By Julius Odeke
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Johnnie Carson, spoke to journalists on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York, USA, on Oct.1. The Independent’s Julius Odeke joined the conversation via video-conference at the U.S. Mission in Kampala.
Kevin Kelly, Nation, Nairobi: What will happen to Kismayo, a town in Somalia that the AMISOM forces have recently captured, now that Somalia has elected President Shariff Mohamed?
The U.S. as a government applauds the work that has been done by AMISOM forces in Somalia to defeat and push away the Al-Shabaab from many cities in Somalia, and other towns. We hope this will stablise Somalia. And we also believe that Kenya’s liberating the South of Somalia was very important. However, it’s our prayer that Kenya will not occupy it but work alongside AMISOM forces to establish an effective political system in Mogadishu. Their presence there should not be to occupy the area but a temporal strategy to allow the country stablise. Kenya has to work with the political leadership in Somalia. And we too, as U.S., shall continue to supply equipment and also to support them financially to help fight the Al-Shabaab. We would anticipate to direct most of the resources to Somalia so as to create a national army and the defense force. The U.S. has trained units of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) groups in Uganda and we shall continue doing that by making it now local, as we focus on strengthening Somalia’s national army.
John Francis, West Africa: There have been many calls across the Sahel region about the Islamic rebels, and U.S. has maintained that the issue should be resolved politically but not militarily. Is the U.S. going to support ECOWAS on this issue?
I must assure you that this must be done simultaneously. The democratic progress in Mali to restore hope among the civilian population through democratic processes should be done effectively. However, if you don’t have a strong credible government in Bamako, then it will be difficult to have a military that can liberate northern parts of the country. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is fighting alongside this. There will be military action to liberate Timbuktu and Gao, but this must be well planned and resourced and in fact it must be agreed upon by those who will be affected by the insurgency, and it’s imperative to be democratic. Washington has done a lot by imposing the idealogy into this country of getting rid of the extremists.
Edmond Kagira, The Weekly East African: The US government lately has asked Rwanda to denounce supporting the M23 rebels operating in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. What is the way forward towards offering security to DRC?
The US government delights to see peace and security in DRC. And this peace should be just like the one in enjoyed in Uganda, Rwanda, and other neighbouring countries. This means each country has a responsibility in ensuring that there is peace and security in DRC. Even President Joseph Kabila has the same challenge. He must protect the Congolese citizens irrespective of their ethnicity both in the lower Kivu and in the North Kivu. His government should put in mechanisms to protect women and girls in Eastern Congo in the most violent places against women. Kabila has to ensure that his government eradicates all the rebel groups, the likes of Interahamwe, M23, and also to ensure that minerals are exported and handled in a transparent manner without corruption and misuse. The security services have to protect the people in DRC, but the whole responsibility is for the neighbouring countries not to support rebel groups that are operating in DRC. However, it should not be too much to ask Rwanda to denounce the M23 rebel group but also to reject offering it a territorial ambition because these groups are being led by people who violate human rights.
Julius Odeke, The Independent, Kampala: Initially, the U.S. was looking for a base to station The United States Africa Command, also known as U.S. AFRICOM, but recently they said it’s not going to do that. Is this a sign that US is withdrawing from engaging militarily in Africa?
I must say clearly that AFRICOM will have its headquarters in Germany but we have no intention to withdraw from Africa. We shall continue with our normal duties in Africa. We must develop Africa with mutual respect, interest and partnership. By this, I must tell the world that we want to work in Africa to achieve our strategies and objectives by instituting democratic institutions and good governance in Africa. The U.S. wants to spur economic growth amongst African states and to bring peace and security across the continent. We shall work with the international communities to bring peace in Somalia, DRC, South Sudan, and Sudan. Also, in the Obama administration, our aim is to promote development in Africa with future prospects of helping to promote green agriculture by bringing agro-industry and to address the public health issues like combating malaria, HIV/Aids, and tuberculosis. This we shall do by building public health institutions that will provide basic needs of that kind so as to help people. We have already done some of those activities through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD), and the East African Community (EAC) are some of the important players for the last twelve months to ensuring that Somalia gets peace.
Journalist, Tanzania: How is ECOWAS handing the insecurity issue in Mali?
The U.S. will try its best to coordinate with other key players in this issue in the region. ECOWAS works hand in hand with its member states. The U.S. advises ECOWAS to listen attentively to views of Mauritania, Algeria, and Libya because they too are very important countries in resolving the issue in Mali because they are neighbours.
Even Chad has interests, so does the U.S. and European Union. We have four key areas under discussion and they include Mali and Sahel. The U.S. is deeply concerned about the situation there. One is governance, we need to return it to civilian leadership since there was a coup d’état.
Second is political marginalization. As government cannot provide social services to Northern Mali due to historical problems that date back but we are saying this must be resolved politically, because it affects neighbouring countries through the acts of terrorism. So, acts such as imposing Sharia law, and kidnapping must be dealt with.
There is also an issue of the humanitarian situation, the food deficit in the region, and a threat from Al- Qaeda in the North. (UN Secretary General) Ban Ki Moon has proposed to deal with this issue through the UN, international, and regional communities.