Obama Administration Turns Attention Toward Africa

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Secretary of State John Kerry is in Ethiopia for celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the pan-African body, now known as the African Union. Kerry's trip comes about a month before President Obama also heads to Africa. Host Rachel Martin speaks with NPR's Gregory Warner.


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in the capital of Ethiopia this weekend. He was attending the 50th anniversary summit of the African Union, and he was laying the groundwork for President Obama's trip to Africa in the next month. Our East Africa correspondent Gregory Warner is in Addis Ababa. He joins us now. Hi, Greg. Thanks for being with us.


MARTIN: So, you spent the day with the secretary. How was he received?

WARNER: Oh, he was warmly received. He had a busy schedule. I should mention that I'm talking to you now from a giant warehouse, a sort of big tent that they've set up for the journalists, kind of just adjacent to where the heads of state are meeting. He was very clear about the intention of his visit last month when he announced it, that this was in large part about the United States needing to play catch-up in Africa economically because other countries are getting very involved. And the secretary mentioned China, of course, but there's also Brazil and Japan and Russia and Iran. So, Kerry came here to try to change that. And the other thing clearly on the secretary's agenda is the increasing military importance of the African Union in intervening in some of the most troubled areas in Africa today. We're talking Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo. There's talk about Mali. So, Kerry also came here just to publicly recognize that.

MARTIN: You mention some of the conflicts on the African continent. There's another one really heating up right now in Nigeria. The government there is battling Islamist militants in the north, as you know. Now, the Nigerian government is accused of all kinds of atrocities. Did Secretary Kerry address what's happening there?

WARNER: Yeah. Kerry actually spent a lot of time talking about Nigeria and how the stakes are incredibly high. The country has some 80 to 90 million Muslim citizens - somewhere around that. And if Nigerian soldiers, in fighting terrorism, are seen as committing these atrocities against Muslims and not just against terrorists, that creates a very, very dangerous situation for the country and for the region, of course. Secretary Kerry had a chance to speak with the president of Nigeria directly at the lunch that they organized for all the heads of state.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: We have talked about the imperative of Nigerian troops adhering to the highest standards and not themselves engaging in atrocities or in human rights violations. That is critical. And the balance comes by having strong leadership.

MARTIN: Next month, Gregory, President Obama, as we mentioned, is making a trip to Africa along with the first lady. Are there any clues from Secretary Kerry's trip as to what might be on the president's agenda when he visits?

WARNER: The president's scheduled to visit three countries: Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa. And the president himself has already made it clear that American investment is a big, big part of what he's trying to encourage. The question for both Kerry's visit and for President Obama's visit is how does that political trip translate into businesses actually deciding to invest. 'Cause I can just say from experience, you know, walking into Ethiopian restaurants the past few days that I meet a lot of foreign investors who have all kinds of big plans, you know, for solar panel factory or a mobile phone business. But invariably that person is not American. They're Chinese or they're Brazilian or Israeli. So, that's a question that everybody's trying to answer is why more Americans aren't investing. But clearly, these back-to-back visits and then another forum that's supposed to happen in August, it's all about trying to get Americans to think about trying to make their fortune in Africa.

MARTIN: Gregory Warner. He is NPR's East Africa correspondent. Gregory, thanks so much for talking with us.

WARNER: Thank you, Rachel.

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