Special Briefing
Senior Administration Official, Office of the Spokesperson
ERT Monrovia, Liberia
January 15, 2012


MODERATOR: All right, everybody. We are en route with the Secretary of State to West Africa, three stops – Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, and Togo – and then, obviously, Cape Verde on the way home. We have three or four – we have four Senior Administration Officials available to you to talk you through this trip.

Number one is [Senior Administration Official One], number two is [Senior Administration Official Two], number three is [Senior Administration Official Three], and number four, [Senior Administration Official Four], give us your title. I never remembered it.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL FOUR: [Identifies self.]

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MODERATOR: [Senior Administration Official One], why don’t you take it away, hereafter Senior Administration Officials One, Two, Three, and Four.

[Senior Administration Official One].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Okay, great. Thanks. Thanks, I’m glad to be along on this trip. Let me start by providing a little bit of framework for the whole three stops.

The Administration, since it has been in office, has placed a high priority on strengthening democratic institutions, promoting good governance, holding good, free, fair elections, and encouraging conflict reconciliation and post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction. This trip is about all of those agendas and trying to promote them. All three of the countries that we are visiting are countries that are now a part of Africa’s democratic success story.

Our first stop in Liberia is to attend the second inauguration of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as president of Liberia. This is an extraordinarily important occasion because of the fact that Liberia is now experiencing nearly a decade of peace after 15 years of enormous civil conflict in which that country was destroyed by two leaders – Charles Taylor, who is currently being indicted by the ICC, and by the late Samuel Doe. Fifteen years of violence was ended in 2003. Ellen Sirleaf Johnson was elected president in 2005, and she has now been reelected last year in November to a second term.

Liberia has been a close friend of the United States for many, many years, a country established by freed American slaves in 1848, and is probably as close as any country in Africa ever will be to being a American colony. But this is special because Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has done a remarkable job over the last four and a half years of rebuilding her country, promoting reconciliation, and beginning the difficult task of reestablishing one of Africa’s weakest infrastructures. It’s also important because Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the only female president in Africa, and she was, last year, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her reconstruction work.

This is an opportunity for the United States to express our appreciation and praise for the outstanding work that she has done over the last five years to acknowledge the success of her recent election, to applaud her for her Nobel Prize, and to help encourage the reconstruction to continue, reconciliation and reconstruction that is going on there. You all may remember that the Secretary last visited Monrovia in August of 2009. This is the second trip by the Secretary to Monrovia since she came into office three years ago.

Our second stop is to Cote d'Ivoire, where we have one of Africa’s newest and most dynamic presidents, Alassane Ouattara, in power. Cote d'Ivoire, as many of you know, was the most important country in Francophone Africa. It was the jewel in the crown of the French colonial system, and up until a decade ago, rivaled Nigeria and Ghana as one of the three leading economic powerhouses in West Africa. A decade ago, after failed elections and the assassination of the sitting president, the country went into a deep political spiral. And for a decade, one leader dominated the political agenda in an authoritarian and frequently brutal manner. He is now in The Hague being indicted for his actions.

But you may recall in November of (inaudible), Alassane Ouattara actually won the election for the presidency, but Laurent Gbagbo, the old and now arrested president, refused to acknowledge those results, although they were certified by the United Nations, by the Carter Center, by the European Union, and also by ECOWAS leaders in West Africa. For four months, four and a half months, we along with others in the international community tried to get Mr. Gbagbo to leave. President Obama directly engaged in this effort himself, as did Secretary Clinton, who actually provided a way out for Mr. Gbagbo, but he did not, in fact, accept it.

The UN as well as French troops ultimately removed Mr. Gbagbo from power and put in place Alassane Ouattara, who is the current president. In the short period that he has been in office, he has helped to restore some of the country’s economy, reopen the ports, started the process of rebuilding some of the roads, and moving the country’s agriculture, mostly cocoa, out to markets. President Obama had an opportunity on July 29, 2011 to invite Alassane Ouattara to the White House along with other – four other – three other Francophone African presidents to demonstrate U.S. support for democracy and political reconciliation.

