Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes, and USAID Administrator Raj Shah
King Fahd Palace Hotel
6:23 P.M. GMT
MR. CARNEY: Good evening, everyone. Thanks for being here. I hope you've had a useful and enjoyable day. Today we have a special guest, in addition to Ben Rhodes, with whom you're very familiar -- Deputy National Security Advisor -- we have the Administrator of USAID, Raj Shah, who's here to preview some of what we're doing tomorrow.
I'm going to turn it over to Ben, who will then turn it over to Raj. And then we'll be here to take your questions. Thank you.
MR. RHODES: Well, I'll get started here. Thanks, everybody. I'll just say a few quick words and then hand it over to Raj. We really just wanted to give you some additional context on what the President is doing here in Senegal and what he's doing tomorrow morning at our food security event. I'll just say a few things.
You've heard us underscore that this trip is about lifting up our efforts to increase trade and investment in Africa, to strengthen democratic institutions in Africa, to invest in young people, and to renew a more robust U.S. engagement in an emerging part of the world.
And as we look at this trip, essentially, each day really hits on one of the major themes that we're seeking to convey here in Africa. Today was very much focused on democratic institutions. And Senegal has been a model in terms of its peaceful transition to democracy. And by meeting with the President, but also with judicial leaders from across Africa, as well as civil society leaders in Gorée Island, the President was conveying the breadth of the progress that needs to be made in democracy. And much of that is being done here in Senegal, but it goes beyond leaders and elections to independent judiciaries, the rule of law, a strong civil society.
Tomorrow will be focused on food security, one of our signature development efforts here in Africa and one that is directly relevant not just to lifting people out of poverty, but to promoting economic growth.
In Johannesburg, at the President's town hall, he'll be focused on young people and the type of exchange programs that we're looking to expand. And he'll address that in his town hall.
Then, in Cape Town, he'll be speaking broadly to the U.S. partnership with Africa. And he'll touch on all of these aspects of our policy.
Then, in Tanzania, of course, he'll do a forum with CEOs and business leaders from Africa and the United States to discuss how we can increase trade and investment -- another pillar of our strategy.
So you really see the different elements of what we're doing here in Africa represented in the events that we're undertaking. I'd also add global health being a focus in our event in Cape Town with Archbishop Tutu.
The other point I'd just make is tomorrow's event brings in private sector leaders. A lot of what we do is in the public-private space, given the interest in U.S. companies in Africa and also the demand signal here in Africa for partnership with the private sector.
Then, in South Africa, we'll also be doing an independent event with Valerie Jarrett, Mike Froman, Fred Hochberg, Elizabeth Littlefield, Raj, and members of the President's economic team to discuss ways to deepen U.S. trade and investment. And then, of course, the event in Tanzania. So in all three countries we're bringing in U.S. businesses, the private sector to our discussions.
With that, I'll hand it over to Raj to give you an overview of our food security efforts and what AID is up to. And we'll hand it over to Raj.
DR. SHAH: Thanks, Ben. I just want to give you a little bit of background for tomorrow morning's event where the President will be with business leaders and agricultural ministers from across the continent and from West Africa in particular.
The President has made addressing hunger through business and science a real focus since 2009. And in Senegal, more than 65 percent of the population lives in rural communities, depends on agriculture for their livelihoods.
Last year, at the Camp David G8 Summit, the President joined other G8 leaders, African heads of state, the African Union and the private sector to pull together and launch something we call the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. And this was an ambitious effort to couple really tough policy reforms that countries would make -- reforms like making the kinds of changes to their tax code, and fighting corruption that would allow private businesses to have more confidence to invest, and to couple that with private investment commitments to make investments specifically in food and agriculture to address hunger and food insecurity.
Our goal at that time was to lift 50 million people out of poverty and hunger in sub-Saharan Africa through that initiative. In its first year, it was launched with three countries at last year's G8 -- Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania. Since then, it has more than tripled in size with Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire and Mozambique joining at this year's G8 meeting; and Benin, Malawi and Nigeria also joining at that time.
