What Obama Will Discuss With Buhari, By U.S. Officials

imageUnited States Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield and African Commission (AFRICOM) chief General David Rodriguez, during an appearance on Live at State, a Department of State webcast, spoke on President Muhammadu Buhari’s planned Washington trip, Ebola, Boko Haram and other foreign affairs-related matters. Excerpts:

The U.S. President has extended an invitation to Nigeria’s President Buhari. What should Nigerians expect from this visit?
What Nigerians should expect is that this will reaffirm the strong relationship that we have with the government and the people of Nigeria. We will be discussing with President Buhari moving forward how we can support his efforts to address his priorities for Nigeria. He’s indicated that his major priorities are dealing with the security situation, addressing the economy, and also addressing the issue of corruption and asset retrieval. So, we will have discussions with him on what we can do in those areas to support him. And I think for the Nigerian people, again, it highlights the importance of our relationship with Nigeria moving forward.
In the last administration, the U.S. refused to sell arms to Nigeria, citing human rights abuses allegedly committed by security forces as the reason. With a change of government, has that position changed?
That’s a policy decision led by our State Department in Nigeria, and right now we are continuing to engage with the new government to see how effective that is as it moves forward. And we are prepared to move at the pace and rate that the State Department leads this as we rebuild those relationships in Nigeria.
Let me just add to that. As you heard in my opening statement, President Buhari is going to be in Washington later this month for meetings with the administration, and we will have discussions with him moving forward on what we can do to continue to assist the Nigerians in their efforts to fight against Boko Haram. And part of that discussion will be how we can provide the equipment and support that the Nigerians require. Human rights are an important value for the U.S., and in any place where we are providing lethal weapons, we want to know that the military that we are providing those to do not use that in a way that violates the human rights of ordinary civilians. So, we will have that discussion moving forward, and it is our hope that as we discuss these issues with the Nigerian government, we will also have a discussion with them on how to better prepare their military to support communities and build confidence in communities and not be part of the – not be victimised in the efforts of the military to fight against Boko Haram.
In recent times, what has been the support of the U.S. to the Nigerian military in general?
We have supported the Nigerian military building capacity in some of their units. So, we have a great relationship, for example, with the special boat squadron and the navy. We are also participating in a combined fusion centre where we share intelligence with the senior leadership of the Nigerian military and their intelligence services and the police force. And we continue to be prepared to grow that relationship in the future.
U.S. intelligence teams were recently in Nigeria to help track the Chibok girls. Over a year after their arrival, the story has not yet changed. What went wrong?
The U.S. has continued to share intelligence with the Nigerian leadership with those Shabaab girls as well as other people who have been taken by Boko Haram, and we continue to do that. As far as the effort, I think it – while it didn’t yield getting back all the girls, there have been many of the people that were held by Boko Haram that have been freed over time, and we continue to pursue efforts to get the Chibok girls back.
Let me just add that this has been an extremely high priority for the U.S. government to assist in bringing these girls home, but also in bringing the hundreds of other girls and young boys who were forcefully taken by Boko Haram. We have seen that about 700-plus have recently returned, and we are supporting efforts of the government and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) to provide support to those young girls who have – who have fortunately been freed. We will not let up on our efforts. We will continue to work with the government. We commend President Buhari and his wife for visiting the families of the Chibok girls and letting them know that we have not forgotten about them.
The Multinational Joint Task Force was recently formed. What support will the U.S. provide to support the effort?
We have been working with the countries in the region to support the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF), and during my recent trip to the African Union (AU) summit in Johannesburg, South Africa we announced the contribution of $5 million towards the setup of the MJTF and we will continue to work with the governments in the region to support that. I think the general’s back, so I’ll turn it over to the general to talk more about some of the more specific support we’re providing.
We have a coordination cell in N’Djamena, Chad that is part of a French and British as well as the partner African nations – all four of them that are participating in the MJTF. In that coordination cell, we share intelligence with each of the respective countries. We also have people in their tactical headquarters at both Maroua, in Cameroon, in N’Djamena, in Chad, and then over in Diffa in Niger who are advising and assisting the countries involved the MJTF in their struggle against Boko Haram.
What does the U.S. do to help put an end to the jihadist problem in the Sahel and to Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin?