The Secretary’s trip to Cote d'Ivoire will, in fact, underscore our commitment and the President’s commitment to strengthening democratic institutions, standing by political leaders who are prepared to work for democracy, and to improve human rights and economic opportunities. This will be the first visit by a Secretary of State to Cote d'Ivoire since George Shultz was here in 1986 – a long time, but it is, again, an opportunity to underscore our support for democracy and for conflict reconciliation – post-conflict reconciliation.

Our third stop --

MODERATOR: Can you talk about the reconciliation event that she’s going to do?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. I will just mention that the Secretary, while she is in Cote d'Ivoire, will in fact have meetings with President Ouattara and his senior government officials, but she will also participate in a Cote post-conflict reconciliation event with a number of young political leaders who are across the political divide in that country.

The third stop is going to be to Lome, Togo. Again, Togo has a interesting political history and background. From 1967 to 2005, Togo was dominated by a single individual, one of Africa’s longest serving rulers, President Eyadema, who was, in fact, one of the first coup leaders in Africa. He was – he died in 2005. There were hasty elections – not so very good ones – which brought in his son to power, President Faure. Those elections were accompanied by violence. Since then, there have been a second set of presidential elections in March and April of 2010. Those elections were substantially better than the first election, and in fact, represented only the third time that the country had had anything that resembled elections in a multiparty process.

President Faure has – is determined to break away from the history of his father. He is determined to put in place a strong reform-minded government – one that is democratic, multiparty, and which opens up the country. This will be an opportunity for Secretary Clinton to encourage President Faure to continue along a reformist path, to continue to promote political reconciliation in his country, and to speed on economic reforms that will embrace a larger portion of the country.

This will be a historic visit. No president and no secretary of State have ever visited Togo before. This will be the first time that we will have a visit of a U.S. official at this time.

Equally important for us, many of you know that in January of this year, Togo became a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council. It will be on the council for approximately two years. It’s an opportunity to develop stronger relations with them as they serve their tenure on the Security Council.

I’ll stop there, take --

MODERATOR: Do you want – Cape Verde, or you want to do that on the way to Cape Verde?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: We’ll do that one on the way to Cape Verde.

MODERATOR: Okay.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I could just say that the Secretary is going to briefly make a stop in Cape Verde, where she will meet with the prime minister. Cape Verde is one of Africa’s strongest and most successful democracy. It is, along with Mauritius and Botswana, a premier democratic performer – a multiparty political system, good human rights records, but more important than anything else, it has effectively utilized its foreign assistance probably better than any other African state. It was, in fact, the first country to be given a second MCC grant after effectively utilizing its money well during the first grant.

Many of you – some of you who were, again, with us in August of ’09 know that we met there with the president, the prime minister, and foreign minister during this Secretary’s first visit to Africa. Cape Verde has probably done more than any other country to transform its economy and open up opportunities for its people. And so it’s a good friend and a good partner and a strong multiparty democracy.

Let me stop there, don’t want to – and I’ll be glad to take questions, but I don’t know whether you want to do others.

MODERATOR: I think we’re going to do just a minute now on some of our assistants’ programs with our Briefer Number Two.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Okay. In each of the countries that we’re visiting, we are seeing a transition in the political and the economic lives of the countries. And our assistants’ programs in each of those countries are designed, essentially, in that reflection, to do two things – first of all, to build institutions of democratic governance. And so in each of the countries, we’re involved in supporting government institutions in the electoral field, we’re supporting the creation of civil society, we’ve got groups like the National Democratic Institute and the Carter Center that are working to build viable institutions as well.

But at the same time, what we’re trying to do is assure the people of both countries – or all of the countries we’re visiting – that things are getting better, that there is, in fact, a transition dividend and that their lives, under democratic rule, are going to be better than they were before. And so the emphasis in that area is on health and education, power, creation of small and medium-sized enterprises. In both of the countries Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia in particular, we’re also working to empower women during the post-conflict period to try to ensure that they have a role, along with civil society, both in the political and the economic and the social areas as well.

In Liberia, we have a total program of about $207 million in the last fiscal year. We also have a program to create electrical power, which is the clearest indication to a lot of people in Monrovia that, in fact, things are improving. And so we had a large program where we supported 10 megawatts of energy to the capital. In Liberia as well, we have two of the presidential initiatives – the Feed the Future program, which is designed to support agriculture, agricultural institutions, and we also have the Global Health Program, which supports programs in malaria, in child survival, in HIV/AIDS as well.