Tomorrow, the President will be able to announce that Senegal is now joining the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. In the last 12 months, what that has meant is that it allows companies to come together, and they have -- more than 70 companies have made commitments of $3.7 billion to these New Alliance countries to make investments in seed systems and agricultural processing and agricultural marketing. And those investments are already making a huge difference throughout Africa. One example is DuPont has opened a state-of-the-art seed production and distribution facility in Ethiopia, and already nearly reached nearly 40,000 farmers with improved seed varieties that have helped them double the amount of food they produce for their families and for their commercial markets.
There are dozens of examples like that, but what's important about tomorrow's session is Senegal has agreed, as part of joining the New Alliance, to change some of its laws and regulations -- to expand access to credit for small-scale farmers; to reduce and to better target subsidies for fertilizers and seed; and to fight corruption in the subsidy system; and to offer tax exemptions in its value-added tax system to enable more companies to make investments.
As a result, tomorrow, companies -- a series of private companies will announce that they're making $134 million of investment commitments in Senegal's agricultural system, and the United States will continue to provide the broad support we've provided for food and agriculture here in Senegal, announcing a new $47-million commitment to expand access to new seeds and other agricultural technologies.
That grant will be to the Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa, and it will allow a series of countries to double access, to improve seeds in rice, sweet potato and other types of crops -- some of which the President will see and talk to farmers tomorrow morning.
Finally, I would just say that, on a global basis, the President made a commitment in 2009 to get the world to focus on fighting hunger through business and science. And at the time, we launched a program called Feed the Future, and the President committed $3.5 billion of American investment in that effort. Since then -- and tomorrow we'll release a report that details this -- we have been operating in 19 countries, and we work in countries that are willing to be good partners and make changes to the way they do business. We'll show tomorrow that the effort has already reached 7 million farm households, allowing them to increase their food production by 50, 60 or 70 percent. And the result of this has been improved nutrition for 12 million kids.
And when the President announced this in 2009, he said the goal of our effort should be to move away from food aid and assistance, and move toward self-sufficiency, private enterprise, and broad-based economic growth. And that's precisely what this effort seeks to do, and has already raised billions of dollars in private investments in order to move in that direction.
So we're excited to have the opportunity for the President to speak tomorrow with business leaders and agricultural ministers from across the continent, and welcome Senegal to the New Alliance.
MR. RHODES: We'll take your questions. Nedra.
Q: Ben, I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about the President's language today; it was a little dismissive of Snowden. And maybe you could explain his thinking behind that a little bit? I mean, is he acknowledging maybe that he's not going to be extradited, or maybe he's trying to reach out to Russia? Or I don't know if he was trying to send a message to folks in the United States who might be civil libertarians, or -- anything you can say about that?
MR. RHODES: No, look, I mean, I think the President covered this. I guess what I would say about this is we believe Mr. Snowden has committed a crime; that the release of unauthorized classified information like this is harmful to national security, and therefore it's important for nations to cooperate with us to bring him to justice. And there are -- I think the point the President was making is there are established practices for doing that.
You can handle this through legal channels; that this is an individual who committed a crime under our law, an individual who is traveling, as you know, without appropriate documentation. And so there's ample basis for Russia to expel him, and for Russia and other countries to cooperate with us in bringing him to justice.
I think the point the President was making is that this can be handled through those appropriate channels; that while we are, in addition to being interested in bringing him to justice, very focused on the harm done by this disclosure. That harm has largely been put into the public domain by the revelation of these programs. Clearly, we have mechanisms for securing this type of information that don't involve somebody taking them with them to Hong Kong and into Russia and releasing them publicly.
So clearly, the compromise of the classification has taken place. What we want to do now is bring this individual to justice. I think the President's point was simply that we can do that through established practices rather than necessarily making this the preeminent issue in our bilateral relations with a range of countries around the world.
Q: It just seems a little bit like a downgrading of the language. I mean, Secretary Kerry was calling him a "traitor to his nation," and now the President is saying, you know, he's a 29-year-old hacker. So does that signify some sort of change in the view from the United States on him?
MR. RHODES: No. I think that there's a baseline view that individuals who make an oath to protect classified information need to keep that promise. That's the basis upon which we are able to carry out our intelligence operations and have an intelligence community. And so we take very seriously the compromise of that type of information.
