Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
On U.S. – Africa Relations: A New Framework
George Manson University, Fairfax, Virginia
March 6, 2018
MR CABRERA: Good morning, everyone. Thank you so much for being with us today for a very, very special presentation. I’m honored to welcome our Secretary of State to George Mason, who, as you know, is on his way to a very important trip to Africa. And I’m slightly biased, but I think his choice of George Mason for this presentation couldn’t be any better.
George Mason is the home to students and faculty from over 130 countries, and we have made it as part of our mission to make sure that we are educating students to engage in a very interconnected world. We sometimes define ourselves as wanting to be a university for the world.
Secretary Tillerson, who’s now beginning his second year on the job, obviously, who was not a politician or a government person by training, and yet there are aspects of his career when you think about it make him absolutely perfect for this job assignment. You know that he ran ExxonMobil for a number of years, since 2006 until 2017. You know that Exxon is one of the largest publicly-held companies in the world and one of the most global companies. So yeah, it is pretty intimidating to run the State Department with over 44,000 employees, plus another 44,000 local employees all over the world, and a $50-plus billion budget. But that’s actually smaller than what he used to run when he was at the helm of ExxonMobil. Plus he has spent a lot of time around the world running operations in the Middle East and in many other parts of the world.
Most importantly, I think for this job, is that he was an Eagle Scout. And being a Boy Scout not only prepared him very well, but it marked him so much that he decided to serve the organization. And his – he served as president of the Boy Scouts of America for a number of years.
So again, on behalf of the Mason community and without much more to say, just please join me in welcoming our Secretary of State, Mr. Rex Tillerson. (Applause.)
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Thank you. Thank you so much, Dr. Cabrera, for the warm welcome. And it is a pleasure to be here at George Mason, and I’m pleased always to meet a Fulbright alum, as well as a fellow engineer. And we appreciate George Mason University hosting the African and African American Studies program here and for the work it does on many, many important topics that we’ll be discussing this morning.
Later today I will be leaving on my first official visit to Sub-Saharan Africa – not my first visit to Africa, as I made many, many trips and many visits during my past career, but it’s a trip that really began its planning and originated back in November following a ministerial of 37 African nations and the African Union hosted at the State Department. Our conversation during that summit focused on counterterrorism, democracy and governance issues, and strengthening trade and investment ties with the continent – and these are all themes that I’ll address in a moment.
As I said, in my previous life, I spent quite a bit of time in Africa. And my firm belief is that there is ample opportunity on the continent – for economic growth, for greater prosperity, and for responding to global challenges through mutually respectful partnerships. I do look forward to returning and building on a strong foundation of U.S.-Africa relations. And that includes visiting Chad, a country that has never before welcomed a visit by the Secretary of State.
Over the past century, as African nations emerged from their colonial past, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in America’s engagement with Africa. The State Department created the Africa Bureau in 1958 – a year following then-Vice President Richard Nixon’s trip to the continent. Ghana had invited the Vice President and Martin Luther King, Jr. to attend their independence day celebration – an event that took place exactly 61 years ago today.
A few years later, President John F. Kennedy established USAID with an eye toward African development, and our first Peace Corps volunteers arrived in Ghana and Tanzania. Forty years ago this month, President Jimmy Carter visited Liberia and Nigeria, where he announced that “our nation has now turned in an unprecedented way toward Africa.”
Today that turning continues. Our country’s security and economic prosperity are linked with Africa’s like never before. That will only intensify in the coming decades for the following reasons:
First: A major demographic shift. By the year 2030, Africa will represent about one quarter of the world’s workforce. And by the year 2050, the population of the continent is expected to double to more than 2.5 billion people – with 70 percent of them under the age of 30.
And second: Africa is experiencing significant economic growth. The World Bank estimates that six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world this year will be African.
For context, by the year 2050, Nigeria will have a population larger than the United States and an economy larger than Australia’s.
To understand where the world is going, one must understand that Africa is a significant part of the future. African countries will factor more and more into numerous global security and development challenges, as well as expansive opportunities for economic growth and influence.