In Liberia, we had sanctions in place following the coup from 1999 which prevented direct assistance in the developmental field. With the new president coming in, that’s changed now, and we are in the process of putting together a wide-ranging program focusing primarily on education and rule of law. We’ve had about $118 million worth of assistance in the last few years. That was actually our assistance in FY ’11. Most of that assistance is in HIV/AIDS – $93 million, including setting up 700 counseling centers and testing facilities throughout the country. And right now, we are in the process of putting together two programs. One is a substantial education program, which, again, is focused primarily on rural areas and areas that were subject to fighting during the civil war that emerged, focusing on marginal communities in the north, in particular, local reconciliation programs. We also have a peace and security program for about $15 million that we’re doing there as well.

In Togo, we have a small program which is focused on civic education and parliamentary procedures, but again, the overall effort in all of these countries is to support the creation of democratic institutions, to support economic growth, and in particular, to support the transition process in playing.

MODERATOR: Okay. We’re just going to give [Senior Administration Official Four] a chance to talk about some of her issues quickly.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL FOUR: I will just be very quick because both [Senior Administration Official One] and [Senior Administration Official Two] basically touched on it, but you may recall that about three weeks ago, the Secretary launched the President’s Initiative on Women, Peace, and Security, the U.S. national action plan which formalizes a framework for the United States in areas of conflict, post-conflict, and political transition to focus on the important role that women have to play, both in participation and being protected from violence and in post-conflict reconstruction.

So what’s happening, particularly in Liberia, which has a very significant history of women’s engagement in bringing that conflict to an end – you saw both President Sirleaf and Gbowee, who was the other Nobel Laureate this year, with the peace prize. Sirleaf has just named Gbowee to head up the peace and reconciliation initiative, and it continues a very serious effort on women’s economic empowerment there, reform of the security sector – some 15 percent of the police now are female. So this is an important continuing focus by the United States, and similarly, as you heard with Cote d'Ivoire, the Secretary will be participating in a reconciliation event which will have significant female and youth participation.

So I’ll just end it there and take questions.

MODERATOR: Great. Questions, guys?

Brad.

QUESTION: Thanks. Thanks for being so uncomfortable about doing this, very kind of you. (Laughter.)

I had two questions for Senior Administration Official Number One: Madam Sirleaf came in saying graft corruption would be her number-one priority. It’s been awfully difficult to stamp out in Liberia. How are you helping, and what kind of hopes are realistic, considering the challenges that Liberia still faces?

And then secondly, on Cote d'Ivoire: It’s, of course, a great success that Monsieur Ouattara is now the president, in fact and in name. But of course, it was rather messy how he got there, and the forces who also helped him get to his rightful position were complicit in crimes as well. How do you deal with that kind of double element in the sense that it’s a good thing that he’s there, but there must be accountability for his own supporters’ abuses?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Absolutely, two very good questions, and I think I’ll start with the second one first. And President Alassane Ouattara has made it clear that he will put in place the kind of legal system and accountability for all – not only those who fought against him and committed crimes, but also those who fought alongside of him and committed crimes. He has established a commission to look into the human rights abuses not only by the government of Laurent Gbagbo, but also by his own forces. He has put in a very senior official whose credibility in the judicial area is well known, and he has promised to follow through to ensure that all of those who are responsible for abuses are indeed punished.

So I think there has been a great deal of tension focused on Mr. Gbagbo and his family and other senior leaders around him in this early stage. We have seen Mr. Gbagbo go off to the ICC. But I do not believe that President Ouattara has lost sight of this issue. The need for reconciliation also is required, and that can only be done if there is justice on all sides.

With respect to the first question you asked, President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson said early on in her first administration that she would make the fight against corruption a priority. She has continued to do that. Over the last four years, she has in fact dismissed a number of senior government officials, including ministers who have been alleged to have stolen government funds or who engaged in corrupt practices that have resulted in losses for the state. She continues to make corruption a high priority and we continue through our mission – our U.S. mission – to work with her.

We have had officials from the drug – DEA – come out to work with her and officials in dealing with narcotics-related crimes, and they have been quite successful. You may recall that the president’s son helped DEA and FBI agents break up a very large narcotics ring that was working between Latin America and Monrovia. That was a good indication of the level of cooperation and her desire to fight corruption, including narco-trafficking. We have had officials from the Justice Department come out and work with her and her officials on how to strengthen judicial reform and to train magistrates and to put in place better judges and magistrates.

