(Remarks delivered at the Treaty Room at the Department of State)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon, everyone. I am very pleased to have the foreign minister of Nigeria here, and I will address the concerns that we discussed. But I first want to begin with a statement about the assault on Ambassador Robert Ford and our Embassy staff in Syria this morning.
We condemn this unwarranted attack in the strongest possible terms. Ambassador Ford and his aides were conducting normal Embassy business, and this attempt to intimidate our diplomats through violence is wholly unjustified.
We immediately raised this incident with the Syrian Government, and we are demanding that they take every possible step to protect our diplomats according to their obligations under international law. Ambassador Ford has shown admirable courage putting himself on the line to bear witness to the situation on the ground in Syria. He is a vital advocate for the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people now under siege by the Asad regime. I encourage the United States Senate to show our support for Ambassador Ford by confirming him as soon as possible, so he can continue, fully confirmed, his critical and courageous work.
Now, I’m delighted to welcome the foreign minister. Minister Ashiru is a great diplomat. He’s been serving his country for many years and we had an opportunity today to follow up on the meeting that I had in New York with President Jonathan. We have worked closely with the people and Government of Nigeria over the last two and a half years to make progress in key areas.
The U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission is our flagship agreement for bilateral cooperation on the entire African continent. When we signed the agreement just 17 months ago, we set bold goals for ourselves. Today, the foreign minister and I discussed how far we have come in each area of the commission, including advancing good governance, promoting energy access and reliability, improving food security, dealing with extremism, and so much else.
Our joint efforts leading up to Nigeria’s elections in April deserve particular attention because we worked so closely with the government and civil society to improve transparency, to address the political and logistical challenges of the elections. And for the first time in recent history, Nigeria held elections that were widely hailed as credible and effective. And we know that over 90 percent of Nigerians thought the elections were free and fair. That is up from 30 percent just a short four years ago. So the people of Nigeria are making strides every day and consolidating their democracy and the institutions of democracy.
Nigeria has also played an important role on global issues through its seat on the UN Security Council and has been a leader in helping to improve stability in West Africa. Nigeria played a key role in supporting the difficult democratic transitions in Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, and Niger. Nigeria’s own example of credible elections provides it with great credibility in democracy promotion across the continent.
So as we continue our close cooperation through the second year of our Binational Commission, we will set forth our priorities, and they include improving governance, fighting corruption, delivering services more effectively to the people. We are working toward a strong anticorruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and other ways we can promote transparency.
Economic development is key; Nigeria is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, with the largest population in Africa and strong trading relationships. We want to see Nigeria prosper and grow. To this end, the United States Overseas Private Investment Corporation, OPIC, has just approved $250 million in financing to help revitalize the Union Bank of Nigeria, and to reach previously un-banked people in Nigeria. And we will look for ways to support Nigeria as it reduces inequality and builds a broader base for prosperity.
Finally, we will stand with Nigeria as it faces serious security issues. The bombing of the UN headquarters in Abuja last month was a horrific and cowardly act, and we want to work with Nigeria and West Africa to improve security and to make sure that we also address the legitimate needs of people before extremists have a chance to exploit them.
So again, Minister, our goals for the second year of the Binational Commission are just as ambitious as our goals for the first. We look forward to working closely with you, and I thank you for your long-standing commitment to the relationship between our two countries.
FOREIGN MINISTER ASHIRU: I thank you, Secretary of State Clinton. It’s a pleasure for me to be here, and we’ve had useful discussions with our American counterparts and we discussed issues of mutual concern to our two countries. Our relations is now anchored under the BNC, the Binational Commission, which was signed earlier this year. And in the Commission there are various sectors and we discussed areas of enhancing and promoting relations and attraction of investment, especially in the energy and power sector.
I reiterated the fact to the Secretary of State that the U.S. companies should take advantage of the boom that we foresee in the nearest future in the energy sector, and that the U.S. companies should not sit on the fence as they did when we had the telecoms boom in Nigeria. We should not allow their competitors to go reaping only from Nigeria, and now this is the time for them to move into Nigeria and take part in the energy boom which we foresee. And there are many notable U.S. companies that are the leading players, especially in manufacturing of turbines and so on. We believe this is the time for them to come to Nigeria and invest. And we see a big market for the energy sector in Nigeria.
