Following a three-nation, five-day visit to west Africa, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield spoke with AllAfrica’s Tami Hultman. From her office at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York, Thomas-Greenfield talked about the ongoing crisis in Sudan, UN engagement with smaller, peaceful countries like Namibia and Africa’s role on the Security Council. She cites her stops in Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where she led the U.S. Presidential Delegation to the inauguration of Liberia’s 26th president, Joseph Boakai. In an earlier AllAfrica interview in Monrovia on Inauguration Day, she talked to Boakai Fofana about Liberia’s post-conflict transition and the importance of democracy in Africa to the United States.
Madame Ambassador, first, I’d like to ask you about a country you probably don’t get lots of questions about: How can the United Nations and the Security Council boost attention to a peaceful country that nevertheless has a quiet humanitarian crisis? Namibia is about to have yet another democratic election, but it has one of the world’s worst wealth gaps due to inherited inequality. And most people are desperately poor. Is it important for your office and for the United Nations to help such a country demonstrate that democracy can contribute to security and stability?
I think that’s a really, really good question, because we tend not to pay enough attention to the countries who are doing everything right, in democracy, but still need our help and assistance. And it was for that reason that I traveled to Namibia, in early December, at the request of our Ambassador to inaugurate our new embassy. But more importantly, it was to send a message to the Namibian people and to their government, that the United States is with them, and that we support them, and we want to work with them moving forward.
I think your question as it relates to the United Nations, also, paying attention to these countries is an important one as well. The Security Council looks at peace and security issues in countries that are under tremendous security threat. And we tend not to pay attention to a country like Namibia that is that is doing well. So I think we should start to do that more in the UN. But I can tell you, as the United States is concerned, we do focus on those countries. This is why the Secretary and I have stopped in Cabo Verde and had meetings with the government there. It’s why I stopped in Guinea Bissau, to have meetings there to really bolster the good things that they are doing, discuss with them, where we see them going wrong, so we can help keep them on track, but also to give them the necessary support they need for their economic empowerment. And we’re very much there as it relates to Namibia.
Turning to a country in a brutal conflict – with the world’s largest number of internally displaced people and a return to what could be called an extermination campaign among black civilians in Darfur. What can the Security Council and your office do? I know that a lot of attention has been devoted to it, but what can be done to block the funding and the provision of weapons to warring combatants in Sudan, and support effective civilian participation in the peace process, because the war is fueled by external donations of armaments and money.
You know, that I traveled as well to Chad, to the [Sudan] border, to really amplify the messages that we have not forgotten the people of Sudan, but also to give me ammunition as such, for discussions about this, in the Security Council. I do believe strongly that the Security Council needs to engage on the situation in Sudan and on Darfur, as we see the possibilities of a genocide moving in that direction. And as more than a million people have crossed the border into Chad, we have highlighted our concerns about countries providing assistance to these two generals, who have no interest in their citizens. They’re only interested in their own power. And we have engaged with countries as you know, actively engaged with countries in the region as well as outside the region to push them on not supporting these two guys. I understand that there is a ‘panel of experts’ report that is going to be coming out, hopefully sooner rather than later, and will be addressed n the council that addresses this issue of providing arms and who’s providing arms to each side. We have to get back to a civilian process in Sudan and try to deal with some of the horrific violations of human rights that we see taking place there.
Do you think the Security Council may be willing to take some action once this report is out, given that the countries providing that assistance are members of the United Nations?
Well, of course, members of the United Nations, for sure. And absolutely the Security Council needs to engage on this issue. As you know, the Security Council is not always unified on some issues, and Sudan is one of those places where there’s not unity. But I think we can make some progress with this report being presented, and it will be presented to the Security Council. It’s incumbent upon us to be there to protect ordinary citizens, who are the victims of these two generals.
Well, it’s certainly important to human suffering, to alleviating it, but also to the security of an expanding strategic region.
And from Sudan west to the Sahel is an arc of conflict with democracy in decline. How is the Security Council along with the three African members – Algeria, Mozambique, and Sierra Leone – who are all post conflict countries, and there’s active conflict in northern Mozambique now; how are you, or can you, work to improve the desperation of civilians in those countries, which fuels extremism?
You know, Tami, this is an issue that is extremely important to me, having served previously as the Assistant Secretary for Africa, so I engage very actively on these issues in the Security Council. There have been some efforts to block the Security Council from addressing some of these issues. So I have been pushing my A3 [three African] colleagues to step up their leadership in supporting efforts to bring issues related to Africa in the Security Council. The Africans have this mantra: “African solutions for African problems”. I have been very clear that I don’t accept that mantra. What we need is African leadership for African solutions. And we’re willing to fall in with them to support their leadership to find solutions.
So I am aggressively pushing my A3 colleagues to be more upfront and bring these issues to the Security Council, because they’re not just African problems. They’re global problems. They’re problems that impact the world, whether it’s migration across the Mediterranean, [whether] it’s humanitarian assistance, [whether] it’s protections issues related to their own citizens. These are not African problems. These are problems that ought to be addressed by the entity that was created to deal with peace and security and protection of civilians and human rights around the world.
One of the issues about which Africans arguably have been exercising leadership is calling for greater attention to one of the drivers of conflicts and instability, the climate crisis, which of course affects Africa far more than the countries who have contributed the most, and the UN Secretary General has been very vocal on that. Is this something that the Security Council thinks about?
It is. As you know, Niger was a member of the Security Council. In their last month of the Security Council, they put forward a resolution that would address the security implications of climate change. Unfortunately, they were not able to get that resolution passed because our Russian colleagues don’t accept that security and climate are connected – and we know they are. So yes, this is something that Security Council needs to address. The Security Council has addressed it; we’ve had a number of meetings that bring the issue of security and climate together. Ghana also, when they were president of the Council, brought the issue to the Council. So we will continue to work to address this issue in the Council and find some solutions moving forward.
What keeps you from getting discouraged in a world of such suffering and so many obstacles to problems?
You know, the President didn’t put me here to be discouraged. He put me here to lead and to bring these issues to the fore and help to find solutions. So I work every day to find solutions. And sometimes it’s a dribble of a solution, but it’s a solution, nonetheless. And we have to keep dribbling to get to a place where we’re comfortable. We’re not achieving everything we want to achieve. But it’s not for lack of trying. If we give up and get discouraged, then we will never ever find a path forward. So I don’t lose any sleep over discouragement. What I lose sleep over is working every day to find a new solution, a different solution or out of the box way of addressing the issues that we’re all dealing with every day – from climate change, to population growth, to economic and health issues. All of these issues, every single day, are issues that the Security Council should be working on, and they’re issues that we are working on as a country in our bilateral relationships with countries across the globe.