Africa: Briefing with USUN Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield on the Power of Democracy and the Future of Peacekeeping in Africa

New York — MODERATOR:  Good afternoon and welcome to everyone from the London International Media Hub, teaming up today with our colleagues from the Africa Regional Media Hub.  I’d like to welcome our participants who are logging in from across the African continent and globally to thank all of you for joining this discussion.  Today, we’re very pleased to be joined by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
We’ll begin today’s call with opening remarks from Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield and then we’ll turn to your questions.  We’ll try to get to as many of them as possible during the briefing.
As a reminder, today’s call is on the record.  And with that, I will turn it over to Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Thank you very much, Margaret, and thank you all for joining us here today.  As you know, I just returned from an incredibly productive, incredibly meaningful trip to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea Bissau.  And I’d be remiss not to note that my stop in Guinea Bissau, a country I had never visited before, means that I’ve been to all but three countries on the continent of Africa.  So that’s not too shabby.
Over the past week, I covered a lot of territory – literally and figuratively.  But there were a few core themes that wove through the entire trip.
The first is democracy.
Anchoring this trip was the inauguration of President Joseph Boakai in Liberia – marking the country’s successful second peaceful, democratic transition of power since the end of the civil war in 2003.  And I was really honored to lead the President’s delegation for this remarkable celebration of democracy as the former U.S. ambassador to Liberia.
But it’s important to note that my visit to West Africa took place amidst a backdrop of democratic backsliding in the region.
And so during my time in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea Bissau, I met with heads of government, I met with opposition leaders, members of civil society, and people representing the next generation of leaders to emphasize how civilian-led democracies deliver for people – and underscore the importance of preserving and expanding them.
That was the message of my keynote address at the Liberia Chamber of Commerce on election night: that democracy is a tie that binds our two nations together.  And that both in America and in Liberia, democracy is an unfinished project – a choice we all must make not just on election day or inauguration day, but every single day.
While in Liberia, I visited the historic Providence Baptist Church, where Liberia’s declaration of independence was signed in 1847 – and that continues to be a symbol of liberty and hope for Liberia.
I met with leaders, including outgoing President George Weah, to commend him on his commitment to the peaceful transfer of power – and the new president, President Joseph Boakai, to discuss the importance of combatting corruption, promoting accountability, and remaining a pillar of democracy in a region roiled by threats to it.
Democracy was also the topic of conversations in my meetings with Guinea Bissauan President Embalo, Sierra Leonean President Bio, and Ghanaian President Akufo-Addo, who was also in Liberia to celebrate the inauguration.
And democracy was the basis for the announcement I made in Freetown a few days ago: that the United States is committing $1.5 million to support Sierra Leone’s electoral reform processes.
This funding will help provide the technical and legal assistance needed to strengthen democracy in Sierra Leone – as well as fuel civilian engagement to increase everyday people’s awareness, buy-in, and ownership.
Another key theme of my trip was peace and security – which are, of course, linked with democracy.
This was a focus of all of my conversations with heads of state – including my sit-down with the president of Sierra Leone, whose country joined the Security Council during a particularly turbulent moment in the region – and my meeting with the Ghanaian president, whose country played a critical role in helping pass a UN financing resolution for AU peace operations.
The international community has a responsibility to empower AU missions to respond to Africa’s growing security challenges.
The financing resolution, which the UN unanimously adopted at the end of last year, is a major steppingstone to that end – putting African leaders at the forefront, and African people at the center.
In addition to discussing peace and security with presidents, I visited the Sierra Leone Peace Museum, which honors the victims of the country’s decade-long conflict and works to promote lasting peace.  This visit was incredibly timely, and it was remarkably heart-wrenching to see the important efforts that were being made to ensure that people never forget what happened during that war.  But it was also timely as it immediately preceded my participation in a national dialogue discussion with the Government of Sierra Leone, opposition leaders, and members of the international community working to implement Sierra Leone’s agreement for national unity.
I also visited Tombo Fishing Village, where I learned more about the community’s challenges with illegal fishing, as well as U.S. interventions to address climate, health, food – and food security.
And finally, I had the opportunity to meet with Liberian soldiers who served as international peacekeepers as part of the UN’s mission in Mali.
This is one of those full-circle moments for me.  I visited Liberia in 2005, near the height of the UN peacekeeping mission following the civil war.  To come back not even two decades later, and see Liberians contributing troops – it’s a testament to the resilience and the dedication of the Liberian people.
Which brings me to the last theme of the trip, which was investing in the future of Africa – namely, women and young people.
In Sierra Leone, I got to meet with an incredible group of young women leaders at Fourah Bay College, where we discussed the transformative role women play in government, business, and more.
And while in Liberia, I had the opportunity to engage with alumni of the President’s Young Professionals Program and U.S. exchange programs – as well as students from my favorite school in the world.
And I know that’s a lofty statement: favorite school in the world. But while I love my alma maters, LSU and the University of Wisconsin, these students attend The Linda Thomas-Greenfield Preparatory School.