And I think it’s also important that, [Senior Administration Official Four] pointed out, we have been working on security sector reform. And one element of security sector reform has been training more police officers, but also improving their investigative and forensic skills so that they’re better able to detect and go after individuals who are committing crimes.

I think President Sirleaf would say that the battle against corruption is not over. It’s an ongoing issue, but she has not shied away from it. We continue to encourage her to move forward in her efforts, and we continue to provide support to that.

PARTICIPANT: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Sorry. Just sort of a big picture question: I mean, if you looked at West Africa a year ago or two years ago, certainly in – with relation to other parts of Africa, it seemed to be one that wasn’t getting as far ahead on the democratization side; you had backsliding in Cote d’Ivoire and several other places. From the U.S. point of view, do you – sort of feeling that West Africa has really turned a corner now? And if you could talk a little bit about the Nigeria issue, because that’s the big one that everyone’s thinking about right now.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: 2011 was a good year for democracy in West Africa, as it was for many places across Africa. Two years ago, three years ago, very prominent political scientists in the United States, including Larry Diamond, one of the most famous democracy experts at Stanford, said that there was a democratic recession. If you were to look across Africa in 2011 – from 2010 to 2011 and going into the current year, you will see that this was an extraordinarily good year for democracy. We saw democracy return to Guinea-Conakry for the first time in 50 years – not just two or three, but in 50 years.

We saw very good elections in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, and elections that were certified by the international community as being free and fair and representative of the people. You noticed in 2007, Nigeria had appalling elections. But there was substantial progress. We saw good elections occur in Zambia, where we saw a sitting president step aside after losing to the opposition. We saw a strong presidential victory in Niger, another West African country which had been ruled for the last three years by a military government. They too made the swing back to democracy.

We have seen a real upsurge in a commitment for democracy reflecting of the desire of African peoples across the continent for democracy, good governance, and representative leadership. So it was a good year. We think this has been positive for West Africa, whether it is Niger, whether it is Cote d'Ivoire, whether it is Guinea-Conakry, whether it is Nigeria. It’s not to say that every election in Africa was a good election, but we have seen far more progress in democratization and strengthening of democratic institutions over the last two years, which reflect a continued progress in this area.

We think it’s important. It’s been a high priority for the president. Again, recalling his speech before the Ghanaian Parliament on July 10 of 2009, what he said very clearly, Africa needed more strong institutions, not more strong men. I think that has been echoed across much of West Africa, it certainly has been echoed across the continent. So I think it’s been a strong year for democracy.

With respect to Nigeria, just two or three quick points: Nigeria, along with South Africa, clearly is one of the two most important countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. With 170 million people and being the largest African supplier of petroleum to the United States – coming in at roughly 8 or 9 percent, rivaling anything we get from Saudi Arabia – this is a country of great significance. There is currently an ongoing strike in that country related to the government’s efforts to remove a very costly fuel subsidy which has kept fuel prices abnormally low, and which has resulted in the government losing something in the neighborhood of $8-$9 billion worth of revenues every year.

But more importantly, what we have seen, and the reason why the government wants to stop this, is because there has been a huge import of fuel into the country, which is then smuggled out of the country across the borders into Togo, Benin, into Niger, and into Cameroon, which is also an enormous drain on the federal Nigerian budget. So they will have to work through this. We support the government’s efforts to remove the fuel subsidy; how they do it is, of course, a question that they have to work out. But the issue is a serious one for them, and it will be one that they will have to deal with and work through over the next several weeks.

MODERATOR: Scott?

QUESTION: Any bilats in Monrovia with visiting heads of state who will be at the inauguration, like Goodluck Jonathan perhaps?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I think the schedule in Monrovia is going to be tight. The Secretary will, in fact, be in a small waiting area before the ceremony with all of the senior presidents and heads of delegation and there will be opportunities for discussions. But there are no other planned one-on-one bilats, but targets of opportunity will be taken advantage of.

MODERATOR: Edward? Anything? No?

Okay. Thanks very much. Appreciate it, guys.



PRN: 2012/T58-01

[This is a mobile copy of Background Briefing En Route Liberia]