About the Author: Russell Brooks serves as an Information Officer for the U.S. Department of State Bureau of African Affairs.
Following a two-week visit to Africa that encompassed the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa and visits to Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson briefed journalists at the Washington Foreign Press Center on Wednesday, February 24 (http://fpc.state.gov/137225.htm). Journalists from the African continent also participated via satellite from the Regional Media Hub in South Africa.
The top news of the day was President Yar'Adua's sudden return home to Nigeria. The President of Nigeria had spent months in Saudi Arabia where he was receiving medical treatment. His return was the cause of much speculation both in Nigeria and internationally. Assistant Secretary Carson read a brief statement in which he welcomed home President Yar'Adua and wished him good health. Carson noted that "Nigeria needs a strong, healthy, and effective leader to ensure the stability of the country and to manage Nigeria's many political, economic, and security challenges." Responding to the suggestions that President Yar'Adua's return was connected to the elevation of Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to Acting President, the Assistant Secretary said “we hope that President Yar'Adua's return … is not an effort by his senior advisors to upset Nigeria's stability and create renewed uncertainty in the democratic process. Nigeria is an extraordinarily important country to its friends and partners, and all of those in positions of responsibility should put the health of the President and the best interests of the country and the people of Nigeria above personal ambition or gain."
In addition to the political situation in Nigeria, Assistant Secretary Carson responded to questions about the security at the World Cup, upcoming elections in Ethiopia, the political reform process in Kenya, and recent events in both Cote d'Ivoire and Niger. Carson said the ouster of President Tandja was a military coup and called upon the Nigerien military to set a date for elections and swiftly return the country to constitutional, democratic rule. With regard to Cote d' Ivoire, the Assistant Secretary said the parties must return to the Ouagadougou Accords, settle their disagreements over the electoral commission which set off the current crisis, and promptly move toward elections.
Published reports that the U.S. was "politicizing” the distribution of humanitarian food aid in Somalia were raised by one reporter. Carson strongly asserted that the U.S. continues to be the largest provider of humanitarian food assistance to the people of Somalia and it is the actions of violent extremists such as the group al-Shabaab that have impeded the distribution of much needed food assistance in southern Somalia.
Questions relating to the al-Qaeda offshoot, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, and the Chinese role in Africa capped-off the briefing. Ambassador Carson called on the African states of Algeria, Mali, and Mauritania to increase their cooperation in order to effectively meet the common threat posed by AQIM. With regard to the Chinese, he noted their interest in Africa as a source of natural resources as well as an expanding market for their products. However, Carson placed the responsibility upon African governments to “carefully and responsibly” manage their affairs with the Chinese.
For more information on the Bureau of African Affairs: http://www.state.gov/p/af/index.htm.