While Africa contains a wealth of diversity – among its peoples, its cultures, and its governments – there are common challenges and opportunities. Africa’s vitality is reflected in its youth, but a growing population of young people means a requirement for more jobs. As more Africans move out of poverty, nations will require more infrastructure and development. The growing population of young people, if left without jobs and a hope for the future, will create new ways for terrorists to exploit the next generation, subverting stability and derailing democratic governments. Leaders will be challenged to innovate and to manage the limited financial resources they have.
As we look ahead, this administration seeks to deepen our partnership with Africa, with an aim of making African countries more resilient and more self-sufficient. That serves our partners, and it serves the United States as well by creating a stable future for all of our children and our grandchildren.
The future of stability is dependent on security – the condition that is necessary for economic prosperity and strong institutions. Without it, none of the other pieces can be put into place.
Today, the long reach of terrorism threatens to steal the future of countless individuals. This August, we will remember the hundreds of lives lost 20 years ago in the U.S. embassy attacks in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam – where hundreds of lives ended.
Since that day, thousands more have died at the hands of terrorists in Africa. Terrorist attacks rose from less than 300 in 2009, to more than 1,500 in each of the years 2015, 2016, and ’17. And more recently, we witnessed again the heartbreak of the abduction of more than 100 Nigerian schoolgirls – ripped from their families, forever changing their future.
Last week, in response to this growing threat, I designated and the United States sanctioned seven ISIS-affiliated groups, including ISIS-West Africa and ISIS-Somalia and their leaders in an effort to cut off the resources that these groups use to carry out attacks.
To prevail against such evil forces, the United States has committed to working with African partners to rid the continent and the world of terrorism by addressing the drivers of conflict that lead to radicalization and recruitment in the first place, and building the institutional law enforcement capacity of African nations. We want to help Africa states provide security for their citizens in a lawful manner.
Today African nations are stepping up to take action, including the sacrifices that go with such commitment.
Terrorism knows no borders. In the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin, Boko Haram, ISIS-West Africa, al-Qaida in the Maghreb and other groups are adaptable, they’re resilient, and capable of launching attacks throughout the area. Regional cooperation is crucial to disrupting those attacks and denying them the capability to plan and carry them out in the future.
The Multinational Joint Task Force – created by Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Benin, and Cameroon – along with the Group of Five Sahel nations, or the G5 – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger – are pooling expertise and resources. Their work is instrumental in achieving African-led solutions to terrorism and instability.
Last October, I announced that the United States would contribute more to these regional efforts. We committed up to $60 million toward the G5’s counterterrorism efforts – to enable them to train and equip members of the Joint Force and counter terrorist propaganda throughout these communities.
In addition, for more than a decade, the United States has supported the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership to provide training and promote cooperation between military, law enforcement, and civil actors across North and West Africa. We have deployed a similar approach in East Africa, with the Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism, or PREACT. Since 2016, the United States has contributed more than $140 million to help partners prevent terrorist safe havens and the recruitment through these partnerships.
The United States is grateful for the African Union’s leadership in a growing, multilateral role. The AU Mission in Somalia – or AMISOM – includes troops from five African countries, stabilizing areas under attack from al-Shabaab and permitting much needed aid to reach the Somali people. I look forward to meeting with AU Commission Chairperson Faki on my upcoming trip to explore more ways in which we can work together to counter terrorism on the continent.
The United States’ role in these and other regional and multilateral efforts is to build capacity – not dependency – so our partners can provide for their own security. That’s true of our approach to peacekeeping on the continent as well.
As the largest contributor of peacekeeping capacity-building in Africa, the United States trains, deploys, and sustains forces that provide counterterrorism support, remove landmines, and facilitate peaceful transitions of power. This creates security, allows health – excuse me – allows health, food, and other services to reach areas of need.
Last year, the United States supported more than 27,000 African peacekeepers from over 20 African countries. Here too more African countries have taken ownership of their future. A decade ago, Africans made up only about 20 percent of peacekeeping forces on the continent. Today that number exceeds 50 percent.
As we support important security efforts, we must work to find long-term diplomatic solutions to conflicts that cause so much human suffering. Until we do, the United States, as the world’s largest provider of humanitarian assistance, will continue to stand with those most vulnerable.
As a testament to that commitment, today I’m announcing $533 million in additional humanitarian assistance to fight famine and food insecurity and address other needs resulting from conflicts in Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Lake Chad Basin. The alarming levels of hunger in these areas are largely man-made, as conflicts erupt and people flee their homes. Under these conditions, people cannot produce crops and often lose access altogether to food, education, and health care. Many lose everything. And regrettably, Mother Nature can still be cruel, such as in the Horn of Africa, where a prolonged drought is contributing to grave food insecurity.