And of course, we also open our doors to other companies in the agricultural and rural transportation sector to also come into Nigeria because we now having an agricultural boom. We are (inaudible); we are turning agriculture in Nigeria to mechanized farming, and we believe they have the expertise. They should now join the others who are already in Nigeria to come and see this transformation and let’s partake in it together. Of course, Secretary of State Clinton has already reviewed a number of the issues we discussed on the bilateral sides and also on the international arena. So with those few remarks, I say, Madam Secretary, thank you very much for this –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Minister Ashiru. Thank you.
MR. TONER: Time for just two questions today. The first goes to Jill Dougherty of CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you. Madam Secretary, thanks for the comments about the attack in Syria. If you had anything further to add, especially about your level of concern for the safety of the ambassador, we’d be more than happy to hear it. I do have just two questions.
One concerns Uzbekistan. The President spoke with the President Karimov last night, and then also you met with the Uzbek foreign minister. Did you discuss expanding the Northern Distribution Network for Afghanistan? And does the Administration support expanding – or I should say dropping restrictions on military equipment that can be sold to the Uzbeks in spite of the concerns about potential human rights violations.
And just – I’m sorry – one other question. I represent a lot of journalists.
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Maybe one is optional. (Inaudible) But there is interest among my colleagues in the continuing questions about Pakistan. There was an interview with Admiral Mullen. He’s not stepping away from those comments about the veritable arm, the Haqqani Network. Why is the Administration or parts of the Administration stepping back from those comments in spite of what he is saying?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jill, if I can remember them – (laughter) – the first one, with respect to Ambassador Ford, we’ve raised this ugly, unfortunate incident to the highest levels of the Syrian Government. We are demanding that the Syrian Government take all necessary steps to protect our Embassy, to protect our diplomats in accordance with the international obligations that every country must abide by. And this is absolutely required. The Vienna Convention requires that host countries protect property and persons of diplomatic missions. And I must say that this inexcusable assault is clearly part of an ongoing campaign of intimidation aimed at not only American diplomats but diplomats from other countries, foreign observers who are raising questions about what’s going on inside Syria. It reflects an intolerance on the part of the regime and its supporters, and it is deeply regrettable that we have the Asad regime continuing its campaign of violence against its own people.
So I hope that, first and foremost, our property, our – the persons that serve in our mission will be protected along with every other diplomat from every other country. But secondly, we continue to call for an end to the violence, and we’ll continue to speak out, and I think Ambassador Ford’s courage and clarity is making the point that the United States cannot and will not stand idly by when this kind of violence continues.
With respect to Uzbekistan, we value our relationship with Uzbekistan. They have been very helpful to us with respect to the Northern Distribution Network. They have also been helpful with Afghanistan in terms of reconstruction. They are deeply involved in assisting Afghans and the Afghan Government to try to rebuild and make Afghanistan a more prosperous, peaceful country. We believe that our continuing dialogue with officials of the government is essential. It always raises, as I have and as others from our government continue to do so, our concerns about human rights and political freedoms. But at the same time we are working with the Uzbeks to make progress, and we are seeing some signs of that, and we would clearly like to deepen our relationship on all issues.
Finally, with respect to Pakistan, I would certainly urge people to look at the entirety of Admiral Mullen’s testimony. He did raise serious questions, which our government has raised with the Pakistanis about the continuing safe haven for terrorists that strike across the border in Afghanistan against Afghans, Americans, NATO ISAF troops, civilians working there, as well as within Pakistan. But Admiral Mullen also said that this is a very critical consequential relationship. We have a lot of interests that are in common, most particularly the fight against terrorism. So we are certainly making clear that we want to see an end to safe havens and any kind of support from anywhere for terrorists inside Pakistan, and we also want to continue to work to put our relationship on a stronger footing.
MR. TONER: Next question goes to Peter (inaudible) from News Agency of Nigeria.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary of State, thank you very much for your firm belief in Nigeria, for you very open comment about our country. My question is on security in Nigeria. Will the U.S. support the Nigerian Government to go into dialogue with Boko Haram while there are ongoing killings on the streets of Maiduguri? And in the last 48 hours we have had unconfirmed reports from the extremist group saying they will disrupt the independence day celebrations.
And if you can indulge me one more question, you told us that you discuss with the minister – your meeting with the minister this afternoon, there was a follow-up on what you discussed with President Goodluck Jonathan, who attended General Assembly last week in New York. Did you raise the issue of Palestine with the minister, and what did our president tell you about Nigerians (inaudible) and preference if the issue of the Palestinian statehood should come to the Security Council?
Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first with respect to Boko Haram, we have condemned its deadly use of violence. We think that its attacks on ordinary citizens, on institutions of the Nigerian state, on the United Nations office in Abuja, are absolutely unjustifiable. There is no set or principles or beliefs that can justify taking the lives of innocent people, and we offer our deepest condolences to all those families who have lost loved ones in these senseless attacks.
At the same time, we are working with Nigeria to try to develop capabilities to provide better security, to strengthen the security sector, because we think that some terrorist and extremist groups are absolutely unreconcilable. They cannot be convinced to end their violence and participate in society. But where there is an opportunity for any dialogue or outreach, we would support that. We certainly have around the world. But we also know that it has to be both at the same time. There has to be a strong, effective security response and an effort to try to remove the reasons why people would, in any way, condone or support this kind of terrorism.
And maybe – let me stop here and let the minister respond to that as well, and then I can answer your second question.
FOREIGN MINISTER ASHIRU: Yes. I can assure you that we had a useful discussion on that with the Secretary of State (inaudible) to offer support and assistance to Nigeria to combat this issue of terrorism. You see, no one country can handle this issue on its own, so it has to be multilateral and multifaceted. And from all our meetings, we’ve received assurances of support to help Nigeria in this new wave, which of course, as you rightly know, is much new to us in Nigeria. But we believe that our government is on top of the situation and they will continue to develop expertise and capability to manage and curtail this new menace that we have.
SECRETARY CLINTON: With respect to your second question, the minister and I had a good discussion of these issues today. I had the opportunity to talk to President Jonathan, as did President Obama, last week at the United Nations General Assembly. We believe strongly, and we have certainly communicated that to the president and the foreign minister, that the only route to a Palestinian state, which we want to see happen, is through negotiations. We know that whatever does or doesn’t happen in the United Nations will not create a state, and our goal is to see two states living side by side in peace and security.
The Quartet statement that was issued last Friday calls for a return to negotiations. We hope that Nigeria, who is a friend of both Israel and to the Palestinians, will tell both of them, get back to the negotiating table, because that’s where the differences must be resolved. It is the only place where we can get a durable and lasting peace, but we have certainly made it clear to all of our friends that we want to see a return to negotiations. Anything which is done that disrupts that or detours that is a postponement of the outcome that we are all seeking.
Thank you all very much.
This morning, I called President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria to congratulate him on his election victory and to commend the people of Nigeria for their resolve and patience during last month’s historic presidential, legislative and gubernatorial elections. The success of the elections was a testament to Nigerian voters who waited in long lines, stayed to watch their votes counted and were determined that these elections mark a new chapter in Nigerian history. Credit also belongs to the Independent National Electoral Commission, the National Youth Service Corps, and Nigeria’s vibrant civil society, all of which must play a role in ensuring that the final results reflect the will of the Nigerian people and that Nigerian authorities investigate and address any allegations of fraud or irregularities.
While the majority of Nigerians cast their ballots free from intimidation and coercion, the post-election violence that followed the presidential election on April 16 was deplorable. Violence has no place in a democratic society, and it is the responsibility of all Nigerians to reject it. Democracy, however, neither begins nor ends with elections. Now is the time for Nigeria’s leaders and its people to come together and build the future that they deserve—a multi-party democracy that addresses the aspirations of all Nigerians, especially its youth, who did so much to make the recent elections a success and who will define the nation’s future.
As Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria can show what is possible when people of different parties, ethnicities and faith backgrounds come together to seek peace, provide for their families, and give their children a better future. Today, Nigerians have an historic opportunity to move forward together and make their nation into a model for Africa. As I told President Jonathan, I look forward to strengthening our partnership with Nigeria so that this and future generations of Nigerians can live in peace, democracy and prosperity.
MS. FULTON: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Very pleased today to have with us Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson to talk about the recent elections in Nigeria. He was on hand to observe personally, so he’ll be able to give you his on-the-ground accounts of the results. So without further ado, Assistant Secretary Carson.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Thank you very, very much. Glad to be here with you this afternoon to talk a little bit about the recent elections in Nigeria. Nigeria has just completed its most successful elections since its return to multiparty democracy in 1999. Despite some technical imperfections, those elections represent a substantial improvement over the flawed 2007 electoral process. This reverses a downward democratic trajectory and provides the country a solid foundation for strengthening its electoral procedures and democratic institutions in the years to come. The Nigerian people have shown to the world their resilience and will to have their voices heard. These elections were a real opportunity to choose their leaders.
