December 4, 2021


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Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs Ervin Massinga On Secretary Blinken’s Upcoming Travel to Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal

26 min read

Ervin Massinga, Principal Deputy Assistant SecretaryBureau of African Affairs

Via Teleconference

MR ICE:  Thank you, Operator, and thank you to everyone for joining us this morning, and welcome to our call today previewing Secretary Blinken’s upcoming travel to Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal.

Here at the top, just a quick reminder this call is on the record today, but it is embargoed until the call is completed, and we’re going to stick to questions today related to the trip.  And finally, a transcript of this call will be posted on a little bit after the call.

It’s also my great pleasure to welcome with us today Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs Ervin Massinga, who will brief you.  He is first going to give us an overview of the trip, and then we’ll take a few of your questions.

And with that, I’m now going to hand it over to Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Massinga.

MR MASSINGA:  Thanks so much, Deputy Spokesperson Ice.  Again, my name is Ervin Massinga.  I’m the PDAS for the U.S. Bureau of African Affairs at the State Department, and I am pleased to announce that Secretary Blinken will depart Monday evening for his first in-person trip to Africa as Secretary of State, which will include visits to Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal.

Secretary Blinken’s visit comes at a critical time for U.S. relationships across the African continent as the United States and our partners work together on shared global priorities, including ending COVID-19, building back to a more inclusive global economy, combating climate change, revitalizing our democracies, and advancing peace and security in the region.  The Secretary will look to advance U.S.-African partnerships and underscore the common values we share with Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal and use those as platforms to really talk to the entirety of the continent but certainly the publics and leaders in those three countries.

Secretary Blinken will begin his trip in Nairobi, where he will meet with President Kenyatta and Foreign Minister Omamo to discuss our shared interests as members of the UN Security Council, our collaboration on renewable energy as Kenya works to fully transition to clean energy by 2030, and our common desire to improve stability in East Africa, including by addressing regional security issues in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia.  The Secretary will also meet with civil society leaders essential to Kenya’s vibrant democracy and participate in events related to climate and environmental protection.

They Secretary will then move to Abuja, where he will meet with President Buhari, Vice President Osinbajo  and the Foreign Minister Onyeama to discuss expanding energy access, democracy, civilian protection, security and human rights, economic growth, and improving our cooperation on global health security.  Additionally, the Secretary will host a roundtable of entrepreneurs in the digital sector and meet with religious leaders.  While in Abuja, Secretary Blinken will deliver a speech on U.S. Africa policy in the capital of Africa’s largest democracy.

Secretary Blinken will conclude his trip in Dakar with a meet with President Macky Sall and Foreign Minister Tall Sall.  He looks forward to discussing President Sall’s upcoming African Union chairmanship and Senegal’s role as a democratic, economic, and security leader in West Africa.  The Secretary also will participate in a roundtable with female Senegalese entrepreneurs and leaders in the (inaudible) economy.  He will underscore our partnership with Senegal to combat the COVID-19 epidemic.

In all three countries, Secretary Blinken will advance U.S.-African collaboration to end COVID-19 and that epidemic.  The United States is the single largest donor to COVAX and has provided over 56 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to 43 countries in Africa in close coordination with the African Union and COVAX.  These are facts you already know, but I just wanted to underscore those here.

The U.S. has also provided more than 1.9 billion in COVID-19 assistance to prevent virus transmission, case management, emergency food, and critical humanitarian services and supplies, vaccine delivery and support to sub-Saharan Africa.  We’re investing in the solutions of the future, including clean energy that drives growth, African vaccine manufacturing capabilities, public-private partnerships to tackle vaccine distribution challenges, multilateral agreements to protect our oceans, sustainable infrastructure and technology that will help democracies deliver and make our citizens’ lives better.

This visit is in support of amplifying U.S.-African relations and, again, partnerships.  That’s really the key theme that underscores everything we’re doing in the continent and certainly the Secretary’s travel.  That partnership is based on increasing democracy and cooperation and that builds on people-to-people connections, fosters new economic engagements, and reinforces our shared values grounded in renewed commitment to democracy and human rights.  The Secretary’s travel follows an intensive round of in-person diplomacy by senior members of the administration, including our Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland and the very recent travel of our Assistant Secretary to Africa Molly Phee.

Let me stop there talking about the travel and just acknowledge the Ethiopia question.  I’m sure many of you may like to talk about that.  Of course, today we’re here to talk about the trip, but certainly the Ethiopia matter is an important one and takes up a tremendous amount of time and attention by our leadership.

Our intensive diplomacy there is ongoing, and – but we – through the trip we would like to demonstrate that our commitment to African partnerships and African solutions to African challenges is enduring and will continue while we continue our intensive efforts with our African partners and likemindeds to address the difficult challenges in Ethiopia and certainly Sudan.