Peace and security on the continent of Africa is our highest priority. And we are working closely – and I’d like General Rodriguez also respond to this question. We have been working very closely with our partners in the Sahel, in Nigeria, the Lake Chad Basin countries, and that I would as well mention in the Horn of Africa dealing with al-Shabaab, to help build their capacity but also support their efforts and to contribute to their efforts to fight against extremism on the continent of Africa.
This has had a tremendous impact on the continent. Every single day I read in the paper that dozens of people across the continent of Africa are being killed by extremists. So, we know that this is something that requires all of our efforts to address, and we’re working closely with our African partners to do that.
Well, as you know, we’ve got a long-term effort to both build the partner capacity of those nations involved in the fight against violent extremists. We also, of course, continue to support our French partners who are working hard in Mali, Niger and Chad to help defeat the scourge of terrorism in that region. And we continue over – around the Boko Haram region, we have great long-term capacity-building successes in both Cameroon and Chad that have helped to take that fight to the enemy, as well as over in Niger.
With Nigerians, we continue to share intelligence, and that has continued to help them push back and open up some of the areas that had recently been held in the Boko Haram’s hands, and we continue to look forward to building those capacities even better so that they can take care of that situation by themselves.
What is the U.S. position with regard to African countries whose constitution does not limit presidential terms, allowing the outgoing president to effectively run endlessly?
Our position on transition and the importance of transition is very clear. We do believe in a democracy, that it’s important that countries go through transitions, that they actually have votes that allow for a change in government. We are certainly very strong on governments not changing their constitutions to encourage the restrictions on term limits. But for those countries that have constitutions that do not require term limits, we are engaged with those countries with their heads of state to encourage that they allow there to be change. People want change. We have seen polls that have been taken across Africa that indicate that broadly African citizens want there to be term limits. They don’t want to have presidents for life. And we support those efforts.
How do you assess the military strength of al-Shabaab in light of its continued attacks inside and outside of Somalia? U.S., UN, and Somali officials say it has been weakened, but just last week al-Shabaab overran an AMISOM base and killed several Burundian soldiers.
Yes. Since al-Shabaab’s height of its strength several years ago, it has decreased in strength overall, but that does not mean it is anything less of a threat. As they lost more territory in Somalia that they controlled because of the great efforts of the AMISOM troops, they have taken to the asymmetric attacks back in the homeland, those nations – and the worst you can see recently being Kenya. But they have – they can also at any time focus their energy on an isolated place like they did against the Burundian contingent here recently. The AMISOM efforts continue apace and they continue to do a good job decreasing the overall effect or the overall strength of al-Shabaab, but that does not mean that al-Shabaab is not still dangerous, as you can see by the recent days’ attacks.
What is your reaction to the elections taking place in Burundi on Monday? Can the U.S. stop President Nkurunziza from running for a third term? How about DRC and Rwanda that have elections coming up too?
We have expressed our extreme disappointment with the decision of President Nkurunziza to go forward with the elections that took place on Monday and as well his plans to go forward with presidential elections in mid-July. We have also expressed our view that we do not believe, under the Arusha accord, or the constitution, that the president should be seeking a third term. President Nkurunziza has had 10 – what I would call relatively stable – years as president of Burundi. He has a legacy of having established this country in a time of peace and that legacy should also include turning the government over and not running for a third term. We think that has contributed to the violence that we see taking place and it is contributing to instability in the region. We all think that his decision, against tremendous pressure, to go forward and running for a third term sends a bad signal, a bad message across the continent and other countries where we have encouraged their heads of state and leaders not to seek third terms but to allow for transition, to allow the people’s voices to be heard.
So, we will continue to apply pressure. We are encouraging that there be dialogue moving forward. We would like to see the election that is scheduled to take place in mid-July be delayed so that there can be dialogue. And our ultimate goal is that Burundi achieves peace for its people. We do not want to see the violence that is taking place there continue. We do not want to see the instability that is taking root continue to spread across Burundi and possibly across the continent as – at least Central Africa – as we are seeing refugees move from Burundi to Tanzania, to Rwanda, and to DRC.
Why has the U.S. reduced its human rights and democracy-related programmes in Africa? This is because governments in Africa are used to rule well only under foreign pressure? And we saw that both U.S. and EU intervention on these domains have helped Africa’s development.
I fully agree with your statement that we need to continue to focus on democracy and governance across Africa. It is one of the highest priorities and it is part of our mission for the Africa Bureau to continue to support those efforts. So, we do support democracy and governance, as you saw in the recent intense and robust involvement that we had in supporting civil society, in supporting the electoral commission to do its job in Nigeria, and we will continue to support those efforts. The African continent is extraordinarily large and we’re not always in every place that we would like to be, but we have our embassies and our ambassadors engaging with governments to ensure that they understand the high priority that we give to their supporting the movement of democracy and civil society in their countries.
