‘I didn’t threaten Africa over Russia sanctions’, says top US diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield

By Julian Pecquet, Romain Gras
Posted on Wednesday, 14 December 2022 19:13

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield addresses the media after a UN Security Council meeting on Iran in New York on Nov. 2, 2022. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield addresses the media after a UN Security Council meeting on Iran in New York on Nov. 2, 2022. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

It’s a busy week for US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield as she shuffles between the UN for a vote on kicking Iran out of the UN women’s commission while hobnobbing with African heads of state in Washington.

A former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs with a deep bench of contacts across the continent, Thomas-Greenfield is a key player in the Joe Biden administration’s diplomatic outreach at this week’s US-Africa Leaders Summit.

The Africa Report caught up with her on 13 December in Washington to discuss the administration’s re-engagement with the continent.

TAR: In an interview during your visit to Uganda in August you warned of the potential ramifications for countries that don’t abide by US and international sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.  The very next day President Yoweri Museveni tweeted that if the US “really want to help Africa, they should consider separating us from the sanctions.” Could you describe how the Biden administration is dealing with the pressure on Africans to respect sanctions?

LTG: The whole issue of Ukraine is about sovereignty. It’s about a brutal, unprovoked attack by Russia on Ukraine. Our position here and in New York has been Russia has to be condemned for its attack on the UN Charter.

It’s not about our relationship with Russia. It’s about what Russia is doing to the values that all of us hold dear, including African countries. I didn’t threaten them with secondary sanctions by any means. But I talked to them about the impact of this war on their own economies, and how important it was for us to stand unified so that Russia could end this unprovoked attack.

One of the big issues in the West, and in Africa, has been the increased use of the Wagner Group (of Russian mercenaries). How, at the UN, can you put pressure on that specific issue? Should we think of sanctions on countries that use Wagner (such as Mali and the Central African Republic)?

I’ve engaged with both countries, particularly with Mali. The Security Council travelled to Mali last October and we raised concerns about the Malian government’s use of Wagner. We’ve seen reports that this group has violated human rights in the communities they are fighting in. We encouraged Mali to reconsider its relationship with Wagner.

We have done the same thing with the Central African Republic and we’re hearing rumours of engagements with Burkina Faso, which raises concerns for us as well. We also know the Wagner group has been active in Ukraine in some of the most brutal human rights violations that we’ve seen committed in Ukraine.

One of the crises in which the US has attempted to intervene is the one between DRC and Rwanda. The US was one of the few countries to publicly condemn Rwanda’s support for the M23. What can be done on the ground (in eastern Congo) to push for a solution?

The DRC foreign minister and deputy prime minister were in New York and spoke to the Security Council last week. He did request that we support their efforts to fight against the M23. We have raised our concerns with the Rwandan government. We are looking to extend the mandate of MONUSCO (the UN Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

We encouraged the government to discontinue efforts to denigrate MONUSCO. We asked the government to condemn any hate language used by government officials and we were told that they have done that. We’re also engaging with other countries in the region. We support the Nairobi and Luanda processes and hope we find a way forward.

What are your thoughts on DRC asking for the lifting of the notification system for weapon sales?

We are not opposed to the notification, which we think is important. It should not be viewed as a sanction on them. They can get arms, they just need to be able to notify that they are getting these arms. Part of the problem is how they are managed and controlled.

There are a lot of conflict resolution efforts going on at the summit. Whether we’re talking about conflicts in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia, the Great Lakes, or the Sahel, where do you see the Chinese role? And is the rivalry with the US a problem in resolving some of the conflicts?

I don’t see it as a rivalry, but we do have some intense disagreements on approaches. We lead with our values, which are based on ensuring citizens have access to humanitarian assistance. Countries that don’t abide by that need to be held accountable. It is something we’ve been consistent about and continue to do in the Biden administration, where democracy and human rights are the centre of our foreign policy.

A lot of the countries represented here are not particularly democratic. At the same time, you have this desire to engage with all Africans. How do you balance these two?

Our belief is you have to engage with countries, even those you disagree with, to get your message across. If we completely isolate ourselves from countries that are committing human rights violations, how do we address those issues with them? Our primary focus is on the people.

We were criticised because we didn’t invite everybody to the Summit, so we’re inviting as many countries as possible. We’re not shying from raising difficult issues. The criticism that we are finger-pointing, that’s not right. We’re having conversations with people we care about, being critical about things that we think they ought to hear and we’ll do that through conversations.

Is any of that going to be happening publicly at the summit?

Well, we’re going to have a lot of conversations.

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