Administrator Samantha Power Holds Press Conference

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, August 4, 2021


August 3, 2021
Khartoum, Sudan

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much. Thanks to all of you for coming out. Thank you Chargé, thanks also to Mervyn Farroe who runs the USAID Mission here. I’ve been really impressed in my time on the ground, at the energy and dedication, and deep feeling that the U.S. officials here who are part of the team have for this country, the Sudanese people, and this transition.  I appreciate also, Brian, the comment you make about immigrants; we get the job done, as they say in Hamilton, the musical, but I just want to say how America has also benefited so much from the Sudanese Americans who have come over the years -- but also how heartening it is to see so many coming back to make their contribution back in the country that they have missed so much over the decades.

Just a little while ago I delivered a speech at the University of Khartoum entitled "A New Generation of Giving," and you Sudanese, of course, may remember a "generation of giving", a line from a poem describing what happened here back in the 1960s when there was a protest movement and a democratic flowering, and that generation claimed, for its people, more freedom than they had had, but, of course, that freedom proved fleeting.  My speech was a call to young people and to the civil society of Sudan to continue to hold government officials and others accountable for the commitments they have made but also to consider entering public service in order to help guide the civilian-led transition after the 2019 revolution that ousted President Bashir.

I have only been in Sudan for four days on this visit, but just in that short time I have witnessed firsthand the seismic changes that have taken place in this country.  On my first day I visited Darfur, a region that I have last visited 17 years before, in 2004 during the genocidal campaign being carried out then by the previous regime.  On this trip I met with the relatively recently appointed civilian governor of North Darfur, who stressed to me the need for the donor community to think bigger and to support investments in good governance and civil society.  "We are going to democracy," he said, "we are going to democracy," and its just a contrast, for me, having visited Darfur all those years before.  The thought back then of a governor in that region talking about the importance of dedicating U.S. resources to strengthening civil society and pushing the cause of accountability and justice, that is not something that would have ever happened in the prior era.

I met with women at the Zam Zam IDP camp as well, they told me that living under Bashir, they were "living in a hole," -- living in a hole, and that now they felt they could finally breathe.  And back here, a couple days later, I met with the very brave student activist at a revolutionary mural here in the capitol, some of the individuals with whom I met had lost limbs or been previously wounded.  One woman had lost her eye, I met a father who had lost his son, who had been martyred in the protests, and one of the messages that they had was that the conditions under the past regime drew them into protest and drew them to the streets, but they said they had no idea where those protests would lead.  Those protests have led us here to a very precious and very fragile moment, it's a moment that is hopeful, and full of potential, and possibility, but it is, again, very fragile as well.

The young people I met at the mural told me that justice for their wounds -- physical wounds, psychosocial wounds, their losses, justice for the other lives lost during the revolution still escapes them.  The governor of North Darfur, the same man I mentioned, told me of the deep and difficult humanitarian needs that still persist, emergency needs, really, and the need to focus both on, of course, meeting those needs and addressing, in some cases, severe malnutrition for the displaced, particularly.  But also, to begin to focus on long term development, sustainable development.  So, humanitarian needs are still real and still large, but there is a development agenda now that is becoming more and more ambitious.  And that is true not just in Darfur, but in Eastern Sudan, in Gedaref where I went yesterday and -- or we went yesterday.

And where the government and the host communities have generously welcomed refugees from the Tigray region of Ethiopia into the country, so for all the economic difficulties that people are facing here because of COVID and because of some of the initial pain coming out of some of the really important economic reforms.  Notwithstanding all of that economic difficulties, still Sudanese communities are opening themselves up to new arrivals and people who have experienced violence.  Reminiscent of that which has occurred here in so many parts of the country.

I visited the Um Rakuba camp where I heard directly from women refugees who had suffered unspeakable violence as they attempted to escape Tigray, and who are still visibly traumatized.  And here, just to say there is no military solution to the Ethiopian conflict underway and the United States welcomes Sudan’s generosity as we in the international community together, do everything we can to encourage a cessation of hostilities and inclusive political dialogue.

