Remarks by National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference, “Africa Braintrust”
Good afternoon, everyone. It’s a real pleasure to be here. I want to thank my friend Congresswoman Karen Bass for that wonderful introduction and for inviting me to speak this afternoon. And, I want to thank Representative Butterfield and the leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus for bringing us all together. I’d like to start by remembering and honoring a dear friend to all of us—the late Congressman Donald Payne. He was Mr. Africa. He helped reorient America’s relationship to the continent, and his leadership on African issues was so instructive to me personally. He is sorely missed.
Since its founding, the CBC has raised to the forefront of American politics issues that haven’t always gotten the attention they deserve. That’s particularly true when it comes to making Africa a foreign policy priority of the United States. As the Senior Director for Africa on the National Security Council staff and then Assistant Secretary of State for Africa at the State Department during the Clinton Administration, I worked closely with members of the CBC to address humanitarian crises and to help bring greater stability and economic growth to troubled places in Africa. I saw firsthand the power of the CBC’s unwavering insistence that Africa receive the same consideration as any other region of the world. So it’s good to be back with you all at the Africa Braintrust, and it’s great to have Congresswoman Karen Bass leading us today and through her tremendous work on the committee.
Over the years, your leadership and that of the CBC has built a bipartisan consensus that gets things done for Africa—from fighting apartheid to supporting PEPFAR, from confronting the genocide in Darfur, and easing the suffering in South Sudan to tackling the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
So, when President Obama made his fourth visit to sub-Saharan Africa this summer—and the first-ever by a sitting President of the United States to Kenya, Ethiopia, and to the African Union—he was grateful to be joined by 16 members of the CBC.
And everywhere we went, we met inspiring Africans working for change in their communities—sometimes against incredible odds. They’re entrepreneurs bringing solar panels to villages not connected to the electrical grid so that families have light to read by. They’re women participating in the civic life of their country and fighting for the right of girls to be educated. They’re religious leaders opposing radical ideologies and standing up for the peaceful teachings of Islam.
In President Obama, the people of Africa, and everyone here today, have a leader who understands that, in his words, and I quote, “Africa’s rise is not just important for Africa, it's important to the entire world.” As he made clear, none of our major challenges globally—curbing climate change, promoting inclusive economic growth, ending violent extremism—can be met “without the voices and contributions of one billion Africans.” That’s why, when President Obama hosted the first-ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit here in Washington last summer, he focused on strengthening our partnerships across the continent to achieve our shared goals for the future.
No longer do we view Africa through the prism of poverty and crisis. We see Africa for what it is—a dynamic, diverse region brimming with economic potential and boundless possibility. Africans are driving their own development, building their own capacity to feed and care for their people, and doing more to prevent and resolve African conflicts. Accordingly, the United States has stepped up our commitments to Africa across the board.
Yet, at the same time, as we all know, serious challenges threaten to undermine Africa’s progress. In his remarks at the African Union, President Obama said that, quote, “the most urgent task facing Africa today and for decades ahead is to create opportunity for this next generation.” Today, I’d like to speak about the steps we’re taking, in partnership with Africa, to help create that opportunity by spurring economic growth that’s inclusive, fostering development, advancing peace and stability, and investing in Africa’s future.
First, we’re fully committed to driving economic growth across Africa. As President Obama declared in Kenya, “Africa is on the move.” Poverty rates are coming down. The middle class is growing. From Ethiopia to Cote d’Ivoire to Mozambique, Africa has some of the fastest-growing economies in the world. But, we haven’t fully tapped this potential. Trade between Africa and the United States is far below where it should be. In 2013, total trade between the U.S. and all 49 countries of sub-Saharan Africa was only a little larger than our trade with the Netherlands. So we’re taking steps to increase trade and investment with Africa, which supports jobs and growth in all our countries.
One of the most effective tools we have in this mission is AGOA, the African Growth and Opportunity Act. I confess, this is a piece of legislation close to my heart. I was deeply involved in the original passage of AGOA, and I want to thank Congresswoman Bass and the CBC for backing the 10-year renewal that Congress passed this summer. This strong evidence of America’s long-term commitment to Africa will help spur sustained investments.
And, American businesses are eager to invest in Africa. The first U.S.-Africa Business Forum was such a success—generating $33 billion in new commitments—that President Obama announced a second forum to be held here next year. Through our Doing Business in Africa campaign, we’re working across the government to make it easier for American companies to strengthen their commercial ties to Africa. And, through Trade Africa, we’re working with African governments to improve the business environment and remove barriers to trade.
