Powell Promises US Support but Says Africa Must Help Itself

Special To The Perspective

An Interview Conducted
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton
Kampala, Uganda

May 29, 2001

The American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, ended a four-nation African tour on Monday, which took him from Mali to South Africa and onto Kenya, with a last stop in Uganda. Powell left Kampala reinforcing the message that Africa is a priority for the United States, a refrain he repeated in each country his visited. "I'm here because President Bush wanted me to be here, because he does believe Africa is important," he told allAfrica.com in an in-depth interview.

In his six days on the continent, Powell discussed AIDS, good and bad governance and democracy, as well as regional wars and hopes for conflict resolution, with Presidents Alpha Oumar Konare in Bamako, Thabo Mbeki in Pretoria, Daniel arap Moi in Nairobi and Yoweri Museveni in Kampala. "America will be a friend to all Africans who seek peace; but we cannot make peace among Africans," said Powell.

He added that the US would continue to help train and equip an African peacekeeping force, to be deployed to regional trouble spots, but saw "nothing on the horizon" that would call for American combat forces being sent to Africa. "Africans themselves must bear the lion's share of the responsibility for bringing stability to the continent," Powell stated during a speech at in Johannesburg.

Powell also warned Africans not to "sit around waiting for money to come your way". He advocated self-help, while pledging support, concluding that the key for the United States was "to find the right balance between getting too committed and not getting committed enough," in Africa.

On a personal note, there was some philosophical reflection by Powell on his distant African roots, "from somewhere off the west African coast". But, the Secretary of State (a black American born of Jamaican parents in New York) cautioned: "I hope the high hopes and expectations are not just because of me."

AllAfrica.com's correspondent, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, covered the Kenya leg of Colin Powell's visit and caught up again with the American Secretary of State for an interview in Kampala, before Powell left Africa for Europe. We reproduce excerpts here:

Secretary of State Powell, what have you learnt on this trip about Africa and what has it taught you?

I have learnt a great deal. I learned that there are several nations that are moving strongly in the way of democracy and, as a result of that, they are encouraging their people to get more involved in governance. They are attracting interest by other nations in the world for investment. I have found that more and more countries in Africa are understanding that they have to resolve conflicts; get the conflicts behind them so that they can move onto democracy and economic development.

The countries I picked to visit are those who are moving, in one way or another, toward those forms of government. We have got to make sure that they keep moving and don't slide back. And so Mali has a thriving democracy, South Africa does; Kenya - we want to make sure that it keeps moving in the right direction over the years ahead. And here in Uganda, (they've) just had an election. There were some disputes about the election, but the president has ideas as to how the nation can become more pluralistic in the years ahead. He and I had a chance to talk about that.

So, I found that within Africa there are lots of conflicts going on, but there are also bright spots. I also found that HIV/AIDS, is every bit the catastrophe that I thought it was. It truly is a pandemic and nations have to attack it at the highest levels, beginning with the right kinds of political leadership. Here in Uganda, we saw that with President Museveni who really, really played a leadership role in bringing the epidemic not totally under control, but reversing the rate of outbreak over the years. And that kind of leadership is required all across sub-Saharan Africa to get this disease under control.

Let me take AIDS first and then democracy. When you were in Kenya, campaigners in the Kenya Coalition for Essential Medicines at an Affordable Price met you when you went to the outskirts of the slum, Kibera. One lady, Patricia Asero Ochieng, told you: "Secretary Powell, my husband, my infant son died of AIDS, but perhaps their lives could have been saved if we had cheaper drugs." Now the United States is holding out, along with the pharmaceutical giants, against cheaper, generic drugs. I believe that the US has gone to the World Trade Organisation to try to stop Brazil producing cheaper drug versions. But when you look eye to eye with somebody like Patricia Ochieng, and she's saying,...part of my family could have been saved if we had we had these cheaper antiretrovirals', how does that make you feel, like an ogre?

No, I'm not an ogre and in fact the United States has worked hard with its pharmaceutical companies, and with others, to get the price of antiretroviral drugs down. But one has to remember that an investment is made to produce these drugs, to do the research. And if you don't have some return on that investment, pharmaceutical companies won't do it. The United States' government does not develop these drugs. They are developed by private corporations and those corporations invest hundreds of millions of dollars into these drugs.

I would like to see the price go down to almost nothing, that would be my desire. But, if you start just giving them away and you don't have any way of getting a return on your investment in any way whatsoever, then people will not invest in the research needed, not only for antiretroviral drugs, but to find a cure. And so, we are constantly trying to find ways (to) drive the price down.

Of course her story pained me, it would pain anybody... But it's going to take some time and it's going to take some creative thinking with respect to research and marketing of such drugs.

