Building capacity to help Africa trade better

U.S.-Africa relations: A new framework


U.S.-Africa relations: A new framework

U.S.-Africa relations: A new framework
Photo credit: AZRainman | Flickr

Remarks by Rex W. Tillerson, Secretary of State, at George Mason University, Virginia, 6 March 2018

MR CABRERA: Good morning, everyone. Thank you so much for being with us today for a very, very special presentation. I’m honored to welcome our Secretary of State to George Mason, who, as you know, is on his way to a very important trip to Africa. And I’m slightly biased, but I think his choice of George Mason for this presentation couldn’t be any better.

Secretary Tillerson, who’s now beginning his second year on the job, obviously, who was not a politician or a government person by training, and yet there are aspects of his career when you think about it make him absolutely perfect for this job assignment. You know that he ran ExxonMobil for a number of years, since 2006 until 2017. You know that Exxon is one of the largest publicly-held companies in the world and one of the most global companies. So yeah, it is pretty intimidating to run the State Department with over 44,000 employees, plus another 44,000 local employees all over the world, and a $50-plus billion budget. But that’s actually smaller than what he used to run when he was at the helm of ExxonMobil. Plus he has spent a lot of time around the world running operations in the Middle East and in many other parts of the world.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Later today I will be leaving on my first official visit to Sub-Saharan Africa – not my first visit to Africa, as I made many, many trips and many visits during my past career, but it’s a trip that really began its planning and originated back in November following a ministerial of 37 African nations and the African Union hosted at the State Department. Our conversation during that summit focused on counterterrorism, democracy and governance issues, and strengthening trade and investment ties with the continent – and these are all themes that I’ll address in a moment.

As I said, in my previous life, I spent quite a bit of time in Africa. And my firm belief is that there is ample opportunity on the continent – for economic growth, for greater prosperity, and for responding to global challenges through mutually respectful partnerships. I do look forward to returning and building on a strong foundation of U.S.-Africa relations. And that includes visiting Chad, a country that has never before welcomed a visit by the Secretary of State.

Over the past century, as African nations emerged from their colonial past, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in America’s engagement with Africa. The State Department created the Africa Bureau in 1958 – a year following then-Vice President Richard Nixon’s trip to the continent. Ghana had invited the Vice President and Martin Luther King, Jr. to attend their independence day celebration – an event that took place exactly 61 years ago today.

A few years later, President John F. Kennedy established USAID with an eye toward African development, and our first Peace Corps volunteers arrived in Ghana and Tanzania. Forty years ago this month, President Jimmy Carter visited Liberia and Nigeria, where he announced that “our nation has now turned in an unprecedented way toward Africa.”

Today that turning continues. Our country’s security and economic prosperity are linked with Africa’s like never before. That will only intensify in the coming decades for the following reasons:

First: A major demographic shift. By the year 2030, Africa will represent about one quarter of the world’s workforce. And by the year 2050, the population of the continent is expected to double to more than 2.5 billion people – with 70 percent of them under the age of 30.

And second: Africa is experiencing significant economic growth. The World Bank estimates that six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world this year will be African.

For context, by the year 2050, Nigeria will have a population larger than the United States and an economy larger than Australia’s.

To understand where the world is going, one must understand that Africa is a significant part of the future. African countries will factor more and more into numerous global security and development challenges, as well as expansive opportunities for economic growth and influence.

While Africa contains a wealth of diversity – among its peoples, its cultures, and its governments – there are common challenges and opportunities. Africa’s vitality is reflected in its youth, but a growing population of young people means a requirement for more jobs. As more Africans move out of poverty, nations will require more infrastructure and development. The growing population of young people, if left without jobs and a hope for the future, will create new ways for terrorists to exploit the next generation, subverting stability and derailing democratic governments. Leaders will be challenged to innovate and to manage the limited financial resources they have.

As we look ahead, this administration seeks to deepen our partnership with Africa, with an aim of making African countries more resilient and more self-sufficient. That serves our partners, and it serves the United States as well by creating a stable future for all of our children and our grandchildren.

The future of stability is dependent on security – the condition that is necessary for economic prosperity and strong institutions. Without it, none of the other pieces can be put into place.

Today, the long reach of terrorism threatens to steal the future of countless individuals. This August, we will remember the hundreds of lives lost 20 years ago in the U.S. embassy attacks in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam – where hundreds of lives ended.

