Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
May 25, 2022
QUESTION: I see our wonderful U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield and I am going to allow her to say hello.
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Let me just say how delighted I am to be here with you, Travis on Africa Day. On your first Africa Day in your current role! But also, just as someone who has spent my entire career, and focused most of my life, on African issues, it is really an honor for me to participate in this discussion today.
QUESTION: No, thank you so much. We know how precious your time is and how many different directions you’re pulled in this role. We are so honored and happy that you still carry Africa with you in your heart, even as you have now a global mandate. One of the first things I want to ask you Ambassador, I started off talking about the somber note of some of our domestic issues and concerns. And I think I would be remiss if I didn’t say, not only is this a day, May 25, where we mark Africa Day, but sadly, this is the two-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, here in America. And as I think about the work that you’re doing – as I think about the decade of people of African descent at the United Nations, as I think about now the standing up of the Permanent Forum for people of African Descent – I wonder if you could reflect a little bit for us about the way in which the African diaspora engages in issues of social justice and racial equality. And how we can be a part of it from our approach in the United States – as senior U.S. government officials, as diplomats – just how you reflect on that moment, and its importance to your work now.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, I was extraordinarily proud to be in the chair last year for the Permanent Forum, extension, and then to work on getting our person elected to that to the forum, and to use my perch here at the United Nations to push forward issues related to the African diaspora because it’s an extraordinarily important forum for us here. There are 54 members of the United Nations who are from African countries. And then when you add into that number, all of the countries where the African diaspora is so prominent – from the United States to Brazil, to other countries in Latin America, to the African diaspora in Europe. We are a powerful force in the United Nations. And the United States is really a key player as part of that diaspora. And I think in my current position, being an African American has added to America’s credibility and America’s voice on this issue, and it’s something that I intend to continue to prioritize at the United Nations. But also, in any role where my voice can be added to this issue. And just speaking up.
What we have experienced over the past two weeks here in the United States – that has been extraordinarily painful to see what happened in Buffalo, and then again to see what happened in Texas, where children were mowed down. And it just says that there’s more that we need to do to deal with this issue. But, again, what separates us from other countries that have these kinds of issues is that we acknowledge this, we deal with it, we don’t sweep it under the carpet. And we have a president who has stood up, and again raised our concerns and what is needed to address this issue. It’s not just about the issue of guns being available to 18-year-olds and weapons that are clearly a military grade, but it’s also the racism that accompanies this. It is something that we have to address as a nation.
QUESTION: You know, if I could build on that Ambassador, talking about this notion of us, acknowledging this history and working in a policy in a diplomatic and economic way to figure out how we come up with solutions. As we think about the history, the long history of the West, with Africa, and the power dynamics that are there that have created some dissonance and some tension in those relationships in the past; can you talk to us a little bit about your perspective, as the U.S. Ambassador to the UN and the Biden Administration’s kind of ethos, to view African nations now as partners who whom which we seek equal and mutually beneficial relationships?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, I think the Administration and others can certainly comment on this. The Administration has been clear that we see the countries of Africa as partners. And I’ve been clear in stating that for us, Africa really is the new frontier. As we look at the situation, for example, in Ukraine, where we have seen a real coming together of the world to address this attack on sovereignty. People have questioned whether we value Africa. And that is absolutely unquestionable. We value Africa, we value Africa’s potential, and we value African participation in what is happening now. And there’s no question in my mind that dealing with Africa, and the priorities in Africa, will stay a priority for us. What we do know is that we have to work more closely with our African partners to identify how we address those priorities. And to work with them on taking advantage of the opportunities that are available on the continent.
I’ve said to my African colleagues, I was surprised to learn the extent to which Ukraine is the breadbasket of the world, that Ukraine is growing wheat that is being consumed in Africa. We have a continent that has huge agricultural potential. And this is the time for us to tap that potential and move Africa into a place where it also becomes the breadbasket of the continent. The potential is there, the resources are there. It is just working together to make sure that we harness those resources, and harness the potential, so that we can address Africa’s future in a more consistent way. And the United States is standing with the African continent to ensure that we’re able to do that.
QUESTION: You know, I would love to do a deeper dive in that area that you just touched on Ambassador given some of the recent announcements and work you’ve been doing around global food security given the U.S. African development Foundation’s focus on food security and resilience on the continent, and the fact that the African diplomatic corps and African Union have set Food Security and Nutrition as their theme for this Africa Day and one of the ways we will touch on that with him domestically, as actually after I leave you. I will join some of the members of the African diplomatic corps in a day of service at a local food bank here in Washington, but wondering if you could speak on that a little bit – especially in relationship to Ukraine, and the way in which the U.S. has engaged African nations on that? And some of the things we might be able to do to increase their resilience from these kinds of global shocks.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, you know, that last year when I was president of the Security Council, last March, food security was a signature event for me. It was for Ukraine, but we saw the issues and we started the process of seeing how we can get in front of this food insecurity – across the globe. And this has just been exacerbated by the situation in in Ukraine; what was already a problem has become worse because of Ukraine. And the dependence that so many countries have on grain coming out of Ukraine, which has been blocked by the Russian war of aggression against the Ukrainian people. And we have to call that what it is – it’s a war of aggression and it is Russia that is responsible for exacerbating an already dire humanitarian and food situation.
