Thomas-Greenfield: Why Africa is important to Biden administration

The Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations (UN), Amb. Linda Thomas- Greenfield, in this digital briefing with journalists via telephone, speaks on peace and security in Africa, addressing root causes of conflict as well as promoting post-pandemic recovery. WALE ELEGBEDE reports

What is your vision on the instability in Mozambique, and what can be done in regards to the health of refugees and migrants fleeing from violence?

The United States is very concerned about the situation in Mozambique, and we’re working very closely with the government of Mozambique, with international organizations, as well as civil society organizations on the ground, to try to find a solution to this situation, helping the government to address the attacks that have taken place. But at the same time, we’re committed to working with the government to do everything possible to protect civilians and prevent future attacks and alleviate suffering. We’re also engaged on providing humanitarian assistance to those impacted by the crisis in Cabo Delgado, and hopefully will be able to address and come to a satisfactory conclusion to this very soon.

The UN Food System Summit is coming up in September. Many countries, especially the U.S., have made pledges to work on food system challenges. But countries like South Sudan, Yemen, and north Nigeria, identified by the World Food Programme (WFP) as the most food-insecure countries on the planet, won’t benefit from innovation until there’s also conflict resolution or peace. How can the U.S. mission to the UN and the Security Council stop premeditated starvation and the use of food as a weapon of war? And is access to food a basic human right?

If you were watching during our month of the presidency of the Security Council back in March, food insecurity was one of our signature events during that session, where we did focus on the impact of manmade disasters on food and So this is a very high priority for us. We will be actively engaging in the discussions that will take place later in the year. As you have noted, South Sudan and Yemen particularly have been identified as being very highly food insecure because of insecurity, and we know that the situation in Northern Nigeria is one that we need to focus attention on. But there are also other areas in the world where food insecurity is leading to conflict and conflict is leading to food insecurity. So, I can say without any hesitation that we will be working on this issue and trying to address the issue, and trying to find solutions to assisting people to address their food insecurity requirements in the future.

I’m wondering if you can elaborate a little. You mentioned your initiatives on women and girls in relation to peace-building on the continent, and I’m wondering if you can elaborate on that and on the various foci of U.S. policy on Africa. How do various strands of your policy contribute towards peace-building in other parts of the continent?

The role of women and girls, and particularly of women in peacebuilding, is extraordinarily important. This is something that the State Department and the U.S. Government more broadly has focused tremendous attention on, not just in Africa but in Afghanistan and other places in the world. We’ve seen in recent conflicts that women and children are extraordinarily impacted by conflict. They are victims of sexual violence and sex used as a weapon of war, and we absolutely have to, as we look at how to address conflict, focus on women and girls and the role that women play in peacekeeping. I think I can say without any doubt that women play an extraordinarily important role. Having worked in Liberia and seen the role that women played initially in bringing Liberia to peace, but also in the role that President Sirleaf being the first woman to lead a country, elected to a president in Africa. So these will be important for us. In terms of the administration’s focus on Africa, I think it is – it goes without saying that Africa is an important priority for the administration. We are working in areas to try to address conflict. We’re using our diplomatic muscle in places like Ethiopia. We have engaged with a number of African leaders, and will continue to engage with African leaders to address broader issues related to peacekeeping and terrorism on the continent of Africa. But more importantly, we’re building partnerships. We’re building and rebuilding relationships, and rebuilding those relationships better after many of those relationships were neglected during the previous four years. We truly value our partnership with the African nations and with the people of Africa, and we believe that Africa has an important role to play globally, and we intend to look for opportunities to enhance that.

Ethiopia is undergoing a tragic episode of manmade political violence, including a devastating civil war in Tigray that has now left more than five million people facing a potential famine in the coming months. As actively engages as the Biden administration seems to have been initially, its first five months in office did not bring anything concrete by way of leveraging its diplomacy to stop Ethiopia’s descent into complete chaos. Is it time for Ethiopians to give up expecting anything from the Biden administration?

That is an extraordinarily important question and I hope that that is not where Ethiopians are going. The Biden administration has been engaged with Ethiopia from day one. You can go back and look at the kinds of statements that were even made prior to the administration taking over on January 20th. President Biden sent his own emissary to Ethiopia; Senator Coons went out to meet with and try to engage with the government on this situation. Jeff Feltman has just completed a visit to Ethiopia, and I have been actively engaged on this issue here in New York, insisting that it be put on the agenda of the Security Council and successfully getting a statement out of the Security Council. I will continue to engage on those issues here in New York, but our administration has also made clear its engagement on this. We have raised our grave concerns over the reports of human rights violations, the abuses, the atrocities that have taken place in Tigray, and we condemn them in the strongest terms, and you have seen all of those messages come out. And we will continue to address this. We’ve called on the Eritrean government to remove its forces from Tigray. Jeff Feltman went to Eritrea as well and engaged with the president there. And we, again, have repeatedly engaged the Ethiopian government at the highest levels. So, in the past five months, we have been proactively engaged on this issue and I would hope that the Ethiopian government and the Ethiopian people are conscious of what we are doing, and continue to work with us to try to find a solution to this situation.

