Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes | 7/26/2015
Safaricom Indoor Arena
9:45 A.M. EAT
MR. EARNEST: Good morning, everybody. I appreciate you bearing with us through some of the logistical challenges this morning. And I know that we've got a handful of reporters here in the room and then reporters from a couple of other locations that will be participating in today’s briefing.
At the beginning of the briefing, as you can see, standing here alongside me are some business leaders from the United States that have traveled here to Africa to participate in the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. And what I thought I would do is invite each of them individually to spend two or three minutes talking about their experience at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit and to talk about the significance of investing in entrepreneurship and economic opportunity here in Africa, and why it's significant that the President is spending his time on it and what the consequences are for the economy here in Africa, but also for the United States.
So I'll introduce them one by one. What we'll do is I'll invite each of them to start with two or three minutes of opening comments, and then what I would do is we'll open up the floor to questions for them. And then Ben and I will hang around afterwards if there are questions on other topics that we can spend a little time answering those questions, too.
So let me first introduce -- nearly to my right is Steve Case, the CEO of Revolution. And then to his right is Julie Hanna, who’s the Executive Chair of the Board at Kiva. And to her right is Daymond John, the CEO and founder of FUBU. And then on the end is Nils Tcheyan, who is the Director of Government Relations for GE Africa.
So, Steve, you want to start?
MR. CASE: Thanks, Josh. And thanks to all of you for being here. I think the headlines from my perspective are we're now seeing the globalization of entrepreneurship, number one; number two, Africa is open for business not just for the large companies or the private equity funds, but increasingly for venture capitalists backing startups; and number three, Kenya particularly, and Nairobi particularly, is really quickly emerging as a quite vibrant startup community.
In terms of globalization of entrepreneurship, we're proud of Silicon Valley; it continues to be the envy of the world. It will continue to do great, but we're now seeing entrepreneurship both regionalized within the United States -- what we call the “rise of the rest,” as regions all across the United States are showing real momentum as startup communities -- and also the globalization. And we're seeing that happen certainly in many, many parts of Europe -- London is very strong; Helsinki is very strong; Stockholm is very strong. But now we're starting to see it in Africa as well.
And I came a few days early and met a lot of entrepreneurs -- there was a pitch competition at the iHub in Nairobi. Great companies pitched ad we picked and invested in -- we made half a dozen investments here in the last couple years. I think that will accelerate. From here, this afternoon we're going on to Ghana and then Nigeria, doing similar things. And there’s really great momentum around Africa. There’s a recognition that over the past decade Africa has shifted from a problem we need to solve by government aid and philanthropic support to more of an opportunity we need to seize and bring investors and entrepreneurs to the forefront.
And what’s happening is really quite remarkable. I met several companies that could go public in the next two or three years -- billion-dollar valuations in Nairobi. So this isn't just small companies focused on meeting the needs in Kenya or Africa; it's companies based here that are starting to have global ambitions.
So that's encouraging to see. I think it's great that the President has made the Global Entrepreneurship Summit a high-profile event -- a thousand people here, for example. And it's really a recognition that it's in America’s interest to have a safe and prosperous world, and the best way to do that is to have strong economies all over the world. And the best way to do that is to back the entrepreneurs who really are building the startups -- the seed corn, if you will, that someday some of those will be the big companies that really help create the jobs and the hope and the opportunities.
It's been a great week. It's great to -- it has been such a focus of the White House; entrepreneurship really is kind of critical. And we've seen time and time again that startups really can change the world and they can change the world out of Africa as well.
MS. HANNA: Hello. Kiva has worked in the region -- actually was founded in 2005, working with entrepreneurs in the region. And I would say that what’s particularly profound about what’s happened this week is that entrepreneurialism as a mindset is an inherent part of the Kenyan culture and of the culture of sub-Saharan Africa -- that's what we found 10 years ago when we began funding entrepreneurs.
And it began with one entrepreneur -- a Ugandan fishmonger who was a single mother of five, who couldn't afford to scale her business and get enough profit to send her children to school. And one loan funded by -- by five people allowed her to do that. And she paid back the loan and she grew her business.
Since that time, there are 240,000 entrepreneurs like Elizabeth that have been funded in sub-Saharan Africa, and have received $170 million in loans. And they’ve repaid those loans at 98 percent. And it speaks to the fact that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. And we've been working in a grassroots way to enable them over this period of time. And it speaks to, on a global basis, 1.6 million people like Elizabeth have received loans and almost $700 million in that time.
So what’s important about this week is that this grassroots movement, the informal kind of recognition of entrepreneurialism as a backbone of this culture, is being elevated and more formally recognized. And I think we'll look back and see this as a real inflection point. Just seeing on the ground the response to GES, to President Obama being here, it's -- one of the things that we find in Silicon Valley that's so vital to entrepreneurship is elevating and amplifying role models, and really helping people ignite the entrepreneurial spark that we all have within us. Because ultimately entrepreneurship is about wanting to -- the relentless pursuit of a better way and it is about wanting to create a future you want to live in.
And the more young people and women and marginalized members of society world view that as an option, then there’s a hope of driving an innovation economy, of achieving economic stability. And ultimately that plants the seeds for nation stability and it can change the fate of a nation ultimately. That's my belief.
MR. JOHN: Hi, thank you for being here. I really didn’t know what to expect -- I was very hopeful about when I would take the trip out here. I've had stores and distribution in South Africa for quite some time. And probably about 12 years ago, we initially opened it up, our stores. And the sentiment amongst the youth and really men of color was that they couldn’t even walk into some of the stores that I opened up at that time.
Everything has changed. I come out here and I realize -- I happen to be on a show in the States called “Shark Tank,” and I didn’t know that it was aired out here. I can't walk down the streets. It's these amazing young men and women who walk up to me and say to me how they’re an entrepreneur and they’re going to change the world themselves.
I happen to come from a middle- to lower-class neighborhood, and there was a lot of challenges in the neighborhood. And people would prey off of the fact that some of us -- or many of us didn’t have any hope. I decided to start a clothing line. I didn’t think anything of it besides I just wanted to dress people. I didn’t even know that I was calling myself an entrepreneur. At that time, I was told an entrepreneur was somebody that sets your house on fire and then sells you a water hose. (Laughter.) So I always thought that it was something that I couldn't do myself.
I've employed thousands of people from that time in (audio drop). And everybody in my neighborhood now wants to be a businessperson, and it’s changed an entire neighborhood -- and hopefully it’s changed the country. And that’s when I started to realize that the word FUBU for the buyers was created for a culture and not a color was something that was about empowerment.
Now, when I came over here and I see all these individuals that want to be self-sufficient, they want to change the world and feed themselves and do things of that nature, they think out of the box. As an American, I’m a little jaded. I’m busy trying to come up with the next app to sell women a hot pair of shoes. These individuals are coming up with apps and/or things that are social causes. I’m realizing that 25 percent of the world lights their houses with -- or has light with kerosene, little cans that may be dangerous to their health. And these individuals here are finding solar solutions to them. They are thinking outside of the box, and they are empowering themselves and they’re empowering their community. And more importantly, the whole world is at our fingertips with these little digital devices that will be no further than six feet away from them for the next 97 percent of our lives. And with communicating that way, they can also communicate and empower themselves.
