Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard’s Opening Remarks at the Africa – U.S. Partnership Options to Enhance Strategic Cooperation in Challenging Environm

Distinguished colleagues, good morning.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today about the U.S. – AU partnership.  Next month, December 22, to be exact, will mark the 10thanniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Mission to the AU.  We are indeed proud to have been the first non-African Mission dedicated exclusively to the AU, and the United States remains firmly committed to our partnership with the African Union.

The occasion of such an anniversary prompts both a look back to past accomplishments, and thoughts of how to continue to improve our collaboration.  I would like to offer some examples of the former, and we are always eager to hear others’ views of better ways forward.  Many people in Addis have asked me about prospects for U.S. relations with the African Union as the U.S. administration changes.  While it is important to recall first, that I continue to represent President Obama through the January 20 inauguration and second, that I have no crystal ball, I am happy to share a few observations that I think might guide how the African Union approaches this transition.

The United States has been a steadfast partner with the AU in its bold vision for sustainable peace and prosperity, as outlined in Agenda 2063, and its commitment to silence the guns on the continent by 2020.

Over the past decade our relationship with the AU has deepened and grown.  The significance of this growth is reflected in President Obama’s historic address to the African Union during his visit to the AU headquarters in 2015, the first by a sitting U.S. president.

In his speech at the African Union headquarters, President Obama said, ‘If you want your country to grow and succeed, you have to empower your women.’  This is absolutely essential.  A country cannot be successful if it leaves behind half its population.

I look forward to hearing more about women, peace and security from Admiral Howard who is the highest ranking woman officer in the United States Navy.  She has been a true pioneer and trailblazer in the advancement of women in peace and security throughout her career.

Advancing peace and security is one of the U.S. government’s key goals in Africa.  It is essential to engage women as equal partners in every aspect of security, political and economic development, and good governance.  It is also a basic human right and is in line with the AU’s theme for 2016 which is the “Year of Human Rights with a special focus on the rights of women”.

The United States backs up our goals and vision with financial and human commitments: the Department of State through its Africa Bureau has supported women to participate as leaders in peacebuilding through the $10 million Africa- Women, Peace and Security Initiative.

The United States supports the AU’s efforts in conflict prevention and mediation efforts through the African Peace and Security Architecture.  We are working with the AU’s Continental Early Warning System in enhancing its capacity to be a true conflict prevention mechanism by assessing vulnerabilities, and through new analytical tools such as horizon scanning.

The United States also recognizes the role of terrorism in fostering instability and undermining peace, and we are working closely with governments and regional organizations to combat these groups through the Multi-National Joint Task Force in West Africa and others.

We also believe that the AU is right to focus on addressing root causes and socio-economic drivers of conflict.  The United States partners with the AU in these endeavors through development programs to improve citizen’s livelihoods including the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), the Power Africa Initiative to double access to power in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA), and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

In the last decade, we have been very busy together, and the positive results of our partnership are evident in communities across the continent.  As we look back at the last 10 years of our work together and celebrate this milestone, we also look forward to continuing our engagement with Africa and the African Union, throughout and beyond this period of transition at the AUC as well as in our own government in the United States.

Many of our colleagues and partners have wondered what the new administration means for our work in Africa.  In addressing that issue, I would first remind everyone of the strong bi-partisan support Africa policy has enjoyed over the years and through different administrations.

For example, initiatives such as PEPFAR and the Presidential Malaria Initiative were started during previous administrations, and the most recent legislative renewal of AGOA was again a strongly bipartisan affair.  One of the most obvious trends in Africa that a new administration will perceive is the continent’s enormous youthfulness.  Just as the Peace Corps did not end with the Kennedy administration, I would be hopeful that the potential in fostering the youth dividend inherent in the Young African Leader’s Initiative , or something very much like it, would also be clear.

The constitutional change of power in the United States represents an opportunity for all of us, at about the same moment as we will begin to engage with new leadership at the AU.  While the U.S. presidential campaign season did not often address Africa specifically, the incoming administration’s campaign messaging certainly stressed issues like regions taking the lead in providing solutions to conflict and challenges in their neighborhoods, and burden sharing by international partners.  Doesn’t the former strike you as the very core of the AU’s commitments to itself in its constitutive documents?  On top of which we have the AU’s recent activism on AU-UN relations, including topics such as the Peace Fund on financial contributions and obligations reliably shared between Africa and the international community.   In short, I think we must recognize that the AU is well placed to present itself as a current and increasingly effective partner in living up to such expectations, acting decisively to tackle even seemingly intractable issues.  USAU stands ready to work in solidarity with the AU as we move forward in 2017.

First impressions can mean a lot, and I urge everyone to actively engage and to keep the channels of communication open.  This dialogue on strategic cooperation comes at a crucial time, and I look forward to the discussions and take-aways from today.

I would like to end by reiterating that the United States remains a natural partner for Africa and continues to stand by the AU in its endeavor towards achieving an Africa that is proud, prosperous, and peaceful.

Thank you.