Africa hasn't got time. Millions of people are HIV positive and dying of AIDS. How long are you saying Africa should wait, sir?

I don't know... I am distressed that that is the case, millions of people are dying. But it's not possible simply to just issue an edict and make it happen. It's a very complicated problem. The prices have been driven down significantly in recent months; they may not be low enough for everybody to have access to the drugs but we are doing everything we can to drive it lower. But you are essentially saying, do the research, spend all that money and then give it away. I wish that were the case, I wish that were possible... it is a difficult problem and we should do everything to drive the cost down as rapidly and as far as possible, but it is not yet at zero and it's going to take some time before it gets to zero which is what I think, you know, what everybody would like to see.

What about those who have accused the drug companies, and those opposed to cheaper generic drugs, of putting profits before life? And you heard a lot of that in Kenya and perhaps here in Uganda.

Well, it's easy to make those kinds of claims... It's not just profit, it's also making enough of a return on your investment so that you can develop such drugs. Those drugs don't just come out of the air. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent developing those drugs and there has to be some income going back in, in order to keep the research going on. So, we are working with our pharmaceutical companies... And the pharmaceutical manufacturers that I've been in touch with are doing everything that they can. They realise the extent of the problem and they are doing everything they can to drive the prices down. But it is not yet where it needs to be in order to have wide access across all of Africa.

So, your message is, "hang on, Africa"?

My message is, "help is here, it's on the way" and we hope that more help will be coming in the future.

Democracy: You've been round now to Mali, to South Africa, to Kenya, to Uganda. Some people are saying, "Well why is General Powell coming to tell us we have a wonderful democracy? Our foreign ministers don't go off to the US to say 'Oh Secretary Powell, President Bush has got a wonderful democracy in the US'; we want to talk trade and investment, something concrete, things that are going help Africans."

I have talked trade and investment at every stop. But trade and investment follows democracy. Trade is not going to be going into those nations that do not have the rule of law; where the investment is not safe, where people can't get a return on their investment because there is corruption, and the corruption is tolerated because there aren't democratic systems to check that corruption and there is not an active judiciary and corporate governance laws. And so, you are not going to get the right kind of investment in countries that need investment unless there is a safe democratic base to draw those investments.

As I often say, money is a coward; it is not going to go where it is not going to be safe. People don't invest money in places where the money is going to be wasted, or there is such a level of corruption or it is such an undemocratic regime that you cannot count on returning your investment.

And your foreign ministers are quite welcome to come to the United States and lecture us on democracy anytime they wish, and they have, over the years. And, they have been helpful as we improved our democracy over the last past thirty or forty years, with the civil rights' movement.

I have heard people on the radio, for example, in talk shows, saying:"Let us decide if our country is democratic; actually we don't think Alpha Oumar Konare of Mali is so democratic, we don't think Daniel arap Moi of Kenya is so democratic, or Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. So, why is Secretary Powell coming to tell us that? Let us decide, we're the ones who go to the polls."

Of course they should decide. And I have not come to lecture. I have come to describe the importance of democracy to development, the importance of democracy to being a player in the 21st century economy. So, it's up to each nation, and each people in each nation, to decide what their form of government will be. But democracy allows them to do that. And if you don't have some form of democracy, they don't get to pick who their leaders are.

In the countries I visited, there are disagreements as to how much democracy actually exists and there are some concerns about people being able to get to the polls and becoming a more pluralistic society, where you have open political debate and political parties and people can raise money to participate in politics. But I hope that those countries will keep moving in the right direction toward pluralistic political systems so that everybody can get together and mix it up in a free and fair and open democratic way.

And to the extent that I occasionally lecture a bit, I think that's probably helpful for the people in those countries.

Can we talk now about Trade vs. Aid? In the 90s, we heard a lot about how the relationship between Africa and the industrialised world was going to change. It was going to be direct investment, it was going towards more trade. But that hasn't worked. It seems a bit of a hollow pledge now, looking ten or so years on. Do you think the US policy now is going to have to be more aid, because balanced trade isn't happening? And when you look at debt, Africa is still deep in debt. If the continent is not getting the direct investment that was promised, and keeps borrowing, are you going to go back to the old policy of more aid for the governments that you think are doing the right thing?

Aid will always be a part of our policies. But the strength of our policy has to rest on trade. That's why we passed the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act last year, that's why we are having a meeting of the AGOA forum in Washington later this year to encourage continued investment in Africa and to bring up those industries that can participate in the AGOA. So we think trade is the right answer.

But trade isn't something [for which] you just snap your fingers and it happens. You have to have an educated population, you have to have factories, you have to have things that people want to buy and we, on our side, the Western side, the so-called terrible word, but the 'first world' have got to eliminate barriers and reduce barriers to African goods and products. I've heard that message all through my travels over the last several days - "reduce your barriers". And that's what AGOA has tried to do, reduce barriers to trade so that African products have an easier time of it, getting into the United States and other Western nations.