Again, in Mr. Snowden's case, he has carried out that unauthorized disclosure. That's why the Department of Justice has an investigation into his actions. That's why we would like countries to cooperate with us to expel him and bring him to justice here in the United States. I think the President's point was that in the context of our bilateral relations with Russia and China, we can handle this through the appropriate channels, and it needs to be seen in the context of very broad and complex relations with these countries.
That doesn't mean we're not seriously disappointed, for instance, in what the authorities did in Hong Kong and Beijing in letting Mr. Snowden go. I think the President was speaking to the nature in which -- the way in which we're carrying out our efforts to bring this individual to justice here in the United States.
Q: Ben, following up on his language, he also said he didn't want to be "wheeling and dealing" with leaders in China and Russia. Has there been any suggestion from either of those countries that there is something to be wheeled and dealed?
MR. RHODES: No. I think the point that the President makes here is, as he said, number one, he should not have to get involved because, frankly, this should be resolved through the appropriate legal channels; and number two, this should be resolved on the basis that this individual is traveling without appropriate documents and violated our laws, and there's an investigation underway by the Department of Justice, so that we don't see any linkages to other issues. And frankly, you've seen that comment echoed by the Russians, who have said that they don't want this to harm bilateral relations. What we would like the Russians to do is expel Mr. Snowden and allow him to be brought to justice here in the United States.
Q: And is there a sense at all from listening to his language today that he's trying to lower tensions or any potential tensions with both of those countries? This comes after just last week you guys said -- or Jay said at the podium -- that this will hurt U.S.-China relations.
MR. RHODES: Well, I think we made that point clear about U.S.-China relations, because, again, the authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong allowed him to leave even though we had a legitimate request for extradition with Hong Kong. So we continue to have those serious concerns with China, and it's something we'll continue to raise with them.
With Russia, we still would like them to do the right thing in expelling Mr. Snowden and permitting him to be brought to justice here in the United States. I think an additional piece of context here is that, for instance, the President was asked about a military operation to apprehend this individual. Clearly, that would go beyond the nature of what this is, which is a law enforcement matter that we're seeking to resolve through law enforcement channels.
Q: So if it hurt relations with China that they allowed him to go, will it hurt relations with Russia if Russia allows him to transit to some other country?
MR. RHODES: Look, clearly, we have an ongoing situation in which we're talking to the Russians about our desire for them to expel Mr. Snowden, permit him to be brought to justice here in the United States. We've made clear that even though we don't have an extradition treaty with them formally, we have had law enforcement cooperation in the past. And so we would like to see them move forward in that spirit of cooperation, as we have, frankly, in returning individuals to Russia.
I don't want to speculate on what would happen on the back end of that process because it's still an ongoing situation, but clearly we -- our very strong preference, of course, is for the Russians to work with us through that law enforcement channel and to allow Mr. Snowden to be brought to justice here in the United States.
Q: And what has been the highest level of contact with the Russians, is it Mueller?
MR. RHODES: I'm not going to get into all of our contacts, but, I mean, that's the main -- the appropriate channel is through the Department of Justice and the FBI, and Director Mueller has been a part of that effort. And again, we believe that that provides the basis for resolving this issue with the Russians.
Q: What about the suggestion from Hong Kong that the middle name was wrong?
MR. RHODES: Look, I think the authorities in Hong Kong knew full well who Mr. Snowden was. They knew full well that we had an extradition request to see him brought to the United States because of the crimes that he has committed. The Department of Justice will have to speak to the specifics of their request. My understanding is, again, it was an appropriately processed request, but it's simply not credible to assert that they somehow didn't -- weren't able to discern who this individual was on that basis. Everybody was fully aware of Mr. Snowden's presence in Hong Kong and what he had done and our desire in seeing him extradited to the United States.
Q: Just one last one, because I was a little confused also with what the President said today. We've been hearing for all this time so much concern about what Snowden still has on those hard drives, the knowledge that he has. The President today seemed to suggest that basically the worst of the damage is already done with what he's already leaked out. Is that our feeling now, there's not much more that he has?