With rising inflation and recent subsidy cuts, of course everywhere I have travelled, I have been able to see again, the hope and sense of possibility, but also the impatience and the frustration because, so far, the economic dividend on the revolution has not been felt by most Sudanese.  Sudan's future challenges are daunting, including the consolidation of the army and for armed opposition groups under a single unified command.  But the potential that Sudan has with all of its natural wealth and its human capital, that potential is enormous. And the United States, again, is committed to helping support Sudan's peaceful and civilian-led transition.  Today, I have shared three new efforts and examples I think that demonstrate that support, but there is much more.

First, I announced $56 million of new life-saving assistance to help people throughout Sudan's periphery with emergency healthcare and nutrition, water, sanitation, and hygiene programs.  And funds as well, that would protect the country's most marginalized populations.  So, that is the kind of a new infusion of resources and a very familiar aid relationship that we have with this country and that we maintain even when our governments were far apart, supporting internally displaced and also refugees outside this country.

But I also announced the arrival, which will happen on Thursday of this week, of 600,000 doses of U.S. provided Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccines.  And we are looking together, of course, not only on how to deal with the pandemic in the here and now, but how to support Sudan's own efforts to strengthen its health system.  And that's true, yes, of course, in internally displaced persons camps where there's still such gaping holes when it comes to maternal health, shortage of ambulances, and very, very basic needs not being met, but the health system as a whole. I met with the minister of health on this visit, I had the chance to discuss his ambitions and his sense of the priorities when it comes to the health of the Sudanese people.

These vaccines, of course, are important because of the emergency that you are facing in the here and now.  And the other last element that I mentioned in the speech and announced today involves elections.  2024 can feel like a long way off, there's so much that can happen between now and then, but it is never too soon to begin preparing for an election.  So, USAID will also contribute more than $4 million to support electoral processes and an independent election commission.  No one country can help with the Sudanese government, the Sudanese people, meet all of their needs at this delicate and hopeful time, but we believe in the Sudanese people, we believe in Sudanese dynamism, we believe in the importance of the Sudanese-American partnership, and we look forward, we the United States look, forward to supporting a new generation of giving.  Thank you, and with that I will take your questions.

MODERATOR: [In Arabic]

QUESTION: [Off mike]

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much.  The investments are varied, and I've spoken to a few of them.  

Let me build, if I could, on our Chargé’s comment and talk about one specifically that I think is very important right now, which is our investment in the Family Support Program, which, again, is reaching more than 1.3 beneficiaries already.  This is something the World Bank is partnering with Sudanese authorities around the country to implement.  But this is an important infusion of financial support for people who are facing steep inflation and higher prices for food.  

I went yesterday to an enrollment center here in Khartoum and got to talk to people who were signing up, and giving their telephone numbers and their banking details so as to be able to receive this monthly stipend, and it's urgently needed, as you know, for many, many families.  So, we are supporting that.  We have helped the digitization of that program to be able to get all of the information from the beneficiaries.  So that's just an initial $20 million investment.  But this is going to be quite an expensive program because of the need and so we are looking at making a more substantial contribution, again through the World Bank Trust Fund that exists here.  So, I think that is very important.  

We are doing a lot in the area of capacity building, which can really vary from, for example, supporting the hiring in the Justice Ministry of expertise on transitional justice.  That expertise may exist here in Sudan and there may be someone who has never considered going into government, and to be able to bring those individuals, particularly young people, in.  But also, some of that expertise lives outside because other countries have experimented in different ways.  And so, being able to move quickly, when one of the ministries identifies individuals who can help strengthen their technical capacity.  And, again, capacity building in various ministries can involve personnel.  

But we are also aware that many of the systems, the information technology systems, are very decrepit.  And so, actually helping the Justice Ministry innovate and have in place just the hardware and the software to be able, for example, to create the commissions that are required now to do the major legislative reform, the judicial reform, that the country needs.  So, I'm not going to offer an exhaustive list of all of the programs.  Many of them we are still agreeing upon with our civil society partners, or if it is related to capacity building, or government program with government officials.  

