Rice: White House Summit To Show Africa's Potential To Investors

Steve Inskeep talks with White House Senior Advisor Susan Rice about the Africa Summit underway in Washington. She'll also address other matters now pressing on the Obama administration.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Think of a summit meeting in Washington this week is part of a new scramble for Africa.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

That's a phrase from the colonial area, when European nations scrambled to own most of that continent.

GREENE: This new scramble is different - independent African nations, for all their problems, have growing economies.

INSKEEP: And great powers from around the world are competing for access to African resources and markets.

GREENE: And the United States is hosting African leaders in an effort to get more seriously in that game.

INSKEEP: Now, in our reporting this week, we're hearing the voices of African presidents, African business leaders and right now, a U.S. official who wants U.S. companies to play a bigger role. She is President Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice. How is it Ambassador Rice, that China and Europe are seen as so far ahead of the United States when it comes to investing in Africa?

SUSAN RICE: Well, Europe of course has the history of its colonial relationship with Africa that has led it to have long-standing economic ties. Chinas are much more recent. China has largely gone in and invested heavily in minerals, oil, other resources. It has also invested in infrastructure. But typically the nature of China's engagement is it brings in thousands of Chinese workers and uses Chinese to build roads, build buildings, rather than giving jobs and opportunity and capacity building for Africans, which is a real distinction between the American approach and the Chinese approach. The American approach is not to bring in a bunch of foreigners to take jobs from Africa, but it's actually to build Africa capacity.

INSKEEP: Well, let me try to clarify that if I can because we're hearing from Tony Elumelu (ph) - he's a Nigerian businessman, very prominent part of this summit and known to you at the White House. And he said for better or worse, we know what China wants. They want resources, they're willing to give infrastructure. He went on to say we don't know what America wants. Why is there such confusion in Africa about what the United States really wants out of this relationship?

RICE: Well, I don't know Steve if there's confusion - what we want is for Africa to thrive, for Africa to create jobs for its own people, for Africa to live in peace and security. Why do we want that? Because it's in the United States interest, and it's in the interest of the wider international community. A strong Africa that can tend to itself is able to deal with the threat of terrorism, the threat of international criminal organizations or infectious disease as we are even seeing today with respect to the Ebola challenge.

INSKEEP: Is part of the problem that you're dealing with individual American investors and individual American companies and they say well, that's a place that has Ebola, that's a place that has terrorism, that's a place that - perhaps most gravely from a business perspective - has corruption, that it's not worth the risk?

RICE: I think that is part of the challenge - that there's a big gap, Steve, in the perception of Africa, particularly the perception of Africa in the United States, and the perception of Africa in other parts of the world. One of the main objectives of this summit is to enable American investors, both those that are from the corporate world and those who might be involved in small and medium size enterprises, to see Africa's potential. Clearly the competitors have figured this out. We're a little bit behind, both in terms of how our business community views Africa, but I think also, Steve, how the American people view Africa. Africa is not a place solely of conflict, poverty and disease - quite the contrary. It's vibrant, it's growing, its increasingly peaceful and democratic. And sure there are huge troubles, including endemic corruption. But what is new and different about Africa, and we're seeing this here in the context of the summit, is that Africans are coming together to fight corruption.

INSKEEP: Ambassador Rice, I want to ask about a country in North Africa, Libya, where, as you know very well, conditions are so chaotic, the U.S. Embassy has had to be moved out of the country. As you look back over the last three years of U.S. involvement in the overthrow and the aftermath of the overthrow of Moammar Gahdafi, has the United States had the right level of engagement to ensure a successful outcome in Libya?

RICE: Well, Steve, before I answer the latter part of your question, let me just clarify something important; the United States hasn't moved its embassy, the United States has temporarily suspended our embassy operations...

INSKEEP: OK.

RICE: ...And taken our staff out. Our staff is now working out of next door line Tunisia. But the problem that is bedeviling Libya is that the militias that were so very involved in the revolution to overthrow Gahdafi have now split amongst themselves.

INSKEEP: Right.

RICE: And are fighting now in the urban areas, including in Tripoli and Benghazi. And it's the fighting between the militias that has necessitated this temporary suspension of our embassy operations...

INSKEEP: Well, that's I wondering about, Ambassador Rice. There's a study in Foreign Affairs magazine in the latest issue of it that looks at more than a century of uprisings - violent and nonviolent. And it seems to - when you look at history - it seems to be fairly predictable that when you have a violent overthrow of a government as in Libya, you're going to have chaos, maybe years of chaos afterward. Wasn't this a predictable crisis?

RICE: Steve, I don't know if you would necessarily say it was predictable. Each of these circumstances are different. What was predictable was that Gahdafi governed for 40 years and never created the institutions of state. There were never functioning ministries, functioning public service - even a credible army because Gahdafi feared having a strong army, which is why it was able to be toppled by militia. So Libya began post-Gahdafi as a shell of a state. But the reality is there was very little there beforehand. And the Libyans have struggled to be able to establish these institutions.

INSKEEP: Having become involved in the overthrow of Gahdafi, should the United States have done more since to ensure a better outcome?

RICE: Well, Steve, certainly the United States feels a commitment of partnership to Libya and we have invested, as I said, quite heavily over the course of the last few years to try to support Libya's transformation. We had, as you're well aware, the tragic loss of our ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi in 2012. And that certainly necessitated a draw down in that context of our personnel and presence. But there remains a question of creating the institutions of a functioning state.

INSKEEP: Susan Rice is the national security adviser. She's at the White House. Thanks very much.

RICE: Thank you.

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