QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for joining us —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good to be with you. Thank you.
QUESTION: — in spite of your very busy schedule. As an opener, how were you able to sit for the match in Ivory Coast?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, I’m a lifelong football fan. So it was incredibly exciting to be there, and also just to see the remarkable job that our friends in the Ivory Coast did in bringing everyone together for the Cup of Nations. But I was sitting with some friends and colleagues from the Ivory Coast, and it was a bit of a tough match for the Elephants, so I was being very sympathetic to that.
But mostly I just felt the excitement in the stadium, the excitement of the game, and the excitement of people coming together throughout the continent and well beyond. There were a lot of Americans who traveled to the Ivory Coast to see the tournament. It’s just a reminder of how powerful sports is in connecting people – connecting people across geography, across language, across culture. That’s really what was so exciting about it.
QUESTION: That was good. After the first goal, I’m sure you thought, “Ah, they will equalize.” But they never did.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, yeah. And then when that goal – when the Ivory Coast goal was disallowed for offsides, I think it deflated them a little bit. But look, young players, incredibly talented.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: They’ll be back, and there are so many other great teams involved. Of course, Nigeria.
QUESTION: Good. That’s history now, but welcome to Nigeria.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
QUESTION: Your schedule here to Africa is hectic, very tightly packed, and this is the second time within ten months that you’re here. I told you just a minute ago that I’ll soon start calling you brother.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That would be honor. Thank you.
QUESTION: And anyway, you come in here twice within ten months on the heels of other senior-level U.S. Government officials.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: And Mr. President, the President Biden, said we’re all in on Africa at the last summit. And he promised to come. Doesn’t this visit foreshadow the fact that the commitment by the President, since it was unfulfilled, is putting Africa lower on the priorities list of U.S.-African foreign policy?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I would say I think it’s just the opposite. As you mention, of course, the President very much wants to come to Africa. Beyond that, though, as you mention, I think we’ve had 17 cabinet-level or department-level officials come since the Africa Leaders Summit. And one of the things President Biden was so intent on is – we had three great days in Washington with the Africa Leaders Summit, but he wants to make sure that the 362 days that follow those three days to make up the year we’re focused and engaged here.
And there’s a simple reason for it. For the United States, we see Africa as a continent that’s shaped our past, it is our shaping our present, and it will for sure shape our future. When we have one in four people on this planet soon to be coming from Africa. And when we have with Nigeria in particular the continent’s largest country, its largest economy, its largest democracy, there’s a natural partnership. That’s why I’m back, to follow up on the commitments that were made at the Africa Leaders Summit by the President and to strengthen and deepen the partnership that we already have.
QUESTION: How does the State Department plan to strengthen diplomatic relations with Nigeria in the context of increasing global competition for influence in Africa?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, first there is – there are tremendous needs and opportunities that no one country is going to be able to meet by itself. We make very significant investments – often, for example, through the United Nations, as well as through other programs – in health security, the PEPFAR program, which has been one of the greatest things that we’ve done, and it’s had a big impact here in on Nigeria, for food security, working on combatting climate change, given the impacts that it has. We’re investing in infrastructure, and we see that, for example, in something the President has established, the Lobito Corridor that will join up Zambia, the DRC, and Angola in creating physical and digital infrastructure.
But here’s the biggest difference-maker, I think. The United States also – and maybe uniquely – invests in knowledge, in transferring knowledge, in sharing techniques, in sharing understanding, so that countries that we’re partnered with can then do it themselves and aren’t dependent or reliant on us or anyone else. So it’s that investment in knowledge that I think is one of the most powerful things we do.
Here in Lagos, we just opened our 25th American Corner in Nigeria, the most of any country in Africa. And this is a place where people can come not only to connect to the United States, but also to learn, to develop skills – whether it’s English language skills or technology skills – to build their knowledge.
QUESTION: So this is laudable investments and projects for Africa. But did the U.S. wait to see China and Russia taking the bull by the horns and coming in for us before it served as a wakeup call?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, this is not about – for us, it’s not about China, Russia, or any other country. It really is about the partnerships that we see as offering tremendous opportunity, not just for our African partners, but for us. Look, the reality is none of the problems that we’re trying to solve for the American people can we solve alone. None of the challenges that we have to face for the American people can we effectively meet alone. We need to be doing this in partnership.
I saw just here in Lagos some young Nigerian entrepreneurs, innovators, who are finding answers to problems that we also have in the United States. The more you’re able to connect people together in that way, the better it’s going to be for all of us.
So we’re not here – we’re not engaged here because of any other country; we’re engaged here because of the opportunity that we see to strengthen partnerships and to actually meet our common challenges. And it’s a natural for us, in part because of history. But again, when we think of the future, what we think and what we see and what we feel is Africa. And that’s why the President, President Biden, has made sure that we’re focused, even with everything else going on in the world.