So: Democracy. Peace and security. Investing in women and young people.
I could talk about these three priorities – and more importantly, the African people realizing them on the ground – forever.  But I want to get to your questions, and I know you want to get to them too.
So let me end by just saying that this is a region that is near and dear to my heart.  I first went to Liberia and Sierra Leone in the late 1970s.  And since then, progress in the region has hardly been a straight line.
But this visit, this homecoming, nearly five decades after I first touched down in Monrovia, affirmed that there are so many reasons to be hopeful about the years to come.
So with that, I’d be happy to take a few questions.  So over to you, Margaret.
MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield.  We’ll now begin the question-and-answer portion of today’s briefing.
We have a full briefing today.  And so as a courtesy to your fellow journalists, I’d ask that you limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing, which is: the Power of Democracy and the Future of Peacekeeping in Africa After the AU Financing Security Council Resolution.
So for our first question, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, would you please elaborate on what the AU financing resolution means for peace and security in Africa?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Oh, thank you so much for that question.  I am so proud of the fact that we were able to get the AU financing resolution passed.  This is something that I have personally been working on for over a decade when I served as the assistant secretary for Africa.  And so to accomplish that during my presidency – or my period at the Security Council was extremely meaningful.  And I want to take the opportunity to thank Ghana for leading the effort to move that resolution forward and get a unanimous adoption of the resolution in the Security Council.
So you asked what the resolution means.  This resolution underscores the primary – the primacy of politics and the need for coherent political strategy that will guide any peacekeeping operations.  But it also gives support to the African Union, to African leadership of peacekeeping operations.  The resolution emphasizes that operations must include appropriate safeguards to protect civilians, and this was a key accomplishment of the resolution.  It provides for the UN to pay 75 percent of peacekeeping operations for AU missions, and that was something that was truly important, and we will work with the African Union and peacekeeping countries to get the rest of the funding.  But it really is a reflection of African leadership for African solutions.
MODERATOR:  Fantastic.  Thank you for elaborating.
Our first question from a journalist is Ms. – from Ms. Christina Okello of Radio France Internationale.  And the question is:  “Sierra Leone is joining the Security Council at a time of turmoil following a failed coup implicating the former president in a trial the opposition says is politically motivated.  What’s your assessment of the state of democracy in Sierra Leone?”
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Democracy, as I said in my opening remarks, is not a – it’s not a straight-line process.  It is a process that is always a few steps forward and a few steps back, but we see that it is the one mode of government that provides for the people.  And Sierra Leone has made tremendous progress in moving in that direction.  I met with their commission, the national unity agreement and the commission that was set up for that, and the commission is working very deliberately to develop a process that will allow for free and fair elections that are supported by all parties.  We condemn the attempted coup that took place in Sierra Leone, and we want to work with the government to help establish a path forward, and we express our support to President Bio for his call for national unity, and his efforts to urge Sierra Leone to work together to build a unified country in the national interests of all.
So we will continue to support that effort.  As I noted, we gave $1.5 million to that effort that will help the commission continue to implement their recommendations moving forward.
MODERATOR:  Excellent.  And what does the recent UNSC Resolution 2719 mean for African peacekeeping missions?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Well, it means that these missions are going to get the support of the United Nations.  They’re going to get capacity that they may not have.  They are going to – their leadership is going to be boosted in this process.  We’ve seen a number of countries on the continent of Africa who have raised concerns about UN peacekeeping missions.  We saw that happen, unfortunately, in Mali.  We’ve seen it happen as well in Sudan.  So to have African leadership in these missions I think will help to build confidence in peacekeeping, and particularly as it relates to protection of civilians.
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question is from Mr. Moses Kollie Garzeawu of BBC World Service, Liberia.  The question is:  “What example has Liberia set for the entire region with a smooth democratic transition?  And how committed is the U.S. to helping Liberia survive from what the president said is under stress?”
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Liberia was and continues to be under stress.  We saw Liberia go through a 14-year civil war that ended in 2003.  They have had since that time successive transitions of power and successful elections.  The first president, President Sirleaf, served for two terms; President Weah – an opposition candidate was elected, and he graciously accepted the results of a free and fair election and allowed for a smooth transition.  And that is truly an example for not just West Africa, but the entire continent of Africa.  And we really should commend Liberians for that success.
The United States is committed to Liberia.  We have – we’re a country that has close historical ties that go back to Liberia’s creation, and we have been a close ally and partner to Liberia throughout.  Liberia has been very supportive and worked closely with us here at the United Nations, and we’re committed to helping President Boakai succeed.
As you know, I served as ambassador in Liberia for four years during the Sirleaf administration, and we committed millions of U.S. dollars to supporting Liberia’s development.  We will continue to do that.  Since 2017, we’ve given them close to $800 million; we’ve worked to build their military.  So our commitment to Liberia is ironclad.