These additional funds will provide emergency food, nutrition assistance, and other aid, including safe drinking water, thousands of tons of food, and deliver health programs to prevent the spread of deadly diseases like cholera to millions of people. This will save lives.
The American people, as we always have been, are there to partner with African countries to ensure their most vulnerable populations receive life-saving assistance. We also call upon others to join us in meeting the growing humanitarian needs in Africa. We hope these initial contributions will encourage others to contribute aid to increase burden sharing and meet the growing humanitarian needs in Africa. However, this assistance will not solve these ongoing conflicts, but only buy us time – time to pursue diplomatic solutions.
As many African countries assume greater responsibility to address their needs at home, the United States needs our partners in Africa to take an active role on the global stage as well. One area where we seek greater cooperation is our peaceful pressure campaign to bring the DPRK to the negotiating table.
North Korea threatens the entire global community through its unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile programs and proliferation activities, including its arms exports to Africa. It doesn’t just involve our allies in Europe or Asia. It doesn’t just include countries with longstanding ties to the DPRK, like China and Russia. This is and must be a global effort.
Last month, during my trip to South America, I spoke candidly with my counterparts about ways they are actively working to contribute to this pressure campaign. Nations in Africa need to do more.
Angola and Senegal have taken steps to exert some diplomatic and economic pressure. The Ethiopian Government has made public commitments of support as well. But many African nations are holding back. We hope they will add their voices to that of the international community and end these diplomatic, economic, or weapons programs with the regime in North Korea.
Security on the continent is a prerequisite for greater prosperity. And greater stability will, of course, attract greater United States trade and investment with African nations, leading to further development, building on what we have accomplished through the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA.
AGOA has been the cornerstone of U.S. trade policy in Africa for almost two decades now. And with AGOA, we’ve seen a lot of progress. Total non-oil goods trade has more than doubled from $13 billion a year to almost $30 billion a year. In fact, last year, total U.S. trade climbed to $38.5 billion, up from $33 billion in 2016.
We’re encouraged by the actions of many of our African partners who are seeking ways to expand trade with the United States. On his trip to the United States last week, President Akufo-Addo of Ghana addressed the National Governors Association, the first African president to do so. He talked about his desire – his people’s desire – to transition from poverty to prosperity in a generation. The United States wants to help enable the public and private sectors in Africa and here at home to make that a reality.
Africa still has vast, undeveloped natural resources. Private sector expertise in the United States can facilitate the responsible development of those resources, helping bring more Africans out of poverty to share in the economic values of those resources. But significant transcontinental infrastructure is necessary to support the development, spur economic growth, and boost intraregional trade on the continent.
Today only about 12 percent of total African exports are delivered to their neighboring countries on the continent. Compare that to 25 percent among ASEAN countries and more than 60 percent in Europe, and the potential for more economic prosperity through trade on the continent itself is quite evident. As African nations achieve greater regional integration through lowering tariff barriers and improving transport, energy, and infrastructure links, that will create more opportunities for U.S. businesses, investment, and transatlantic trade.
And importing American business practices and expertise provides the best combination for Africa’s future by contributing to economic prosperity, equipping African nations with new capabilities, and doing so in an open, transparent framework. That is why we want to create the new development finance institution. DFIs are specialized government banks designed to support private sector development to improve development effectiveness. We’re working with Congress to give the United States the ability to compete with countries that already utilize finance to achieve their goals in the developing world.
Power Africa, a USAID-led program, is one of the largest public-private partnerships in the continent’s development history. Established five years ago, Power Africa was created to provide African countries access to one of the most basic needs for development: electricity. Today tens of millions of Africans – across Sub-Saharan Africa – have access to electricity in part because of commitments from more than 140 private sector partners. Our aim is to provide 30,000 megawatts of power by the year 2030 – or 60 million new connections – to reach 300 million Africans. Administrator Green announced Power Africa 2.0 just last week to expand even more power opportunities.
The United States is eager to reduce barriers to trade and investment with our African partners, helping African countries transition from dependency toward self-sufficiency, growing their middle class, and better integrating African economies with the rest of the world.