Since that day, thousands more have died at the hands of terrorists in Africa. Terrorist attacks rose from less than 300 in 2009, to more than 1,500 in each of the years 2015, 2016, and ‘17. And more recently, we witnessed again the heartbreak of the abduction of more than 100 Nigerian schoolgirls – ripped from their families, forever changing their future. […]

[T]he United States has committed to working with African partners to rid the continent and the world of terrorism by addressing the drivers of conflict that lead to radicalization and recruitment in the first place, and building the institutional law enforcement capacity of African nations. We want to help Africa states provide security for their citizens in a lawful manner.

Today African nations are stepping up to take action, including the sacrifices that go with such commitment. […]

The United States is grateful for the African Union’s leadership in a growing, multilateral role. The AU Mission in Somalia – or AMISOM – includes troops from five African countries, stabilizing areas under attack from al-Shabaab and permitting much needed aid to reach the Somali people. I look forward to meeting with AU Commission Chairperson Faki on my upcoming trip to explore more ways in which we can work together to counter terrorism on the continent.

The United States’ role in these and other regional and multilateral efforts is to build capacity – not dependency – so our partners can provide for their own security. That’s true of our approach to peacekeeping on the continent as well.

As the largest contributor of peacekeeping capacity-building in Africa, the United States trains, deploys, and sustains forces that provide counterterrorism support, remove landmines, and facilitate peaceful transitions of power. This creates security, allows health – excuse me – allows health, food, and other services to reach areas of need.

Last year, the United States supported more than 27,000 African peacekeepers from over 20 African countries. Here too more African countries have taken ownership of their future. A decade ago, Africans made up only about 20 percent of peacekeeping forces on the continent. Today that number exceeds 50 percent.

As we support important security efforts, we must work to find long-term diplomatic solutions to conflicts that cause so much human suffering. Until we do, the United States, as the world’s largest provider of humanitarian assistance, will continue to stand with those most vulnerable.

As a testament to that commitment, today I’m announcing $533 million in additional humanitarian assistance to fight famine and food insecurity and address other needs resulting from conflicts in Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Lake Chad Basin. The alarming levels of hunger in these areas are largely man-made, as conflicts erupt and people flee their homes. Under these conditions, people cannot produce crops and often lose access altogether to food, education, and health care. Many lose everything. And regrettably, Mother Nature can still be cruel, such as in the Horn of Africa, where a prolonged drought is contributing to grave food insecurity.

These additional funds will provide emergency food, nutrition assistance, and other aid, including safe drinking water, thousands of tons of food, and deliver health programs to prevent the spread of deadly diseases like cholera to millions of people. This will save lives.

The American people, as we always have been, are there to partner with African countries to ensure their most vulnerable populations receive life-saving assistance. We also call upon others to join us in meeting the growing humanitarian needs in Africa. We hope these initial contributions will encourage others to contribute aid to increase burden sharing and meet the growing humanitarian needs in Africa. However, this assistance will not solve these ongoing conflicts, but only buy us time – time to pursue diplomatic solutions.

As many African countries assume greater responsibility to address their needs at home, the United States needs our partners in Africa to take an active role on the global stage as well. […]

Security on the continent is a prerequisite for greater prosperity. And greater stability will, of course, attract greater United States trade and investment with African nations, leading to further development, building on what we have accomplished through the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA.

AGOA has been the cornerstone of U.S. trade policy in Africa for almost two decades now. And with AGOA, we’ve seen a lot of progress. Total non-oil goods trade has more than doubled from $13 billion a year to almost $30 billion a year. In fact, last year, total U.S. trade climbed to $38.5 billion, up from $33 billion in 2016.

We’re encouraged by the actions of many of our African partners who are seeking ways to expand trade with the United States. On his trip to the United States last week, President Akufo-Addo of Ghana addressed the National Governors Association, the first African president to do so. He talked about his desire – his people’s desire – to transition from poverty to prosperity in a generation. The United States wants to help enable the public and private sectors in Africa and here at home to make that a reality.

Africa still has vast, undeveloped natural resources. Private sector expertise in the United States can facilitate the responsible development of those resources, helping bring more Africans out of poverty to share in the economic values of those resources. But significant transcontinental infrastructure is necessary to support the development, spur economic growth, and boost intraregional trade on the continent.