This week, Nigerian voters returned to the polls for the fourth time and final time to select their state assembly members and governors. On April 26th, all but two states held elections. Elections in Kaduna and Bauchi states occurred April 28th to give additional time for security to return to those two areas. International and domestic observers reported the April 26th elections to be generally well organized, albeit with a lower turnout in various locations compared with voter turnout earlier this month.
Following the deplorable post-election violence of the previous week, we are heartened that many Nigerian voters went to the polls to vote in an environmentally – environment largely free of violence. We remain concerned about allegations of fraud and ballot box snatching in various jurisdictions, and we strongly urge Nigerian authorities to investigate and take corrective actions on all of these allegations. We commend the Independent National Electoral Commission and especially its chairman, Professor Jega, and the security services for addressing challenges and improving their efforts with each progressive election.
We are confident that INEC leaders will continue to take steps to further improve the electoral process to ensure that some political actors do not divert to their old – revert to their old ways of subverting the will of the Nigerian electorate. We are partners in the international community, and will not hesitate to take appropriate action against individuals of any political party who seek to undermine the integrity of the electoral process, whether at the state, national, or local elections.
Again, we congratulate the people of Nigeria on holding very successful elections. Thank you.
QUESTION: Secretary Carson, two questions. One, the CPC has said that it has evidence of irregularities and that it plans to go to court over those. So question one is: To what extent do you think that the existing irregularities cast a shadow on President Jonathan’s victory? Second, and in a way the more important question is: To what extent do you think that he is likely to be inclusive going forward so as to help lay to rest or to help unify the country? Would you expect or hope, for example, that when he names a cabinet he will reach out to opposition figures? Can you give us your sense of that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: I hope that INEC will take seriously all allegations of election irregularity. There is no doubt in my mind that there were some imperfections, some technical problems, and probably some justified cases of rigging. But it is up to the election commission to investigate those. I do not believe that any of the irregularities or technical imperfections undermine the overall outcome of this election and that the elections do reflect the will of a majority of the Nigerian people.
I cannot say what kind of cabinet or government President Jonathan will put in place. But I do note that his vice president is, in fact, a former northern governor and that the constitution does call for the president of the country to select from individual states various cabinet members. I hope that he will act in both a responsible and inclusive manner in the selection of those individuals for his cabinet and that in doing so, he will be reaching out to heal the political divisions that were uncovered during the election process.
MS. FULTON: In the back.
QUESTION: I have a question actually about Sudan. Before we came out here, the Treasury Department pulled the Bank of Khartoum off of the sanctions list, and I wonder if you can explain that move, and then more broadly how Sudan is doing on this roadmap toward normalization with the U.S.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Let me say that I’m not aware of this recent decision to pull the Bank of Khartoum off the sanctions list, and so I will not comment on that.
With respect to the roadmap, we continue to see progress in the implementation of the roadmap, and we continue to encourage the Government of Sudan to continue to fulfill its obligations that remain under the roadmap. One of the most important aspects of this was the successful referenda election in South Sudan that went from January 9 to 15. That went extraordinarily well. It was largely free of violence – large turnouts, well organized, and reflected the will of the people of the South to secure their independence. We continue to encourage very strongly that the Khartoum government, the NCP, and the Southern Sudanese Government, the SPLM, to work to resolve the remaining key issues that are a part of the conclusion of the CPA. This means resolving the Abyei crisis before July 9 and resolving the issues of oil and wealth-sharing, border demarcation, as well as issues related to citizenship.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that one? Just to stay with the question of Abyei, President Bashir is quoted today as having said, quote, “If there’s any attempt to secede Abyei within the borders of the new state, we will not recognize the new state,” close quote. What is your response to that, and does that not sort of ratchet up tensions ahead of July?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Let me just say that those comments are not helpful at all, and they only serve to inflame and heighten tensions. It is important that both sides – those in Khartoum and those in Juba – focus intensely on trying to resolve the key issues that have not been completed under the CPA. Abyei is one of them. This must be done before July 9, and it is important that President Bashir and the President of South Sudan Salva Kiir continue to meet, negotiate to resolve these issues as quickly as possible.
MS. FULTON: Back to Nigeria?
QUESTION: Yeah. Back to Nigeria. How much do you expect these elections in Nigeria to promote efforts towards democracy in the broader region? Can you –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: I think the success of the Nigerian elections are primarily of importance to the Nigerian people, but they also send a very strong signal across Africa. Nigeria is one of the two most important countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is also the most populous country in Africa with 150 million people. It’s also the second largest Muslim country in Africa after Egypt.