To prepare for the future and realize the continent’s potential requires an educated and a healthy workforce. This is true all over the world, but it takes on even more urgency, given Africa’s expanding youth population.
The Young Africans Leaders Initiative is one way the State Department and USAID are investing in the next generation of African leaders. YALI provides leadership and professional development training to up-and-coming African leaders on the importance of a free press, how to build more resilient institutions, and even how to start a business. Today, YALI has over 500,000 members and representatives from every Sub-Saharan country.
Through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, better known as PEPFAR, the United States has transformed the global HIV/AIDS response. And nowhere is this more evident than in Africa.
When PEPFAR began 15 years ago, an HIV diagnosis was a death sentence. In the hardest-hit parts of Africa, infant mortality had doubled, child mortality had tripled, and life expectancy had dropped by 20 years. One in three adults were living with HIV. Millions of orphans were left behind. And only 50,000 people were receiving HIV treatments. Today, the American people, through PEPFAR, have provided lifesaving treatments to over 13.3 million men, women, and children. It has allowed more than 2.2 million babies to be born HIV-free and continues to support more than 6.4 million orphans, vulnerable children, and their caregivers.
This administration is committed to saving lives in Africa. Last September, I announced the PEPFAR Strategy for Accelerating HIV/AIDS Epidemic Control for 2017 to 2020. The strategy is a roadmap to achieve epidemic control in more than 50 countries within three years. It outlines a path to accelerate our work in 12 high-HIV-burden countries in Africa who are poised to achieve epidemic control by 2020. We can actually now see a future free of HIV/AIDS. It’s just ahead of us, and that’s critical to Africa’s future
For security, trade and investment, and economic development to sustain itself requires effective and accountable government institutions that earn the trust and support of their citizens. Peace and prosperity are only possible in a democratic society. Media freedom, open communications, religious freedom, and a vibrant civil society foster creativity, ideas, and the human energy for economic growth. Today, Africa has much to gain by creating stronger, more transparent, democratic institutions that reflect their citizens’ voices, that reject corruption, and protect and promote human rights.
The African Union estimates that Africa has lost hundreds of billions of dollars to corruption – hundreds of billions that was not invested in education, infrastructure, or security. Bribes and corruption keep people in poverty. They encourage inequality and they undercut the citizens’ faith in their own government. Legitimate investment stays away, and insecurity and instability grows, creating conditions ripe for terrorism and conflict. We strongly support the African Union’s summit’s highlighting and encouraging efforts on “Winning the Fight Against Corruption.” We hope this year’s theme is only the beginning of a more sustained, long-term focus on anti-corruption.
In support of this theme, the United States will continue its work with African countries to strengthen their democratic institutions. Last month, the State Department requested $137 million from Congress to support democracy, human rights, and government programs to create more transparent, less corrupt institutions that value consensus building over conflict.
Democracy requires transitions of power through free and fair elections. It also needs a vibrant civil society and independent media to help inform citizens and keep them connected to their government. Last year, the United States helped support free and peaceful elections in Liberia, a country that hadn’t experienced a peaceful transition of power in decades. That included civic and voter education programs with a focus on youth, women, and other hard-to-reach, first-time voters, and working with media to promote responsible reporting.
And the Fiscal Transparency Initiative Fund helps governments create more transparent, publicly available budgets, and equips civil society to advocate for areas of improvement. The United States is currently working on 31 projects – and is about to award nine more – throughout Africa. Already, the Financial Transparency Initiative Fund has helped Kenya, Chad, and Malawi develop measures to fight bribery and better serve their own people.
We also keep good governance initiatives in mind when it comes to development. As Secretary of State, I am chairman of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, or MCC. Through this agency designed to reduce poverty, the United States is able to incentivize good governance – including greater transparency – by tying it to development assistance. And about 60 percent of MCC’s funding goes to Africa. Last November, we signed a $524 million compact with Cote d’Ivoire to improve its education and transportation sectors. This was only possible after the country had implemented policies to strengthen economic freedom, democratic principles, human rights, and to fight corruption. Spurring reforms before a dollar of U.S. taxpayer money is even spent is the MCC’s model.
It’s an American model of development that has proven itself to work.