So, you may know that last week, U.S. Secretary Blinken was here in New York, and he hosted two events for us. He hosted a ministerial in our national capacity bringing countries together on a Days of Action on food insecurity. And we put together a roadmap for commitments that countries can make on dealing with food insecurity, and then he chaired in our capacity as President of the Security Council, “Food Insecurity and Conflict” daylong event, where we had an open debate on the impact of conflict on food insecurity.
But in my private conversations and direct bilateral conversations with African countries, and we heard it somewhat during their interventions, we do see this as a time for African countries to look at how they can bring their own resources to the table. And start to put some of their effort in and their policy into developing a more strategic agricultural program that will help African countries produce their own wheat, and they certainly can produce enough wheat not just for themselves, but for the world. And this is something, again that I think we have to work with African countries on, it is something that the African Development Foundation can assist with, it is something that we can do through our future efforts, it is something that even through MCC you know, how do we build an infrastructure on the continent that would allow for Africa to again, reach this potential to be an agricultural breadbasket for the world.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. You know, as I think about Africa day, it makes me reflect a little bit on the year of Africa, which was 1960, right this year, in which about 16, 17, 18 African nations all became independent at one time, you had the development of the Organization of African Unity. And as we think about the way that it has developed, what the last 60 plus years of history has meant; can you reflect from your deep well of experience about kind of where the African Union is, in this moment? How you might be engaging with them as a regional body? And ways in which the United States in the African Union can work together to be more supportive of peace and security and economic development across the continent?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, we certainly think a strong African Union is a strong Africa. And this is where the philosophy of Ubuntu comes in. You know, “I am because we are.” So, every country on the continent is because Africa is. And so, it really is a philosophy that I think, adds to our concept of where we see the African Union. Currently and in the coming years, we see the potential for this organization. So as the current president of the Security Council, I engaged with the current head of the African Peace and Security Commission, currently it is Cameroon, and we had an hour-long discussion about how we can cooperate and work more closely with each other when dealing with some of the issues on the continent of Africa that are being dealt with in the Security Council. When we look at the number of peacekeeping operations that the Security Council has authorized, Africa has the largest number and the largest numbers of peacekeeping. So how do we address some of these issues of peacekeeping?
And it’s not just the African Union, it’s also the regional organizations as well. I will commend ECOWAS here; where they have taken a very strong stance on some of the destabilizing actions that have taken place in West Africa. We’ve seen in West Africa, three successful coup d’états that owes over that brought the military in and that’s clearly not the answer for the continent of Africa. We need strong governments; we need stable governments, and we need governments that put the interests of their people first. And the military does not have that tendency. So, ECOWAS took a very, very strong stance and on the situation in Mali, and we’ve supported ECOWAS’ efforts, and I know that the African Union has also supported those efforts. So, it’s really important that we work closely with the African Union.
What I hear regularly here in New York is, “African solutions for African problems.” I somewhat disagree with that statement, because I think we have to all work together on these global problems. Some of the problems we’re dealing with in Africa are not just African problems, they are global problems. I heard the Kenyan PR in the in the Security Council today, say if African lives matter, then the Security Council has to take a much more concerted role. And so African lives do matter, and if African lives matter; it can’t just be African solutions, that can’t just be Africa’s problems. It’s all of our problems and we have to work together to address those problems. And you know, the fact that the AU identified strengthening resilience, nutrition, and food security on the African continent as their theme for the year is something that resonates with all of us.
And so, we have to work with the continent to bring about resilience and in nutrition because as I’ve said, and I said, today, no child should starve to death. We have enough food to feed the world. There should not be people hungry anywhere in the world – from the United States to the continent. of Africa. And I do want to commend you and the African diplomatic corps for working at a food bank today. Because I think it says that this is a problem that we all have to address.
QUESTION: No, absolutely Ambassador and I really want to thank you for touching on this notion of “African problems for African solutions,” because I think it is a very interesting phrase. Some people use it to suggest that African nations do deserve the sovereignty and agency that they’ve earned, and they can handle their issues for themselves. But I do think it lands on some other ears as a kind of throw away: that this is not our issue, these are their issues. And as you said, when you start to talk about governance, challenges of climate change and things of that nature, especially global health concerns, obviously has become hopefully towards the tail end of the pandemic. I’m really glad to hear you touch on that. One other question I had for you, you know, kind of other than some of the things that I have prioritized to ask you in the initial part of this discussion. Could you talk about maybe some other priorities that you see from your perch that are specific to Africa, or ways in which your mandate touches on Africa in critical ways, for issues that are important global as you just mentioned?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Women, peace, and security issues are global, but they are glaring on the continent of Africa. And we have to do more to bring women in Africa into the forefront of decision making, in the forefront of public policy, and in the forefront of government. We are so proud that our friend, President Sirleaf was the first woman to be elected as a president in Africa. I’m extraordinarily proud of president of Tanzania, a woman as well. In this day and age, there could be more. And women in Africa face some extraordinarily difficult challenges to engage in politics and to come and sit at the table. So that’s an issue that’s global, but for me, it’s glaring on the continent, and we have to address those issues.