With Power Africa, we’ve made a game-changing commitment to double access to electricity across sub-Saharan Africa. Expanding access to power is one of the best ways we can support African businesses, which in turn unlocks more growth and more trade. But, this isn’t like just flipping a switch—power plants and electrical infrastructure take time to build and bring online. Like all bold ideas, successive administrations will have to carry this project forward. We’re well on our way with new Power Africa projects slated to generate more than 20,000 megawatts of electricity. We’re bringing down barriers to greater investment in Africa’s energy sector and have already facilitated deals that will create an estimated 4 million new power connections.
Entrepreneurship is the spark igniting Africa’s growth, and we’re directly supporting Africa’s dynamic entrepreneurs, nurturing their ideas and connecting them to resources. At this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, President Obama announced more than $1 billion in new funding from the U.S. government and the private-sector to support entrepreneurs—much of it focused on Africa. Beyond that, we’re investing in women and young people and entrepreneurs who have the hardest time accessing financing and business networks.
Second, a commitment to maximizing impact and delivering results is central to this Administration’s approach to development. In Africa, too many people, as you well know, still live in extreme poverty, eking out meager lives with their bare hands and sheer determination. Empowering Africa’s most vulnerable is a cornerstone of our commitment to the region.
President Obama’s consistent focus has been on helping our development partners become self-sufficient. Today, African countries are setting their own priorities. We build our programs around African plans. And, even as we continue to provide generous humanitarian relief—in Africa and around the world—we’ve moved far beyond simply responding to the latest crisis.
For example, we’re helping more than 40 African countries build their resilience to climate change now, before vulnerable communities have to face its worst impact.
Through President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative, we’re making sure smallholder farmers can both feed their families and sell their harvests at market. Since 2010, we’ve invested more than $5.5 billion to improve food security in Africa and other regions. In the past year, Feed the Future has helped nearly 2.5 million African farmers raise their incomes by using new technologies and land management practices. Our nutrition programs have helped nearly 9 million African children get the nourishment they need to grow and thrive. And, we hope to see Feed the Future institutionalized so that it continues to transform lives after President Obama leaves office.
Of course, no one can succeed if they’re too sick to work. So, with our partners, we’ve developed country-led plans to build local health systems and to reduce suffering from preventable diseases. We’re helping mothers and children become healthier, and making labor and delivery safer. And, we’ve accelerated progress against HIV/AIDS, bringing us within striking distance of an AIDS-free generation.
Together with more than 45 countries, we’ve built a Global Health Security Agenda to improve our ability to prevent and contain devastating epidemics like Ebola. Think back to this time last year when Ebola was spiraling out of control, weak health systems buckling under the strain.
But, thanks to the heroism of Ebola responders on the ground, the leadership of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, and American support to galvanize a massive international response, we have brought the disease under control. As of last week, there were only 5 cases, and we will not stop until we get to zero.
In our interconnected age, outbreaks of disease or violence or instability are no longer local concerns. They threaten entire regions and undermine global economic security. So the third area I want to discuss is how we are advancing peace and stability across Africa.
I was honored to be President Obama’s personal representative at the joyous independence celebrations in Juba, South Sudan, just over four years ago. So for me, like so many of us, South Sudan’s return to violence has been heart-wrenching. That’s why President Obama convened an urgent summit of regional leaders in Ethiopia when he was there in July. And, in no small part due to President Obama’s personal leadership, shortly after that meeting, regional leaders finally united behind a draft peace agreement. A few weeks later, South Sudan’s leaders signed the agreement. This is an essential first step. But, the true test will now be in how President Kiir, Riek Machar, and their backers prove or disprove their commitment to peace. At long last, they must prioritize the needs of the South Sudanese people—almost half of whom are dependent on international aid for survival—and they need to rebuild their country. And, as they do, the United States stands ready to help the people of South Sudan achieve the lasting peace they deserve.
In Darfur, where war crimes continue, we’re working to end the horrible conflict by strengthening opposition parties and building a national dialogue that could, if implemented, improve the way Sudan is governed. In Burundi, we’re working with our partners to suspend some assistance and supporting efforts by the East African Community, the AU, and the UN to broker an end to the crisis.