Over the last three years, I’ve met over 100 entrepreneurs. That started off in one years, and doing over a million dollars off of their cellphones. And we need to educate these individuals on how they can do that and empower themselves -- women and children. I think a mom is the ultimate startup; I’ve always said that. A mother gives birth to a child, and there is no defined way or blueprint. Every single instance is different. And if we understand that, they truly are entrepreneurs. They take affordable next steps, they figure it out. And no matter what, they find a way to work it out.
And I think that being here and dealing and working with so many amazing entrepreneurs and seeing all these things out here, I have about four investments that I’m currently thinking about, as well as I’m talking to the telecom and communication decision-makers over here to not only provide opportunities for entrepreneurs, but provide other content to also educate them as well, and entertain them like we do in “Shark Tank.” So maybe I’ll be getting some advice from the creator of the content.
But I’m very happy to be here, and I think the President’s journey here has opened my eyes. I will be sharing this with every single investor that I know personally. And I am going to return here, and I’m very happy to be a PAGE ambassador with Steve, Julie, and Brian and everybody else. Thank you for having me.
MR. TCHEYEN: Good morning. So you’re probably wondering why is GE at the entrepreneurial conference. So the first thing is, as a company we’ve been here for about 100 years, but we’ve really expanded tremendously over the last five or six years. So when we think about entrepreneurship, and you look at kind of the growth and you look at the development that’s taking place in Africa, a lot of the entrepreneurial solutions that are found are aimed at addressing problems that arise partly because there are real problems, and partly because there’s a lack of infrastructure that’s enabling faster solutions. So these are solutions that overcome the gap in infrastructure that there is. And it’s already shown tremendous power, resilience, and innovation in overcoming those problems.
So from our perspective, there’s a huge market here for infrastructure -- whether it’s power generation, transportation, health care, aviation. So from our perspective, if you can unleash all of that potential by providing them with stronger, more affordable, available and reliable infrastructure, it’s going to really build on a tremendous growth record that the region has had over the past decade.
So we focus on large infrastructure. Over the course of this week, we’ve announced some deals -- Kipeto wind project. We’re going some big facilities in Nigeria, in Angola and elsewhere. We have a large health care modernization project that we’re doing here. But we actually bridge that to entrepreneurship. So if you think about health care and you think about the power of communications enabling people to read images remotely -- so you can’t get a doctor in every village; in fact, you might be lucky to have a nurse in every village -- you can get people to read scans remotely. If you have the technology to do the scan and transmit it back where a doctor can read it, and then advise the nurse on the course of treatment for a woman who’s pregnant and reduce child and infant mortality, huge gains will be made and are being made.
And there are so many young people here who are looking at ways of finding solutions to some of those problems. So that’s really the bridge that we see between entrepreneurship, growth, and the large kind of infrastructure that we do.
But we’re investing not just in our own projects; we’re partners with the Young African Leaders Initiative. We’re partners with Power Africa. We are looking for ways to really multiply the impact of GE investments, both through our own direct training and through our partnerships with local institutions.
We also announced this week that we’re going to be doing GE Garages in Nairobi. It’s basically a way of giving people an insight into what advanced manufacturing is, what kinds of skills are necessary to develop advanced manufacturing, and to help African entrepreneurs and businesspeople absorb the kinds of technologies and skills that they need to really take on much more manufacturing and value added in the region. That’s going to be in a partnership with SevenSeas Technology, with Gearbox -- which is a local startup, and with the University of Nairobi Technical Center. And it will be basically a facility that will be permanent in Nairobi.
So we’re very excited to be here, extremely appreciative of President Obama’s efforts not just on this trip, but throughout his trip in 2013 and 2014 to really bring this message that Africa is an investment destination, and it’s an investment destination where U.S. companies have to get now. Because if you’re not here now, you’re going to miss this kind of market.
So thanks very much.
MR. EARNEST: Great. So why don’t we start by seeing if there are any questions from the pool, and then -- we’ll sort of try and do this in an orderly fashion, and then we’ll get to in the room in just a minute.
Questions for the business leaders?
Q Hey, Josh, this is Julie with the pool. We defer our questions to everybody else that just went.
MR. EARNEST: All right. We’ll take the first one in the room here. Yes, sir.
Q Gregory Warner with NPR. My question is the focus on tech entrepreneurship, which has been so highlighted on this trip. Tech businesses are not large employers; they don’t need a lot of manpower like manufacturing, especially considering the education levels of the African workforce. So if the emphasis on entrepreneurship is presented as a way to grow jobs in Africa, to give people hope -- give young people hope for the future. Is emphasis on tech entrepreneurship the best bang for the buck?
MR. EARNEST: Steve, do you want to do this?
MR. CASE: Well, I think the emphasis is on entrepreneurship more broadly, and there are a lot of different sectors of the economy. It’s true in the United States as well as in Kenya and other places around the world. A lot of opportunities for disruption in health care and education and energy and transportation and food and government services. There are a lot of big sectors that haven't really been disrupted that much by the last couple waves of technology. I think you’ll see a lot of that in the next decade, and there will be a lot of job creation.
At the same time, as you say, there are some sectors where technology automates things and there is some job destruction. I think the next generation of entrepreneurs are going to focus on impact investing where it’s profit plus purpose and part of the purpose will be around job creation.
As it relates to this area specifically, I actually met several companies this week that are tech-oriented startups -- like M-KOPA, which is doing things around energy in rural villages. They’ve hired 650 people in the last four years and have over a thousand entrepreneurs -- growing to several thousand entrepreneurs -- out in the field selling that product. So that's a case of something which is a tech startup that actually already created a couple thousand jobs in just a few years. And I think you’ll see a lot more of those in the years to come.
MR. TCHEYAN: Josh, can I --
MR. EARNEST: Yes, please do.
MR. TCHEYAN: I think that's an excellent point, and I think that's one of the things, when you look at advanced manufacturing as well, it's going to generate fewer direct jobs, but if you think of an expanding economy and you think of the kind of supplier development that can come as people are feeding into not just a local supply chain, which is going to be very important, but into a global supply chain -- that’s really where you’re going to get the multiplication of jobs.
And so we basically look at, for every job that we create directly at GE, in the U.S., the multiplier is roughly eight jobs to supplier. In Africa, the multiplier is far less. I don't know what the exact number is, but maybe it's one to one. We think that number can be pushed up much higher by getting the economies to grow faster, bringing more manufacturing here. So it's going to be the volume of manufacturing, and not as much the direct employment, that's created by each enterprise.
MR. JOHN: Everything has a tech aspect to it these days, and everybody has talked about how the clothing industry has taken a big hit. The clothing industry hasn’t taken a big hit; it's just 200,000 kids now selling a million dollars’ worth of stuff out of their home. And if we can -- this is a hub of amazing textiles and they can -- and the quality of work here is superb. And if they can communicate on social media from a tech aspect, it will create the jobs here for manufacturing as well.
MS. HANNA: And I think just to kind of get at the why the emphasis on tech entrepreneurship, we fundamentally live in an “innovate or die” world, and the pace of change is accelerating. So if we don't help all the region of the world keep pace with that, then in a way there’s an issue of relevance and an ability of a society to move forward.
So, is there a hyper-efficiency that's ushered by technology that's resulting in less manual jobs -- yes. But that's an inevitability. So how do you help a society kind of retool and be prepared and on the forefront of that proactively rather than reactively.
Q My question is do we have a strategy vis-à-vis China? And the U.S. overall (inaudible) conduct in diplomacy and negotiating human rights issues -- is there a cost and barriers of entry, to be able to get in? And are we trying to play catchup given China’s investment in Africa -- there’s already several decades (inaudible.)
MR. CASE: I think the first wave of investment in Africa was around infrastructure. I think the next wave, which is now just breaking, is around innovation. And that where I think the United States is particularly advantaged. And trying to take some of the skill sets that have been learned not just in Silicon Valley but all around the United States and apply them to Nairobi and Legos and other emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems I think is the real opportunity.
That's not to say there aren't continuing to be significant infrastructure needs and there aren't continuing needs for large corporations, GE and others to make major investments in infrastructure. But I think the next battle really is around innovation, the innovation economy and that of course supporting entrepreneurs -- they’re starting small. And every large company starts as a small company. So these startups really are the seed corn that create the future of economies, the future of communities, the future of countries. And that's I think where the focus of the United States should be -- and really is with the Global Entrepreneurship Summit and this broader effort to, in a sense, encourage entrepreneurship in regions all across the country.
We helped start four or five years ago, the Case Foundation, a venture capital fund in the West Bank, for example. And the idea was if we could help create startups in Ramallah that hired a lot of different people, suddenly there would be a new narrative and there was a sense of hope and opportunity, a possibility in a region that for a lot of young people there wasn’t that sense of hope.
So I think the economic growth will increasingly -- not just the infrastructure but the innovation, the job growth will increasingly be in innovation. But it also gives people a sense of possibility. I think people are going to be surprised by some of the things that happen in the next years in Africa, particularly in Kenya -- some iconic companies emerging onto the global stage that really will put Kenya and Africa on the map as an innovation region.
MR. TCHEYAN: So China is obviously -- you can look at China as a competitor. I would certainly say in Africa, if you look at a lot of the infrastructure that's been created (audio drop) for example, in Nigeria, South Africa, we're working hard at supplier development. This comes back to the job multipliers that I talked about. We're doing a lot on kind of training and health care, for example, that's going to get directly at some of the development objectives that countries have.
And these are kind of long and lasting partnerships that U.S. companies can have that are really going to enable us to participate in the growth.
I mean, we can talk about China as a competitor, and there’s no doubt about it, they are a competitor. But if you're not here, you're not competing. So one of our messages back -- and again, we appreciate the entrepreneurship summit and President Obama’s focus on Africa over these past years is a message to get more American companies here. Because once you are here, you start to see huge opportunities that can be developed. And then you're competing with China in a different way, because you're here and you're present.
The other thing that I can't help but mention is the importance of the Ex-Im Bank reauthorization because that is -- if we don't have the Ex-Im Bank, that is really going to make it much tougher for us to match some of the financing that's available from other countries. So we're very hopeful that that's going to get through.
MR. RHODES: Just quickly because I don't want to take up too much time, but the President looks at this -- we welcome China in Africa. They’ve played a constructive role in developing infrastructure, for instance. You asked, though, about what we bring to the table. First of all, we have decades of development relationships here. If you look at where we are, we've been very focused on the public health sector. We've been very focused on food security. We've been very focused, increasingly, on power under this President.
But it's shifting from a paradigm where we're essentially providing assistance to a paradigm where we're building capacity here in Africa. So PEPFAR is shifting to building public health systems in African countries. Our Food Security Initiative is about helping farmers bring more products to market. Power Africa, of course, is about unlocking the growth that can come with better access to electricity.
And even in other initiatives, like entrepreneurship, it's about empowerment of Africans to create their own growth, their own job creation, which is going to be good for us, too, because, frankly, that's going to end up being a market for U.S. businesses and a source for U.S. investment. Even the Young African Leaders initiative focuses very much on human capital and developing the next cadre of African leaders.
So what we uniquely bring to the table I think is a relationship with Africa where we're not just in it for a set of natural resources; we're here to build African capacity. And that type of partnership over the long run I think does distinguish the United States. It's something that we bring uniquely to bear.
And entrepreneurship, in particular, I think is an American value that is broadly respected around the world. And I think if we can tap into all the energy that's taking place here, that's going to be very good for Kenya. It's going to be good for other countries as well, because, again, the more growth that takes place here I think the more opportunity there’s going to be for greater interconnection with the global economy. That includes the United States; it will include China; it will include others.
MR. EARNEST: Other questions in the room?
Q David Smith with the Guardian Newspaper in the UK. Do you think within the United States the perception of Africa is changing? Or is it an uphill struggle to get away from the old stereotypes about poverty and war and famine, and so on, and so that the message is that there are 54 different countries here and Africa should not be looked as a --
MR. TCHEYAN: My first trip to Africa was in 1980, and so I watched a lot of news, et cetera. Yes, the perception has changed tremendously. Everybody points to the economists cover, I think in the early 1990s, the “hopeless continent,” early 2000s “Africa rising.” Neither story is a hundred percent right. It’s like any other part of the world -- there are lots of different stories.
What really impressed me over the last, say, five or six years, look who’s sitting in the airplane. Go into the business-class section. You're going to see businesspeople. You're going to see investors. You're going to see funds. You're going to see far fewer development people. And that's because capital is really starting to look at Africa as a destination. And people are starting to understand the difference between countries.
So to your point, the old story of a continent that's desperate, falling apart, et cetera, it's far more diverse. I think the richness of that diversity is coming across. I think different countries are moving at different speeds, and I think investors are seeing that. So I think it's a very, very different landscape there. And you just get underneath the headline stories of the media -- a lot more people are understanding what’s going on here.
MR. CASE: A couple things. First of all, I think President Kenyatta last night very eloquently, at the state dinner, talked about how Kenya is not putting out its beggar bowl, asking for donations; it's really putting out its hand asking for investors to invest in the future, with the idea of getting a financial return as well as helping Kenya in terms of economic growth and job creation.
I think the narrative of the United States is still emerging. I think a lot of people aren't as focused on it. There probably is a lot of recognition about the challenges and problems, but I think there’s a growing sense of the opportunities. And that will shift over time. And this notion of the “rise of the rest” we talked about really is a -- not that Silicon Valley is falling, but new regions are rising, both within the United States -- Chicago and Des Moines and Detroit and Nashville and Cincinnati and Kansas City and Madison -- there are some cities that are emerging as strong startup communities, but we're now seeing that happen in other parts of the world, including here in Africa -- as I mentioned, Nairobi, but many other parts of Africa.
I think that's a good thing for the world, to have a broader innovation economy and have more job creation and hope and opportunity in more places. And I think there’s a growing recognition in the United States that that's strong entrepreneurship within the country, creating jobs within the country is good, but also strong economic growth probably is the better sustainable long-term solution to deal with some of the challenges in some of these countries than just -- better to send in the entrepreneurs as opposed to sending in the military.
MS. HANNA: I think we're more receptive to that possibility than ever before for a simple reason -- that technology is proving over and over again to be a great leveler. So the parts of the world where you get leapfrog effects -- if you look at what’s happened with M-Pesa here, if you go to the Kibera slum in Nairobi, it’s far more advanced in terms of mobile payments and mobile banking than the most privileged part of the United States. So when we see those kinds of things happening, it opens -- it causes a mindset shift and it opens our psyche. This can be as vital a place as Silicon Valley, in many ways.
MR. EARNEST: Why don’t we go now to the press filing center to see if there are questions there.
Q Mike Dorning, Bloomberg News. A short question for Mr. Case. You mentioned at the top of the briefing that there’s a quite vibrant startup community in Nairobi, and that you expect several to go public in the next several years for a billion-dollar valuation. How many startups has Revolution LLC invested in? And how much money has Revolution LLC put into Kenya? And can you give us a sense of what you’ve actually invested in, which kinds of companies?
MR. CASE: There’s really kind of three parts to this. Revolution is an investment company, both a venture fund and a growth fund. The Case Foundation also makes investments, not just philanthropic investments, but sometimes financial investments. And Jean and I also make a series of personal investments.
So in the last year, I think we made a half-dozen investments in this area, both in terms of helping launch some funds. One we launched yesterday, called Village Capital. Last month, the Africa Angels Network. We’ve also invested in the Endeavor Catalyst Fund and some others that then use that capital and invest in dozens of entrepreneurs all across Africa. And we’ve also made a handful of investments here in Nairobi at one company called BRCK that’s focused on energy, and another is Sanergy, which is focused on sanitation. And just a couple days ago, we had a pitch competition, as I mentioned at the iHub, and eight companies pitched and the winner was OJ Green (ph), and we made an investment in them.
So we’re looking to make additional investments. We’re looking to tell a story around the United States and around the world of what the opportunity is in Africa. And we’re looking to try to take this idea of entrepreneurship and globalize it.
And one last point -- it came up yesterday in discussions with the President, that he launched and asked me to chair four or five years ago an initiative called Startup America, the Startup America Partnership. That was designed to build regional entrepreneurship, to lift up regions within the United States and create the ecosystems there with more focus on capital, including the JOBS Act that passed the Congress and the President signed into law about three years ago, the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act. But it also inspired lots of other countries and so forth. Sixty countries have basically emulated the Startup America idea.
So I think that shows the power of the President of the United States talking about entrepreneurship and creating something called the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, and really inspiring countries all around the world to focus on the future, lean into the future, and bet on innovators, bet on entrepreneurs, and encourage more investors to fuel those dreams, which ultimately then fuels the job creation and economic growth.
MR. EARNEST: Excellent. Are there additional questions from the press filing center?
Q How much money have you managed -- have you put into Kenya? And how many total companies have you invested in, in Kenya?
MR. CASE: I’d have to check. I would say it’s a handful of companies. Our main focus is the United States. The Case Foundation has really been taking the lead on some of these investments. A handful of companies and millions of dollars. I don’t know what the exact number is.
MR. EARNEST: Okay. Anyone else at the press filing center?
Well, thank you for spending your money with us. We certainly appreciate it.
Ben and I will stick around and spend a little bit of additional time taking other questions that you may have on the trip, or other questions that may be on your mind this morning. So why don’t we start with the presidential pool. I know that you guys have to drop off shortly. So are there questions from the pool that we can handle first?
Q Hey, guys, it’s the pool here. We just have a non-Africa question on the situation in Turkey, in what they’re doing in northern Iraq right now. Do you guys have any response? And is it concerning to you at all, given that the Kurds have been pretty effective in helping you guys go after Islamic State?
MR. EARNEST: Let me turn it over to Ben to take that one.
MR. RHODES: Thanks, Julie. Well, we’ve obviously been touch with the Turks for a significant amount of time in discussing the shared threat that we face from ISIL. We also, again, have sent our condolences to the Turkish people for a number of terrorist attacks that have taken place there recently. And you have seen, of course, much more assertive Turkish action in both Syria and Iraq in recent days.
I guess what I’d say, Julie, is that we welcome Turkey’s increased focus and accelerated efforts against ISIL. We are certainly mindful of the fact that we encourage our different partners in this fight to work together, and we obviously have a good working relationship with the regional Kurdish government in northern Iraq. And so those lines of communication are open.
At the same time, the U.S. of course recognizes the PKK, specifically, as a terrorist organization. So again, Turkey has a right to take action related to terrorist targets. And we certainly appreciate their interest in accelerating efforts against ISIL. We will be in continued contact with them in the days to come. And I think, frankly, where this really can lead towards is a more -- even broader and more effective effort to degrade the ISIL safe haven across northern Syria and northern Iraq. Turkey can play an important role in those efforts. At the same time, of course, they will be working with a variety of partners on the ground to push ISIL out of those areas.
MR. EARNEST: Other questions from the pool?
Q Hey, guys, it’s Margaret. Can you also just quickly walk us through what to expect from the President this morning?
MR. RHODES: Sure. So I’ll just give a broad overview of what to expect in the President’s speech today. This is obviously a very meaningful trip for him to come back to Kenya and to come as the first President of the United States to visit Kenya.
I think what you’ll hear from him today is a very thematic address to the Kenyan people. I think he’ll want to step back and put into context the extraordinary progress that Kenya has made over the last decade, and also noting some of the extraordinary challenges that have confronted Kenya over the last decade -- whether that’s corruption, which he’s spoken about frequently, of course; or the incidents of ethnic violence that pose such a threat to the country, but ultimately were rejected by the Kenyan people over the last several years.
So I think you’ll hear him speak personally about how he views Kenya’s progress, how that connects to his own story. I think he’ll speak about a number of different issues that are important to Kenya. That would include the effort to continue to make progress towards a strong, sustainable democratic government that deals with issues like corruption, which he’s touched upon in his visits here.
He’ll want to talk about the need for a broad and an inclusive opportunity for the Kenyan people. And we’ve seen great strides made in bringing economic growth to Kenya. The President will be reinforcing the need to ensure that that includes access to opportunity for women and girls in Kenya, as well.
