PRESS CONFERENCE: Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and former US Ambassador to Kenya Johnnie Carson

By Daily Nation
July 06 2009

Mr Carson: We have actively sought to engage the Eritreans to encourage them not to support al-Shabaab, not to send money or ammunition to al-Shabaab, not to allow their country to be a conduit for resources to al-Shabaab. We have encouraged them not to allow foreign fighters to pass through their country. All of these things are on the diplomatic side. We have provided arms and munitions to allow the TFG to push back al-Shabaab in order to gain the stability which is absolutely essential for that country to be able to begin to deliver services to people. I would love nothing better than to be able to say to you that the situation on the ground in southern Somalia is such that we have been able to put money into schools, into educational material, into the re-establishment of clinics and hospitals and to the training of nurses and to the re-establishment of electricity and water services. This is what the goal is. Our goal is to find a way to stabilize the situation and then encourage the TFG to begin that process of state building and delivery of services to its population.

Q: Corruption is an issue closely tied to the effectiveness of development assistance. What can the United States do to help eradicate corruption and promote transparency?

A: Corruption undermines the ability of governments to deliver services, and it siphons off resources into private pockets. We have to make it a topic of conversation with government officials. We have to work with civil society to give them the courage to speak out about it. We have to work with the local media so that they will expose it. We have to work with prosecutors so that they have the courage to prosecute and with judges to have the conviction to convict.

And if we see mega-corruption going on and individuals who are profiting from it, and we have evidence that they are not being prosecuted, we should look at new methods to identify and to stigmatise and to punish, to the extent that we can, those individuals who are engaged in corruption.

Q: Where do you see governments tackling corruption in a serious way?

I think that there are some countries that are exemplars and will remain exemplars. The government of Botswana does an excellent job. Mauritius does an excellent job. The Tanzania government does an excellent job. I recall that within the last year, a senior government official in Tanzania was removed from office because of serious allegations of corruption.

Q: Let’s talk about Somalia. Why has the administration decided to engage in a new way with the Transitional Federal Government, including the supply of arms and ammunition?

A: The instability that has prevailed in Somalia for the last 20 years has become a cancer. We now have a war-torn society where probably 60 to 70 per cent of the people are dependent upon food aid from the outside. We see the population of Mogadishu having declined by some two-thirds as a result of the fighting in and around the city, and we see unemployment among youth at astronomical levels. Southern Somalia is a humanitarian problem of enormous proportions.

But it’s not just Somalia itself. The cancer has started to metastasise, spreading across the border into Kenya. Today the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya has some 270,000 refugees. That camp, which was established about a decade and a half ago, was built to handle 90,000.

It is estimated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that some six to seven thousand Somalis are crossing the border into northeast Kenya every day. Eastleigh, a suburb in the northern part of Nairobi, [has become] the largest Somali city. There is enormous pressure on the Kenyan government to handle the refugees and provide the infrastructure needed to cater to them.

Moreover, the problem of Somalia has contributed to the tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is clear that the Eritrean government is supporting the al-Shabaab militia. It is not because they are in support of Islamist or extremist [elements]. They are doing this largely as a way to undermine and to pressure the Ethiopian government.

Q: How effective are arms going to be in addressing that issue? Why military as opposed to development aid?

A: We have tried to make it very, very clear that diplomacy is primary and that support for stability inside of Somalia is what we are doing. We support the ‘Djibouti process’, which helped to create the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and we support the TFG, the government of Sheikh Sharif. The Djibouti process has been endorsed by Kenya, and by the AU.

We have actively sought to engage the Eritreans to encourage them not to support al-Shabaab, not to send money or ammunition to al-Shabaab, not to allow their country to be a conduit for resources to al-Shabaab. We have encouraged them not to allow foreign fighters to pass through their country. All of these things are on the diplomatic side.

We have provided arms and munitions to allow the TFG to push back al-Shabaab in order to gain the stability which is absolutely essential for that country to be able to begin to deliver services to people. I would love nothing better than to be able to say to you that the situation on the ground in southern Somalia is such that we have been able to put money into schools, into educational material, into the re-establishment of clinics and hospitals and to the training of nurses and to the re-establishment of electricity and water services. This is what the goal is. Our goal is to find a way to stabilise the situation and then encourage the TFG to begin that process of state building and delivery of services to its population.

Q: You have said that you are willing to engage Eritrea in a dialogue. Is that happening?

A: Absolutely. After I took over as the assistant secretary, the Eritrean ambassador came to my office and indicated to me that it was the first time he had been into the office of the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs since he had come to Washington.

I told him that the United States clearly wanted to see if we could return to a more normal relationship and that I was prepared to go out to speak with [Eritrean] President Isaias to begin such a dialogue. But I also made it very clear that, in order to move forward, there would have to be some understanding and some cooperation on key issues that affect the Horn of Africa today.

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