Africa

Life After the Trump Tweet

Pompeo probe into SA ‘farm killings’ a work in progress – Nagy

Assistant secretary of state for Africa Tibor Nagy (supplied)

The US State Department is still, in a sense, busy with the investigation which President Donald Trump controversially ordered in his August 22 tweet when he said he had asked his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to investigate the ‘large scale killing of farmers’ and the South African government’s ‘seizing land from white farmers’. No doubt the State Department is still investigating, because land reform is still a moving target.

Trump tweeted: “I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers.”

That provoked an uproar in South Africa, including a sharp retort from President Cyril Ramaphosa, which essentially told Trump to mind his own business.

Daily Maverick asked assistant secretary of state for Africa Tibor Nagy on Wednesday if the study ordered by Trump had been completed and if Trump was satisfied with the outcome. The answer from Nagy — who was briefing journalists before his first African tour in his new job — indicated, perhaps not surprisingly, that the State Department is still on the case, so to speak.

The President asked the Secretary to look closely at the current state of action in South Africa related to land reform,” Nagy said.

Debates surrounding land reform in post-apartheid South Africa have been ongoing for decades. Our embassy and consulates in South Africa continue to provide reporting and analysis on political and economic developments, including on the issues raised by the President on August 22.

South Africa is working through this difficult process, and we are encouraged they are doing so in an open manner, including through public hearings. Any changes to the South African Constitution should be consistent with the rule of law and mindful of the potentially detrimental economic, political, and social effects of poorly implemented policies.”

Whether Trump would be satisfied with that answer remains unclear because State Department officials underscored that the department does not speak for the White House.

Nagy is to travel to West Africa next week after meeting his British and French counterparts in their countries. He will visit Lomé, Togo to meet the government and lead a regional US Chiefs of Mission Conference. He will then visit Conakry, Guinea to meet the government, host a business round table and meet with alumni of the Young African Leaders Initiative. His next stop will be Bamako, Mali where he will also meet government officials and Young African Leaders Initiative alumni, and host a trade and entrepreneurship roundtable.

His last stop will be in Abuja, Nigeria, where he will meet government officials, American business leaders, religious leaders, civil society organisations, youth groups, and he will deliver a speech at Baze University on US-Africa relations.

Nagy told African journalists that he was visiting Nigeria because it was the most populous country on the continent and was either the first- or second-largest economy on the continent, “depending on how you measure it”.

It also had, several “very, very serious issues going on at the same time”.

We have the crisis in the north-east. We have the historical problems in the middle belt, which unfortunately recently has led to serious loss of life. We have an election coming up, which will be very, very interesting. So Nigeria, of course, is in many respects the gateway to Africa. How could I not be coming to Nigeria if I was going to West Africa?”

He had earlier explained that despite the depressing violence in the north-east of Nigeria with the fight against Boko Haram and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the future of Africa was not those “horrors”, but the continent’s talented young people.

He had realised this when he served as acting ambassador to Nigeria in 2016 and had met the Nigerian Young African Leaders Initiative alumni — also known as the Nelson Mandela Fellows — on their return from a stay in the US.

The population of Africa is going to double by 2050. It’s going to be an incredibly young continent, and these young people will represent either a tremendous opportunity to have maybe the most dynamic, economically progressive continent in the history of Earth, or — if governments really do not make any progress in democracy, human rights, opening up economic opportunities — then we may have a continent of extremely, extremely upset, distraught young people that will be very much vulnerable to radicalisation, and the continent will be unstable.

So I was very eager to come back here and do everything I could to help advance a scenario which would lead to that brighter future.”

Nagy denied a suggestion from a South Sudanese journalist that the US Administration had shifted its strategy in that civil-war-wracked country towards “regime change.”

This seemed to be a reference to the fact that the US — supported by the South African government — had until recently pursued a policy of keeping the main opposition leader Riek Machar out of the peace process by effectively holding him under house arrest in South Africa.

It was only after Machar was allowed to return to the region and participate in peace negotiations that he, President Salva Kiir and other political leaders agreed in September on the “revitalised” Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan, under which Machar returns to his previous position as national vice president.