And he’ll speak to the need for a continued focus on national unity and reconciliation inside of Kenya, coming out of the difficult period of 2008. There’s a great with a new constitution for Kenyans to move together as one nation. And so the President will speak to the importance of keeping that progress going forward.
And, of course, as Kenya deals with the threat of terrorism, he will certainly express our unwavering support for Kenya’s counterterrorism efforts. I think he will also be reinforcing what you heard him say yesterday -- that commitment to human rights and the rule of law is an important part of how we, in the long term, are able to defeat terrorist organizations.
But generally speaking, I think you’ll hear the President speak very personally about what Kenya means to him, what Kenya’s progress means to him, the opportunity that exists for Kenya. And if I were to distill it, I think he’ll be saying that Kenya is at a moment now where there’s extraordinary promise for Kenya to make additional leaps forward in terms of its democratic governance and its economy, but there’s extraordinary peril as well -- whether it’s threats, like terrorism, or issues like corruption, or the need to provide inclusive opportunity in the country. And he will be I think speaking to what that path of progress looks like for Kenya, and of course expressing the interest of the United States in being a partner in that effort.
MR. EARNEST: Other questions from the pool?
Q Can you tie together this stop in Kenya with the stop in Ethiopia, and look ahead a little bit? And lay out what your goals are in going to Ethiopia, and how confrontational the President plans to be on human rights issues there?
MR. RHODES: So I think there’s a very common thread between Kenya and Ethiopia. These are two very large, very fast-growing economies in East Africa that are also very important counterterrorism partners for the United States. So a lot of the same issues that we focused on here -- whether that’s promoting additional economic growth, and trade and investment with the United States, or whether that’s deepening our security cooperation in the effort against al-Shabaab -- those will be on the agenda in Ethiopia.
We see this region taking off. East Africa is on the move. It is going to become an increasing destination for U.S. investment and an increasing market for U.S. goods. But there are very real security challenges that have to be dealt with, and the President will speak to those.
He also will be I think speaking to the signature development initiatives that we’ve been pursuing in cooperation with both Kenya and Ethiopia and other countries. You’ve heard him talk about food and power and health and young people and entrepreneurship.
But also, two other points that I think that are important to note for Ethiopia -- he will be convening a meeting that is focused on the situation in South Sudan with a number of regional leaders, including President Kenyatta and President Museveni of Uganda, as well as the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, to discuss what we can do together to try to bring an end to horrific civil conflict in South Sudan. So that regional issue will, I think, be a focus in Ethiopia.
And then he’ll speaking at the African Union. And what’s important here is that gives you a platform to speak to the entire continent. This is the premier organization for Africa cooperation. You’ll recall that last year we did the first-ever heads of state -- heads of government summit in Washington, with all of the leaders from Africa. That was an African Union summit, again, with all of the members of the African Union -- except for a number who we have significant differences with, of course -- invited to a Washington for a summit with the President.
Following on that coming to the AU, I think signals that we are elevating our engagement with the African Union, both the institution itself and the continent as a whole. So in his African Union address, I think he will speak to his Africa policy of what he’s trying to accomplish, the legacy he’d like to leave behind, and what the United States and Africa need to be focused on, working together.
On human rights, this will certainly be a focal point of discussions, along with the other issues I addressed. The Ethiopian government has made extraordinary progress in bringing greater development and opportunity to its citizens, but there are very significant restrictions that are not consistent with the universal values that we stand up for; for instance, the need for a free press. And we’ve seen too much intimidation, and even imprisonment of journalists, and the need for a viable space for civil society and political opposition in the country. So the President will be certainly raising issues related to human rights in Ethiopia, just as he did here in Kenya.
But I think the main message that people I think need to take away from the conversation we’ve just had with the entrepreneurs, too, is that East Africa is a region that is going to be of growing importance to the United States going forward, both because of the opportunities it presents and because of some ongoing challenges we have to address.
MR. EARNEST: Why don’t we take one more from the pool, if there’s one more question from the pool?
Q Hey, Josh, we’re good. Thanks.
MR. EARNEST: Thank you, guys. All right, why don’t we do a few in the room? Yes, sir, in the back.
Q The President talked about Burundi yesterday. He said the elections were not credible, and he encouraged the government and the opposition to go to the negotiating table. The thing is, President Pierre Nkurunziza says that he got elected and that the poll was credible. So it’s not likely that he will accept to go to the negotiating table because he believes he won. He’s been ignoring called by the AU, by the East Africa community. So the question now is what to do, and whether President Obama will discuss this when he meets with Prime Minister Desalegn in Addis?
MR. RHODES: Yes, he will certainly discuss the situation in Burundi with Mrs. Zuma when he’s at the AU. I guess what I’d say is we’ve been very concerned about the unfolding situation. It is certainly the case that the President of Burundi will claim, and has claimed, victory in the election. But the fact of the matter is, so many components of the process were illegitimate that we cannot accept the legitimacy of the result. You have a President who extended his own term over the objections of Burundi’s own laws and man of the people of Burundi. You had an opposition that did not compete in the election. And you have a result, therefore, that is not broadly accepted inside the country. And if the result is not broadly accepted inside of Burundi, it risks an unstable situation going forward.
So as the President said, we are going to continue to encourage the President to sit down with the opposition and have a dialogue about how to move forward and how to have a more legitimate political process that can produce a result that has the confidence not just of the international community but of the people of Burundi.
I think even with the challenges that you cite, the important point here in the coming days is to ensure that there is a unified voice in the international community. That includes here in the region with the different neighbors. That includes the African Union. That includes our international partners. Too much, in the past, I think sometimes there has been an acceptance of non-democratic results or efforts to extend terms in office. I think if we are very clear and firm that this result is not going to lead to the most stable and democratic outcome for Burundi, and that there does need to be a process of dialogue, that is our best option to try to get the parties to the table in a way that can yield the best result for the people of Burundi.
Q (Inaudible) feel that the President has sway with African leaders to point them in the direction that you would want them to go? And do you think that is helped by his own roots?
MR. RHODES: Well, it’s a good question, Isaac. I guess the way I’d put it is, first of all, the United States has significant relationships in Africa with many countries -- security relationships, development relationships, and increasingly trade and investment relationships. So I think there’s an interest in Africa in deepening cooperation with the United States, and that was certainly evident at the summit the President had last year.
I think speaking of the President personally, I think there’s a recognition, broadly, that he has a unique understanding of the African continent for a President of the United States, given his roots here and given the focus that he’s put on this over many years. He’s also, frankly, extraordinarily popular across the African continent. He is someone who is broadly respected by not just the leaders, but the peoples of these countries, especially young populations who make up an increasing percentage of these countries. So, for that reason, I think people pay close attention to what he has to say. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to agree with everything he says, but I think he can lay out, I think, a direction that he thinks the U.S.-African partnership can go in. And I think he can also speak uniquely to the types of steps that can be taken to bring greater prosperity, opportunity, and democratic governance to African countries.
Q Do you guys feel a special responsibility toward the situation in (inaudible) given the administration’s history with South Sudan?