And on Ethiopia, let me underscore that it is the very firm position of the Department of State and the U.S. Government that American citizens in Ethiopia should avail themselves of all opportunities to leave now.  The situation, as has been indicated in our messaging to American citizens directly on the ground, is such that we urge all American citizens to avail themselves of opportunities to leave now.  Our embassy stands ready using a variety of means to assist and facilitate that movement, and the time is now on that.

Let me stop there, and I look forward to taking your questions and thoughts.

MR ICE:  Thank you, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Massinga.  Operator, would you please give the instructions for getting into the question queue?

OPERATOR:  Yes, thank you.  Ladies and gentlemen, if you do have a question, please press 1 then 0 on your touchtone phone.  You’ll hear acknowledgment that you’ve been placed in queue.  You may remove yourself from queue at any time by pressing 1 0 again.  Once again, ladies and gentlemen, if you do have a question, please press 1 then 0 at this time.

MR ICE:  Thank you, Operator.  And with that, let’s go to our first question.  Let’s please go to the line of Shaun Tandon.

QUESTION:  Hi there.  Good morning, and thanks for doing this call.  Can I just follow up briefly on Ethiopia while sticking to the topic of this?  The – to what extent do you think that’s actually going to be an issue that comes up for the Secretary?  Do you expect any personal diplomacy by the Secretary, particularly in Kenya, on trying to make progress there?  And then one of the themes, obviously, for this administration and for this trip is democracy promotion.  This trip comes about a year after the crackdown in Nigeria.  To what extent do you think human rights will be part of the discussion there?  Are you confident that there’s been progress made in the past year?  And the issue of military sales to Nigeria – is that going to be on the cards there, in terms of what they’re looking for, particularly the Cobra helicopters?  Thanks.

MR MASSINGA:  Yeah, thanks for the question.  Obviously, the issues going on in the Horn of Africa are going to be in the backdrop of particularly the bilateral discussions.  It’s clear that the Secretary will have a range of important discussions with his counterparts and African leader – or Kenyan leaders and African leaders throughout the trip on all relevant topics.  I think it’s safe to say that Horn issues will come up.

Let me underscore here that the United States is firmly supportive of the role of the African Union mediator, former President Obasanjo for Nigeria, to lead African efforts to find creative and useful solutions to ending the terrible tragedy in Ethiopia.

Concerning human rights overall, absolutely, this issue is front and center for our engagement across the continent, and certainly in this trip, in each one of the stops.  And there will be a human rights component in – built into everything we’re doing.  Again, we are investing in partnerships with our African partners in the leadership level as well as the peoples of Africa, and of course underscoring our shared values.  And faith in democracy, faith in human rights is a bedrock element of all of that.  That’s why you’ll see so many engagements of the Secretary and his traveling party with civil society, and those discussions with government leaders will certainly be front and center of those agendas.

You touched on the question of military sales in Nigeria.  Let me put a pin on that, and I think you’ll see further commentary on that during the trip itself.

MODERATOR:  Let’s go to the line of Pearl Matibe.

QUESTION:  DAS Massinga, thank you so much.  I really appreciate your availability today, and really do welcome Secretary Blinken coming to Africa, and I’m sure many Africans do.

Now, you touched on democracy and common values, and this African solutions to African challenges.  How do you in your – expect, for example, in your partnership with Kenya not only to be talking about the larger democracies, like you said, but for smaller countries like Eswatini, which is the last absolute monarchy?  Can you touch on that, perhaps?  And will security cooperation for the southern African region or any sort of military negotiations – I know Kenya had already begun those in your predecessor – in the Trump administration – will any of that carry over and be on the agenda?  So if you could maybe touch on those things: democracy versus the absolute monarchy; this African solutions to African challenges; and how Kenya, particularly since it’s on the – with the UN Security Council, how will it help the smaller democracies like Eswatini?  Thank you so much.

MR MASSINGA:  No, thanks for that question.  And here’s an opportunity for me to underscore our commitment globally and certainly continent-wide to democratization despite the challenges.  And the administration is moving forward eagerly to start the summit of democracies process later this year, and that venue will be the opportunity for us under the leadership of the President, the Secretary of State, the Under Secretary for Democracy and Human Rights, to engage with our – many of our friends around the world to acknowledge the challenges that we all face in these matters and define solutions for us to be able to, again as I mentioned earlier, demonstrate to our publics around the world that democracy delivers – democracy can deliver on climate change, on human rights – yes, certainly on human rights, on economic development, et cetera, et cetera.