The United States pursues, develops sustainable growth that bolsters institutions, strengthens rule of law, and builds the capacity of African countries to stand on their own two feet. We partner with African countries by incentivizing good governance to meet long term security and development goals.
This stands in stark contrast to China’s approach, which encourages dependency using opaque contracts, predatory loan practices, and corrupt deals that mire nations in debt and undercut their sovereignty, denying them their long-term, self-sustaining growth. Chinese investment does have the potential to address Africa’s infrastructure gap, but its approach has led to mounting debt and few, if any, jobs in most countries. When coupled with the political and fiscal pressure, this endangers Africa’s natural resources and its long-term economic political stability.
We welcome other countries’ involvement in the development of Africa; in fact, it is needed. That’s what the free market is all about, competition leading to more opportunities. But we want to see responsible development and transparent free market practices that foster greater political stability on the continent. We hope China will join us in this effort as well.
The United States sees a bright future in Africa. We have an opportunity to be part of Africa’s journey to a stable, prosperous future for its people. Each of these priorities – trade and investment, good governments – governance, respect for human rights, combatting terrorism and instability – have the same guiding principle in mind: to help African countries build the capacity to take care of their own people.
There are no quick fixes to these challenges, but the United States is committed to meeting them in partnership with nations of Africa so that the continent can increasingly become a place of prosperity and freedom in the 21st century. Thank you for your very kind attention. (Applause.)
MR CABRERA: Thank you so much. Thank you so much. I’ve been collecting a few questions from the audience, some from the faculty, some from students, so I’m going to maybe follow a little bit of a —
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Go to the hard ones from the students.
MR CABRERA: — (inaudible). Since you insist, here’s one. So the first one is maybe more of a personal nature, which is the reasons that led you to accept this position. As I mentioned earlier, you were leading one of the – really the largest companies that the world has ever seen, and not only that, you were CEO. You were your own boss. I mean, you had a board, but you were your own boss, and all of a sudden, why do this?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I was within three months of mandatory retirement. (Laughter.)
MR CABRERA: That helps.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: But I had – this was not in my retirement plans. I thought I was going to the ranch to spend more time with the life that I love and with my grandchildren. But the President-elect asked me to do this, and as I thought about it, this is – I’ve told this story to a few other audiences, and it is how I got to the decision. When I was 18 years old, at that time we still had a mandatory military draft. It was the Vietnam War. And I registered for the draft, and they had a lottery system whereby people were selected. You got a number, and they pulled numbers until they met their draft quotas. And they got within three of my number my freshman year of college, and the year came and went, and my number was 89, they got to 86. And so I stayed in college, got a great education, got hired by a great company, had 41 and a half wonderful years, a dream career I never could have hoped for. My father is a veteran, World War II, fought in the war in the Pacific. My uncle is a retired major in the Army, did three tours of duty in Vietnam. And as I reflected on things at that point, I said I hadn’t really done anything yet. It’s my time to serve, and that’s why I’m doing it.
MR CABRERA: Thank you for that. Now, you went to Texas at Austin, joined Exxon, and you may or may not have anticipated how incredibly global your own career would end up being. I’m guessing if you had known what was going to – what your life was going to be like, you would have maybe prepped yourself a little better. Some of the folks in the audience still have the chance to make choices —
SECRETARY TILLERSON: (Laughter.) Right.
MR CABRERA: — about what they do with their years in college, and this is a favor I’m asking you, because I’m pushing our students to go abroad, and some of them still don’t believe why they should. So help me – what is the best plug that you can make for why should students go abroad? And then the follow up to that is: When they go abroad, they decide to go, for reasons still surprise me, to the UK, to Italy – well, Spain is not surprising, it’s an awesome place to visit. (Laughter.)
MR CABRERA: So, why they should go to Africa, for example? So —
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I think – in my first trip abroad I was a freshman in college, and I had an opportunity to travel to Peru. There had been a terrible earthquake, a big humanitarian disaster, two cities had been literally buried under thirty meters of a mountain that collapsed. And it led to a big flow of people out of the mountains into the edges of Lima and a terrible refugee camp was set up. So I went down to Peru on a five-day mission during the Christmas holiday to bring awareness to that situation, so that was my first opportunity. It had a tremendous impact on me because I hadn’t – in fact, it was only the second time I had ever flown on an airplane. It was the first time I got a passport. And it was really the first time I had a connection to the world outside and realized how interconnected we are and how we’re just all human beings trying to get through life, no matter where you are.