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question is from Mr. Mouctar Balde of Guinéenews.  He asks:  “You have very vast experience in African affairs, and you know very well the recent history of civil wars, unrest, coup – and coup in the region.  In Guinea, for instance, I have doubts that the current regime is going to transfer power to a democratic elected president.  As you know, civil wars, unrest, and crises start when the military is not playing by the rules.  What strategy can you think of in conflict prevention, or any kind of long-term unrest?”
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Thank you for that question.  And it is a tough question, because it is something that we have all been grappling with for many, many years.  And we’ve had some – many successes, and Liberia is clearly one of those successes, and we’ve had failures, and Guinea is one of those right now.
We are working to build capacity in countries like Guinea to give support to civil society, to give support to ordinary people so that they can vote and hopefully hold their leaders accountable.  But we’re also working with leadership to encourage them, to push them, to urge them, and sometimes nudge them in the right direction.  And that’s the case across the continent of Africa, and as I said, we have a lot of successes, but we have a lot of work to do to continue to push that effort.  We know that democracy delivers to people, and we know that in order for democracy to deliver, countries have to have strong leadership.  Corruption has to be addressed upfront.  That’s the message that I delivered in – very strongly in Liberia, and it’s the message that we’re delivering across the continent of Africa.
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question is for Mr. Aggrey Mutambo, the National Media Group in Kenya:  “I would like to see a comment from the U.S. Government concerning the war in Sudan.  We are hearing reports that Iran may have supplied certain drones and other weapons to the Sudan armed forces to aid their fight against Rapid Support Forces.  Does the U.S. have concerns about this and the potential for Iran becoming a bigger threat in the Horn of Africa, and what efforts are being put in place to de-escalate the situation?
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Look, we’re concerned about any support for these two generals to continue this war against the people of Sudan, and we’ve made that clear across the board.  What the two generals need to do is put down their arms and go back to the negotiating table and find a solution.  There will be no military solution to this war.  We’re seeing thousands of people die on both sides.  We’ve seen 6 million people be forced from their homes.
I visited Chad last year, went to the border, talked to refugees who were fleeing.  Chad is hosting over a million refugees, many of them from the first war that happened that led to the designation of a genocide.  So to see this happening again is unconscionable.  And so it is incumbent that those who are assisting these two generals to fight this war against the people of Sudan cease those efforts, and the generals go and negotiate a final deal with civilians at the table with them.
MODERATOR:  Okay.  Our next question is – we’re going to take a turn up to North Africa, Ms. Aya Sayed of Roayah News Network in Egypt.  The question is:  “There are growing concerns that UN peacekeeping operations are increasingly becoming unwelcome in parts of Africa, as countries such as Mali and the DRC requested the withdrawal of UN missions.  Do you expect that African nations would welcome AU-led peacekeeping missions?”
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Yeah, we’re very concerned with the – the lack of support for UN peacekeeping missions.  These missions have been important to contributing to peace and security, to protection of civilians across the continent of Africa.  So what happened in the case of Mali and what is currently happening in DRC is really unfortunate.  But I do think, as you noted, that AU peacekeeping missions might be able to fill in the gap.  And that’s why it was so important that we get the AU financing resolution passed so that we are able to provide direct financing to these missions, provide capacity, provide training so that Africans, as I said earlier, can lead in this process.
MODERATOR:  Okay, we’re coming – we are coming up on time, but I want to give Carol Van Dam Falk of Voice of America an opportunity to ask her question live.  Carol, over to you.
Carol, you’re on mute.  Can you speak again?
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Hi, Carol.
MODERATOR:  Well, I am not able to hear Carol, so I’m going to go ahead and proceed to the next pre-submitted question.  And that is – let’s see – Mr. Mohamed K. Fofanah of the Gleaner Newspaper in Sierra Leone:  “Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, you announced that the United States plans to invest 1.5 million to support Sierra Leone’s electoral reform process.  After the announcement, an unconfirmed report has it that the U.S. is pushing for a rerun of the June 24th elections.  Do you have any comment?”
 AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  I’m not aware of that, but what I am aware of is that the $1.5 million will assist Sierra Leone in developing their own plans for how they will conduct elections in the future.  But there are no – as far as I know, there are no plans for an election, and certainly we have not called for that.
MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  So we are at time.  Do you have any final thoughts that you would like to share with the group before we wrap?
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Well, let me just say to you that the press in Africa plays an extraordinarily important role in making sure that democracy functions.  You are a key component, you’re a key tool of democracy on the continent of Africa.  I had a number of press engagements when I was on this trip.  I met with your colleague from Front Page Africa and did an interview on radio with him.  I did a press conference in Sierra Leone as well.  And again, I think your role in keeping the public informed, keeping the world informed, and also holding accountable leaders across the continent and holding me and others accountable for what we’re doing is so important.  So I just want to end with a thank you to all of you for what you do, and I look forward to continuing to engage with you in the future.
MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield.  That concludes today’s briefing.  I want to thank all of our participating journalists.  A reminder that this briefing has been on the record.  And if you have any questions about today’s briefing, you may contact the London International Media Hub at LondonHub@state.gov.  We will be circulating a transcript to all registered participants.  Thank you.
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Thank you.