Today only about 12 percent of total African exports are delivered to their neighboring countries on the continent. Compare that to 25 percent among ASEAN countries and more than 60 percent in Europe, and the potential for more economic prosperity through trade on the continent itself is quite evident. As African nations achieve greater regional integration through lowering tariff barriers and improving transport, energy, and infrastructure links, that will create more opportunities for U.S. businesses, investment, and transatlantic trade.

And importing American business practices and expertise provides the best combination for Africa’s future by contributing to economic prosperity, equipping African nations with new capabilities, and doing so in an open, transparent framework. That is why we want to create the new development finance institution. DFIs are specialized government banks designed to support private sector development to improve development effectiveness. We’re working with Congress to give the United States the ability to compete with countries that already utilize finance to achieve their goals in the developing world.

Power Africa, a USAID-led program, is one of the largest public-private partnerships in the continent’s development history. Established five years ago, Power Africa was created to provide African countries access to one of the most basic needs for development: electricity. Today tens of millions of Africans – across Sub-Saharan Africa – have access to electricity in part because of commitments from more than 140 private sector partners. Our aim is to provide 30,000 megawatts of power by the year 2030 – or 60 million new connections – to reach 300 million Africans. Administrator Green announced Power Africa 2.0 just last week to expand even more power opportunities.

The United States is eager to reduce barriers to trade and investment with our African partners, helping African countries transition from dependency toward self-sufficiency, growing their middle class, and better integrating African economies with the rest of the world.

To prepare for the future and realize the continent’s potential requires an educated and a healthy workforce. This is true all over the world, but it takes on even more urgency, given Africa’s expanding youth population.

The Young Africans Leaders Initiative is one way the State Department and USAID are investing in the next generation of African leaders. YALI provides leadership and professional development training to up-and-coming African leaders on the importance of a free press, how to build more resilient institutions, and even how to start a business. Today, YALI has over 500,000 members and representatives from every Sub-Saharan country. […]

For security, trade and investment, and economic development to sustain itself requires effective and accountable government institutions that earn the trust and support of their citizens. Peace and prosperity are only possible in a democratic society. Media freedom, open communications, religious freedom, and a vibrant civil society foster creativity, ideas, and the human energy for economic growth. Today, Africa has much to gain by creating stronger, more transparent, democratic institutions that reflect their citizens’ voices, that reject corruption, and protect and promote human rights.

The African Union estimates that Africa has lost hundreds of billions of dollars to corruption – hundreds of billions that was not invested in education, infrastructure, or security. Bribes and corruption keep people in poverty. They encourage inequality and they undercut the citizens’ faith in their own government. Legitimate investment stays away, and insecurity and instability grows, creating conditions ripe for terrorism and conflict. We strongly support the African Union’s summit’s highlighting and encouraging efforts on “Winning the Fight Against Corruption.” We hope this year’s theme is only the beginning of a more sustained, long-term focus on anti-corruption.

In support of this theme, the United States will continue its work with African countries to strengthen their democratic institutions. Last month, the State Department requested $137 million from Congress to support democracy, human rights, and government programs to create more transparent, less corrupt institutions that value consensus building over conflict.

Democracy requires transitions of power through free and fair elections. It also needs a vibrant civil society and independent media to help inform citizens and keep them connected to their government. Last year, the United States helped support free and peaceful elections in Liberia, a country that hadn’t experienced a peaceful transition of power in decades. That included civic and voter education programs with a focus on youth, women, and other hard-to-reach, first-time voters, and working with media to promote responsible reporting.

And the Fiscal Transparency Initiative Fund helps governments create more transparent, publicly available budgets, and equips civil society to advocate for areas of improvement. The United States is currently working on 31 projects – and is about to award nine more – throughout Africa. Already, the Financial Transparency Initiative Fund has helped Kenya, Chad, and Malawi develop measures to fight bribery and better serve their own people.

We also keep good governance initiatives in mind when it comes to development. As Secretary of State, I am chairman of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, or MCC. Through this agency designed to reduce poverty, the United States is able to incentivize good governance – including greater transparency – by tying it to development assistance. And about 60 percent of MCC’s funding goes to Africa. Last November, we signed a $524 million compact with Cote d’Ivoire to improve its education and transportation sectors. This was only possible after the country had implemented policies to strengthen economic freedom, democratic principles, human rights, and to fight corruption. Spurring reforms before a dollar of U.S. taxpayer money is even spent is the MCC’s model.