MR. RHODES: Look, I don't know with certainty what Mr. Snowden has. That's something that we're actively seeking to determine. I think suffice to say -- well, I'd make two points, Jon. Number one, he's already revealed very classified programs that are designed to be secret so that we're not broadcasting to our adversaries the nature and methods of our intelligence collection. And number two, he's clearly compromised the security of whatever he has by taking it with him to Hong Kong and now to Russia.
So we have very strict protocols for how to handle classified information. It doesn't involve getting on a plane and going to Hong Kong and then getting on a plane and going to Russia. So this individual has already not just acted in a way that released unauthorized information, but is clearly not handling classified information appropriately.
Q: Is the White House talking to Russia about the possibility of expelling Snowden to a third country with which you do have an extradition treaty as a kind of face-saving way out of this? And on the Macky Sall talks, did the President talk to them about this Senegal trial for Hissène Habré?
MR. RHODES: On the second question, this is a trial that we have supported, and we've welcomed Senegal's leadership in undertaking this effort to see that justice is done. And in fact, we have committed resources to support their efforts. So it came up in the context of the President commending Senegal working with us and others to see that justice is done.
On your first question, I'm not going to get into the nature of our contacts with the Russians. Our bottom line is we believe there's a basis for us, through law enforcement cooperation, to see that Mr. Snowden is expelled in a way that allows him to be brought to justice, and that's our ultimate priority, and the Russians certainly understand that.
Q: Two questions. Can you talk about to what extent the Presidents today talked about drone bases in Africa or any specific Senegalese military cooperation as it would involve Mali? And second of all, can you discuss, with regards to Nelson Mandela, what contact the White House is having and with whom? How are you checking in on his condition and what to do about arriving in South Africa? Are you going with his family or with the Zuma administration or both?
MR. RHODES: On your first question, what they spoke about in terms of the security situation in North Africa was our support for Senegal's participation in the peacekeeping effort that's underway in Mali. They have 500 peacekeepers serving in Mali. We believe it's very important that a number of things happen there. Number one, that there's a political process inside of Mali that allows for a democratic government to emerge and reconciliation to take place. Number two, that in the aftermath of the French-led intervention, there is a strong regional peacekeeping force that is put in place. And Senegal has really stepped up, along with a number of other countries in the region. And that's exactly the type of leadership that we want to support because it demonstrates African countries taking responsibility for security challenges in their neighborhoods, and ultimately it leads to more sustainable solutions.
What the President indicated is we're going to continue to provide the support that we've been investing in this operation. And what we've provided is, for instance, logistical support and other types of backing for those nations that are putting peacekeepers into Mali.
As a general matter, I think the terrorism issue sometimes gets overstated here, frankly, in Africa. We cover a very broad agenda with these countries, from development to food security, global health, economic growth, trade, investment. Terrorism is an element of that discussion, but it wasn't really a focal point. What we really heard from President Sall today is his reform agenda and how we can work with him to strengthen democratic institutions and trade and investment.
Q: Did they discuss drones at any length? Is there anything -- did Sall raise concerns about it? Or is there anything we're asking Senegal --
MR. RHODES: Not that I'm aware of. Raj, you were -- I don't --
And then, on Nelson Mandela, look, we have been -- our view on this is that we are going to completely defer to the wishes of the Mandela family and work with the South African government as relates to our visit. So essentially, our approach is whatever the Mandela family deems appropriate, that's what we're focused on doing in terms of our interaction with them. And in terms of our trip, we're obviously in very close cooperation with the government because they're facilitating the very significant presence that is associated with a U.S. visit and the meetings associated with that.
But we're not -- we're deferring to them on all these questions of health. We're not at all involved in those discussions. So frankly, we learn information as the world learns the information from the family and the government of South Africa.
I will say that it does add a significant amount of profundity for the President to be able to visit Robben Island while he's in Cape Town and to reflect on the sacrifice that Nelson Mandela made when he was there, and to have the opportunity to take his family there and mark that moment. Because not only has Nelson Mandela been a hero to the President, as he said today, he is the very demonstration of the promise that you see across Africa -- of democratic governance, of reconciliation, of growth and opportunity for young people.