What has been done in terms of progress in sub-Saharan Africa in the field of fight against corruption?
As you know, one of the initiatives that came out of the historic Africa Leaders Summit last year was an initiative on illicit finance and fighting corruption. And Senegal, volunteered to lead that effort, and just this past week, Senegal hosted a meeting on how we can fight illicit financing and they invited countries from across the continent.
This is something that is extremely important. The AU just completed a study last year where they looked at illicit finance and determined that billions of dollars of hard-earned capital across Africa is being siphoned off and being taken away from efforts of governments to build capacity, to build infrastructure, and to provide services to their people. So, this is something that we are working regularly with our African counterparts on. We have commitments from governments that they want to be involved in this fight, that they want to stop corruption. And as you know, a number of the programs that we have to support Africa’s progress such as AGOA, do have benchmarks on corruption. The Millennium Challenge Account has benchmarks on corruption as well. So, this is something, again, that we look forward to making progress on in the next few months.
The issue of refugees and migration appears to be on the increase despite efforts by governments to address the challenge. What best do you think this issue – how best do you think this issue can be addressed?
As you know, my background before coming back to the Africa Bureau was in the bureau of refugee and migration programmes – PRM – Population, Refugees and Migration. And I was just distressed to hear that in Africa, a million new refugees were added to the numbers this year alone. Many of those refugees have come out of Nigeria into neighboring countries. But, also the recent refugee flow from Burundi to Tanzania and to Rwanda and DRC. We think there’s close to a hundred thousand refugees just from that flow.
And the solution is to end fighting. The solution is to bring peace to these countries. And I didn’t mention even the situation in South Sudan where more than a million people have been displaced as refugees and displaced in their countries because of a man-made crisis.
So, we do have to deal with the issue of conflict. We have to deal with the issue of providing the institutional capacity in governments to support their people and to do the right things for their people. We are deeply engaged in trying to find the solution to the situation in South Sudan with our special envoy out in the region relentlessly meeting with both parties and with the countries in the region to bring the two leaders to the negotiating table and encourage them and urge them to do the right thing by their people.
So it’s still a work in progress. In the meantime, the people of Africa continue to suffer.
As you’re well aware, another Ebola case was found in Liberia this week. Are you concerned that Ebola is coming back, or has the tide turned against the disease?
I do think the tide has turned against the disease. But these – this new case in Liberia is just a warning to us that the job is not done, that we have to continue to remain vigilant, and to continue to message and communicate with populations about doing the right thing when they find that their relatives or neighbors are ill. And our hope is that this battle will eventually end for the moment, but again, we will continue to remain engaged with the governments in the regions and their communities to ensure that Ebola does not take hold again in the way that we were dealing with it last summer. The numbers are down again, but the fight is not over, and there’s still a great deal of work that needs to be done.
In particular, we have to help these governments build their health infrastructure so that they have the resilience when there’s this kind of event, this kind of crisis, that they can respond in a way that does not cause their health infrastructure to totally collapse, as we saw happen in West Africa. So, thank you.
The military has a lot of skin in the game in Liberia for the Ebola response as well. Do you have anything you’d like to add on that
No, just as the assistant secretary said, there’s still work to be done. There has been some capacity-building efforts already. And I think that just with the initial reports coming out of this individual who got sick, that the things that they had learned in the past that were successful between the isolation and the chain contact, as well as the burial standards that the USAID has helped them build, that they will be able to better handle the situation now so that it doesn’t get out of hand as it had been before.
You mentioned AGOA, which is a very important piece of legislation for trade in Africa. Can you comment on what that legislation would mean?
What that legislation means is that – first, it shows our confidence in Africa and in our trade relationship with Africa. But secondly, what it means to Africa is better business opportunities. It means more jobs. It means jobs on the continent of Africa. And it also means jobs in the U.S. And the companies that are benefiting from AGOA really welcomed the signing of this legislation. It gave them the confidence to move forward, to sign deals on delivery of goods and services that will take place over the next few years. We will be hosting the AGOA Forum in Gabon in August, and we are delighted that this legislation has been signed and will be, again, a signal of the U.S. commitment and confidence in Africa’s future.

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