So on the question of smaller countries, Eswatini in particular and a range of smaller countries that face a number of challenges that are familiar to countries around the world, the themes that will be under – discussed in these – in the upcoming travel in many ways are applicable across the board.  Certainly the Secretary will be addressing the – our common human rights and common democratization – challenges to democracy that we find worldwide in his three stops.  But again, those themes, as you can see in our summit of democracy preparations, will be pretty universal.

On – on African solutions to certainly regional problems, yes, of course.  We lean heavily on or rely heavily upon leadership of African leaders such as former President Obasanjo in the horn of – in the Ethiopia question to work creatively with African publics, African leaders, regional stakeholders to find solutions.  And this is something that is essentially a foundation upon which we rely worldwide, but certainly in the African context.  So yes, a lot of these questions are very complicated.  We find them complicated in our own context, in our own country.  But together in partnership we will find solutions, and we look forward to that.

MR ICE:  Let’s go to the line of Humeyra Pamuk.

QUESTION:  Hello, can you hear me?

MR ICE:  Perfectly.

QUESTION:  Hi there.  Thanks.  I just want to follow up a little bit on Shaun’s question about the meeting with – meeting in Kenya.  Do you – would you – what role does the United States want Kenya to play in terms of trying to solve the crisis in Ethiopia?  And if I can follow on the Ethiopia question, I see that the U.S. has not imposed sanctions at this time on elements aligned with the Ethiopian Government or TPLF, and in this statement it says, like, they want to allow time and space to see if these talks can make progress.  Why do y ou think there’s still a window of opportunity for progress, and can you talk a little bit about that?  Thank you.

MR MASSINGA:  Sure.  Let me talk about the sanctions.  You probably are all aware of the statement on sanctions that was released earlier today, and I can just read from the statement just to underscore our position on where we are and what tools remain available to us.

Look, the United States remains gravely concerned about the conduct of all parties to the conflict, including Eritrean forces, and stand ready to pursue additional sanctions, including against the Government of Ethiopia and TPLF, if parties do not make immediate progress toward a cessation of hostilities.  Atrocities have been perpetrated by all sides, and the United States again strongly supports the efforts of AU High Representative Obasanjo to mediate the conflict and urges the Government of Ethiopia and the TPLF to immediately engage in good faith.

Certainly the – what we are facing, to speak directly to your question, is a complicated issue.  But we remain committed to a diplomatic solution.  Our special envoy to Horn of Africa issues remains deeply committed to engaging with all parties to find a path forward.

Let me stop there because, really, this is his remit and the Secretary of State is heavily and deeply engaged in this and can speak more to it.  But just to underscore that in the context of our trip we will continue our intensive diplomacy in coordination with our partners as well.

And if you could remind me of the first question you had.

MR ICE:  The question was:  What role do you believe the U.S. would want Kenya to play?  Yes.

MR MASSINGA:  Yeah.  Let me – the Secretary in his travels and his availabilities in Kenya should be able to speak more directly to that subsequent to his meetings, his bilaterals in country.

MR ICE:  Let’s go to the line of Kemi Osukoya.

QUESTION:  Hello, can you hear me?

MR ICE:  Yes, perfectly.

QUESTION:  Okay, yes.  Thank you.  I wanted to follow up on the question, the first question on human rights.  I was wondering if the Secretary will talk about the – the protest (inaudible) Nigeria last year with the “End SARS,” the youth protest, and the way the president responded to that, President Buhari and his administration.

My other question is regarding vaccination in Africa.  President Buhari yesterday at the Paris Peace Forum mentioned about increasing vaccination, and I know this is something that the Biden-Harris administration have been very particular in engaging with Africa.  So I wanted to follow up whether there will be new – any announcement regarding that, and also regarding renewable energy the Secretary will talk about in Kenya – in Nigeria also – whether there will be any new announcements, any unveiled new initiative that will be announced during the trip.

MR MASSINGA:  Thank you for those essentially three questions.  Yes, we look – (laughter) – not a problem.  We look forward to public discussion of the use of our – some of our most potent tools in both development and to promote sustainable, clean development:  Power Africa, Prosper Africa, and the initial stages of planning around Build Back Better World, but certainly Prosper Africa and Power Africa as the foundation for some discussions and perhaps announcements during the trip that will speak directly to your question related to renewable energy.  The United States is committed to working with African partners to promote clean and sustainable economic growth, and much of our trip or a good part of our trip will be designed to showcase that commitment.

COVID and the U.S. commitment to combating the COVID pandemic – thank you for the question – we are incredibly proud of the efforts that we have undertaken through a variety of mechanisms to bring lifesaving vaccines and medical techniques to Africans to address the pandemic.  There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, and we’re working in multiple avenues to achieve it.  Some of the work that needs to be done is working in coordination with the African CDC.  The United States is very proud of its efforts to stand up and support the African CDC, and the African CDC has been an essential partner in the planning for the rollout of vaccines throughout the continent.  So that partnership endures and is very important.