Nagy said the US never pursued regime change, although it was often accused of supporting opposition candidates in elections.

The United States never has a candidate in any election, or as far as regime change goes, the United States has a candidate, which is called “the process”. We support totally an open, transparent, democratic process, whether it’s for an election or where governments go, you know, we look at a government to try to see, is that government in place to serve the benefits of its own people?

Now, the United States is not in regime change, but if the government is in place and it is not serving the interests of its own people, then we will minimise our dealings with that government.

That is not to say that we will not do our best to alleviate human suffering, because the United States, as long as we’ve had relations with Africa, we have been very supportive of humanitarian assistance.

What that means is we’re not going to be supportive in other ways and policies, even going to qualities like development assistance. You know, why should the United States, when development assistance is limited, give development assistance to those governments which will squander it, or which will not use it wisely, or which will put it in their pockets?

So the United States absolutely supports humanitarian assistance, immaterial of the government in place.”

An Ethiopian journalist asked him if in that case if the US would increase development assistance to Ethiopia, where a liberal new leader Ahmed Abiy recently came into office as President.

Nagy replied: “No amount of development assistance is going to actually move a country from developing to developed, from low income to middle income.

What moves countries towards prosperity is direct foreign investment, meaning businesses from around the world will invest in that country. China did not even have a Ministry of Development when it went from a fairly poor country to a fairly wealthy one.

The way to make Africa prosperous is to put in place a kind of environment which will attract a massive, massive amount of foreign investment, which is sitting out there around the world looking for a place to invest.

The new government in Ethiopia has been extremely promising in that regard. You would not believe the amount of interest of companies that now are seriously looking at Ethiopia and want to invest there.

Another thing about foreign development assistance. Foreign development assistance does not create jobs. Governments do not create jobs.

Governments are wonderful at spending money; they’re not that great at making money. It’s the private sector, the businesses, that make money that create jobs that create wealth for a country. That’s what’s going to create jobs for all the millions and millions of young Africans coming, and yes, I absolutely agree. I say in many of my remarks that we all know that young Africans today, through modern technology, know exactly how young people are living in other places, and they want exactly the same things in their life that young people want in America or Europe or China or anywhere else.

So the governments that put in place environments which attract private investment are the ones which are going to meet the opportunities and the optimism that their young people require.”

Asked what the US was doing to counter the growing influence of China in Africa, especially its building of so much infrastructure, Nagy said:

When someone knocked on the door to come and do business in Africa, and the African governments opened the door and the Chinese were the only ones standing there, I cannot blame African governments for doing business deals with China.

The solution is twofold. On one hand, I will do everything I can to encourage American businesses to invest in Africa, and that is happening already with countries like Ethiopia, with countries like Kenya, more recently with countries like Angola, where American businesses cannot wait to invest.

But the responsibility also lies on the African side to put environments in place which are transparent, which give everybody an equal chance at the contract, where if an investor has a business dispute because the junior brother of the landowner shows up and claims that the factory now belongs to him, that both parties receive equal justice. I think everybody understands what I’m talking about there.

So it has to be the correct environment to attract investment of the types of investors that deal honestly, openly, transparently, instead of trying to buy their way into contracts and paying off the big men who control licenses and things like that.

That’s how we will create jobs, that’s how we will bring prosperity. So yes, the next time that investors knock on the door I very much want American investors to be there as well.”

Nagy did not address the December elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo which are causing great anxiety and fears that the government will steamroll its presidential candidate Emmanuel Shadary into office — or the elections will fail technically, allowing incumbent President Joseph Kabila to remain in power.

Daily Maverick asked the State Department for comment and received the following reply:

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has a historic opportunity to ensure a peaceful transfer of power after the elections in December. All parties must remain focused on the goal of credible elections and a peaceful, democratic transition of power.

While elections alone will not solve the DRC’s many challenges, they are critical to ensuring a democratic and peaceful transition, averting violence, and strengthening democratisation, stability, and economic development.

We continue to urge the DRC government to respect freedom of assembly and expression and the right to peaceful protest, and to increase trust in the ongoing electoral process by implementing the “confidence building” measures of the December 2016 Agreement.” DM

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