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Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Peacebuilding in Africa

Ambassador Samantha Power - U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations; U.S. Mission to the United Nations


Thank you, Minister Kishida, President of the Council, thank you Secretary-General Ban, Minister Mohamed, and Commissioner Chergui for your briefings. Thanks to all of you, and the Ministers who have shown the importance of this issue by making the long trip here to New York; we are very grateful. Preventing conflict and promoting stability in Africa is obviously an immensely important subject for the Council to focus on. The list of political, economic, and social factors to debate is long, as is the number of tools that we have at our disposal.

But at a moment when conflicts are re-emerging in Africa and too many other states are on the brink, this Council needs to do more than debate lessons learned. This Council needs to reaffirm the principles that are fundamental to ending conflicts and take concrete steps to translate them into practice. National ownership of peacebuilding processes is important, as many speakers have highlighted today and will continue to highlight. But national ownership cannot be a pretext for the Council or the international community to defer reflexively to governments when we know their practices are undermining or failing to enhance peace and security – and this happens too often. Especially when this Council authorizes major peacekeeping missions to restore stability, we must hold political leaders accountable for committing to the process of stopping violence, abiding by the rule of law, and strengthening state institutions. I will set out the importance of sustaining political will across the different stages of the peacebuilding process, drawing upon South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somalia.

First, the violence in South Sudan this past month shows what happens when political leaders fail to commit to peace at the start of a peacebuilding intervention. In just four days of fighting in Juba, from July 7 to July 11, more than 36,000 people were displaced. The UN reported that the number of refugees who arrived in Uganda from South Sudan on the 21st of July was the largest single-day total for this conflict in more than two years: 8,337 new arrivals, many of whom had spent days on foot, often with little more than the clothes on their backs, to reach safety. Women and children make up more than 90 percent of the refugees who have left South Sudan since July 7. The international community has spent billions of dollars trying to avert a famine in the country – money, that if not for this manmade conflict, a conflict that contributes to severe acute malnutrition, prevents planting, stymies the economy completely, if not for this manmade conflict, that money could have been dedicated to building roads, economic development, girls’ education, boys’ education. It’s a waste, and yet we have to continue to mobilize resources to try to keep this long-suffering population living with some basic dignity and living – surviving in the first place. Gruesome atrocities are being committed daily: civilians targeted and killed, women raped, homes looted and destroyed. Both government- and opposition-affiliated soldiers have been implicated in these horrors. Yet, there has been no effort to hold the perpetrators accountable. This then compounds the tendency to ascribe collective guilt; that in turn fuels ethnic targeting, and the ethnic targeting further fuels the cycle of violence.

Amid all of this – I’ll just quote one resident of South Sudan, a 42 year-old named James Benjamin Wani – he asked a simple question to a reporter after days of fighting in Juba. The way he put the question was, “Why don’t our leaders want to sit down and solve their problems? Let them hear us. Let them cry. We don’t want fighting. We want peace.” The level of misrepresentation of the population by leadership that will not commit to the implementation of the steps that the international community has rallied behind.

We have been asking a similar question to this 42 year-old man’s question for years. In 2011, we invested heavily in South Sudan’s future by giving the UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, a mandate to assist the state at all levels with building institutions, fostering economic development, reforming the security sector, and promoting human rights. At every step, the mission sought to collaborate closely with the Government of South Sudan – taking pains to avoid imposing solutions. UNMISS was designed with peacebuilding best practices in mind. It was South Sudan’s leaders who failed to live up to their end of the bargain by being unable to put their personal power struggles aside.

We now have to come together as a Council, as an international community, around a single approach to end the violence in South Sudan and, more importantly, to prevent its reoccurrence. In the immediate term, this means working with and pressing South Sudan’s leadership to provide for security in Juba, to safeguard freedom of movement, and to provide for unfettered humanitarian access. This also means answering IGAD’s and the AU’s call for strengthening UNMISS, so that the mission can better protect civilians and help establish a secure environment so the parties can, in fact, make political progress.