But you will see over the course of the next few years not only the kind of humanitarian emergency support that Sudan has seen for many, many decades, but this investment in creating a different kind of regulatory atmosphere so that we can attract American businesses to come here.  I know the investment law has changed recently; the labor law is being revised.  These kinds of changes will really help us do what we want to do, which is to move to an even deeper phase of partnership where we're not talking about aid, we're talking about trade.  And we're talking about Sudan being able to provide economic opportunities for its people so that it doesn't need a Family Support Program.  But that requires, again, a lot of regulatory change, the work to combat corruption, and so forth.  

And then I'll be much more brief, because I know there are a lot of questions on Darfur.  You said, “What does Darfur need?”  What does Darfur not need?  

You know, there are still hundreds of thousands of people who are wanting to go back to their homes, but the security situation is not one that gives them confidence.  And so, as I mentioned in my opening statement here, creating a unified chain of command in the military, armed opposition groups being folded into security structures, those structures being reformed as well.  For example, to bring military state-owned businesses under the tax administration, you know, of this country so there's more of an availability to mobilize domestic taxes.  That's going to be very, very important.  

In order for the central government to be able to make the kinds of investments in roads, in sanitation, in water, in those communities.  So, security, economic opportunity, justice, there's rightly a lot of focus on the leading perpetrators of the genocide and that focus, believe is, it is very, very important and those individuals must be held accountable.  But in talking to the displaced from northern Darfur, they are very focused on transitional justice, on local perpetrators, people they used to know who, when the conflict started moved into conflict roles and those might not be individuals who are going to be punished in a full-fledged tribunal somewhere.  But they are people with whom there must be reconciliation.  These individuals who have been displaced, many of their homes, most of their homes, have been destroyed, there's just nothing there now.  So how are those homes going to be rebuilt?  

So, everything is really connected to everything else and the metaphor I use and may be familiar to some of you, but it is in Darfur and everywhere in Sudan the kind of development we're talking about, it's like a three-legged stool, where you have governance and rule of law, and democratization and elections, that's one leg.  You know the political, you have the security leg, where people cannot be afraid that they will get attacked again, you know, and where they know that the perpetrators have been held accountable so they can feel secure.  And then, of course, the economic leg, where their immediate needs are met, but where we're making together the investments in long-term economic development.  Thank you.

MODERATOR: [In Arabic]

QUESTION: [In Arabic]

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you.  Let me take the second question first, since I am just back from, as I mentioned, from Um Rakuba and witnessed first-hand what you are talking about.  And I will say that the World Food Programme, UNHCR, UNFPA, these programs that are being run in a camp that I visited which houses 18,000 of the more than 40,000 Ethiopian refugees who have come since November, those programs are ones that we are funding.  You know, when I'm talking to you about Sudan that does not mean that we are not doing something for the refugees themselves and for the programming that comes in.  

But you rightly asked not only about, for example, the Ethiopians and their welfare and are we funding that?  We are.  And so are other international actors.  But when you open your arms and you open your borders and meet your international obligations under international law, and allow refugees to find refuge as Sudan has done very compassionately.  That is a lot for communities that were already suffering before COVID, now have COVID and the downturn in the global economy as well which has affected what comes into Sudan, what is exported from Sudan, and then on top of that, the economic reforms and the inflation.  So, conditions were very difficult in those communities.  

As you said, even before these refugees began arriving in November of last year.  So, what I will say is that there are some ancillary benefits to having big international organizations providing food and shelter to these newcomers.  For example, the World Food Programme has built and fortified the roads in the area, so the roads are actually now much more durable when the rains come than they were before.  There was a lot of flooding.  There is still flooding, of course, in that area, but now the roads have been conditioned with a big investment of resources for the water not to centralize itself in the roads, but where the roads are structured to allow the water to drain better.  

Some of the refugees in some of the camps are given cash, and that is cash that they can use in the local markets, so they're given cash instead of food.  The refugees in the camp that I visited prefer receiving food in kind assistance.  But nonetheless, these are people who are coming in and they can and do have the capacity in many cases to make a contribution in the local area, but I think this is exactly the question that we were asking yesterday and that the host community came to us with a set of requests as to how we can not only make this not costly for the community, but how we can think holistically about making it beneficial for the community.  The roads is a good example of where that has already happened, but there may be other ways that we can do that.  