But, when you look over the past ten years or so, there is a real imbalance isn't there? Trade and investment hasn't happened. The intention was there, the will was there, the talk was there, but the reality hasn't been there.

Well, the reality is that trade is not going to happen unless there are the type of circumstances that I described earlier, where people feel safe in investing. If a country is unable to say, bring violence under control, or corruption under control, or crime under control, or if a country has not been able to invest in its infrastructure, with reliable power, with potable water and with all the things you need for a solid infrastructure, it's difficult to invest in that kind of country, to put a factory in that kind of country. So, I think there is a strong obligation on African nations to use their resources to improve their infrastructure and to make them more attractive for investment.

Debt relief is a problem. The United States has eliminated the debt owed to us by some nineteen countries, so we are trying to do what we can and trying to help the highly indebted poor countries to get rid of their debt. But we have to make sure that they just don't go back into debt; once they've gotten rid of this debt, they borrow more and misuse the next tranche of investment money. They have to invest in the right things, in infrastructure, in educating their people for the 21st century so that they can participate in this worldwide trade revolution that is taking place.

Money will only go and investment will only go where it is safe and where there is a population ready to work. And the obligation is not just on the United States and other Western countries to invest in the right place. The obligation is also on the African countries to make sure they have an investment-friendly and a trade-friendly climate within their countries.

How do you educate your people when they are dying of AIDS, because they can't afford drugs that help to suppress HIV?

If they are in that situation, you have a disaster. That is why, for example, we gave US$50m to Uganda to help them with their programmes, US$30m to help orphans and another US$20m to help outreach programmes.

But it is not the United States that is causing the conflict. The crisis starts within African societies, and what we have to do is work hard on prevention of the spread of the disease. And that was what impressed me so much about what is happening here in Uganda. And I also sense in all the other countries that I visited, where HIV/AIDS is a problem, is that leaders finally understand that the problem begins with leadership prevention. Drugs are an important part of it, but drugs are not the only answer. The more important answer is prevention, by educating the population and educating youngsters as to how to protect themselves.

Some activists in Africa have scoffed at, and even been quite angry about the US$200m that President George W. Bush pledged to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Global Fund for Aids. Former President Clinton, I think, said, the US could afford US$2bn. Why such a'small amount' when you could have put more in?

It's US$200m more than there was the day before. It's on top of US$5m dollars that the State Department is spending. It's on top of billions of dollars that the United States' government is spending to find a cure for HIV/AIDS, so there is a lot of money. US$200m is more than anyone else has put into this new global trust fund. It's a new programme and I hope it will grow over time and there will be more money put into it. But it was out of our budget cycle, and we essentially took from other accounts all around the government to jump-start this US$200m account.

So, are you saying; "Don't be ungrateful"?

No, I'm not saying "don't be ungrateful." You should always ask for more: but don't belittle US$200m. It is a significant amount of money.

Secretary Powell, you have said "Africa matters". And everybody can see, I think, in your short, fact-finding tour that Africa matters to Colin Powell. But how much is Africa on the radar of George W. Bush? Campaigning (for the presidency), he said that Africa was not strategically important and some Africans thought, "now Bill Clinton has gone, we really do not matter." You have spoken to the contrary. But there are people in the US administration... the Defense Secretary for example, who have said "less for overseas, less for Africa", while you are saying, "no, we are committed." How true is that perception?

I am not free-wheeling out of the guidance of my president. I'm here because President Bush wanted me to be here, because he does believe Africa is important. In the campaign last year, he made that reference to Africa saying that he didn't see a national security issue which would require US troops in Africa. At this point. He was not saying Africa was not important. I think that was a badly interpreted statement.

You're not just being diplomatic there?

No. I was there. I heard him say it. He was responding to a specific question that really dealt with national security in a very narrow sense. But Africa is important to him. So far, he has shown that by, one, sending me here and, two, by finding US$200m to launch the global fund at a ceremony with Kofi Annan - and Kofi Annan was very appreciative of the initial US$200m from the United States - and by also, in the presence of all the African diplomatic corps, announcing the African Growth and Opportunity Forum this fall in Washington DC, that he will be hosting.

And I can assure you that the African ambassadors who were present in the Rose Garden that day didn't think that George Bush was not interested in Africa or the future of Africa.

Moving onto peacekeeping, the Americans have ACRI, the African Crisis Response Initiative, the French have RECAMP, a regional one. Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian foreign minister and a senior mediator for the UN - who wrote a damning report on UN peacekeeping activities - said recently in Tanzania that there are some people who give dollars for peacekeeping, while Africa has to pay with the blood of its children. Do you think America falls into the former category?

