Briefing Following the Secretary's Visit to Ethiopia
Senior State Department Official
En Route, Congo (Kinshasa)
May 3, 2014
Background Briefing Following the Secretary's Visit to Ethiopia
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Let me just start out with Somalia.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Yeah, I’m ready.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We had about a 45-minute meeting with Hassan Sheikh and some of his ministers from the government. Hassan Sheikh set the tone by noting that this month marked the 25th anniversary of Somalia’s collapse, that for 25 years they had not had a government, the people had not had the experience of having a government, and that they were moving forward toward elections, and that would be the first time they would have elections in about 40 years.
He noted that a lot of progress had been made, but of course, a lot of challenges remain. Seventy-five percent of the country is under the age of 30, and that’s as much a challenge as it is an opportunity. He noted the continued conflict with al-Shabaab, that they were making some progress in the fight against al-Shabaab but had not succeeded in being able to fill in some of the space once al-Shabaab had been rooted out of cities. So with the possibility of two pickup trucks and a few people, they could still continue to destabilize areas between cities.
He noted the critical need to rebuild the country, that the government is not yet able to deliver services to the people, particularly outside of Mogadishu. He noted the importance of trying to find job opportunities for the large number of young people so that they can provide alternatives to piracy and to extremism. He talked about three main priorities that he is focusing on – first, building the national army. That is something that we have been assisting them in in very, very small amounts. It has not been a huge program. And he noted how small our program was and asked if we could provide additional assistance in that area. He noted the importance of economic growth and what would be required there, and then noted that he would be focusing on state reforms – reforming the civil service, reforming government agencies in their abilities to perform.
Secretary Kerry said that he too saw that there was a lot of hope in Somalia, at least more than there’d been for the past 20 years, and that the U.S. Government will continue to support the priorities that the President laid out. He also said that we would continue to work to support AMISOM and the Somali National Army. Hassan also asked that we increase our presence in Somalia. And as you know, we do not have a permanent presence there. Our embassy team operates out of Nairobi and they go for regular visits. We have people from USAID, from the military, and others who visit and consult with the government on a regular basis, but they’re only able to stay for a few days at a time, and we have a cap on how many people we send in at any given time.
The Somali president said, when the Secretary informed him about the summit, that he looked forward to participating in the summit because he thought that Somalia was poised to gain immense benefits from the investments that we were looking at making on the continent. We both agreed on the continued importance of our partnership and in working together. There was acknowledgment that the U.S. Government is the largest bilateral donor to Somalia, and we’re the only country currently engaged on development outside of Mogadishu. So that is about the gist of it.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Any questions? Yes.
QUESTION: Was there – what was the response about the request to increase training of the army? And how much are – is the U.S. spending right now to train Somalia’s army?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: How much we’re spending on –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can’t give you the figure off the top of my head on what we’re spending on training, but we’re just working with them in small components on helping them respond to the al-Shabaab threat. So it’s not a large program.
QUESTION: Is the thinking behind the temporary nature of the diplomatic mission there entirely security, and what is your plan for how – for that going forward?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It is entirely security, and we do go back and forth on a regular basis, but we also have a plan to move forward in a permanent presence. That requires a lot of pre-planning and we’re in that process right now.
QUESTION: How long is it going to take –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can’t tell you how long it’s going to take. It’s taking too long.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that – excuse me – just to follow up on that, do you think that permanent presence is – it’s fair to say is still years off, not months? And then also, what kind of development is the United States assisting in outside Mogadishu? I find that interesting.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m thinking months, not years for a presence. We already have a location that we have identified on the airport. The British Government just opened up an office and we’re having discussions with them about placing a person in their office. So we’re looking at months, not years.
And outside of Mogadishu, we are working on capacity-building with local governments. We have also done some work in Puntland and in Somaliland with their government as well. If you want greater detail, Linda Etim is here with us and she may be able to provide some refined detail on what AID is doing.
QUESTION: It’s mostly government-building as opposed to private investment at this point?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. Yeah, it’s all related to the government. Yeah.
QUESTION: A question on Congo. Are we right to think that the M23 is now primarily in Rwanda? And if so, does there have to be some sort of accommodation where the leaders of that group are returned to Congo to face some sort of justice? I would imagine the Rwandans wouldn’t – might not be looking forward to doing that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They’re both in Rwanda and Uganda. There are about 2,000 of them, and we’re working with the government to bring them back to D.R.C. Some of them will be reintegrated into the D.R.C. Government. A few of them – some of them will get amnesty, and others will be held accountable. And the government is working on that right now as part of their security sector reform.
QUESTION: And what are the Rwandans and the Ugandans saying? Are they on board with that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Both are on board. Both were part of the Nairobi agreement, and they both have agreed. So they’re on board. We’ve been slow, at least the D.R.C. Government has been slow, in moving forward on implementation. They’ve speeded up that process now, and this is part of why we’re going there to encourage them to continue with the progress that they’re making.
QUESTION: Can I just ask a quick question about the Secretary’s African speech? There was just a line in there referring to the abduction of the women in Nigeria where he said the United States would do everything it could to help. Was that sort of a general – an expression of general support, or is there some concrete assistance going on? Was he referring to something specific?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s a great question, and we constantly refer to them as women, but these were schoolchildren, and so they’re very, very young. And we’re very concerned about that situation; we – and have been consulting with the Nigerian Government for some time on supporting them in addressing the Boko Haram terrorist threat. Next week we will have a team going in to again consult with them on how we might be helpful. We’re already working with them in some areas and trying to do capacity-building to help them coordinate between their various security sectors. We have some experience in that having gone through our own terrorist attacks during 9/11 where we weren’t able to communicate with each other. So we want to share with them that experience and help them address some of their communication gaps, some of their inability to gather intelligence. And we’re looking at how we can be additionally supportive of that. So this is just not a line about wishful thinking; it is an effort to look very directly and positively on how we might support their efforts to address Boko Haram, but specifically to –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s both AFRICOM and State Department. I went in with a team in December that included State Department, AFRICOM – USAID has been very, very involved in this area as well. So it’s a whole-of-government effort. It’s – because we don’t see this as just being a security problem that can be addressed as a security issue. There are broader issues here that need to be addressed that relate to how the government works with people in these communities. So that’s why we have USAID, we have INL looking at how we do police training, and then the State Department. Sarah Sewall, our new Under Secretary for G, Global Affairs, will also be part of the delegation because she has experience in that area.
QUESTION: Just to clarify, this is general support to the security sector, nothing – it’s not involved – it’s not technical support for this, but to help them with this particular situation?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. We haven’t reached that point yet, but we’ll be having discussions on how we can help them.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you. A follow-up question on the D.R.C.: Will the Secretary encourage President Kabila to do more to push more in terms of demobilization and the reintegration of (inaudible) still active in eastern Congo? Because apparently there is a serious lack of money. It cost like $100 million, so is the U.S. ready to support D.R.C. for this demobilization plan? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can say categorically that we’re ready to support them. And it will be part of our discussions with the president to open more political space and move toward the upcoming elections more expeditiously. We are looking in our own budget for where we can provide additional funding for D.R.C. And we’ve identified some additional funding that we hope to be able to share with them.
MODERATOR: All right. (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: Thank you.