Restoring security in Juba may be necessary, but we all know it is far from sufficient. South Sudan’s leaders must govern on behalf of their people and demonstrate the political will for peace. In practical terms, the parties need to carry out the reform pillars in the August 2015 peace agreement – professionalizing the security sector, carrying out economic reforms, promoting justice and accountability, and drafting a constitution. What all of this underscores is that peacebuilding, as others have noted, is itself a form of conflict prevention. And it is one that collectively, we need to double down on in a country where too much tragedy has happened for too long.

This formula is not revolutionary, or even new. The difference is that the members of this Council, together with partners in the region and the international community, must redouble our collective efforts to influence the choices made every day by individuals who comprise the South Sudanse leadership.

On the Democratic Republic of Congo, we have a country now entering a later phase of its peacebuilding process. As the country prepares for elections, further progress depends on President Joseph Kabila’s political commitment to uphold the constitution. The Congolese have spent many years building a relative peace, with the support of billions of dollars invested in the MONUSCO peacekeeping mission. President Kabila is barred from running for a third time when his term expires at the end of the year, but there are serious concerns that elections will not be held in accordance with the constitution. As the deadline for elections approaches, instability, as we’ve seen, is growing, and that is why the United States has stressed the need for an environment that supports international efforts to bring Congolese stakeholders together to determine a way forward.

And yet, at precisely the moment a dialogue is needed to resolve these tensions, the government is closing off space for the political opposition and civil society groups to assemble and has not taken adequate steps to release political prisoners. In recent months, the government has continued to harass and imprison politicians and civil society activists, and peaceful protests have all too often ended up with arbitrary arrests, injuries, and even death. According to UN reports, the government arbitrarily detained dozens of people during opposition rallies in April and May, and clashes between protesters and security forces led to deaths and injuries on both sides. With major rallies planned for this week – this very week – and with the return of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi yesterday, we call on the government and security forces to respect the fundamental rights of citizens to peaceful assembly. This again is not a matter of pure domestic concern, but it is an extension of the objectives that this Council has supported since MONUSCO deployed six years ago to help build a fragile peace.

Third and finally, Somalia’s leaders have to show the political will to extend state authority and develop functioning democratic institutions. The Federal Government must match AMISOM’s achievements in building security with commensurate steps to build institutions to keep people safe. AMISOM’s troop contributions deserve this Council’s immense gratitude for the mission’s ability to improve security for the Somali people, especially around the capital, and the sacrifices, especially over the last year, have been mind-blowing. The United States condemns in the strongest terms the attack this past week by Al-Shabaab on a UN base in the Mogadishu International Airport, just the latest in a wave of heinous attacks. AMISOM has a critical role to play, as this UN Security council has recognized and embraced, but the Government does as well.

And that is why the Council’s interest in Somalia does not end with AMISOM’s performance. Just as with DRC and South Sudan, Somalia’s progress toward a durable peace depends on the success of the political steps taken by the government. So the Council should welcome the agreement on an electoral model for 2016, and encourage its swift implementation as a step toward universal direct elections by 2020. Yet for this process to succeed, President Hassan Sheikh and his government must accelerate training of the Somali National Army and the process of building state institutions, and we, of course, all must chip in to support the government as they do that. In particular, the government needs to strengthen protections of human rights, including showing respect for free expression in the media and holding security forces accountable when they commit violations. We all know the conditions in Somalia and the circumstances, and the steps I’ve described are not only difficult, they are downright daunting, and they will of course take time. But military victories alone will not bring peace unless the government takes concrete steps to establish itself and extend its reach.

While South Sudan, DRC, and Somalia each face very, very different challenges, the common principle is that success in peacebuilding requires political will. There are only so many workarounds that the region or the UN Security Council can come up with. This Council has authorized a peacekeeping mission for each of these countries to help restore stability, but at every stage, this Council has to remain focused on taking steps to ensure that leaders make choices in service of peace.

Amid the violence in South Sudan, the BBC reported recently that a group of musicians called the All Stars came together to write a song speaking out against revenge killing. The song, written in multiple South Sudanese dialects, contains the lyric, “I wish my talent could be a weapon, I would use it to protect my people. I wish my talent could be a weapon, I would use it to protect my people.” There are so many South Sudanese who share this group’s desire to protect people from conflict, just to keep their families safe. We must harness our tools to help create an environment in which this talent can be harnessed and in which peace, at last, can take hold.

I thank you.

Distributed by APO on behalf of U.S. Department of State.