America has given lots of things to peacekeeping around the world. I was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when we sent American troops into Somalia to try to help the people of Somalia, and kept them from starving to death and broke up the warlords. Unfortunately, it ended badly a little while later, when we found that we were trying to keep peace in a place where it wasn't possible and we lost a lot of American lives.

So, I have to push back a little when you say America is not willing to give its lives. We have given the lives of our young men all through this century, in wars around the world, trying to bring peace to places and trying to remove tyrants from power.

In Africa, we are prepared to provide training. We train units that are here who are capable of performing peacekeeping missions in this region and it seems that it would be more appropriate for Africans to come up with the peacekeeping units. They have the units, they are able to be trained and they can perform effectively. And the United States ought to provide what we are best at providing, in this case, funds, training and equipment. And that was what the Operation Focus Relief was all about and the African Crisis Response Initiative.

People say if something is happening in Europe, the Americans are there at the click of a finger. But when it's in Africa... you are not prepared to send troops. Yes, American troops died in Somalia, you got your fingers burnt... but in 2001, for example, would the US send troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo where a UN peacekeeping force is soon to be sent to keep the peace?

The UN peacekeeping force is already present in DRC...

In a monitoring fashion at the moment, to protect the UN monitors...

Yes, but there is no shortage of potential candidates to provide peacekeeping. The United States should not necessarily be the country of first choice... You mentioned Mr Rumsfeld [US Defense Secretary] earlier. One of the challenges he has is trying to do something about all the troops we have dispersed around the world, at great expense, and also causing us a great deal of turbulence in our forces, whether it's a hundred thousand in the Pacific, fifty thousand in Europe, another thirty thousand in the Persian Gulf, three thousand in Bosnia, a couple of thousand in Kosovo... His challenge is to try to reduce some of these overseas' deployments, because it is becoming quite a burden on the armed forces of the United States.

So, to the extent that there are other units that are quite able to perform these kinds of peacekeeping operations, let's see if we can help train them, rather than everybody saying "why don't the Americans do it"? There are lots of units, there are lots of countries that have the capacity to do it.

My question, though, is why do you go to Kosovo, why don't go to somewhere in Africa with your soldiers? Is it because you're part of Nato and you don't have defence agreements with African countries? That's what people in the streets are saying, that the Americans will send their troops off to Europe where there are white people, but when it's black people's lives at stake it doesn't happen....

We do have an alliance with Nato and that's what we're doing in Kosovo and Bosnia. We're part of an alliance force.

General Powell, you're a retired soldier and still a soldier, we can see that. You often take off your Secretary of State's hat and put on the soldier's cap. You talk about it very often. Has it been very difficult for you, to go from being a soldier to being a diplomat?

No, even before I stopped being a soldier, I had some diplomatic experience. I was National Security Advisor for almost two years when I was a general in the Reagan years. I've been in civilian positions at high level over the course of my career, so I knew a little bit about diplomacy and foreign policy before I became Secretary of State. And in the seven years between retiring and becoming Secretary of State, I travelled widely around the world and think I have a pretty good knowledge about the issues of the world. So, it hasn't been too hard. It is not necessarily the case that soldiers are not diplomats. Much of my work as a soldier was diplomatic. (laughs).

Yet you said, yourself, that your wife, Alma, says you keep referring back to your life as a soldier in very many circumstances, even here in Africa where you referred to your staff in Pretoria, I believe, as your 'troops'!

I do still have the language of a soldier. And I still see things in military terms and, when I'm looking for a comparison, I will almost always find a military comparison before any other kind of comparison. It is hard to de-programme oneself after thirty-five years of being a soldier...

Does it help or hinder?

I think it helps, because I learnt a lot as a soldier in terms of getting people to do things and leadership and management, so I think it helps.

When you came to Africa, you're a black man, a Caribbean American, whose parents came from Jamaica, although you were born in New York. Do you feel that there was a lot of expectation about you, the first black US Secretary of State? A lot of people in the countries you have been to in Africa have said, "oh, we know he will help us," probably telling themselves, "perhaps he came from a poor background, he knows we need the drugs that could help to suppress AIDS". Do you feel that has been an albatross around your neck? You've been quoted as saying there is an emotional 'twinge' being a black American coming to Africa...

Yes, there is a little bit of additional pressure and there are the expectations that are placed upon me because I'm black. But I'm Secretary of State of the United States of America first, and I'm also a black man. So, I try to do what is right as Secretary of State of the United States. But it will always be shaped, to some extent, by the fact that, even though my parents came from Jamaica, their parents came from somewhere off the west coast of Africa. So, there is a connection here and I'm sure that connection will always give me that little bit of added pressure to do what I can for Africa.

Thank you very much indeed.

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