I think with every refugee crisis, there's always the hope, of course, that it is going to be a short-term crisis, and this has already dragged on well beyond what the people of Ethiopia and the people of Tigray deserve, and so, the main point is that we need to collectively support the parties and push hard for a peaceful political solution.  But, you know, those individuals that live in proximity to the camps who are Sudanese, I think it's very important to consider how this is a third layer of potential difficulty and how we can mitigate that.  So that's very much a part of our thinking about how to do humanitarian assistance -- is to make it symbiotic, the relationship between the camp and the host community.  

I'll just be very brief on your first question, which is that our special envoy to Sudan, Donald Booth, as you know, was in Khartoum in June for the signing of the Juba Peace Agreement with our Troika partners -- the United Kingdom and Norway.  So, we are very invested in doing everything we can, for example, to encourage those groups that remain outside the framework to come into the framework.  

You asked about the economic dimensions of it.  As I indicated, they are inextricable -- the security and the economic.  I think for right now we are focused on security sector reform and the implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement alongside our focus on strengthening economic opportunity and addressing economic needs.  They go together, but our emphasis is on making sure that we have programs in both areas.  

And I think this is what their government is doing as they develop a strategic plan and have each ministry try to coordinate with the other ministries to make sure that what's being done now in the security sector is being married up with the economic support efforts and the job growth planning and the youth employment planning, so I think that's the way we at USAID and in the development community are thinking about it as well.  

MODERATOR: [In Arabic]  

QUESTION: [In Arabic]

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: We, the United States, has appointed Special Envoy Jeff Feltman, to the Horn of Africa, so his portfolio is broad.  This is not my area of focus, the GERD, but I think the United States' position is clear, which is that we want to encourage a collaborative and constructive set of efforts among Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan to reach an arrangement.  So, again, Jeff Feltman, as you may know, is a former Assistant Secretary for Middle Eastern Affairs and an Arabic speaker.  

At the same time, he was Under Secretary General under Ban Ki-moon at the United Nations for Political Affairs, and so, I think it's very important for people in the region to know that President Biden has appointed, and he's, of course, already engaged the parties in the region on the conflict in Tigray, regional relations generally, and on the GERD, but that President Biden has appointed one of our most experienced and qualified diplomats, because he believes the situation in this region is that important -- important to you all and important to the region and to the United States.  

Forgive me, your first question was?  Remind me -- the money, sorry, I remember.  

So, I believe you didn't use the figure, but I believe you are referencing the $700 million that has been passed by the U.S. Congress and budgeted.  You know for the United States to go from this period of relative estrangement from the government, where many government officials were sanctioned by the United States, and where USAID which a long time ago had very, very substantial programs here, but then we had shifted, really, into humanitarian emergency support, much, more of that.  

And so, our number of staff and our programs had shrunk a lot as the tensions between the U.S. and Sudan made other forms of cooperation impossible.  So, it is taking a little bit of time in order to ensure also that the transitional authorities have the absorptive capacity to be able to receive the support, to make use of the support.  Similarly, with our civil society partners to work with them in what we call co-creation to identify and to hear them really above all as to how they think, for example, the cause of local reconciliation can be advanced by support for civil society.  

So, there has been some turnover among ministries here and personnel, and so we want to make sure -- especially when it comes to support for government objectives and government programming, that the Prime Minister and his team have clearly defined what they believe the priorities for the people of this country are.  

So, I think it's fair to say that we would like things to move more swiftly, but we are going from distributing and providing relatively modest amounts outside the humanitarian emergency field, to very substantial programming.  I mentioned the Family Support Program.  That's a good example where this program is really, only in the last two months, getting up and running and the kinks are getting worked out so that people actually are receiving the money through their phone and through their bank account, where the enrollment lists are getting bigger.  It's at that point now it's a very good time for the United States to be coming in and making very substantial additional commitment to the program, which we envisage doing shortly.  

So, what I hear in your question I very much agree with, which is, the situation here is urgent and we want to be part of a donor community that is moving with due haste given the importance and given the fragility of this moment.  