The people of Nigeria have clearly demonstrated a desire to have a democratic government, to participate in democratically-run elections, and I think this reflects a desire of many people across Africa. It also is an indication, too, that if Nigeria, with its large size and population, can, in effect, run and manage successful democratic elections, that it is possible for many of the other smaller states to do so as well. It also indicates that the democratic trajectory not only in Nigeria, but across West Africa has not stalled but continues to rise.
QUESTION: Might you be soft-pedaling the violence a little bit? I’m reading some wire material today about perhaps 500 people killed and Christian churches set afire. And also people from the elections say that they’re very discouraged by this and that they prefer to not have an election if this sort of thing happens. Might you be looking through rose-colored glasses at this sort of thing?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Absolutely not. But let me first say we deplore the violence that occurred particularly after the conclusion of the presidential elections a week and a half ago. We saw widespread violence throughout much of northern Nigeria. Both the president and the main opposition candidates – both called on their supporters to not support violent activities and to work to restore peace as quickly as possible.
I think that there has been a history of violence associated with Nigerian elections in the past. But in this election, we have clearly seen a much more responsible security force and a security presence in and around the electoral sites. So it’s important that violence not be a part of the democratic process. We deplore it, and I think senior officials in Nigeria have also deplored it as well. We hope that these elections will be a baseline for greater improvement in both their technical procedures as well as in their security as well.
MS. FULTON: Do we have time for maybe one more question?
QUESTION: Can I ask about Uganda? There are reports this morning that a fourth opposition leader has been arrested, and my question is about the U.S. – the Administration’s response. Are we considering any kind of pressure on the Ugandan Government?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: We have seen the reports of the arrest of several former presidential candidates for attempting to carry out peaceful demonstrations in Kampala that were designed to highlight rising oil and food prices. We have also seen with great concern and regret the very serious and apparent mistreatment of one of those candidates, Dr. Besigye. We have expressed our concern about what appears to be harassment of President – of Dr. Besigye. I have, myself, spoken to the Ugandan foreign minister about this and have urged that the Ugandan Government act both in a responsible and civil fashion in dealing with the arrest of individuals attempting to carry out peaceful protests.
QUESTION: When did you speak to the foreign minister about that, and was that specifically about the case that you referenced?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: I spoke to the foreign minister today, and it was specifically concerning the apparent ill treatment of Dr. Besigye as well as the government’s reaction to peaceful protests by others.
QUESTION: And did the foreign minister give you any reason to believe that the government would seek to treat such people better and to show greater respect toward peaceful protesters?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: He did indeed. He said that he hoped that President Museveni would be meeting with the opposition political parties and leaders on Tuesday of next week. I urged political outreach and reconciliation to resolve the differences that the government has with opposition leaders. I also encouraged that there be a scope for civil peaceful protests and that government reaction to those protests should be tempered, responsible, and civil.
MS. FULTON: Okay. And thank you for your time, Assistant Secretary Carson.
QUESTION: Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Thank you.
I would like to thank Steve McDonald and the Woodrow Wilson Center for inviting me to speak today. It’s a pleasure to see many longtime friends and colleagues. The Woodrow Wilson Center plays a vital role in providing policymakers like myself with the deep thinking and analysis that helps guide our work.
My original goal for today’s talk was to provide you with a broad overview of the major issues and policies we anticipate for the coming year. Before I do that, however, I would like to first draw your attention to two situations of grave and immediate concern to the United States. The first has largely been eclipsed by developments in places such as Japan, North Africa, and the Middle East. It is not making big headlines or receiving much coverage on the news networks. Nonetheless, it is something on which we should all be focused. I’m talking about the elections in Nigeria.
Nigeria is one of the two most important countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and what happens in Nigeria has consequences for Africa, the United States, and the global community. This past weekend Nigeria was to have held the first of a series of elections that will shape the direction of Africa’s most populous country and second-largest economy.
Nigeria has not had credible national elections since 1993, and overcoming this negative legacy remains a significant challenge. This challenge was manifest on Saturday, as Nigeria’s independent electoral body, INEC, intervened a few hours into the polling to postpone the first round of voting for the National Assembly. The postponement was due to a variety of logistical problems, notably the failure to deliver voting materials to numerous polling stations across the country. We share the disappointment of INEC and of the Nigerian people that this important electoral event had to be postponed, and we renew our call for credible and transparent elections in this critically important African country.
As many of you know, the last elections in 2007 were deeply flawed and in no way reflected the ability and capacity of Nigeria to organize and run successful elections. They were also a major embarrassment to many Nigerians. Rigging and theft of ballot boxes took place in full view of the public. Violence was rampant, and actual voting did not even occur in many places. The results announced by the electoral commission had no basis in reality.
