Remarks by Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard at the African Peace and Security Annual Conference on “The Autonomy of the African Union in a Changing World”


Good afternoon!

It is my distinct honor to be here today at such an occasion to engage on some of the key issues facing the African continent.

In my career I have experienced five transitions of government in the United States. Thus I am aware that times of transition often bring uncertainty and a wish for clarity on policy priorities. In my remarks today I want to affirm the United States’ commitment to Africa, reflect on our priorities, and underscore our appreciation for the African Union. I also want to outline how an independent and self-reliant African Union supports U.S. foreign policy goals in Africa.

The Africa I have come to know is a continent of vast opportunity and promise. It is a continent with tremendous natural and human resources, and a rapidly expanding middle class. It is a continent that has made remarkable progress despite significant challenges.

When I think about eradicating poverty, countering and preventing violent extremism, and boosting economic growth and trade in our global community, Africa is central to the conversation. The African Union’s leadership plays a critical role in shaping the continent’s agenda based on shared principles.

The African Union is an indispensable partner to both America and the United Nations in promoting peace and security. We value the role it plays in helping to develop for African-led solutions to African security problems. Africa also contributes peacekeepers who contribute to solving crises in some of the most difficult places in the world. We have been and will continue to be ready to work with the AU as its independence grows and it seeks financial self-reliance.
Secretary of State Tillerson’s comments on Africa policy have stressed that:

  • Africa is a continent of enormous opportunity, and the United States will continue to support governments as they develop their institutional capacities.
  • The United States will be looking at Africa for potential economic and trading opportunities.
  • The continent will be a big focus of U.S. health initiatives.
  • And on peace and security, he emphasized our continued commitment against the spread of violent extremism and terrorism, by saying “The continent of Africa is so important… we cannot let Africa become the next breeding ground for a re-emergence of a caliphate for ISIS.”

Global alliances and partnerships are important, as U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley noted recently. In her remarks to the UN, Ambassador Haley recognized the African Union’s unique capacity to anticipate crises, mediate conflicts, and deploy troops and police on short notice. She touted the United States’ partnership with the AU, notably in the area of peace and security. Moreover, she praised the AU’s increasing leadership role in contributing to peace operations and battling terrorist and insurgent groups.

Ambassador Haley highlighted the AU’s contributions in Somalia, where the AU quickly deployed to provide security for a fledgling government in 2007, leading to a path of greater stability and peace. In Somalia, our policy seeks to bolster the effectiveness of AMISOM and the Somali National Security Forces to drive out al-Shabaab and support further efforts to strengthen the Somali state.

In Central Africa, the AU-led Regional Task Force significantly degraded the Lord’s Resistance Army and itsthreat to the civilian population in several nations. Where the group once boasted more than 2,000 fighters, efforts of the AU-RTF security forces have reduced the group’s active membership to about 100-150. While LRA leader Joseph Kony remains in hiding as a fugitive from the International Criminal Court, the AU-RTF has captured or removed from the battlefield four of the five key LRA leaders.

Across the continent, the AU is partnering with regional organizations and countries to respond to emerging and complex threats, from tense electoral transitions in West Africa to countering Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin.
In the Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for State and USAID, we have stressed that our engagement will be guided by the following four global foreign policy principles:

  1. Defending U.S. national security;
  2. Asserting U.S. leadership and influence;
  3. Fostering opportunities for U.S. economic interests; and
  4. Ensuring effectiveness and accountability to the U.S. taxpayer.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has underscored the importance of global partnerships by stating, “Our partnerships and our alliances are critical to our success.” He also described Africa as a continent of enormous opportunity, and highlighted the commitment of the United States to partner with countries to fight terrorism, seek mutually beneficial economic opportunities, stabilize governments, and tackle health challenges.

I would note that these goals correspond to the four pillars agreed by the United States and the African Union Commission in our 2013 Memorandum of Understanding:

  1. Advance peace and security
  2. Encourage economic growth, trade, and investment
  3. Strengthen democratic institutions and good governance
  4. Promote opportunity and development

The President’s budget request addresses key priorities in Africa, including promoting U.S. national security interests by seeking to degrade and defeat ISIS branches, affiliates, and other terrorist networks in Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, and elsewhere.