Half of the Arab League is composed of African countries, and that organization has been extremely vocal in their criticism of recent Israeli actions. Does this factor into conversations at the UN with African member states? And what are your concerns about the current fighting between Israel and Hamas?

Do you worry that this could strain or sour U.S.-Africa relations going forward?” Again, as you know, there are three African states on the Security Council. So yes, we are engaging with Africans on this issue, both at the Security Council and across the board. We have taken intense diplomatic efforts to try to find a solution to this situ-ation from the most senior levels of the United States. As you’ve seen in the press, President Biden has engaged several times with President Netanyahu; Secretary Blinken has engaged with government officials; and I have engaged with the government as well as other parties here in New York to push for a solution. And again, that includes members from Africa. I don’t think, as your question – you asked if this would impact our relationships with African governments. We have a whole menu of issues that we address across the continent of Africa. This is one among many issues. We agree on some and on other issues we don’t agree. But ultimately, our relationship is a strong relationship and I look forward to engaging with Africans across the board not just on African issues, on issues elsewhere in the world.

Moderator: Thank you. We’re going to go to a question live from Pearl Matibe. Pearl, you may unmute yourself to ask your question. And please state your outlet.

Could you clearly define what the root causes of conflict in Cabo Delgado Province are and maybe provide some specific examples and how we might see how the United States operationalize this, your – what you’re saying you could arrive at a solution?

And through what local Mozambican or Chadian institutional capacity might you operationalize that solution? Certainly, in the case of both Mozambique and Chad, when we look at root causes, a lot of it boils down to being engaged with communities outside of the central government, making sure that the central government reaches to those communities so that those communities don’t feel isolated from the central government, but also making sure that we are watchful of the kinds of things that are happening in those far-flung communities in terms of possible terrorist activities or others trying to undermine the government. So, for our part, we want to work with governments to help them build capacity, to build capacity to address the development needs of their communities but also build capacity to deal with the security challenges that they may face. And we’re doing both in Chad as well as in Mozambique. We’re working with the government, but not just with the government; we’re working with civil society organizations, we’re working with – through the United Nations and through our own representation in those countries to try to bring some of that capacity directly to the people. And I think that’s one of our strengths as a country; that we do a great deal of our work directly with communities and with people, and we will be looking to do that in both Chad and Mozambique.

The United States has been concerned over alleged human rights abuses by Nigerian military and security agencies battling armed conflict groups like Boko Haram and bandits and deadly herdsmen in Nigeria. As part of your moves to mitigate conflict and enhance peace in Nigeria, how do you plan to get the United Nations to rein on the Nigerian government to reform the military and address issues of human rights abuses?

It is an issue that we continue to work with the Nigerian government on. We have called the government out when we have seen violations being committed, but we also, at the same time, try to provide assistance and train and equip law enforcement and other professionals to address some of these issues and to address shortcomings that they may have. So, we’re looking at programmes that focus on building capacity for the security services that focus on providing support to the people. I was reminded today that when I was asked early in my tenure what keeps me awake at night and on that day that I was asked that question, Nigerian children had been kidnapped from a school. And again, that is something that continues to happen in Nigeria. It’s something that we all have to work to address. We have to hold people accountable and really have them punished for those kinds of acts. Schools should be places where children can go to school and learn and be happy and thrive. So, part of our work with Nigerian security services is to help them be more effective and efficient in providing support and security for all Nigerians, particularly for young children and young girls who are trying to get educated.

Do you have any final words?

We are truly committed to partnering with the continent of Africa, every single country, and partnering with the people of Africa to bring hope and prosperity to the people of Africa. It’s a work in progress. It requires all of us. The United States can’t do it alone. We have to do it in consultation and support of the African people, and we do it for the African people. I would say that it worries me as I look at Africa’s relationship with China, for example, that that is a relationship that sometimes rests on coerciveness, indebtedness, and not in partnership. And I want our message to be completely the opposite of that and our relationships to reflect that our partnership with Africa is one in which we focus on the needs of the people, we focus on our values, and we focus on opportunities to build capacity across the continent of Africa.




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