MR. RHODES: Yes, that’s absolutely the case. And look, the United States of America, broadly, I think has a special responsibility. The Bush administration did very good work in terms of developing a comprehensive agreement between North and South Sudan that led to the scheduling of a referendum. We did extraordinary amounts of work in the early years of the administration to make sure that that referendum could go off peacefully and that you could have South Sudanese choosing an independent course. And the fact that this has now spiraled into a civil conflict I think does call upon the United States to play a unique role.
We have a huge assistance relationship with South Sudan, and we have a history with South Sudan. And what I think we’re going to be focused on is how can we not impose a solution from the United States, but work with some of the other countries in the region who share our concerns -- Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya -- to try to find a way out of this impasse that is not going to be anything but more humanitarian suffering for the people of South Sudan.
MR. RHODES: Yes, I think we feel deeply invested in the success of South Sudan. And I think, again, it’s not just about the President, it’s about the commitment made by the United States. You have bipartisan support in Congress over many years for the people of South Sudan. I think the tragedy that we’ve seen is that there was this very long struggle for independence that ultimately drew our support. But once independence was claimed, the ability to transition from being a movement that sought independence to governing the country of South Sudan, that transition did not work for the simple reason that you have a country with enormous needs. I mean, if you look at South Sudan at the moment of independence, if you look at their infrastructure, if you look at their capacity to promote stable growth, they were very far behind the curve. And what’s transpired is leaders competing over limited resources, competing over power in ways that don’t serve their people. And I think we do want to make sure we’re stepping up to the plate and doing everything we can
Look, you can’t fix everything in a country that has been so torn by conflict for so many decades, but I think we have an obligation to try to bring the parties to a better place and to give the people of South Sudan an opportunity for peace.
MR. EARNEST: Jim.
Q Ben, did the President essentially have to overlook his concerns with what’s going on here in Kenya and what is going on in Ethiopia to make this trip? And doesn’t it send sort of a mixes message where he’s criticizing Kenya on issues like gay rights and on corruption, yet he’s raising the glass and toasting these very leaders later on that evening? Isn’t there kind of a mixed message there?
MR. RHODES: No. Look, we go to China and nobody asks us whether or not we should be going to China, even though we have very significant differences with that government, and we raise those differences.
The fact of the matter is, if we only went to countries around the world who agreed with us about everything, we’d have a very short travel itinerary. And the fact is, if you look at Kenya, there’s an enormous amount of space that we share in common in terms of our commitment to economic progress, our support for an evolving commitment to not just the democracy that Kenyans have, but stronger, more transparent democratic institutions.
President Kenyatta was very forward-leaning in the meeting yesterday and in his public comments in saying that he’s going to -- he is making a renewed commitment to combat corruption in Kenya, which has been an anchor on growth here for so long.
So I think we made progress on a number of issues we care about in terms of our security cooperation against al-Shabaab, where the President also was met with agreement from President Kenyatta that a robust counterterrorism effort also has to include a commitment to the rule of law and human rights. And that’s something we’re going to be working with the Kenyans on. And our Security Governance Initiative looks across the whole approach to fighting terrorism. It’s not just about providing military assistance; it’s about developing approaches that will last and succeed in the long run.
We had good progress on discussions around corruption. Very good progress on the trade and investment space where we see Kenya taking off. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to agree on everything. And if you look at the record of Kenya on LGBT rights, unfortunately it mirrors the record in many countries in this part of the world. And where we see those differences, we’re going to be very direct and candid about them. I think President Kenyatta fully expected that because that’s what the President has done everywhere he’s gone in Africa where there have been these issues.
So we don’t see any reason to not engage. In fact, being here and engaging on these issues ultimately, we believe, is going to advance not just our interests but our values. And again, I think you saw that on some of the issues discussed yesterday with President Kenyatta, even on LGBT rights, clearly they remain in a different place.
Q And Josh, just before this mass shooting in Louisiana, the President made those comments to the BBC, saying that this was perhaps the greatest frustration of his presidency, stopping these mass shootings from occurring. Is it possible that this latest one has changed his calculus on trying to pursue some sort of gun control legislation up on Capitol Hill? I mean, I guess that’s sort of the lingering question. And have you had a chance to speak to him about the fact that he made these comments to the BBC and then a couple hours later, or maybe sooner than that, another mass shooting occurred?
MR. EARNEST: Jim, I think the President’s calculus has always been that there are important common-sense steps that Congress can take to prevent individuals that have a criminal background, that have documented mental problems or other reasons that they shouldn’t be able to obtain a firearm, take those steps and implement those policies in a way that it doesn’t undermine the basic constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.
The President’s calculus about the need for that legislation has not changed. What we will need to see is we’ll need to see Congress change their calculus in terms of their willingness to take those steps. And the President has articulated his view that that calculus will change once the American public makes clear that this issue is a priority, and that it is a priority on which a substantial number of Americans will base their vote for Congress. And I think that’s what will be required before we see Congress begin to take those steps.
And I think, in the mind of the President, the reason that he has expressed so much frustration about this is that there are tangible and tragic consequences for Congress’s continued failure to take these steps. And I don’t just have in mind the high-profile mass shooting incidents that occur all too often; the President also has in mind the much more frequent and therefore much less newsworthy shooting events that take place in many large cities all across the country, every single day.
And there’s no piece of legislation that Congress could pass that would eliminate every act of gun violence, but there certainly are some common-sense things that we could do that surely would have the impact of reducing the number of those incidents. And those are steps that could be taken without undermining the basic constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans. And it is the source of the President’s frustration, as he himself has expressed, that Congress hasn’t taken those steps, despite the clear need to do so.
Q On corruption, I think the President has mentioned the issue of corruption at all of his appearances. But what concretely can he do? I mean, I’m sure also the Kenyan authorities have said that they will rein in corruption. But what actually can the United States do? And also, I want to ask you about the choice of this venue. A little over a year ago, this place was synonymous with a roundup of Somalis from Eastleigh. They had to bribe their way out to get out of this place. Is the President aware of that? And what are we to read into the choice of this as the venue?
MR. RHODES: He’s certainly aware of it. And the fact is, in his discussions yesterday with President Kenyatta, in his public comments yesterday and in his speech today, he will make very clear that efforts to combat terrorism cannot lead to the stigmatizing of whole populations. That ultimately, Kenya’s Muslim minority, like America’s Muslim minority, is fundamentally a part of our countries, and frankly, our best allies in the effort against extremism.
So again, I think you’ll hear him speak again today to the fact that while it is certainly the case that we have to be vigilant against terrorism and we have to take action against terrorist networks, that we have to do so in a way that’s consistent with the rule of law and upholding human rights, and frankly, respecting the extraordinary contributions and value of Muslim minority populations.
So again, I think that informs how the President thinks and talks about these issues. And I think you had an acknowledgement from President Kenyatta yesterday that this is a new threat to them, in some respects, and the types that we’ve seen in recent years, and that they do need to focus on upholding the rule of law and human rights.