So I think the President will deeply treasure any opportunity he has to celebrate that legacy. And his focus right now is on expressing support for the family in a very difficult time.
Q: So what have you heard from the family as of this moment? Will it be like a moment-by-moment? When will you decide whether you can visit the family?
MR. RHODES: I'm not going to characterize those discussions. I mean, we're really just going to see what the best thing to do is while we're there in Johannesburg and in Cape Town. And the President will be certainly speaking to the legacy of Nelson Mandela, the profound influence that Nelson Mandela has had on him personally but also South Africa, the United States and the world. And that will be a significant part of our time in South Africa. As it relates to the family, that's something we'll just have to work through with them as we move forward with our trip.
Q: We know some of the folks that you all brought here from the administration -- USAID, other -- are people about trade and investment, but I wondered if you all invited -- or if there are other people here we don't know about that are from the private sector? The reason I ask is the Chamber of Commerce has sort of complained a little bit. They are really interested particularly in that Tanzania event on electricity, and that they would have loved to come but they sort of felt like they were not invited. Could you just --
MR. RHODES: Well, we'll get you -- Raj should discuss the event tomorrow on the private sector participation. We'll get you, as we move forward, the types of companies that are represented in Tanzania and South Africa. I'm sure we had discussions with the Chamber, but there are very significant U.S. business leaders, CEOs who are going to be participating in Tanzania, as well as regional leaders as well.
But, Raj, you may want to talk about tomorrow.
Q: Are they coming from the U.S. or they're based here?
MR. RHODES: Some of them are coming from the U.S., some of them are based here. And I think that speaks to the dynamic we're trying to foster, which is that there is significant attention from the headquarters of U.S. businesses that want to do more in Africa, and there is a significant presence here of multinational and U.S. businesses that have branch offices and representation across the continent.
But then there are also African entrepreneurs and African business leaders, and we want to bring those folks together to have a continued dialogue about how can we break down barriers to trade; how can we increase U.S. investment; what is the type of climate that needs to exist for that investment; how are we focusing our partnership with African governments on the type of infrastructure development and customs regimes that facilitate growth and job creation.
But Raj will speak to tomorrow.
DR. SHAH: It's actually the same answer for tomorrow. We reached out to CEOs and companies throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa. There are about 72, now, companies that are part of this New Alliance, and a subset of them will be represented tomorrow. Some have chosen to send CEO-level folks from around the world; others have -- most have focused on sending their Africa lead, their regional lead -- usually from somewhere based outside of Dakar -- to the meeting.
Q: I want to ask a question about corruption, particularly in democratic governments in Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, and how it relates to national security. We're hearing that corruption is still a very real problem here, particularly in areas that have democratic pull. What is the -- what is your office doing? Was the President talking about in his meeting with President Sall as well as the other presidents about corruption?
MR. RHODES: I'll say a couple of comments, and then Raj I'm sure will want to weigh in, because a lot of what AID does is focus on this issue.
The first thing I'd say is that this is something the President has raised for many years, dating back to his trip to Kenya as a senator. And it was a focus of his speech in Accra, and it's been a focus of our policy in Africa.
We believe that corruption is one of the greatest threats to growth and democracy in many African countries, and when the President talks about the need to have a focus on democracy that addresses what happens in between elections, a lot of what he's talking about is how do you combat corruption. So one of the reasons to have the meeting, for instance, say, with the independent judiciary leaders, is how are you setting up a rule of law framework in these countries that ensures that individuals have confidence that they can start a business without paying a bribe, or that people have confidence that they can send their kid to school without paying a bribe.
And that is going to be a step that is necessary, both to allow for confidence in democratic governments here in Africa so that citizens believe that governments are serving them. And it's also going to be necessary for increased trade and investment, because U.S. businesses want to have a predictable investment climate. They want to know that they have the certainty that comes with the rule of law. They don't want to be engaged in business in areas that have significant corruption.
So Africa will be able to take off as a growth model the more that it combats corruption. In Senegal here, they've done a lot to do so. They've been a leader in that regard. But, Raj, you may want to --
DR. SHAH: I would just add that the President launched the Open Government Partnership a number of years ago, and it's an effort to basically get governments to commit to fight corruption and be transparent in how they work, and we then work with those governments to help them achieve the standards required to join the partnership.