Most Nigerian and international observers agreed the 2007 elections represented a major setback for democracy in Africa. Although the former elections commissioner Maurice Ewu has gone, to this day, nobody has been held accountable for the fraud and mismanagement in running those elections.
The appointment last June of Attahiru Jega as national electoral commissioner raised expectations that this year’s elections would meet minimum standards of credibility. Dr. Jega is a respected university administrator, professor, and civil society activist who brought well-needed integrity and competence to the position. He has inspired many Nigerians to become more actively involved in the elections process and to insist on greater transparency to combat fraud. Dr. Jega has also given international observers greater access to the electoral commission, and he has been been open to advice from election experts from Latin America, Africa, and the United States.
However, as we have seen this past weekend one man alone cannot overcome significant systemic and logistical challenges, nor can one person or one electoral event transform a political culture in which stolen elections and disregard for basic democratic principles have been the norm for decades. The logistical challenges and inevitable confusion associated with the administration of elections in a country of Nigeria’s size and population—not to mention its poor infrastructure—also create opportunities for political manipulation. And some politicians have acted in ways to make proper electoral oversight all the more difficult.
Although the level of violence associated with the 2011 election might, in some locations, appear diminished from what we witnessed in 2007, any election violence is unacceptable, and it casts a dark shadow over the entire electoral process. Assassinations of candidates, bombings, riots, stoning of motorcades, other forms of political hooliganism, are to be condemned. The spoilers must not be allowed to prevail.
Despite the poor start this past weekend, we encourage all Nigerians to exercise their rights as citizens to vote and to have their votes counted openly and transparently. Reports of a significant and peaceful turnout of Nigerian voters last Saturday are a positive indication of their democratic aspirations. We continue to support fully Dr. Jega and other like-minded election officials in their efforts to achieve better election results. But, we are also monitoring the political environment closely. Democracy is important, and we are prepared to take appropriate measures against those individuals who violate basic democratic norms, as we have in places such as Cote d’Ivoire, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar.
Our government will not turn a blind eye to a repeat of the political violence and wholesale electoral theft that took place in Nigeria in 2007. If Nigeria’s current elections are not a significant improvement over the 2007, and if the current elections do not meet the expectations of a majority of voters, Nigeria and Nigerian citizenry will lose confidence in their leaders, their democratic institutions, and the capacity of Nigeria to sustain a positive democratic trajectory.
We believe Nigeria has an historic opportunity to allow the Nigerian people the opportunity to elect their local, state and national representatives in a climate free of violence and intimidation. We hope that opportunity will not be lost.
The second situation of great concern to the United States is the current crisis in Ivory Coast. For the past four months, the African Union, ECOWAS, and United Nations have been calling upon Laurent Gbagbo to accept the choice of Ivorian voters and hand power over to Alassane Ouattara, the winner of last November’s presidential elections. Accredited Ivorian and international observers assessed the first and second round of those elections to be free, fair, and credible. The U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) conducted a separate and thorough analysis of over 20,000 tally sheets from all the polling stations and suported the finding of Cote d’Ivoire’s own Independent Electoral Commission that Allasane Ouattara had won the second round with 54 percent of the vote. However, the Ivorian Constitutional Council nullified the results from several northern polling districts to eliminate Ouattara’s margin of victory. The Council did so without any regard for transparency and explanation of the complaints that were used to justify the nullification.
Having lost the elections but unwilling to relinquish power, Gbagbo is now betting that the current chaos, violence, and humanitarian crisis will cow the African Union and international community into backing down and accepting a settlement. Gbagbo’s intransigence has exacerbated tensions and provoked violence across the country; he and his ministers have openly threatened the United Nations operation, which is charged with protecting civilians who are caught in the crossfire of his political ambitions. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced, and violence last week probably has pushed the death toll to well above a thousand.
Gbagbo’s attempt to cling to power regardless of the high cost to millions of Ivorian citizens, regional stability, and to Africa’s reputation is a direct insult to the many millions of Africans who have worked so hard in recent years to promote economic development, democratic reforms, and political stability.
