This is historical material “frozen in time”. The website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.

Search form

The White House

Briefing by Michelle Gavin, Senior Director for African Affairs, on the President's Lunch with Sub-Saharan African Heads of State

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                                 September 22, 2009
Press Filing Center
Waldorf Astoria
New York, New York
3:36 P.M. EDT
MR. VIETOR: Hey, everybody, thank you for doing so many readouts today. This is Michelle Gavin, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs. She can talk to you about the President's heads of state lunch. To preempt one question, the pool is getting the list of who is there, so that will come to you via e-mail so she doesn't have to read 25 names. And that's it.
And, oh, one other thing. Housekeeping. I think we're going to try to do a China readout at the podium at 4:30 p.m., so stay tuned.
MS. GAVIN: Hi. And so President Obama joined 25 African heads of state, plus AU Commissioner Jean Ping, at a lunch -- just near minutes ago that it wrapped up. And also present at the lunch was Secretary of State Clinton, General Jones and Ambassador Rice.
And the idea behind the lunch was to try and sort of foster a dialogue and build on some of the themes that President Obama articulated when he was in Accra, particularly ideas about the importance of partnership and creating opportunity, which was one of the big themes in his speech to parliamentarians in Ghana.
So the lunch focused on how we can forge stronger partnerships to create more opportunity for Africans, so the idea of looking beyond kind of immediate emergencies and crises, out into the future, how to sort of build more opportunity for future generations of Africans.
It focused on kind of three topics: job creation, particularly for youth; then increasing trade and investment; and particularly strengthening the agricultural sector and agricultural productivity.
So after some opening remarks in which the President stressed a couple key premises of his -- that an Africa that's prosperous and at peace is vital to the interests of the United States and the rest of the world, premise one; and premise two, that Africa's future is up to Africans.
So they'll be in the lead, but we want to be strong partners. He spoke very briefly, emphasizing that he wanted to take this opportunity to listen, and turned to President Sirleaf of Liberia to kind of kick off a discussion on the importance of job creation for young Africans. She described very compellingly the challenge, the demographic challenge: many African leaders confront with very large youth populations, and the kind of pressure that puts on labor markets as more and more young people are entering the labor market every year, and the need for job creation efforts to catch up with that, in addition to education efforts so people are ready to take on those jobs.
She talked a little bit about those challenges in Liberia, and there was some then follow-up discussion around the table after an exchange about that. They moved to trade investment. President Kagame of Rwanda kind of introduced that topic for the group. Rwanda was just named the world's top reformer in the World Bank's "Doing Business" report -- so kind of talked about the Rwandan experience and what they're trying to do to create a favorable investment climate, and how the U.S. could be more supportive of initiatives that will create long-term growth.
He was particularly stressing the importance of regional initiatives and of infrastructure. So that, too, was followed by additional discussion around the table where people were free to just kind of jump in, comment, add their insights, et cetera.
And then it finished off with a discussion of agriculture, which had come up. Of course all the topics were interrelated and come up in the other two discussions. President Kikwete of Tanzania sort of led that one off and went through sort of a very specific set of interventions that could lead to greater agricultural productivity and more agriculture-led economic growth.
And there was a lot of discussion about, of course, the new food security initiative, where, as you know, at the G8, the President committed to -- had already committed significant U.S. resources; was able to commit $3.5 billion U.S., leverage that with the other participants for a total $20 billion commitment on food security, and so it was particularly timely to be having this conversation as we move into the G20 and try and continue pushing that ball down the road to get a lot of African leaders' input and insight on how we should be moving forward with agricultural development.
So last thing I would just say is that President Obama really did stress that this is not kind of a one-off situation, but it's a start of a dialogue between his administration and African leaders. And I know that that dialogue won't be all just governmental leaders. He's also interested in of course hearing from African civil society and the private sector. We're trying to think about how to move this partnership forward and achieve some real transformation in terms of the nature of opportunity available to Africans.
Q I just want to ask if the subject of Sudan came up, and also if you could give us an update on when the review is expected to be completed. It initially was supposed to be completed in August, and then September. Now it's getting close to the end of September.
MS. GAVIN: Sudan did not come up. The conversation, as I suggested, was largely driven by the participants and it was -- but it was centered around these ideas of partnership for opportunity. And while there were mentions to the importance of stability, obviously, for promoting trade investment -- no specific conflict situation actually came up in this particular event.
In terms of the review, I think that we're definitely closing in on the final stages of this. And I can't give you a date, but I would be very surprised if you and I were to meet a month from now and this hadn't happened yet. I would be --
Q So is it fair to say weeks, then?
MS. GAVIN: I think it's fair to say weeks, yes.
Q Was there a discussion of problems of corruption and the role that plays?
MS. GAVIN: Yes, there was. And obviously, this is an issue that the President feels very strongly about and that he touched on very directly in Accra. In his opening remarks, as he was kind of laying out these themes and the sort of partnership that we want to move forward with where we have roles and responsibilities, the African leaders have roles and responsibilities, one of the things he stressed was the importance of addressing corruption head on; that you obviously can't promote trade and investment, attract investment, create jobs and move forward on these issues in a climate where investors are frightened off by an absence to the rule of law and a culture of corruption.
So the President raised it, and it was echoed by several other participants that, yes, this is absolutely an important piece of the picture.
Q I'm just wondering if DRC was represented at the luncheon today? And if so, did anything come up in the nature of (inaudible) or other women's health issues?
MS. GAVIN: President Kabila was not there. The invitation was extended. I believe he had a scheduling conflict. Women's issues did come up, however, in several different parts of the exchange. Certainly in talking about job creation, President Sirleaf really put a particularly fine point on the importance of finding programs that are supportive for women and girls, and talked about some of the very impressive strides that Liberia has taken on this. I believe President Kikwete raised this, as well. So there was a lot of talk about in creating opportunities, there has to be a particular focus on women and girls.
And then on health issues, more broadly, President Kagame stressed how important this was and talked about the President's global health initiative, and was expressing some support for this idea of moving beyond -- continuing all of the commitments on HIV/AIDS, on malaria, et cetera, but also moving forward to look at broad health infrastructures. So there was talk about that as well and on (inaudible) specifically.
Q Michelle, was there any talk of President Obama making another visit to Africa anytime soon?
MS. GAVIN: There were many very lovely invitations extended to President Obama by leaders around the table that I'm sure he would be delighted to take them up on at some point. But there was no specific announcement of any next trip. I have no doubt in my mind that President Obama will be back to Africa during his administration, but I couldn't speak to precisely when his next stop will be.
Q Who was it that represented the AU?
MS. GAVIN: The Commissioner, Jean Ping.
Q There were no Libyans?
MS. GAVIN: No, there were no -- it was Sub-Saharan African heads of state who were invited.
Q Right, but, the Libyans do -- they are the heads of the AU, aren't they?
MS. GAVIN: Yes, although the AU Commissioner quite often represents the AU at various African functions.
Q And no Somali presence?
MS. GAVIN: No, although Sheikh Sharif was invited, but he had a scheduling conflict.
Q He's in town?
MS. GAVIN: I don't believe that he's in town today. I think he is planning on being in town for the -- some portion of the General Assembly. I'm not familiar with his schedule, but he was invited; he did have a scheduling conflict.
MR. VIETOR: All right. Thank you, guys.
Q Thanks.
3:47 P.M. EDT