QUESTION: Shifting gear now, let’s ask you to speak to us about U.S.-Nigeria security collaborations, especially in combatting terrorism and regional instability, which are affecting economic and development efforts in Nigeria.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think the challenge there is acute, and we can’t minimize it. But we’re also determined to proceed in partnership with Nigeria in meeting that challenge. Now, it has to be – and I believe it is – a comprehensive approach. Of course, there’s the hard security part of this. And so things that we’re doing in terms of building capacity in Nigeria among the security forces, the military, equipment, technology, intelligence, information sharing – all of those kinds of things are very important.
But also important is taking a comprehensive approach if you’re really going to be effective, for example, in dealing with extremism or terrorism. The relationship between security forces and the communities that they are supposed to be protecting is critically important. Making sure that the forces are there looking out for the people, not enabling or doing bad things to the people – that’s hugely important.
Making sure that we’re also looking at some of the root causes that may be pushing people or driving people to take up crime or to engage in extremism or terrorism. That’s very important too, and that means finding ways to create more opportunity for people throughout the country, so that they can have and believe in a future, that they can put bread on the table for their families. Because if you can’t do that, if you can’t put bread on the table for your kids, you’ll probably be willing to do anything in order to accomplish it.
It’s a long way of saying we have to have – and we do have – a comprehensive approach to this, in partnership with the government and in partnership with local communities as well. But the more Nigeria succeeds in developing its economy, pursuing innovation, connecting people, and meeting some of the very serious challenges when it comes to health, when it comes to climate, when it comes to energy, when it comes to food security – those ultimately are the best ways to create the conditions in which extremism, criminality, terrorism doesn’t grow.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about trade and development issues. First, let’s turn our searchlight on energy and environmental policies. Given Nigeria’s status as the major oil supplier to the U.S., how is the U.S. engaging with Nigeria on energy diversification and climate change mitigation?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, we feel a real responsibility to be a strong partner on the transition to a renewable-based energy economy, because historically we developed in such a way that we did things in our own development that we’re now asking other countries not to do because of the impact on the environment. So we have a responsibility to help, to help lead the way.
That goes to some of the financing that we’re putting into enabling countries to build greater resilience and to adapt. It comes with the technology and innovation that we helped develop and we’re sharing to make sure that countries can take advantage of technology to move away from fossil fuels.
It also comes with an understanding that this is a transition; it won’t happen overnight. But there has to be a clear plan and clear support from us and for other countries that have developed their economies in previous years to make sure that we’re doing this together. That’s the nature of what we’re trying to do with Nigeria.
QUESTION: Two more quick questions, because I know you’ve got to go. You spoke about the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the Africa Continental Free Trade Area.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes.
QUESTION: Could you expatiate on that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, look, one of the things – I think there are a couple of things that are very important. Of course, we want to see trade and investment strengthened between the United States and Africa. And actually, just since the Africa Leaders Summit, we’ve seen a significant jump in two-way trade and investment, a 60 percent increase just in that period of time. And partly that goes to the work our own government is doing with the tools that we have to support our private sector in doing more within Africa. At the same time, there are things that countries here can do to create the strongest possible investment environment.
But there’s another aspect to this. I think within Africa itself making sure that the environment exists – and this what the Free Trade Area in Africa itself is doing – so that African countries are trading with and investing in each other. You have a very unusual situation historically, where up until now African countries have done more trade and had more investment outside of Africa than they have within Africa. That should and it is changing because that’s really missing tremendous opportunities.
But it also requires connecting countries in Africa. That’s why we’re also taking a regional approach. I mentioned the Lobito Corridor before that will physically as well as digitally join Zambia, the DRC, and Angola. That connectivity is the way you get more trade and investment flowing among Africans and within Africa, as well as maximizing opportunities to bring trade and investment from other countries to Africa.
QUESTION: Finally, Mr. Secretary, what will be your greatest takeaway yet from your trip to Nigeria?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Oh, look, it’s, in a way, the same takeaway I’ve had on multiple trips here. It’s the vibrancy, the energy, the innovativeness of this young population. And that’s why when I say for us Africa is the future, you can see the future is now. It’s actually happening right now. And it’s especially happening with young people here.
The – some of the innovators that I met today here in Lagos, who, as I said, are finding creative solutions to problems that are shared around the world – that’s what’s so incredibly exciting about the partnerships that we’re building in Africa. We can see a future where African solutions, African voices are critical and central to everything that’s going on around the world. We want to be part of that.
QUESTION: Very well. Secretary Blinken, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us. And best wishes on your onward trip.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you so much.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Great to be with you.
QUESTION: My pleasure.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.