The situation in Cote d’Ivoire is frequently compared to that of Libya in terms of the international community’s responsibilities to protect innocent civilians. That notion is simply wrong. For the past four months, the United States has been working closely with its African and other international partners to achieve a peaceful outcome to the Ivorian crisis. A robust international peacekeeping force has been on the ground since 2002, beginning first as an ECOWAS operation and then converting in 2004 to a U.N. led effort. The peacekeepers prevented what many analysts believed could have turned into another prolonged bloody civil war like what had occurred in the previous decade in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Over the past four months, the peacekeepers have helped deter and contain violence while ECOWAS and the African Union tried to achieve a diplomatic solution to this crisis. French forces have also played a key role in preventing Cote d’Ivoire’s civil war from escalating over the past decade, and, as we see this week, are taking action with U.N. forces to take out Gbagbo’s heavy weaponry and thereby reduce the risks to the civilian population in Abidjan. I think these actions demonstrate the willingness and ability of the U.N. and French forces to adapt to the changing circumstances in what has become a highly volatile situation. Without the presence of the peacekeepers, there is no doubt the situation in Cote d’Ivoire would be far worse than it is now.
Overall, the international community’s response in Cote d’Ivoire thus far has been appropriately matched to the political and military circumstances on the ground. Gbagbo has virtually no airborne military assets, and UNOCI, with French assistance, has been able to neutralize his heavy military weaponry, a very different picture than the situation in Libya.
We should nonetheless be humble about what can be expected of external interventions in general. We are in regular contact with President Ouattara and his Prime Minister Soro to insist that forces claiming to fight on their behalf refrain from violence against civilians, looting, and other excesses. We are heartened by President Ouattara’s and Prime Minister Soro’s clear directives to their forces to maintain the utmost respect for the civilian population, and their calls for transparent international investigations of all reported human rights abuses. We have also raised our concerns about violence committed by pro-Gbagbo forces with representatives of his dwindling regime. We have made it clear that actors on all sides will be held accountable for war crimes and other atrocities.
In the remainder of my remarks today, I will provide an outlook for the coming months and overview of some specific policy priorities. I’m happy to answer your questions afterwards, but am also very much looking forward to hearing your thoughts and suggestions.
Some of you might already be familiar with the five focal areas of our Africa policy: strengthening democracy and governance; helping mitigate conflict; promote economic growth and development; assist with addressing its health issues; and focus on prevailing over certain transnational problems. Over the past two years, Africa has made gains in some areas, maintained the status quo in others, and in experienced a few setbacks.
The recent referendum in Southern Sudan was a great achievement for that country and for Africa as well. Over a year ago, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) appeared at risk of unraveling. In response, we stepped up our diplomatic engagement and increased our human and material resources. Our international partners, particularly the United Nations and African Union, led the negotiations and referendum mechanics, but our interventions at critical moments helped sustain the progress and momentum. It is one of our greatest achievements in the past two years.
Smaller scale but equally intensive diplomatic efforts, in collaboration with ECOWAS, our European partners, and Guinean leaders, helped avert the outbreak of war in Guinea-Conakry and steered that country through a transition that led to credible elections last year. Likewise, our collaboration with ECOWAS facilitated the eventual transition back to a democratically elected rule in Niger.
I wish that I could include Zimbabwe and Madagascar on this list of countries that made progress this last year, but clearly the situation in both remains paralyzed as their hard-nosed leaders continue to try to manipulate the democratic process in their favor. Increasing political repression and economic stagnation in Eritrea has put that country on par with North Korea.
Over the next year, we will continue to work in close collaboration with our African and other international partners to address the many challenges ahead while capitalizing on the great opportunities that already exist in Africa. The most historic event for sub-Saharan Africa this year is likely to be the emergence of Southern Sudan as an independent nation on July 9, 2011. The referendum was only one component of a still incomplete process. The North and South must still negotiate and implement a wide range of agreements, and South Sudan must begin building the foundations for a stable government and growing economy. The United States has already committed hundreds of millions dollars to the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and we must remain engaged in the coming months and years.
The 17 national elections scheduled for this year across Africa are also noteworthy. Although there’s more to democracy than just elections, they do serve to be seen as an important barometer of overall governance, and we must remain proactive in encouraging success. The election scheduled to take place in the Democratic Republic of Congo in November will be critical for consolidating the still fragile peace and building public confidence in that government. The Congolese people and international community are increasingly concerned with the government’s performance in areas such as the rule of law, corruption, human rights, and security sector reform.
