Obama Will Promote 'Strong Democratic Agenda' – Carson.

Published: March 17, 2011

Photo by: Tami Hultman/AllAfrica

Interview – Popular uprisings in north Africa and elsewhere, and elections in many countries, are giving democracy new prominence across Africa. In his latest interview with AllAfrica, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson addresses what the Obama administration is doing to promote good governance and to tackle worsening crises in Cote d’Ivoire and Somalia.
With the situation worsening in Cote d’Ivoire, are you concerned that international pressure including sanctions is insufficient to force Laurent Gbagbo to give up power?
Economic sanctions are starting to bite. The Gbagbo government is running out of money and financial resources, [and] diesel and oil supplies are starting to run low. The level of political and diplomatic isolation is also starting to have its impact. Many of the diplomats associated with the Gbagbo regime have been replaced by those loyal to [newly-elected president] Alassane Ouattara, and many governments, including the United States, have imposed visa restrictions and targeted economic sanctions.
We hope that Gbagbo and the people around him will recognize that the interests of the Ivory Coast, the interests of the people of Cote d’Ivoire are more important than short-term political ambitions. It is past time for Gbagbo to leave, and we hope he will not continue using force against innocent civilians.
We were absolutely appalled when military forces loyal to Gbagbo fired on innocent women, peacefully protesting in the streets of Abidjan. We believe strongly that Laurent Gbagbo must step aside. His continued presence in power in Abidjan is an ongoing threat to peace, security and the return to economic progress that the people of the Ivory Coast so desperately need.
How can Gbagbo hold on despite these pressures and the widespread recognition of Ouattara as winner of the November elections?
A small number of countries support the idea that President Gbagbo won. We hope those that are looking fairly at the facts recognize that Alassane Ouattara won and that any financial or military support to Gbagbo only contributes to the prolongation of the crisis, contributes to an upswing in the violence and a downward economic spiral of this once-promising state.
Escalating fighting in Somalia has claimed the lives of some 50 African peacekeepers this month, and the internationally backed government is widely seen as ineffective. Are you considering making any changes in your approach?
Somalia is not only a national problem for the people of Somalia, it is a problem for the region and international community. We have a dual-track strategy. The track that is familiar to many is strong support for Amisom (the African Union Mission in Somalia) and for the African Union peacekeeping, and for the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia.
We have seen Amisom perform extraordinarily well, and we send our deepest condolences to the families of the Burundian and the Ugandan soldiers who have died in the fighting that has been going on in Mogadishu. One can no longer say, derisively, that only six or seven city blocks are controlled by Amisom forces. Amisom now controls 60 to 70 percent of Mogadishu and continues to make serious and significant headway against Shabaab forces in the area.
But we have been disappointed that the military progress has not been matched by similar political progress on the part of the TFG, which has not been able to do the things that it was assigned to do under the Djibouti process. It is important that the TFG be more than a government in name alone. It must continue to reach out and become more inclusive and representative of all of Somalia’s important clans and sub-clans and regional groups. It must look for ways to bring in and integrate and collaborate with the forces that are fighting against extremism and al-Shabaab. It must be able to deliver services and assistance to the people who need it. Where Amisom makes progress in the city, the TFG must also be able to make progress in delivering services.
The TFG Parliament voted to extend its tenure …
We are disappointed that the Parliament unilaterally extended its mandate for an additional three years. This is not helpful. It is something that should have been the source of discussion and approval by the people of Somalia.
It is also important that the Parliament seek the endorsement and support of its key partners before it takes such action. After all, the TFG is being safeguarded by troops from Amisom and supported by money from the international community and political backing from IGAD (the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which includes Somalia and five other east African states). There also should have been discussion and agreement with the United Nations and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Ambassador [Augustine] Mahiga. It’s unacceptable [and] it should be rolled back to a more acceptable period of time, during which we can expect to see progress on the ground.
The second track that we rolled out in October is to expand contacts and development assistance relationship and engagement with the governments of Somaliland in Hargeisa and Puntland in Bossaso. We think that it is important to reach out to those governments and to provide assistance in economic areas to help strengthen their young governments as they try to make democratic gains and progress. We also see them as partners in dealing with piracy; particularly the government of Puntland, which is nominally in control of many of the areas from which pirates come, such as Hobyo and and Eyl.
Are you getting traction with this approach?
It’s less than six months old [and] less visible than support for Amisom and the TFG, but we believe that we have some traction and we’re determined to try to move forward in a positive direction. But it is important to support efforts in Puntland to stop piracy. We continue to talk with President [Abdirahman] Farole; he is aware of our issues and our concerns, and our ambassador in Nairobi speaks with him from time to time.
We’ve not been able to make any diplomatic or aid visits there; but over time I hope we might be able to do so. Even though we’re not on the ground, there are NGOs that can do things in the assistance area.
With Hargeisa, we have had several trips by U.S. diplomatic personnel from the State Department and USAID. We’re looking for projects that we can undertake with the government there to strengthen their economy and good governance and their efforts at preventing a further spread of al-Shabaab and its influence.
In the south, we are looking for ways to effectively work at the very local level, sub-regional governments – to help them provide stability and opportunities for greater economic development. These would be groups that are not associated with the TFG; but are opposed to the radical extremism espoused by al-Shabaab. We see a number of clan groups in Galmudug, for example, where leaders are determined to provide both stability and economic opportunity and security to their people. We’re talking with them and looking for ways to provide development assistance support to their efforts.
Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs María Otero has just concluded a visit to Nigeria. As that country prepares for next month’s elections, is the U.S. government sufficiently engaged to help make this process succeed?
Nigeria is of significant bilateral importance to the United States – one of the two most important countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We have recognized that importance by establishing a strategic bi-national dialogue, and we’re working as hard as we can under four or five different working groups to strengthen a range of relationships.
We want the Nigerian national elections to be a step forward for Nigeria. We want them to be substantially and significantly better than the last national elections in 2007. We want these elections to be a re-affirmation of the Nigerian commitment to a positive democratic trajectory and a re-affirmation of the faith Nigerian people place in their democratic institutions and in their leaders.
We have provided financial and technical support to the Nigerian election commission, well-led by Professor Attahiru Jega. We believe he is a person of integrity and that he is working as hard as he can along with others to promote a fair election process that is worthy of the Nigerian people.
Maria Otero had a number of meetings with senior officials in Nigeria including Professor Jega and members of the election commission, with governors and election officials from the States –reaffirming America’s commitment to try to strengthen the democratic process.
We want it to work well; we will do what we can, but we also know that there are challenges and obstacles. The 2007 elections were seriously flawed. Many people were disenfranchised and were not given an opportunity to vote for national level candidates. Nigeria’s public deserves more, and if they are to have confidence in their leaders and in their democracy, they must be allowed to participate freely and fairly in an election that is well-organized and is well-run.
We know their challenges: problems in the Delta [and] in the middle belt in Jos between farmers and herders against new inhabitants; problems in the north as a result of the continued activities of Boko Haram and other extremists associated with them. Nevertheless, if a country like Iraq can have elections, then a country like Nigeria should have elections that are fitting to the aspirations of a country and a people who want democracy, who aspire to have stronger democratic values and institutions and representatives who are the stewards of that democratic process. We hope that these elections will go well.
Nigeria is one of a number of countries with scheduled elections this year. Promotion of democracy has been a cornerstone of the policy outlined by President Obama in his Ghana speech and by you and other senior officials. Is the U.S. government committing the resources and the diplomatic backing to make stated policy effective?
We have been working hard on the promotion of democracy, and we’ve seen successful democratic elections take place in a number of countries. Some people don’t like the outcomes, but that’s true in all democratic processes, including our own.
On February 17th, we saw successful elections in Uganda [that] represented an improvement over the last elections. They were largely peaceful, and they largely reflected the will of the Ugandan people. Were they perfect? No. Are we continuing to encourage the president of Uganda to make reforms including those that are necessary to have an election commission which is truly independent and respected by the population? The answer is absolutely yes. Are we asking for other things that will make that country’s democracy stronger?
A year ago, many people thought there would not be a referendum in southern Sudan. In January, we saw an election that was run extraordinarily well – free, fair, and with 98 percent turnout. It too reflected the will of the people.
For the first time in over 50 years, we saw a democratic election in Guinea-Conakry that resulted in the election of Alpha Conde. We’ve seen progress encouraging the return of democracy to Niger, which has been under military rule, and we continue movement in a positive direction.
The number of elections signal that there is a desire across the continent for democracy. We could always use more resources; these are tight times everywhere. Whatever resources we have, we try to use them effectively at promoting a strong democratic agenda, a democratic agenda that supports the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions, good governance, respect for human rights – without becoming involved in support for an individual party or leader.
We believe we can play a role in strengthening democratic institutions: the judiciaries, the legislatures, independent media, strong and effective trade associations and unions including labor unions and teachers’ unions. We have experience here, and we think that we can contribute to strengthening society in those ways.
What impact are you expecting from the turmoil in north Africa. In recent weeks, we’ve seen efforts to organize protests in countries like Cameroon, Gabon and Angola – and these all were met with force. Autocrats continue to rule in Gambia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. The administration has been outspoken on Zimbabwe, but we’re not hearing much about these other countries.
We support the democratic aspirations of peoples across Africa. Those aspirations are ideals that we believe in and live by at home. In many ways, Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya are starting to catch up with what has happened in the continent south of the Sahara. The collapse of the Berlin wall in November of 1989 and the fall of the Soviet Union in March of 1991 had a dramatic impact on Africa. Just as it ushered in change in Germany and Russia and across eastern Europe, it also contributed to change in Africa. We saw a rapid emergence [of] and adherence to democracy. At the same time, what is going on now in north Africa sends a signal south.
The Kenyan government is lobbying for a UN Security Council vote to delay prosecution of the six Kenyans who have been named by the International Criminal Court (ICC) as leading participants in the violence that occurred following elections there in 2007. Would the United States consider voting for what is known as an Article 16 deferment?
We think that the only way to heal the wounds of the past and to create the environment for peace and stability in Kenya is for those individuals who are accused of having engaged in the post-electoral violence to answer to those crimes in front of a judicial body. The only way to end impunity is through accountability, whether it is through the ICC or through a special tribunal.
Accountability must be in a process that is open, legally responsible and binding. Let me make it very clear that we are not in favor of an Article 16 deferral. It is time for that process of accountability through an agreed-upon legal mechanism to be established so that justice replaces impunity and violence.
Source: allafrica.com

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *