Africa: Remarks at LiveAtState Virtual Press Conference

By US Department of State
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Africa: Remarks at LiveAtState Virtual Press Conference

WASHINGTON, February 11, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Remarks

John Kerry

Secretary of State

Linda Thomas-Greenfield

Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs

Washington, DC

February 11, 2014

MS. JENSEN: Hi. Welcome to LiveAtState, the State Department's interactive web-chat platform for engaging international media. I'm your host, Holly Jensen, and I would like to welcome all of you joining us today. I would like to send a special shout-out to those of you joining us at our 20 watch parties in 18 countries hosted by our embassies and posts around the continent.

As you know, Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield is here today. She will be discussing U.S. policy in Sub-Saharan Africa. But what you don't know is she is joined by Secretary of State John Kerry, who has come by to say a few words about our U.S. policy and the importance of our relationship with Africa. He's also graciously agreed to take one question before he departs. As you know, he's a very, very busy man.

So Mr. Secretary, thank you for being the first ever Secretary of State to join us on LiveAtState.

SECRETARY KERRY: Wow. I didn't realize that. I'm very excited by that. Thank you.

MS. JENSEN: Great.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thanks, Holly. I'm very – I'm really happy to be here. And I'm very happy to be joining all of you. Thanks for being part of this incredible network of watch parties. And it's my privilege to be here with our terrific Assistant Secretary of State Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who is firefighting in lots of different places. She's doing an incredible job of reaching out and trying to help us to end some conflicts where they exist and prevent them where they might be starting. And there are huge challenges.

But what is happening in Africa is so exciting overall. And we are really deeply engaged. And the President has instructed us to really try to light our fire under our efforts in – throughout the continent. When you look at it, and you think that over the course of the next 20, 30 years half the workforce or a quarter of the workforce of the world, I guess it is, is going to wind up coming from Africa, being in Africa. And 60 percent of the population under the age of 30 presents us not just with an enormous challenge, because we need to provide education, we need to provide opportunity, but it also provides us with the chance to really define the future. And that's what we're trying to do with our programs like Trade Africa, with our Power Africa initiative, with the Young African Leaders Initiative. All of these things are exciting. The President is very committed to trying to build on this through the African Summit that's coming down the road.

I'd just say very quickly that I've been personally involved in the issues of the Central African Republic, where we are trying to build the capacity to deal with the violence. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we got Special Envoy Russ Feingold, who's done a superb job working with Mary Robinson. We've been able to secure the framework agreement that recently came out of Kampala and that will now reduce the violence, we hope, with the disarming of M23 and hopefully create an agenda going forward around which we can develop and build capacity.

And then of course Sudan, South Sudan – an enormous challenge. We've been deeply engaged there. Again, we have a special envoy. We work with very, very hard. I've personally been on the telephone with President Kiir, with former Vice President Riek Machar, with the Ethiopians, with the Ugandans, and others in efforts to try to prevent the deterioration, which only impacts the people of the South Sudan. And we want to avoid going back to what was once the longest war in the history of Africa.

So there are many, many challenges. And I can just say to all of you on a personal level – I think many of you know – my wife was born in Mozambique, in what is now Maputo is where she lived, and she was educated in South Africa, in Johannesburg and Durban, actually. And I recall myself going back there with her and just visiting up in the mountains a school where we were engaged in trying to prevent AIDS and deal with people who had it. It was a very moving experience for me. We've made enormous progress, a huge reduction in the incidence of AIDS. We may be able to have the first generation of children born AIDS-free as a result of our efforts. There's been a 40-fold increase in the provision of antiretroviral drugs.

So it's an amazing story, and I think it's a measure of the full engagement of the United States and all of us in trying to help Africa to define its own future in the way that it wants to, but to give the lift necessary to do that.

So my privilege to be here with Linda, and apologize that I can only stay for one question. But we have the French President Hollande visiting, and I need to go over to the White House for our meeting. So thank you.

MS. JENSEN: Great. The first question – and only question – comes from Latif Mukasa from Record TV. And he would like to know: “What is the U.S.'s interest in South Sudan? And what's the way forward for peace to prevail?”

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the United States has always been interested in South Sudan, regardless of administration label, Republican or Democrat alike. Former Senator John Danforth spent a great deal of time, at President Bush's designation, to help create the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the CPA. And I personally became engaged there because I was struck by the fact that so many people had died, maybe as many as 2 million people in what was Africa's longest war.

Here we had a young nation that – or an aspiring nation at that time – that wanted its independence. That's part of the American story. It's something we respect, the democracy, the opportunity to be able to define your own future. And so we were very supportive of that. I personally visited. I was personally involved. I was there the day of the referendum. We feel invested.

We also feel deeply committed, given past lessons, to try to prevent the chaos and the genocide that too often comes of the violence that can occur if things break down. We all have an interest – and everybody has an interest – in not letting that happen.

So here we have this new nation that is already in extremis, and we helped give birth to it. We feel this is the part of our responsibility. And we don't want this to cascade into a more violent repetition of the past. So that's why we're committed. We believe this is part of the defining of the future of Africa, and we will remain deeply committed and personally engaged in an effort to try to help the people of South Sudan define their own future in peace and prosperity, hopefully.

MS. JENSEN: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.


MS. JENSEN: I know you have to make your way out.

SECRETARY KERRY: I do have to run. I apologize. Have fun.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you so much for joining us.

SECRETARY KERRY: You're going to have a great time.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you. I don't know how I can follow you, but thank you.

MS. JENSEN: Don't forget to cut your mike off.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all very much. Take care. Thanks.

MS. JENSEN: Thank you.