The United States and the international community are united today in responding to the crisis in Burkina Faso. The junta should step aside and allow preparations for October elections to resume immediately. The United States stands squarely with the people of Burkina Faso in rejecting this threat to their democratic progress, for which they have worked so hard. And so, we are reviewing our assistance to Burkina Faso in light of evolving events.
Under President Obama, the United States has significantly increased our efforts to bolster peacekeeping capacity in Africa. With the African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership, we’re committing more than $100 million a year for the next several years to help our partners develop their capabilities—including lift capacity and medical expertise—to deploy rapid-response forces, prevent conflicts, and save lives.
With our partners, we’re facing down a growing terrorist threat. In Somalia, we continue to provide training, equipment, and funding to support the African Union’s Mission to root out al-Shabaab and strengthen Somalia’s security institutions. In the fight against Boko Haram, we are increasingly providing specialized advisors, training and equipment, and intelligence support to Nigeria and its regional neighbors.
We’re combatting wildlife trafficking—yes, to preserve Africa’s ecology, but also to shut down illicit flows of money to terrorist networks. And, critically, we’re working with governments and community leaders to counter violent extremism before radicalization to violence can occur. In Nigeria, Niger and Chad, we’re increasing civilian security and building communities targeted by Boko Haram. We’re supporting efforts in Northern Mali to promote reconciliation and mitigate conflict, particularly in isolated communities. And, we’re working with governments to responsibly address legitimate grievances that terrorists might exploit, as in Ethiopia, where American legal advisors are training police and lawyers to better uphold the rule of law. Finally, I want to highlight our unprecedented investments in the future of Africa and its greatest asset, its people.
Nothing captures our commitment better than President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative, or YALI. YALI offers emerging leaders in government, business, and civil society from across Africa the chance to develop their skills and connect with their peers—both in Africa and the United States. Since 2010, the YALI network has grown to more than 145,000 members from every African nation. By the end of this year, YALI Regional Leadership Centers will be open in Nairobi, Accra, Dakar, and Pretoria. We’ve established practical training tools—courses on public speaking, networking, how to launch a startup—that are accessible online. And next year, we are expanding the Mandela Washington Fellowship, which brings young Africans to train at American Universities. We will double the number of African fellows—from 500 to 1,000—and begin sending young Americans to Africa, strengthening the connections between our peoples.
Even as we prepare the next generation to take up the mantle of leadership, we’re striving to ensure they inherit societies that are more free, more fair, and more just. Societies that provide opportunity for all of Africa’s people.
So we champion democracy and good governance, peaceful and regular transitions of power, active civil societies and a robust free press—not because we have all the answers, but because healthy democracies are consistently more peaceful and more stable. They are the strongest partners and the best able to provide for their people.
We highlight the damage corruption is inflicting on the continent, because Africa’s potential will never be fulfilled if elites are skimming off the top, or if leaders cling to power while they rob their people for personal gain. Each time President Obama made that point on his latest trip, he was met with rousing applause.
The United States speaks out on behalf of Africa’s daughters and their right to grow up without being forced into early marriages, without being mutilated, without being abused. We speak out for our African LGBT brothers and sisters and their right to equal treatment under the law. We speak out for Africa’s minorities and the right to worship freely and pursue one’s dreams.
We make clear that every government has a responsibility to protect the human rights and the safety of all of its people. And that, when traditions say that some group should be excluded or targeted or oppressed—then those traditions are wrong, and they have no place in the 21st century. They do nothing but hold societies back. So our investment in Africa’s future is both immediate and enduring.
We’re expanding our trade and investment while laying the groundwork for deeper cooperation in years to come. We’re promoting sustainable development solutions that reduce hunger and combat health challenges while spurring the broad-based economic growth that can eradicate extreme poverty. We’re taking steps to bolster our shared security today and tomorrow. We’re supporting Africa’s youth and challenging Africa’s leaders to govern with an eye to the future.
“Africa’s rise is not just important for Africa, it's important to the entire world.” Those are President Obama’s words, and that’s something all of you have known for quite some time.
Today, after four Presidential trips to the region, an historic summit with almost 50 African leaders here in Washington, signature economic and development initiatives that are opening doors for more people across the continent, many others now know it too.
We have more work to do. More work to end old mindsets and address entrenched challenges, both in Africa and here at home. But, this much is clear: Under President Obama’s leadership, the United States is redefining the way we engage with Africa—not as a paternalistic patron but as permanent, equal partners. And, I know that partnership will continue to benefit from the support, the wisdom, and the goodwill of everyone here for many, many years to come. Thank you all very much.