It’s an American model of development that has proven itself to work.

The United States pursues, develops sustainable growth that bolsters institutions, strengthens rule of law, and builds the capacity of African countries to stand on their own two feet. We partner with African countries by incentivizing good governance to meet long term security and development goals.

This stands in stark contrast to China’s approach, which encourages dependency using opaque contracts, predatory loan practices, and corrupt deals that mire nations in debt and undercut their sovereignty, denying them their long-term, self-sustaining growth. Chinese investment does have the potential to address Africa’s infrastructure gap, but its approach has led to mounting debt and few, if any, jobs in most countries. When coupled with the political and fiscal pressure, this endangers Africa’s natural resources and its long-term economic political stability.

We welcome other countries’ involvement in the development of Africa; in fact, it is needed. That’s what the free market is all about, competition leading to more opportunities. But we want to see responsible development and transparent free market practices that foster greater political stability on the continent. We hope China will join us in this effort as well.

The United States sees a bright future in Africa. We have an opportunity to be part of Africa’s journey to a stable, prosperous future for its people. Each of these priorities – trade and investment, good governments – governance, respect for human rights, combatting terrorism and instability – have the same guiding principle in mind: to help African countries build the capacity to take care of their own people.

There are no quick fixes to these challenges, but the United States is committed to meeting them in partnership with nations of Africa so that the continent can increasingly become a place of prosperity and freedom in the 21st century. Thank you for your very kind attention. (Applause.)

MR CABRERA: One last question. I’m reading some nonverbal messages – (laughter) – from your team. But the role of women in the future of Africa and my hope that you carry a very, very strong message – I know this is not new to you. I am aware of the investments that ExxonMobil made in women entrepreneurship. We know the impact that it has when women are kept in school instead of given into marriage. We know the impact that women have in improving health and the quality of life in communities. Let us – help us understand what our message is going to be in that regard.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, it is something that I gained an appreciation for more than 20 years ago in the private sector, and largely because of investments and business activities that my previous life had in Africa, but also in emerging economies and emerging government systems, including Russia and – which I spent a lot of time in as well. And what I learned through studies, academic studies, but also my own experience is so much about creating these conditions that I’ve talked about and so much about creating the conditions for people to thrive the way – and have a life like we enjoy is about breaking the cycle. And I was speaking earlier with the president of your student body about breaking the cycle and that we’re – I think we’re a generation away from breaking that cycle in Africa, but we have to stay at it.

An important element of that starts with women because it starts with mothers, and what we learned through our studies is that mothers – and probably this is true even here in this country, it was for me – mothers are the greatest influencers on how children are going to grow up – the values they hold, how they conduct themselves, and what they aspire to. And so first it’s important that we support women’s health first and their capacity to participate in the economic well-being of the country because too often we have women that are raising families without a lot of help from fathers. And so it starts with giving them capacity because they will raise better families.

But then secondly, putting women into not just the workforce, but the governance. They bring a very different perspective – and I see this in my private sector life, I saw it and I experienced it in the government sector as well – having a perspective brought that women bring, it’s different from ours. I mean, that’s – it’s not that it’s – it’s not that we’re bad, but we have gaps and we have blind spots and women fill those in for us. But I think it’s as much about anything – this is how we break the generational cycle is by really empowering women to fully participate in all aspects of our human life as mothers, as participants in the economy, as entrepreneurs, as participants in government. That is what will ultimately transform the next generation of leaders. Both men and women will be transformed by that and it’s particularly important in Africa. And part of this is the history and culture of Africa. We know it works because we’ve seen it work. We’ve seen it work in very distinct areas. We just have to grow it out now.

So it is crucial to, I think, the success of Africa creating a quality of life that we all want for people in the African continent. We want them to have the quality of life we have, and it’s an important element of how we’ll achieve that.

MR CABRERA: Mr. Secretary, we thank you again for coming to share that message with us, and most importantly for recognizing the huge importance that the African continent has for the rest of us, for carrying that message of economic development and opportunity, and for making Africa a priority. We wish you a productive and safe trip to Africa. Thank you so much.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Thank you, and all the best to George Mason.


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