The second one is the youth concerns, the youth bulge, Africa’s a medium age – I think when I was Assistant Secretary it was 19 and I think it has since dropped to 18. I know that Niger’s median age is 15. So, we’re talking about a continent of young people, extraordinarily young people. And we need to address their hopes and desires for the future. Otherwise, they lose hope and they become radicalized. They’re easy preys. They’re easy prey for trafficking, and easy prey for taking the risk of trying to migrate across the Mediterranean and to be faced with difficulties there. They become prey to criminalization, and they become prey to terrorism. We need to give them a sense of hope. We need to help them best invest in the futures of their country and the future of the continent. I am just wowed by the young people that I’ve made on the African continent, from the those who are part of the Young African Leaders Initiative to just ordinary young people that that I meet, and we have to invest in these young people.
And then I would just add, the diaspora has to work closer together. We talk about the diaspora as if it’s a unified thing. It’s not. I’m being truthful to this group. It is not unified. When I go on college campuses and see that first- and second-generation Africans who are Americans are not associating with African Americans, and that people find, you know, even though they’re Americans, they’re Nigerian first and they’re Ghanaian first. And I literally talk to a young group of people on a university campus who told me they didn’t engage with African Americans on the campus. We have to fix that. We have to come together as a diaspora and have the word diaspora makes sense. Because a unified diaspora is so much stronger than just individuals from individual countries. And I think there’s more work that we all need to do, to have the diaspora be a real advocacy group for the continent of Africa. And we need to strengthen that, that the core of the Diaspora
QUESTION: Amen. Thank you. Thank you for that Ambassador. That is the sermon that I have begun to preach from USADF as well. This is one of the first years that we actually have funding from Congress set aside specifically for us to do more in-depth diaspora engagement. And one of the things that I have in the forefront of my mind is in fact, the definition of the term diaspora. And one of the things that I have been saying is that, you know, there is this historic diaspora and there is the contemporary diaspora. And usually when it is said, folks are referencing, African migrants to the United States, maybe who came in the 60s or 70s. But certainly, as we know, the members of our community descended from Africa, but have been in the Western World for many centuries. And so, we are working in just that line. As we prepare to close, Ambassador, just one final question for you, as we see, in some spaces, kind of the resurgence of the popularity of the idea of localized development and the localized approach to development. I think about your role now, not only as USUN Ambassador, but also as a former board member of USADF, and I was wondering if you could share, from your wealth of experience about the localized approach to development and ways in which we might engage in the present and future to improve some of the challenges that we’ve discussed this afternoon.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I’m glad you asked that. I always appreciated the ADF approach to develop it going directly to the people directly to the source and having impact directly on people’s lives. And so, while I served on the board while as the Assistant Secretary for Africa, I saw a number of your programs that you were investing in across the continent of Africa. And what was interesting to me is they weren’t billion-dollar programs. Many of them most of them weren’t even million-dollar programs. But they were programs that really impacted people’s lives very directly and very quickly, and you could see the impact of your injection of support to an individual who wants to do business.
To give you an example, I think you gave $25,000 when I was on the board. We gave it to YALI business fellows who wanted an investment in their businesses, and I saw one of the projects that you invested in, where you gave $25,000 to a woman who was developing animal feed. And it was very high-quality animal feed, but she didn’t have good packaging. And $25,000 was all she needed to get the machinery and to develop the packaging that she needed. And she went from a little small warehouse – and I’m thinking this was in Nigeria – and she went from a small warehouse to by the time we visited her, she had moved to a larger warehouse, and she was growing out of that warehouse.
So sometimes it’s not millions that people need. It’s thousands that they need that will be the difference between them being a successful businessperson or mediocre businessperson who can’t move from poverty. And you want to be able to inject that funding to move people from poverty to prosperity and ADF does that.
QUESTION: Fantastic. Thank you so much for that, Ambassador. You know, I love you. We are so honored by your presence this afternoon. Want to be respectful of your time and your team. Thank you all so much for doing this with us. And know please, that we are friends and allies and here to be supportive and engage with you all as often as possible. And I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of those who joined us this afternoon from all across the continent. I see you shouting out your locations. We’re honored by your presence as well. Happy Africa Day to everyone.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you. So let me join you in wishing everyone a Happy Africa Day. I’m seeing all of the messages that are coming through. I wish I could just sit in my computer and answer all of you. I apologize that I’m not able to answer you, but I read as many as I could as they were popping on the screen. So happy Africa Day, happy Africa Year, and let’s work together to help Africa achieve the potential that we all know is there that is currently untapped. We just need to start the process of tapping that and moving the continent forward.