I think today the case for going abroad is even more compelling than at that time in my life, because all of you know the world has transformed so dramatically. The global – our economies have transformed so dramatically. Our own security has transformed so dramatically. And today, it is – it is all interconnected, and you simply cannot think about economic issues, you cannot think about security issues without thinking about them in a global context. And so, whether you’re just continuing your journey and your education to expand your understanding of why you’re spending the time hitting those books every night and writing those papers, it will completely change your perspective and understanding to go abroad and spend time in someone else’s nation as the person that’s not a citizen and see the life from their perspective, but also hear their perspective of how they look back at us. And it’s – it will be probably the most valuable component of your education that you can put into place.
And then beyond that, this is going to continue, this interconnectedness of the world. The world is – really is – while physically it’s the same size as it was the day God created it, for us, the people who occupy the planet, it is getting smaller and smaller and it is getting smaller at an exponential rate. And your generation is going to have to deal with that, and it brings with it an entire new dimension of challenges my generation is only seeing the front edge of. And it’s important – the earlier you begin to understand that and how to interact with it, the better prepared you’ll be for that in the future. And besides all of that, I promise you it’ll be exciting.
And go to the hard places. Don’t go to the easy places. Like I said, I went to Lima, Peru. I went out into the mountains and the jungles. It was quite an experience to see how people exist around the world. Go to the hard places. It’ll change you.
MR CABRERA: Thank you, by the way. Appreciate that. We’ll take that and use it. (Laughter.) The – so now you’re – in preparing for this trip to Africa, you’ve picked five countries. How much of that is your own choice and based on your own experience in those countries? How much of that is sort of kind of technical decisions from your team? And at the end, why? Why those five countries out of all the many choices?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, it’s – obviously, I wished I had two or three weeks, because there are many African nations that are important to us that I think a visit would be beneficial to the relationship. But we picked these five. We’re going to Ethiopia. Ethiopia is the home of the African Union; that’s where it is located, their headquarters. Ethiopia also a very longstanding, important partner with the U.S. We have a relationship with Ethiopia that spans more than a century now.
Then we’re going to stop in on Djibouti, the Horn of Africa. Djibouti is that country that sticks out right into the narrow straits between Yemen, leading into the Red Sea up to the Suez Canal, a very critical trading route for the world’s economy and a critical partner in securing that trading route.
Then we’re going to Kenya, a large, thriving country. It’s really where PEPFAR has seen its greatest success, and it’s also been an incubator for how we expanded PEPFAR over the years. So we have a longstanding partnership with Kenya.
Then we’re going to Chad – N’Djamena, Chad – because Chad contributes the largest fighting force to the G5 Sahel and they have been crucial to our fight against terrorism in the Sahel and the success of what they’re doing.
And then finally to Nigeria, the most populous nation on the African continent. Tremendous natural resources and tremendous capabilities to succeed as a nation. They’re still on their journey to succeed, and they are going to be critical to not just the relationship the U.S. has with Africa, but Nigeria is going to be critical to how Africa succeeds as a continent. And I spoke about the need to integrate African economies more, trade more with the neighbors. I think too often the U.S. in its approach – it’s all been about trading across the transatlantic corridor. We really need to promote African intercontinental trade. That’s actually going to open more opportunities for American investment and participation. So Nigeria, big country, very important country to the future of the continent.
And there – I’d love – there are others I’d love to go to. I’ve traveled to North Africa, as I’m sure you’d be aware, but a lot of important countries in East Africa, South Africa, clearly, so obviously this won’t be my last trip. I’ll have to go back.
MR CABRERA: So you – as a CEO of ExxonMobil, of course you’ve engaged, and I’ve seen some of this. I’ve been a partner in an earlier life in some of the work of how private companies can play significant role in development of the economies where you do business. Now, when I look at the proposed budget for ’19, State Department is getting a pretty significant haircut, maybe a 25 percent cut, which I imagine is going to have to – it will force you to have to rely much more heavily on the private sector to achieve the diplomatic goals that you have. What are your thoughts about – are we going to see a bigger role in the private sector? And how do you bring them along?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Right. Well, first, on the budget itself – and that reduction’s relative to 2017’s budget because we’re still waiting on an ’18 final budget – but it also is a return to levels that are more historic for the State Department before the big run-up in the war against ISIS.