Tough and unresolved conflicts in Darfur, Somalia, and the eastern DRC are likely to remain among our greatest preoccupations over the next year. We recently appointed a senior diplomat, Ambassador Dane Smith, to intensify our efforts on resolving the Darfur conflict. And Ambassador Princeton Lyman was named last week as the President’s Special Envoy replacing Scott Gration. We are seeing signs of some progress in Doha, and urge the parties to continue to negotiate in good faith. We are encouraging the armed movements that are not participating in the Doha Peace Process to send a delegation to Doha to try to resolve this problem. The prospect of normalized relations between Khartoum and the United States, as laid out in the road map presented by Senator Kerry to the northern Sudanese leadership several months ago, also provides a new context in which to develop a constructive diplomatic relationship between Khartoum and Washington.
Regarding Somalia, last year we rolled out a revised approach to this twenty-year-old crisis. We call it a “dual-track strategy” because it provides for continuing support of the Transitional Federal Government and also recognizes the potential role that other actors can play in ending conflict and establishing basic governing institutions. Without question, the TFG remains weak and highly dependent on the African Union Mission to Somalia, AMISOM, for its security and survival. Its mandate expires in August, and its members will need to find a credible way to build legitimacy moving ahead. For the other part of our dual track strategy, we are looking to continue our support for AMISOM and increase our engagement and support for Somaliland, Puntland, and local administrative entities and civil society groups in south central Somalia such as the current local administration in Galguduud.
Secretary Clinton’s visit to Goma in 2009 underscored the importance we attach to seeing an end to the violence in the eastern DRC. We are planning to reinvigorate our diplomatic efforts in the coming months, to include the presentation of a revised strategy. We have heard numerous calls for the appointment of a roving special envoy, but we believe for a variety of reasons that our ambassadors and their embassy teams in Kinshasa, Kigali, and other capitals are in a strong position to tackling these problems.
The UN peacekeeping operation MONUSCO also has a vital role to play in the Congo, and we will explore ways to improve its capacity and strengthen its mandate. Security sector reform is vital for building the professionalism of the DRC military and weeding out those responsible for past atrocities. Recent U.S. Dodd-Frank legislation on conflict minerals provides us with still another tool to improve the situation in the DRC.
In the course of my forty-year career, I have seen many situations considered “intractable” that have come to resolution to the surprise of the pessimists. For this reason, I have learned to be persistent and use the tools at our disposal. Despite lack of progress in Zimbabwe, Madagascar, and Eritrea, we will not slacken in our efforts. You don’t win a basketball game with a single fancy dunk or jump shot from mid court. Those baskets only make a difference if you’ve kept your score up with mostly repetitive, boring layups and ordinary shots from inside the lane. That’s what diplomacy is about.
The Obama Administration is committed to recognizing Africa’s strategic importance and drawing more attention to its enormous promise and potential. This is especially important in the economic arena, where there is growing awareness of Africa’s potential as a high-growth market and investment destination. We remain committed to a strong and revitalized AGOA, and look forward to participating in this year’s AGOA Forum in June in Lusaka, Zambia. But we must do more in the business arena to remain competitive.
I have only touched on a few of the priority issues and events anticipated for the coming year. My staff will also be working on a variety of other “normal” diplomatic tasks of a trans-global nature, such as preparing for the next United Nations climate change conference in South Africa; implementing programs to improve food security and health; promoting regional economic cooperation; becoming more attentive to the welfare of women and girls; engaging more with civil society and youth; promoting the rights of disabled persons. But we are also engaging in dialogue to address the many challenges facing Africa.
Thank you for your attention.
On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I applaud the people of Nigeria for their enthusiastic and orderly participation in the April 16th presidential election. This historic event marks a dramatic shift from decades of failed elections and a substantial improvement over the 2007 presidential election.
While this election was a success for the people of Nigeria, it was far from perfect. We urge the Independent National Electoral Commission to transparently review and take appropriate and transparent action on all allegations of “under-age” voters, violence and intimidation, ballot stuffing, and inordinately high turnout in some areas of the country. The United States condemns the acts of violence related to elections and we call upon all candidates, political parties, and supporters to respect the results of the election and channel any grievances or challenges peacefully through established, administrative and legal redress. The international community will closely watch the upcoming gubernatorial elections and we call on all Nigerian stakeholders to support a credible and peaceful electoral process.
We commend the Independent National Electoral Commission and Chairman Professor Attahiru Jega along with many others across government and civil society for their strong collaboration and dedication to democracy. They provided a real opportunity for the Nigerian people to select their most senior leaders and will position Nigeria to build its democracy through strong governance, transparent institutions, and economic development. The United States congratulates President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan on his election and wishes him well in meeting the many challenges facing Nigeria and in providing the good governance Nigerians deserve. This election represents a positive new beginning for Nigeria.