Beyond that, there are discussions underway to address perhaps finding additional vaccine production facilities and value chains on the African continent itself, and I invite all of you to stay tuned and watch the development of the coming out – or developments coming out of the trip in that respect.

Going back to the very first question about human rights in Nigeria, our – the conversations that the Secretary will have with African publics and African leaders will absolutely touch upon human rights and democratization, again, in the context of partnership and through a – through the lens of humility.  But having said that, yes, of course, we will also be talking about all elements of democracy and human rights.  It’s not an easy conversation, but we look forward to having that conversation with our African friends, including in Nigeria, including in all the countries where the Secretary will be visiting.

Yeah, I’ll – and just let me stop there.

MR ICE:  I think we have time for just one more question, and I see a follow-up from Pearl Matibe.

QUESTION:  Yes.  I really appreciate the follow-up question, but I think it’s a significantly important one for Africans, no doubt as well for American people.  I don’t know that any visit of a highly ranking top diplomat from the United States could go without a discussion about AFRICOM and how you’ve been increasing the presence of that civil-military aspect.  And also recently, AFRICOM is what now – at least quite a number of years now since its launch in the Bush years.  But very recently, actually, President Buhari has been talking about increased partnerships and exercises with AFRICOM.  And I know that may come with some promotional aspects from your department.  Maybe if you could speak a little bit on that, because I know President Buhari would like to see more of that.  I wondered if you have a comment on that.

And now also post the Afghan withdrawal and America’s credibility, I know you talked about a commercial relationship with Senegal.  Now, if you were to compare Secretary Blinken with Secretary Pompeo, Secretary Pompeo did also visit Africa and he also did visit Senegal.  So I’m wondering, are there some carryover items on the agenda that maybe Pompeo maybe left out?  Can you help me help you and us explain to our audiences on these issues, and also maybe help define – how do you define revitalizing democracy?  How do you define that?  Thank you.

MR MASSINGA:  Thanks for your questions.  They were a bit sneaky in that they started off being very specific and then they become very, very broad.  Let me start talking about security partnerships.  You mentioned security partnerships with Nigeria, and you mentioned AFRICOM.  Let me just say that the United States has an ongoing partnership with the combatant command AFRICOM to work with our African partners to find appropriate solutions to security questions. Let me refer to the Department of Defense and AFRICOM itself for additional comments there. But in terms of partnerships with our African friends across the continent, we’re always working to find appropriate means to enhance our partnerships and enhance the capabilities of our African friends, but knowing full well that governance issues often are the heart of many security questions.

So we have to get the economic development part right in coordination with our African partners and friends.  The democratization question, that needs to be addressed, and the security question.  So it’s a trinity in order to address some of these pernicious questions.

He talked about – you asked about the hangover or the things that remain to be done subsequent to former Secretary Pompeo’s travels to Africa, and particularly to Senegal.  I think it’s fair to say in the current context, the focus on revitalization of democracies as well as climate change and sustainable development underscores the current approach and the current set of objectives.  Look, there are going to be some evergreen objectives of U.S. policy in Africa: fighting instability, working to underscore democratization.  That’s going to – that’s an evergreen U.S. approach.  How we go about doing it, certainly these days – appropriately, climate change is going to be at the top of our agenda, and how we integrate climate change in sustainable development.

You asked specifically about what does revitalization of democracies mean.  I will refer you to our Under Secretary for Democracy and Human Rights for additional comments there, especially as you get closer to the launch of the first phase of the summit of democracies.  But again, I go back to the point I made earlier about a humble approach taken directly from what the Secretary of State has said many times.  There are a number of challenges that democracies face, essentially in demonstrating to their publics, in developed countries and developing countries alike, that democracy is the most effective vehicle for addressing the needs of its citizens.  And democracies have to continually work to ensure that publics understand and see that democracies deliver.

And so we look forward to having that conversation with our African partners both in civil society, African publics, African youth, and then African leaders.  So hopefully that helps to define a bit more what revitalization means: refreshing and enhancing.  And the course correction of democracies is one of the enduring strengths of democratic countries, such as the United States.  The ability to continually reinvent ourselves and to loop back to our principles ensures that our actions of today are consistent with our principles.  And that’s a reality, that’s a challenge that we look forward to sharing worldwide with our partners in Africa and around the globe.

MR ICE:  Okay, and with that, we’re out of time for today.  I would like to take this opportunity once again to thank everyone for joining us, and a special thank you to our briefer today.  Again, this was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department State Bureau of African Affairs Ervin Massinga.  Thank you, PDAS Massinga.  We very much appreciate it.  With that, this briefing is finished and the embargo is closed.  Everyone, please have a nice weekend.


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