MODERATOR: [In Arabic]

QUESTION: [In Arabic] 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much.  I worked as President Obama's human rights advisor in his first term which is when the Arab Spring began.  I very much share the sadness, really, over how the dreams and the aspirations of people who protested, who on multiple occasions were able to unseat dictatorial leaders, but who then in the transition period were not able to unite.  And again, every country has a different story.  

Tunisia's story is, for example, still -- all of the stories and all the events in all the countries really are histories that are still being written every day, and there are millions of people in countries where there has been brutal crackdown or a return to repressive leadership, there are millions of people who have now given up, who have exactly the same aspirations that brought them out to the streets.  

Again, I think any verdict on the ultimate destiny for those countries would be premature, just as it would have been premature in 2017 to assume that Bashir would be with this country forever.  But I think your question is profound because I do hope that some of the lessons of the Arab Spring can be learned by all of us and, you know, I think if you look at what's important, there was again violence here against civilians for which there needs to be justice and needs to be attention to those who survived that violence and still live with the physical and emotional scars.  

But I think it's also very important that a transition was achieved without the kind of violence that marred the efforts at democratization in other parts of the region.  So, that's encouraging.  But one of the key lessons, again, of things that have not gone right, or one of the key features of the Arab Spring's delivering for the people, is that the unity in so many countries that was shown initial wave of protests fell away and the divisions that so many dictatorial leaders have tried to widen.  Deliberately, I said in my speech today, weaponized diversity.  That is what Bashir did.  He weaponized the rich diversity of this beautiful country, and that is what so many leaders in the Middle East have sought to do, and in the protest period, as has happened here, we have people in Khartoum saying, "we are Darfur" and people in Darfur saying, "we are Khartoum."  And it's just the question is how do maintain that sense of common cause as this difficult transition goes forward.  

So, I think this question of how to compromise, even if you don't get everything you want, the best transitions are pacted transitions where it's not all or nothing.  It's not winner takes all.  A lot of the other Arab Spring previous transitions, it very quickly someone secured power and then the people who had helped him, always him, achieve power, he would choose one faction or one clique.  The way you maintain a mandate to govern, especially through difficult times, is to make every effort to bring the broadest possible constituencies along with you.  So that is a critical lesson.  

The second lesson is -- and we are very focused on -- that it is very important that there be economic results of political transition, because we know that the economic conditions are part of what caused people to demand the end of the prior regime, and so far, the people who protested and who celebrated the end of the regime, haven't received the economic benefits that they deserve.  That's, of course, because the economic wreckage that Bashir left behind him is going to take time to recover from.  All of us recognize that lesson from the Arab Spring, which is that the more we can accelerate visible economic returns on political reform, the better.  

The last lesson I would highlight that I hope we are applying is that the international community as well need to be united, just as we would urge people to rally behind the flag and the cause of political transition, so to the international community being on the same page.  That's why the frameworks that have been laid out, whether in the Juba Peace Agreement or in the transition planning, those frameworks making sure that there is no daylight among, with the different international actors who have had very different positions on Sudan over a very long period of time.  

We need to unite in support of what has been made out as this planned transition.  Equally, we need to leverage whatever any one of us is doing, like the United States now has this $700 million to bring to bear to support the transition, but when we do that, they want to use that to then go to other countries and say, "this is what we are contributing, and here's a project we're doing.  Why don't you join us?"  So, that same unity of purpose that we urge you to preserve, we need to bring politically, geopolitically, and in terms of how we prioritize our assistance and support.  

MODERATOR: [In Arabic]

QUESTION: [Off mike].  

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Everyone has two questions. [laughs]

QUESTION: So, you're here to support Sudan's transition.  As we clearly know that there are still points that have not been achieved, like the creationParliament, and as you mentioned earlier, the integration [inaudible].  I was wondering if you have addressed these points with the officials that you met here.  What was their response, and if USAID assistance is leaning on the implementation of these points?  

My other question is as I understand you will be heading off to Addis after Sudan.  And of course, you have heard the reports that have been circulating yesterday on the [inaudible] up the river between Sudan and Ethiopia.  So, I was wondering if this will be brought up with the Ethiopian officials and what do you think it says about the situation in the Tigray region?  Thank you.  