Senegal has expressed a commitment to join the Open Government Partnership, and has taken a number of steps, including applying for membership in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, making certain types of government meetings and data and information more accessible. And we're working actively with them in a variety of programs to help implement the conditions of the Open Government Partnership.
Today, in the meeting with civil society leaders, the President talked about and heard about how our investments in those civil society organizations have helped them fight corruption, and also heard about some high-profile corruption cases. So it's an important step forward and it's an important aspect. And as Ben points out, and tomorrow's food security meeting is a good example, one of the commitments Senegal has made is to restructure its subsidy system for agriculture, which is they're doing that in part to fight corruption in that system so that you can have a business climate that's more amenable to the companies that have made $134 million of investment commitments.
Q: So I want to ask you a question on that though. Quantitatively, how much of I guess I would say -- well, I want to quantify sub-Saharan Africa, then Africa as the whole, the continent. Quantitatively, how much corruption, percentage-wise, do you think there is here? And has it gotten better, or has it gotten worse, or has it stayed the same since you started the partnership?
DR. SHAH: I think without question, it has gotten better since we started the partnership. And we've seen, across the board, even countries that have been highly associated with high rankings on various corruption indices have taken important steps, like Nigeria in the energy sector, for example, to actually fight corruption as part of various programs we've put in place. And for us, across the board, this has been more and more a condition for our capacity to bring private investment, trade and development aid to those countries. And we could share more details on that.
Q: I mean, can you quantify -- I mean, since it's such a --
DR. SHAH: It's hard to offer an aggregate quantification of how much corruption is there. What we do know is in the fastest-growing African economies, we are seeing that growth and investment correlated with active steps to fight corruption, with steps to make public the basic budget systems; putting in place, like in the energy sector in Nigeria, transparent procurement systems for how contracts are bid out and how they interact with companies. Now American companies are able to participate in that because it's all transparent.
So we see important examples of real success, and we know the trend overall has been a positive one. But the President raises it in every interaction because it's critical to expanding trade and investment.
MR. RHODES: Anything else? Yes, in the back.
Q: Thanks, Ben. Is Zimbabwe is on the agenda for the talks with President Zuma? What will be the message that the President wants to deliver, both to him on Zimbabwe next door, because Zimbabwe is -- and also, could you just sketch out -- I know it's two or three days away -- the Cape Town speech, is that going to be kind of a Cairo speech for this trip? He spoke in Ghana, Cairo, so can you sketch out for us on those?
MR. RHODES: Yes. On the first question, I definitely expect that Zimbabwe will come up in the course of our visit to South Africa. We have been -- well, first of all, frankly, when you look at the issues we're discussing here -- democracy and corruption -- the contrast could not be clearer.
In Zimbabwe -- where you have deeply undemocratic practices that have been pursued in the past, very questionable elections, crackdowns on independent media and civil society -- you've also seen systemic corruption, and that has led to an economy that is lagging behind many of the growth stories in Africa. So I think it makes our point about the correlation between strong democratic governance and economic growth.
In terms of where we are now, there's a constitution in place in Zimbabwe. There's a commitment to hold an election. Our position is going to be that that election has to be free, fair and credible, and there has to be a means of establishing that that is the case, but also that democracy goes beyond elections, so we'd like to see space for independent media, for civil society and for those elements of democracy to exist within Zimbabwe as they do within South Africa and Senegal. So that will be our position on Zimbabwe.
On the speech, we'll have more time to speak to it. I do think it's a chance for him to talk to people in South Africa and the broader continent about the vision of the future that the President has in terms of what type of partnership do we want with Africa? What type of partnership do we want on issues of economic growth and trade and investment? What type of partnerships do we want in strengthening democratic institutions, and also in dealing with peace and security challenges?
And I think he'll carry forward these themes of -- Africa is very much on the move. There are significant positive stories taking place across the continent. But some of that progress is very fragile, and some of that progress can be put at risk if there is not a sustained momentum behind the types of things that we've been talking about here today. And I think a key element of that will be young people, given the fact that over 60 percent of Africa's population is under 25. This is really a series of decisions that young people will have to make about the future of Africa.
