Kimberley Process. We also applaud Angola’s efforts in resolving its own humanitarian crisis, including repatriating and reintegrating some 500,000 refugees and millions more internally displaced persons since the end of its civil war in 2002.

The White House Summit on Africa in August promises to be the signature Africa event of the Administration. Several African leaders have expressed concern that they will be “talked to” by President Obama but will not be “listened to”. Will there be opportunities for the President to hear African leaders express their views, in separate meetings, or regional groups?

Listening is vital to any relationship, international or otherwise. This summit is being held for precisely that reason. The President is inviting African leaders to Washington in order to broaden and deepen our partnerships across the continent — a continent he made a priority for his presidency. The administration is committed to the ongoing dialogue between our country and the leaders of Africa. And it will be exactly that — a dialogue. This summit will be like those the United States regularly holds with the leaders of other regions, like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, the Summit of the Americas, and the NATO and U.S.-E.U. summits. It will reinforce our commitment to our relationship with Africa’s countries and its people, and will allow us to continue to advance our common agenda of promoting opportunity, democracy, and peace.

But this dialogue doesn’t stop with heads of state. Just one week prior to the summit, 500 young African leaders will be in Washington to discuss the U.S.-African relationships as part of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative, or YALI. I can’t wait to hear their ideas about the future of a peaceful and prosperous Africa.

In January, the National Security Council Press office said President Obama would invite all African heads of state or government “except those that are not in good standing with the United States or are suspended from the African Union.” Morocco is invited, even though it is not a member of the African Union, while the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic – which IS an AU member, is not. Morocco withdrew from the AU after the SADR was accepted to membership, and the United States does not recognize the SADR as a country, nor does the UN, which is trying to mediate the long-running conflict between the two parties. What is the United States position on Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara?

We invited Morocco to the summit because we recognize and value Morocco’s role in Africa. That was underscored for me by King Mohammed VI’s visit to Washington last November and my visit with him in Morocco few weeks ago. U.S. policy toward the Western Sahara has remained consistent. The United States has made clear that Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic, and credible, and that it represents a potential approach that could satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity.

So we’ll continue to support the negotiations carried out by the United Nations, including the work of the UN Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy Ambassador Christopher Ross. We’ll urge the parties to work toward a resolution, and we will make sure that discussions about the importance of human rights in Western Sahara will continue to be an important part of our Strategic Dialogue with the Moroccan government.

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