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much.  So, you mentioned a couple of the, you might say, gaps in implementation.  There are many, many gaps in implantation as you well know.  I think, first of all, some context is in order, which is, this is a country coming out of more than three decades - depending on how you count the brief spells of representative or civilian government that occurred in the past, you could say three decades of war and repression, or five decades of mainly war and repression.  

I mean, today in my speech I talked about these gaps, but also offered a list of what has been done.  I just think it's important that we keep both the progress on implementation in mind and we don't celebrate it, but we do remember it, because none of it is easy, given the wreckage and the rot inside the state that the Bashir regime bequeathed, left behind.  So, on the points that you raised, I did raise those points and many others in terms of, you know, sort of things that we think should be prioritized amid all of these choices and all of these needs.  

Of course, we have a view.  For example, as I've said publicly already, there are a set of bureaucratic barriers.  This is not in any agreement, but they make it harder for us to support the Sudanese people.  The Humanitarian Commission is as bureaucratic and is onerous for outside groups, you know, almost as onerous, at least, as before Bashir fell.  And that's an example of something that would make it easier for us to deliver on the support that we wish to provide quickly.  

So, we had conversations of that kind.  Because you mentioned unity of the armed groups, this is something that Chargé does all the time and every official in U.S. government does, which is, of course, we know that consolidation is absolutely critical, top tier priority, which the Prime Minister himself affirmed and I was gratified by meeting with the head of the Sovereignty Council and his commitment to move again as efficiently and effectively as he can to bring those armed groups under one chain of command.  

There's no professional military officer anywhere in the world who believes that having a state armed forces and then a bunch of outside militia, that that is a desired state.  There is great familiarity with the provisions of the JPA and what is required.  I think, also, the Prime Minister is continuing to urge those groups that remain outside that framework to be folded into that framework, because they, too, absolutely have to be part of the solution and absolutely have to be part of this awaited implementation.  So, we will continue to raise these issues and push these issues.  

At the same time, we will work in parallel with other donors to address food, energy, water, agriculture, health, and other needs, because those are about meeting the people's needs.  We will also, at the same time, continue in supporting the transition.  We believe that in doing that, we have to work as well to strengthen the capacity within ministries that have been so hollowed out.  

Because implementation on so many of these provisions requires that political will, which is what you're talking about, but also the human capital to write new laws, to assemble a parliament and a legislature, and so again, we're trying to do what we can to create enabling conditions.  And then when implementation is occurring, to come in to do our planning now so we're in a position to support, for example, security sector reform.  

With regard to Tigray, I've met in Um Rakuba with women who had suffered unspeakable violence in Tigray.  I didn’t meet anybody who had been in contact with the family members they left behind since they fled, and of course, the telecommunications have been cut off entirely in recent weeks and months.  

Food deliveries are largely blocked.  We need five convoys per week of 100 trucks to reach Tigray -- five convoys per week.  We need 20 convoys per month, big convoys, and as of this morning, due to active conflict and Ethiopian government obstruction, we have only gotten in 100 trucks since the Ethiopian army withdrew, which is, I gather, meeting under 5 percent of the acute humanitarian needs of the population there.  So, accessibility is an issue.  Atrocities have been perpetrated and accountability is incredibly important.  We are looking into the reports that you mentioned.  

Again, the reports that I heard from the women were very consistent with then what I ended up reading about a few hours later as yet it appears, another example of the kind of crimes that are being perpetrated, with the women that I met with described people being executed with their hands behind their back.  Again, what has just been found, it appears, are corpses of people who had their hands tied behind their back and then appear to have been shot and killed.  

And so, this is unfortunately just the latest example of systematic violence carried out against civilians.  I will say that there are other groups, as well, who are coming into Sudan and different parts of the border.  We just reiterate our call on all parties to cease violence, to pursue dialogue, and to end attacks against civilians.  It's harrowing what is happening in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, harrowing.  

MODERATOR: Okay, everyone, thank you very much for attending today.  We really appreciate that.  Unfortunately, we don't have any time for any more questions, but everyone, we really appreciate your participation.  Thank you very much. 

Khartoum, Sudan

Last updated: October 01, 2021

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