And again, I think all of this is very much directly connected to the legacy that Nelson Mandela has built in establishing not just democracy, but a democracy in which there was a peaceful transfer of power, in which there was reconciliation, in which people accomplished things that nobody could have foreseen decades ago. That's an example, a shining example for all of Africa and the world, and I think that's one that the President will continue to speak to.
I think we've got time for one or -- well, Chuck. Yes.
Q: What do you do to erase this perception that the President has been somewhat absent from Africa? Obviously, you probably saw the New York Times story this morning, and I got the impression, and so did the President, by one of his comments at the press conference. What's it going to take for that perception to be erased?
MR. RHODES: Well, look, I think it starts with this trip. There's no substitute for being here. We have done a ton of work in Africa. Raj, you must spend more time here than any other part of the world. The United States has been significantly invested in global health, food security, trade and investment. But the President of the United States, there's no substitute for him being here.
And I think the way in which we address that, Chuck, is in what we do and say throughout the course of this trip, and we'll continue to move forward different pieces of our agenda on this trip. But we also have to demonstrate that it's going to lead to follow through.
And one of the reasons that, for instance, the President wanted to bring so many members of his economic team here is to signal that there's going to be a sustained engagement from the top members of his administration on the economic side, on the trade side, particularly as we get into things like renewing AGOA, pursuing the type of trade agreements you heard him reference today with ECOWAS -- so demonstrating that follow-through at the Cabinet level, demonstrating that he's going to be personally engaged, and continued outreach to his fellow leaders in Africa.
And again, maintaining these commitments that we've established in this administration, which we believe provides the best model of partnership for Africa because we're investing in trade and investment here -- we're focused on trade and investment here in Africa that will lead to broader-based economic growth. It's not just focused on, for instance, a resource base; it's focused on deeper connections among our businesses which will lead to employment on both sides of the ocean, on democratic institutions. That leads to a broader base of civic participation, greater confidence that people can have in their governments and in their future. And on peace and security, we're empowering African solutions to these problems so that African regional organizations and African governments can step up as Senegal is in Mali, as ECOWAS did in Cote d'Ivoire, as the African Union did in Sudan, and as they're also doing in Somalia, for instance.
MR. RHODES: Yes.
Q: Going back to Mandela and the situation in South Africa, to what extent do you anticipate that the tone of the President's message or perhaps even the schedule will be affected by Mandela's precarious condition?
MR. RHODES: The schedule -- we have no scheduling changes to update you on. And so we'll obviously be, as I said, very deferential to the developments that take place and to the wishes of the family and the South African government.
Look, I think the tone is one of deep and profound respect for Nelson Mandela and all that he's achieved, and the South Africa that he, more than anyone else, helped to build; and the fact that the United States deeply values those contributions, deeply values its relationship with South Africa.
And again, just to finish Chuck's point, we want to carry forward initiatives. We're launching some new efforts while we're here. But we need to show follow-through. And we believe that if we do show that follow-through, we're going to have a significant success story in terms of our ability to advance our own interests but also to help Africa take that next step towards much greater prosperity and democratic governance.
Q: Do you acknowledge you guys could have started this process a couple years ago? That in an ideal world he would have been here in his first term, which I know was loosely on this?
MR. RHODES: Yes, Raj -- I mean, Raj may want to speak to this. All I'll say is that we were able to get to Ghana. We were able to host groupings of democratic African leaders. I mean, if you look at what we did in the first term, at the presidential level we hosted different groupings of democratic leaders from Africa in the White House, in the Oval Office, in addition to his young African leaders town hall, which he brought young people from across Africa to the White House.
So he's been engaged on these core themes that we have of democratic governance, of young people, of promoting trade and investment. But at the same time, when you're ending two wars and prosecuting an effort against al Qaeda and dealing with a very complex international environment, part of the opportunity that comes from winding down those efforts is being more engaged in Africa at the presidential level, so that as you close out the Iraq war, as we're winding down Afghanistan -- we've talked a lot about our efforts to pivot to Asia in terms of resources and attention. Africa is another one of those emerging regions that's going to have to take up more of our attention as we come out of the period in U.S. foreign policy that we've been in.