And again, our assistance in this space looks across the Kenyan security sector so that we’re not just helping them identify terrorist targets, we’re helping them develop approaches that will work in countering terrorism. And, for instance, there’s going to be a partnership between the Massachusetts National Guard and the Kenyan Security Forces, too, to think through ways in which they address security challenges that are respectful of the rule of law.
On corruption, in terms -- and let me just begin I think with what the Kenyan government needs to do in the eyes of President Obama. First of all, it takes a commitment from the top to make this an issue and to root out corruption, but it also will take a commitment from Kenyan society as a whole. I think the types of steps that would be effective would include the types of laws and initiatives that have been launched by President Kenyatta, but also the need for high-profile prosecutions of individuals who are found guilty of corruption charges to send a message that nobody is immune to the law.
I think there needs to be a broader commitment to transparency and governance, and there needs to be a role for civil society. And one of the reasons the President is going to meet with civil society later, and that he has spoken about civil society on this trip, is that they help you deal with challenges like corruption because they can serve as a check. And we’ve in Kenya, for instance, civil society play an important role in spotting incidents of ethnic violence in the run-up to the election, and getting ahead of that and reporting that out so that action could be taken. And I think, similarly, civil society has a role to play in terms of anti-corruption.
In terms of the U.S. support to those efforts, we have our own experience with combatting corruption not just in the United States, but helping different countries and around the world develop tools and legal avenues for rooting out corruption. So we have a lot of expertise and technical capacity that we can share with the Kenyans. We have tremendous investment in Kenya through many different programs. And I think making transparency a part of how we do business with Kenya, that in and of itself is a part of setting that tone.
And so we can certainly help, but ultimately the will has to come from the Kenyan government. So we can provide all sorts of technical assistance, advice, experience from our experience; we’ve done that in different parts of Africa in terms of helping to develop judicial sectors that take this on, and policing that can get at corruption. But ultimately, the decision has to be made collectively by the Kenyan people and their government.
MR. EARNEST: I’d also encourage you to take a look at the President’s remarks at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit yesterday, where he talked about how in many communities corruption actually can be a significant barrier to entry for a lot of entrepreneurs that are looking to establish a business. There’s a clear economic incentive for countries to start to take those steps that root out corruption.
MR. RHODES: Sorry, one more thing is, the entrepreneurship thing reminds me -- the other thing that we can, frankly, do is our support for entrepreneurship I think helps promote tools that have proven valuable in finding ways around corruption. So when you look at mobile banking, for instance, that can bypass more corrupt forms of doing business in the past. If you look at -- tech came up earlier. If you look at what Kenyans are trying to do with technology, often it involves them empowering themselves with respect to the delivery of basic services or their ability to do business with people in other parts of the country.
So entrepreneurship can actually have a secondary effect beyond economic growth in terms of creating new systems that don’t have the corruption that is embedded in some of the old systems.
Q For the Italian workers that have been recently kidnapped in Libya, have you gotten to address the issue of Libya in the African Union meetings? And do you still think the mediation by the U.N. envoy, León, is the best option?
MR. RHODES: We still think that mediation by the U.N. envoy is the best option. There’s been some progress in those discussions. I think there’s been growing recognition from some of the factions within Libya that there needs to be a political accommodation. Frankly, the threat emerging from groups like ISIL has helped catalyze attention around the need for greater cooperation and political accommodation within Libya.
With respect to the African Union, I think it will likely be a topic of discussion. You certainly have a number of African countries who are dealing with threats that they believe are emanating from Libya, if you look at Chad and Niger and others. I think in terms of the terrorism threat that we’re focused the most principally, it will be al-Shabaab just because we’re in East Africa and we’re talking to Ethiopia in terms of our bilateral discussions. And al-Shabaab is really the focal point here.
So I don’t think it will rise to that same level, but I think when we look across the African continent, engage the African Union, we certainly see the need to address the challenge in Libya as part of that agenda. And again, that’s both because of the situation in Libya and because of the spillover effects into neighboring states, as well as Italy, of course, which has tragically had those people taken, and also has had to contend with significant migration flows.
Q David -- the Guardian. Couple of quick factual things. Do we know how many people are going to be here today? And do they include the general public, or some special invitation list? And secondly, just going back to the African Union, there are starting to be many African heads of state -- because I was wondering, Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe who, when he holds the rotating chair of the African Union, he’s been doing a huge amount of traveling this year; I’m sure he would not have missed this opportunity for the world. Can you confirms he’s not going to be there? And if so, was he effectively told to stay away?
MR. RHODES: Well, first of all, with respect to the African Union, we do not expect Robert Mugabe to be there. The fact of the matter is, when we had this summit in the United States last year, he was one of the leaders that we did not invite given our current sanctions on him and the approach he’s taken to governing his country.
This is not a head-of-state summit at the African Union. We did not seek to have a head-of-state summit at the African Union. So the only heads of state that we’re planning to meet with and have come to Addis are the ones who are participating in South Sudan meetings. So that would be President Museveni, President Kenyatta, along with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia and President Obama.
Your first question was --
MR. RHODES: Yes, so we’ll get to the number. I think it’s the neighborhood of 5,000. But in terms of who is invited, we made an effort to prioritize the invitation to young people, so young people from different universities and programs across Nairobi. So our embassy, as it does with many of these speeches, works with the venue to build an audience. And the priority here was on bringing young people in. There will certainly be a number of government officials and leading members of Kenyan society. But I think the broad majority of the audience will be comprised of younger Kenyans.
Q He was asked this question yesterday by a Kenyan journalist, about his plans for Africa -- or Kenya -- legacy question and in his post-presidency. Do you have something more concrete? He gave a very general answer. Obviously he has family ties, but does he have something ambitious in mind, like (inaudible) or CGI? Does he have something? Can you share something?
MR. RHODES: I can’t really go beyond -- that far beyond what he said, frankly because I don’t think that those plans have been fleshed out. What I do know is that two areas of particular focus I think that he would like to continue working on would include the outreach that we’ve had to young leaders across Africa and here in Kenya, and this issue of entrepreneurship and promoting entrepreneurship.
I think the President has gotten a lot of satisfaction out of seeing how the Young African Leaders Initiative and the Global Entrepreneurship Summit process have galvanized young people in Kenya. And it kind of speaks to, I think, going all the way back to how the President began his career in public life, which was, as someone who sought to organize people around a progress agenda, I think he sees a lot that can be done in terms of bringing people together and promoting youth empowerment and entrepreneurship. So those are certainly two areas that he touched on that I think he’ll carry forward.
And as you said, when he’s a private citizen, he’ll also be able to do things are particularly Kenya-specific that you wouldn’t do as President of the United States. As President, his focus has been on we have a very large security relationship, health relationship, development relationship with Kenya. He’s sought to help aid Kenya’s progress through those efforts and through his own commitment to a set of issues here in Kenya. But I think as a private citizen, he’ll be able to focus I think more specifically on Kenya in ways that he’s been constrained from doing as President.
