AFRICANGLOBE – On-The-Record Conference Call by Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes; Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield; and Senior Director for Development and Democracy at the National Security Council Gayle Smith, on the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.
MS. MEEHAN: Hi, everybody. This is Bernadette at the National Security Council. Thanks for joining us today for this press call on the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit taking place next week. We have with us today three senior administration officials who I’ll introduce in just a moment. I do want to announce a change to the ground rules for this call. It was advertised as background, but we will conduct this call on the record. So you should feel free to quote each of the administration officials by name. And again, this will be on the record.
Our three senior administration officials are: Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications; Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield; and Senior Director for Development and Democracy at the National Security Council Gayle Smith.
And with that, I will turn it over to Ben Rhodes.
MR. RHODES: Great. Thanks, everybody, for getting on the call. I’ll just give an overview of the summit and the schedule for the summit, and then Linda and Gayle can make some additional comments. And then we’ll take of your questions.
First of all, the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit is truly an historic opportunity for the United States to strengthen our ties with the African continent and to underscore America’s commitment to investing in Africa’s development and future peace, prosperity and security.
This is by far the largest engagement by any American President with Africa. It will include nearly 50 African leaders, as well as the participation of a range of U.S. and African civil society and business leaders, young African leaders, and members of Congress.
We’ve just concluded a very successful three days with 500 Mandela Washington Fellows from our Young African Leaders Initiative. The President, the First Lady, Susan Rice and other senior officials, including Secretary Kerry, were able to engage with those young leaders and also to hear their views about what the agenda is for the United States and Africa.
We chose to do this summit to send a very clear signal that we are elevating our engagement with Africa. We see enormous opportunities in Africa as it continues to advance its own economic development and continues to develop its capabilities as African countries continue to develop their capabilities as security partners of the United States and as democratic partners of the United States.
The theme of the summit is “Investing in the Next Generation.” And I think that’s a symbol of the forward-looking and future-oriented nature of our engagement with Africa.
One of the things that we thought about as we prepared the summit is what does the United States uniquely bring to the table in its partnership with African countries. Other nations hold summits with African leaders. We very much wanted this summit to be focused on the distinct and unique attributes of the U.S.-African partnership. And what we believe is unique about the American contribution is our focus on African capacity-building and integrating Africa into the global economy and security order.
What the United States has done in all of our signature development programs — on food and power and health –- is not just provide assistance to Africa but build African capacity so that public health sectors are empowered to meet challenges on the continent; so that through our Power Africa initiative we are bringing electricity to the continent in a way that will foster development and integration with the global economy; and through our food security initiative we are building the capacity of the agricultural sector within Africa to feed populations and also to foster economic growth.
Now, these initiatives are making substantial progress. Power Africa aims to double access to electricity on the continent. Our food security efforts are combating famine and promoting sustainable agriculture. Our global AIDS efforts are dramatically reducing –- or our global health efforts, I should say, are dramatically reducing deaths from preventable diseases and have enabled the promise of an AIDS-free generation.
We also are very focused on trade and investment. And the summit will include a U.S.-Africa Business Forum that is dedicated to that purpose. This is an important interest to the United States. Africa has six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world, and insofar as we can promote trade and investment, that is going to create new markets for our goods; that’s going to create win-win outcomes that advance prosperity in both the United States and Africa, and ultimately create jobs in both the United States and Africa. So this is about seizing the opportunity of African growth and development in our mutual interests.
At the same time, there remains a significant amount of security challenges on the continent, and so we’ll be talking about how we can work to build African capacity to counter transnational threats like terrorism, but also to support African peace and security operations in different parts of the continent. And of course, we’re committed to supporting strong democratic institutions in Africa as well as the next generation of African leaders. And so we’ll be able to discuss efforts to promote open and accountable governance and respect for human rights in Africa, which, of course, continue to be an abiding interest for the United States.
So with that, let me go through the schedule and make a few comments on why we structured the summit as we have.
First of all, tomorrow, there will be an event called Faith Works that will honor the contributions of the faith community to the U.S.-African relationship. As many of you know, many different religious and non-governmental organizations support development on the African continent, and tomorrow USAID will play a lead role in convening many of those faith leaders to not just pay tribute to their work, but to draw from that experience as we roll into the summit next week.
Then, on Monday, there’s a series of events that get at different aspects of our agenda with Africa. There’s a Civil Society Forum at the National Academy of Sciences on Monday morning, where we’ll discuss our efforts to support civil society in Africa — both the very positive role that civil society plays in consolidating democratic progress, but also efforts to combat closing space for civil society in certain parts of the continent as well.
Then there will be an all-day African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum hosted at the World Bank. AGOA has been a critical piece of our trade relationship with Africa for the last decade. It is up for reauthorization next year. The President has made very clear that we’re committed to renewal of AGOA. We want to do what we can to work with Congress and with African countries to build on the progress of the last several years, but also to improve AGOA. And so this will be an all-day opportunity for trade ministers to discuss our priorities as we work toward the reauthorization of AGOA going forward.
Then there will be several events focused on different parts of our agenda, including investing in women and peace — investing in women for peace and prosperity, given our focus on supporting gender equality in Africa, and the fundamental notion that the President spoke about to the Young African Leaders that the empowerment of women is good for all of our priorities on Africa.