DR. SHAH: I would just add a few thoughts. The first is the President started the focus on food security in 2009, in the spring of 2009. And since then, of the 19 countries we focus on, 14 are in sub-Saharan Africa. And the vast majority of the focus and resources have been effectively deployed in that context. So it's been very consistent. We have followed through and actually delivered outcomes that are -- when you look back on what can you achieve in three or four years of sustained effort, quite significant relative even to big past efforts.
Second, I'd say that the model the President has deployed has been getting public-private partnerships engaged and more active from the beginning. And that's been something that he has spent a lot of time on, we've all spent a lot of time on across the administration, with the Millennium Challenge Corporation -- OPIC and Ex-Im -- and all of those leaders of those institutions will be with us in South Africa, and I believe in Tanzania as well.
And the third thing I would say is -- and this is perhaps less visible -- but Africa has seen a steady and consistent increase in our overall resource investment each year that we've been in office. And sustaining that in this political climate has required real tradeoffs to be made in other areas, but we've done that. We're probably the only G8 country to have achieved that kind of a sustained focus and investment that we believe is delivering real results, and that we measure and report on outcomes to demonstrate that.
Q: Just to clarify, you're saying more U.S. public money?
DR. SHAH: Yes. Since 2004, there was a set of commitments called the Gleneagles Commitments. And America met its Gleneagles obligations ahead of schedule. And our administration has sustained those public investments in Africa at a very high level, and overall has increased our public level of investment in Africa.
Q: So do we have more in same terms -- do we have more money going to Africa now than we did during the Bush years?
DR. SHAH: If you look at the foreign assistance portfolio, we do. Yes.
Q: And can I just get a clarification? You said a mind-boggling number, a goal of 50 million people out of poverty or hunger as part of the New Alliance for Food Security. During what kind of a time period are we talking about?
DR. SHAH: That was designed to take place between last year and 10 years from then, so 2022.
Q: Do you have an estimate of where you are now?
DR. SHAH: Yes. I think we're actually quite on path. I, for one, believe we'll exceed that path. The President has consistently reminded people that if you double crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa, you can relatively quickly move large numbers of people out of hunger and poverty, and do it without providing humanitarian aid -- helping them produce more food and build modern food systems -- which is why tomorrow's Feed the Future report that shows that we've reached 7 million farm households and helped them get a significant improvement in their food production is a good example of that. And the President will see tomorrow and talk about specific, new rice varieties that we've helped develop in partnership with Africa and introduced right here in Senegal that has produced enough -- about 100,000 extra metric tons of food and we believe will allow Senegal to achieve food security in just a few years.
So we've seen some extraordinary progress often based in science and business investment. And that will continue to be our focus.
MR. RHODES: We have to wrap up. And that's a good point to end on, because I think the actions have been there and increasing resources on global health and launching food security and on deepening these trade investment partnerships. I think what you see now is a presidential overlay through this trip. And you're going to see a lot of follow through coming out of this trip.
I'll just make one announcement as we wrap here. You'll see an announcement go out later today that our nominee for ambassador to South Africa will be Patrick Gaspard. Many of you know Patrick. He has been the executive director of the DNC since 2011, previously assistant to the President and director of the Office of Political Affairs from 2009-2011, and prior to that, National Political Director for Obama for America -- so somebody who is close to the President, somebody who cares deeply about South Africa and I think demonstrates the President's personal engagement in this relationship.
Q: Hadn't that already been announced?
Q: Why did it take so long for him to be announced? We knew like last year.
MR. RHODES: Hey, man, I'm just telling you the news.
Q: So you're announcing it today?
MR. RHODES: Yes, we're announcing that today. Yes, this is official today.
Q: Nominations sent to the U.S. Senate?
MR. RHODES: Yes. That process is moving forward now.
Q: Are you sure?
MR. RHODES: I'm sure. Yes, that's why I told you, April. I'm just trying to keep you informed.
END 7:07 P.M. GMT
Jay Carney, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes, and USAID Administrator Raj Shah Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/304348