Washington — The top U.S. envoy for Africa, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson, met with reporters February 24 and answered questions on a wide array of issues: Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia, and China’s operations in Africa.
Carson spoke at the Foreign Press Center in Washington and took questions from journalists there and in Johannesburg and New York through a video feed. Carson’s briefing followed his trip to Europe and Africa, which included stops in Spain for meetings with European Union officials, attendance at the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and stops in Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria.
Asked to offer his view on the 2010 election in Ethiopia, Carson said it would be premature to comment prior to the voting. “Let’s see how they turn out. What we do say to Ethiopia, to the government, to the opposition parties and to the citizens is that we hope that this election will be run freely and fairly and that there be a level playing field for all — that the government and the opposition take their responsibilities seriously, that both sides respect the political rights of the others and that both carry out their responsibilities.”
Carson said the United States also has strongly urged that these elections be “substantially better in their aftermath than the 2005 elections, in which there was very bitter and serious violence in their wake. We all want Ethiopia to continue to move along an upward and more inclusive and stronger democratic trajectory,” he said. “Elections are simply an important process in the selection of democratic leaders. We want this to go well” and are “looking for an outcome that makes things better for everyone: free, transparent and open, with both sides taking their responsibilities seriously.”
On Kenya, Carson, a former U.S. ambassador to that country, said “we continue to encourage” that country’s president and prime minster to work toward the full implementation of the Kofi Annan Agreements that were worked out at the conclusion of violence in that country in 2008 following the “very difficult” elections there.
“It is important that in the run-up to the next elections in Kenya that there be a consensus … especially around the constitution. Both of those individuals — as leaders of their parties — have a responsibility to ensure that there is not a repetition of the violence there that followed the presidential and parliamentary elections. Constitution making is at an advanced stage. It is important that both men form a consensus behind it and that they deal with the issues of executive power … issues of impunity and issues of corruption” and land as well.
Carson added: “If we see individuals like [Attorney General] Amos Wako who are standing in the way of justice and progress and who violate our statutes in the United States, we will not hesitate to pursue action against them through all available means.” The career diplomat said that any action taken against Wako by the United States was done for “very, very clear and manifest reasons.” (While relevant U.S. law does not permit disclosure of these actions, the attorney general has publicly announced the measures that the United States has taken against him.)
“He has been attorney general in Kenya for a decade and a half. During that decade and a half, we have seen both grand corruption and minor corruption. We saw a billion-dollar scam shortly after he was named attorney general, and we saw most recently … another scam … in which another $150 million to $200 million in government money was stolen. During his term in office as attorney general, he has not successfully prosecuted one — not a single one — senior government official. No ministers. No deputy ministers. No permanent secretaries. Yes, he seems to be able to find the stockroom clerk but he cannot find the senior officials who are there.”
Additionally, Carson said, there has been a rash of high-level crime in which “impunity seems to be the rule of the day” and in which civil society leaders have been gunned down in the streets of Nairobi. “He [Wako] has not successfully prosecuted any of those individuals as well.”
On Niger, Carson said the United States has been “deeply concerned and troubled” by events since July and August of 2009, when the former president, Mamadou Tandja, started to unravel his country’s democratic institutions in pursuit of a constitutionally prohibited third term. The United States encouraged Tandja not to move in that direction, Carson said. When Tandja extended his term of office illegally on December 23 of 2009, Carson said, the United States suspended Niger’s participation in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), ended the Millennium Challenge Corporation program there, terminated all U.S. assistance with the exception of humanitarian aid and asked Nigerien military officers studying in the United States to return home.
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“We said we were opposed to the hijacking of democracy, even by civilians, and we meant it.” The coup that has just taken place, he said, offers an opportunity to move Niger back into the ranks of democracy. He quickly cautioned, however, that “no coup, whether it is a civilian or military coup, is a good coup. Coups by their nature are bad” and a “disruption of the political process,” he said.
Carson said the United States is looking to the military junta in Niger to restore democracy there expeditiously, within six months.
On Cote d’Ivoire, Carson said the United States remains very much concerned about the eruption of violence that occurred when President Laurent Gbagbo dismissed the government and suspended the movement toward elections in that country — which have been “too long in the coming.”
There is a need to return swiftly to the Ouagadougou Accords, Carson said. National elections have been postponed six times in the last two to three years, he said. “It is time for a serious effort to be made to resolve the political disagreements that have continued to tear apart what once was the most important economic country in Francophone Africa,” Carson said.
Asked about Somalia, Carson said the United States has been the largest contributor of food aid and humanitarian assistance there for much of the last decade. “We remain … committed to providing as much food assistance as we possibly can,” he said.
The continuing conflict in the South between the Transitional Federal Government and al-Shabaab warlords, Carson said, makes food delivery extraordinarily difficult. Despite this, he said, the United States remains committed to getting food there to feed the hungry.
Asked to comment on China’s rapidly expanding operations in Africa, Carson acknowledged that China has been focused on trying to acquire hydrocarbon and mineral resource rights to fuel its economic growth at home. Equally, he said, China is looking for markets for its own products. “In this context, Africa is a place where they see enormous opportunity.” Carson stressed that it is “up to African countries to manage very skillfully and carefully” their own particular economic and commercial relationships with China.
For this reason, he said, it is more important than ever that democratic institutions are present in African countries so that the voices of people throughout society can speak effectively about the consequences of this relationship. “This is what good governance is all about,” he said.
Carson also was asked if President Obama planned to attend the 2010 World Cup tournament in South Africa. Carson said he is not aware of any such plans.