MR. EARNEST: Lesley, why don’t I give you the last one in the room and then we’ll go to the press filing center.
Q I was hoping you could give us a little bit more on the efforts to help Kenyan security (inaudible)? And also, a couple of environmental groups called for outright ban on commercial sales of ivory. (Inaudible.)
MR. RHODES: So we’ve been working with the stakeholders in terms of combatting wildlife trafficking. I think our view is that we pushed this as far as we absolutely could in terms of banning the trade of ivory to the United States. So again, I think in the past -- and we can get you some more detail -- in the past, I think it gets difficult when you all the way down to the fact that there are existing products that have ivory as a part of them. And being able to place a universal ban on anything involving ivory is extraordinarily difficult.
But I think our sense and our objective here was to do as much as we possibly could with this new rule. And I think we’re trying to also bring attention to this globally so that we’re leading by example in trying to bring other countries with us, because we see huge problems with demand in Asia specifically. And what we’d like to do is try to set a standard that we can try to bring other countries, particularly in Asia, towards.
With respect to the security assistance, so we launched last year at the African Leaders Summit this Security Governance Initiative, which focuses on a number of countries; one is Kenya. What we worked through with them yesterday was a plan, moving forward, for us to engage in a numbers ways. And that includes sharing of intelligence. That includes the coordination with respect to our own efforts against al-Shabaab, and Kenya’s. But it also includes looking at what type of training is being done, what type of capabilities do Kenyan security forces have, what type of training do they have as it relates to following the rule of law, and how can they respond to attacks and root out safe havens here inside of Kenya in ways that are effective but also don’t run contrary to our values.
So I’d describe it broadly as a capacity-building effort that looks at everything from what type of equipment they have, to what type of leadership they’re bringing to bear, to what type of protocols that they’re following in terms of their efforts against terrorism. And we’ll be looking at increasing funding for that effort. One area, for instance, is the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund that we initiated last year.
The Massachusetts National Guard -- what we often do is, look, we have counterterrorism forces who work here in the region. But often, local security force or National Guard forces have more experience with policing or responding to events, and so they can come and share that experience and kind of develop planning mechanism for a local security force to think through what do they do to respond terrorist attack, what do they do to respond to an incident; how are we organized, how could they learn from that experience.
The last thing I’d say is we’ve had a lot of close work with the Kenyans in recent years because of their effort in AMISOM. We obviously have counterterrorism platforms in Somalia. We use direct action, including drone strikes in Somalia. So, at the same time, AMISOM has been the force on the ground that has been pushing back and displacing al-Shabaab from many of the areas that they claim. So this is already a close relationship, but what we’re now doing is looking across the sector at ways that Kenya can be most effective in combatting a threat.
MR. EARNEST: Why don’t we take two from the press filing center, and then we’ll wrap it up here.
Q We keep talking about human rights. But in the President Kenyatta’s remarks yesterday, he seemed to be acknowledging that, even at the very least, people aren’t going to be treated equally under the law here. How did the President react to that? Was he surprised by that? And isn’t that an impediment to expanding human rights here broadly? And secondly, why do you see the last election in Ethiopia as legitimate if they’re seeing as a 100 percent vote?
MR. RHODES: On the first question, I don’t think the President was surprised at all, unfortunately, because frankly we just have not seen a commitment to take up this issue in many parts of this region. Frankly, what we’ve spent a lot of our time doing in recent years is trying to avert worse outcomes, like the passing of laws that criminalize behavior as we saw in Uganda, for instance. So I don’t think we had any expectation that the government of Kenya would take a different position.
The fact of the matter is, the LGBT community here faces extraordinary challenges. And what we can do is, frankly, keep a spotlight on their rights, raise this issue, and make sure that governments know that they’re are going to be hearing about this from us and from, hopefully, our partners in the international community, just at the same time as I think the activist community here will be figuring out what the best way forward is in terms of pursuing greater rights and dignity.
So this is going to be long-term process. I don’t think anybody expects transformation overnight, even if that’s what we’d like to happen, on LGBT issues. But the fact is, we want to make sure that we’re raising everywhere we go where we see these challenges.
That does not mean that you can’t make progress on other human rights issues. And I think we have had good discussions here related to human rights with respect to how counterterrorism policies are implemented, in terms of how civil society is treated. And the President will be meeting later today with a very broad group of civil society actors here in Kenya to lift up their role as well.
So the fact of the matter is, at any given time, if you look across the spectrum of human rights issues, there is a grave concern, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to try to make as much progress as you can on the other areas.
And frankly, the last one that’s worth citing here is simply a commitment to keep moving forward with the implementation of the Kenyan constitution in 2010, because the ethnic violence that took place in 2008 certainly posed a grave threat to democracy here in Kenya. And so just the continued, sustained work of implementing what is one of the most progressive constitutions in Africa as it relates to political rights I think would be very important for human rights here in Africa -- in Kenya, but also in setting an example for East Africa. Because if Kenya is moving forward with deepening its democracy, ultimately, given its role in East Africa, that’s going to send a message across the region.
With respect to Ethiopia, clearly an election that has 100 percent is not one that enjoys the broad support and legitimacy that a free and transparent election would have. So I think we would certainly differentiate the outcome from what we would term more free, fair and competitive elections. The fact of the matter is, we have a broad set of interests with the Ethiopian government that includes a commitment to raise these issues, because ultimately we believe that democracies are going to be more successful if you’re looking at promoting economic growth, economic dynamism, in combatting security threats. Democracies are more resilient in dealing with those issues because they can draw on all of their peoples.
So we’ll certainly be exploring ways in which we can support greater political space for Ethiopians, and support dialogue between opposition and the government in Ethiopia.
MR. EARNEST: Okay. We’ll do one last question from the press filing center.
Q A quick question on things going on elsewhere in the world. Ayatollah Khamenei’s Twitter posted a graphic, depicting the President with a gun to his head. I wonder if you’ve seen this and have any reaction. And also, whether you have any reaction to Israeli police entering the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
MR. RHODES: So, on your second question, I have not seen the report. I would have to obviously look at that. It would be an extraordinarily sensitive issue. So we’ll take that back.
On your first question, look, the Supreme Leader says many things that we find completely objectionable. So we’re not going to -- well, let me put it this way. This is of a pattern of things that give us very serious concern about the Iranian government, whether it’s their support for terrorism, their threats to Israel and the United States, or outrageous statements or images that may emanate from the Iranian government.
The fact of the matter is, one of the reasons we’re so focused on ensuring that we implement what is a very good deal with respect to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is that we believe that that would pose the gravest danger to the United States and the rest of the world; that precisely because we have such differences with this government, that they cannot be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. And we have a diplomatic pathway to achieving that objective. And we’ve been very clear that’s not going to erase our differences with the Iranian government. What it is going to do is resolve what is the greatest potential threat and the greatest challenge to the international community, which is Iran’s nuclear program.
11:05 A.M. EAT