But yes, what we will be doing – and I mentioned that, touched on it in my remarks – is we want to facilitate more public-private partnerships. And we have mechanisms to do that and we have procedures and we’re putting in place some new financing ideas where we can help countries have access to financing so they can participate themselves in private sector investments as well.
And I think that is – I mean, our role really, I think the U.S. Government’s role, are the things that I stressed in there: one, to help with stability and security because if you don’t have stability and security, it’s tough to attract investment, it’s tough to educate people, it’s tough to feed people, to provide the bridging assistance in food security, on health areas, because again, as I touched on, the future is the young people. We got to have healthy young people, educated young people coming up. And then help with rules-based systems, so work with governments to put better laws in place, promote good courts and justice systems, and that’s what will lead to the eradication of corruption which has drained the continent of so much capacity in the past.
And I think that’s our role. The direct investments, we’re there to facilitate and we’re there to help companies understand what the opportunities are. If they need our help navigating through the local rules and whatnot, we’re there to help guide them through that. But it’s really to create the conditions in these countries where U.S. businesses and others – European businesses, Chinese, others to the extent they’re ready to participate under a rules-based system, they’re attracted because they see the conditions are there to be successful or at least have the opportunity to be successful. There’s no guarantees in life, and I learned that in the private sector. All I ever wanted was to understand the rules, that the rules weren’t going to change, and I had an opportunity to be successful. If we failed at it, we’ll accept that.
MR CABRERA: One last question. I’m reading some nonverbal messages – (laughter) – from your team. But the role of women in the future of Africa and my hope that you carry a very, very strong message – I know this is not new to you. I am aware of the investments that ExxonMobil made in women entrepreneurship. We know the impact that it has when women are kept in school instead of given into marriage. We know the impact that women have in improving health and the quality of life in communities. Let us – help us understand what our message is going to be in that regard.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, it is something that I gained an appreciation for more than 20 years ago in the private sector, and largely because of investments and business activities that my previous life had in Africa, but also in emerging economies and emerging government systems, including Russia and – which I spent a lot of time in as well. And what I learned through studies, academic studies, but also my own experience is so much about creating these conditions that I’ve talked about and so much about creating the conditions for people to thrive the way – and have a life like we enjoy is about breaking the cycle. And I was speaking earlier with the president of your student body about breaking the cycle and that we’re – I think we’re a generation away from breaking that cycle in Africa, but we have to stay at it.
An important element of that starts with women because it starts with mothers, and what we learned through our studies is that mothers – and probably this is true even here in this country, it was for me – mothers are the greatest influencers on how children are going to grow up – the values they hold, how they conduct themselves, and what they aspire to. And so first it’s important that we support women’s health first and their capacity to participate in the economic well-being of the country because too often we have women that are raising families without a lot of help from fathers. And so it starts with giving them capacity because they will raise better families.
But then secondly, putting women into not just the workforce, but the governance. They bring a very different perspective – and I see this in my private sector life, I saw it and I experienced it in the government sector as well – having a perspective brought that women bring, it’s different from ours. I mean, that’s – it’s not that it’s – it’s not that we’re bad, but we have gaps and we have blind spots and women fill those in for us. But I think it’s as much about anything – this is how we break the generational cycle is by really empowering women to fully participate in all aspects of our human life as mothers, as participants in the economy, as entrepreneurs, as participants in government. That is what will ultimately transform the next generation of leaders. Both men and women will be transformed by that and it’s particularly important in Africa. And part of this is the history and culture of Africa. We know it works because we’ve seen it work. We’ve seen it work in very distinct areas. We just have to grow it out now.
So it is crucial to, I think, the success of Africa creating a quality of life that we all want for people in the African continent. We want them to have the quality of life we have, and it’s an important element of how we’ll achieve that.
MR CABRERA: Mr. Secretary, we thank you again for coming to share that message with us, and most importantly for recognizing the huge importance that the African continent has for the rest of us, for carrying that message of economic development and opportunity, and for making Africa a priority. We wish you a productive and safe trip to Africa. Thank you so much.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Thank you, and all the best to George Mason. (Applause.)
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