Transnational threats, such as terrorism and crime, state fragility, and conflict, make the promotion of peace and security a critical priority for the United States in Africa. In the Lake Chad Basin, our assistance is helping the regional coalition defeat Boko Haram and ISIS West Africa with support for military and civilian security operations, humanitarian support, and a defectors strategy.

In Mali and the Sahel, we have a multi-faceted approach to support the peace process, bring stability, and drive out terrorists. We support French military counterterrorism operations with intelligence and logistical assistance and we are strengthening the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) so that it can fulfill its role to support Mali’s government.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, the budget request supports mitigation of regional crises; provides monitoring teams, advisors, training, logistical support, infrastructure enhancements, and equipment; and supports security sector reform.

Turning to the AU, recent initiatives show it recognizes that its goals for African-led solutions and greater AU autonomy in resolving and preventing emerging conflicts in Africa must be supported by a funding mechanism that ensures the long term sustainability of the organization. So we welcome the African Union’s decision to fund 25 percent of African Union-led peace support operations by 2020. Member states are already taking action to contribute to the African Union’s Peace Fund. They are leading the way and setting the example.

Indeed, President Trump has called for partners around the world to become more self-reliant and has encouraged regions to take a more responsibility in providing solutions to conflict and challenges in their neighborhoods. Doesn’t this call strike you as being at the very core of the AU’s commitments to itself in its constitutive documents?   I believe the AU’s call for greater independence and proposed institutional and funding reforms supports that vision.

We must recognize that the AU is well placed to present itself as an increasingly effective partner in living up to such expectations, acting decisively to tackle even seemingly intractable issues.  The United States stands ready to work in solidarity with the AU as it takes concrete steps to identify appropriate means for greater self-financing. But any resolution with this goal in mind must hold member states accountable to their international obligations and commitments.

As AU member states increase their financial commitment to the AU, they are also demanding greater transparency, accountability, and effectiveness from the organization. The reform process begun under the auspices of Rwandan President Paul Kagame has the potential to make the AU more focused, more efficient, and more responsive to its member states. While the final shape of the new AU is yet to be seen, we applaud the principle of reform and stand ready to assist the AU as it pursues those goals.

At the AU Summit, the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government made clear that the reform process is an initiative undertaken by Africa for Africa, to make the AU a more effective actor on behalf of the people of the African continent. But it will also make the AU a stronger and more credible partner, better able to work together with the United States and other countries to achieve our many mutual goals

As the AU moves towards becoming more self-sustaining, we should explore ways to strengthen the U.S.-AU partnership. How does a new partnership take shape in an era of “America First” and at a time of greater independence for the African Union?

As our national security advisor recently said, a U.S. foreign policy that advances “America First” for national security and economic prosperity doesn’t come at the expense of others. We remain engaged now more than ever with our partners and look forward to those partners playing a constructive role in managing conflicts.

I would also like to recall the strong bi-partisan support African policy has enjoyed over the years through different administrations in the United States, including in the U.S. Congress. For example, health initiatives such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Presidential Malaria Initiative were started during previous administrations, and continue under this administration, representing another front to advance U.S. security priorities by supporting health security. In the FY18 budget request, resources will support efforts to prevent global pandemics through maintaining funding for health programs. The request provides sufficient resources to maintain all current patients on HIV/AIDS treatment under (PEPFAR), and also maintains funding for malaria programs. African governments are increasingly stepping up to address HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, and we continue to encourage their efforts.

The tragic attacks in the UK, Afghanistan, Egypt, and Nigeria, among others, demonstrate the impact of terrorism as terrorists seek to expand their reach and resonance by exploiting ongoing conflicts and insurgencies, joining forces with criminal networks, and propagating hatred via social media. In Africa as elsewhere, a comprehensive approach, where citizens are empowered to lead and devise their own solutions to address the drivers of violent extremism is critical to not only advancing the United States’ foreign policy goals but to realizing the aims of Agenda 2063– an African continent that is peaceful and prosperous.
Conferences like the one organized today here in Rabat provide a space for continued reflection, coordination, and examination. While the way forward may not always be clear, I am confident that by marshalling our partnership and our resources, we can overcome whatever challenges that may lie ahead.
Thank you.

Monday, July 10, 2017

(Remarks as prepared)