- As Delivered –
WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following opening remarks at the hearing "Democracy, Development, and Defense: Rebalancing U.S.-Africa Policy":
"One of our biggest policy challenges in sub Saharan Africa is figuring out how to help stabilize fragile states and reduce violence. Over the past 20 years, we’ve learned a lot about what works – and what doesn’t. We know that it requires strategic vision, it takes adequate long-term funding, and it takes coordination across the United States Government.
"Mr. McCaul and I recently reintroduced the Global Fragility Act to promote this approach. Our bill would make sure relevant agencies are working closely together over the long term to address state fragility and to prevent violence and extremism in priority countries and regions around the world. This would be the top American goal in these countries, not a second or third-tier objective.
"My concern is that this Administration has taken an unbalanced approach, favoring security-focused responses instead of getting at the root causes of instability, which would prevent the need for military involvement down the road.
"We’ve seen a number of cases in where lip service has been paid to good governance and respect for human rights, but in practice we’ve shed an approach based on our values and instead gone after short-term solutions.
"Take Uganda, for example—one the country’s main security partners in sub-Saharan Africa - of our country’s main security partners in sub-Saharan Africa. A country where we should have leverage. Yet authorities there have ramped up repression and violence against opposition politicians and civil society. After three decades in power, Museveni is tightening his grip as the United States’ response is reduced to reiterating requests to stop arresting and torturing anyone who dares to oppose the government. And we have yet to see a change in Uganda's trajectory.
"Or the DRC- the Democratic Republic of Congo. In January, the United States endorsed clearly fraudulent election results simply because the Administration didn’t believe the opposition leader who actually won could ever take office. What message does it send when the United States refuses to stand up for democracy? When the United States refuses to call out this sort of corruption?
"Ironically, making regional security a top priority above all else ultimately undermines long-term stability on the continent. It’s a failure of leadership and compounded by the Administration’s attempts to gut diplomacy and development. We have talked about that here. You can’t conduct good diplomacy and good development if you are gutting these programs and gutting money to the State Department and looking at it as a second or third tier priority.
"It sends a message. It sends a bad message. It sends a message to the agencies best poised to grapple with these challenges that they are not a priority. It sends a message to the rest of the world that the United States is ceding ground to any other power that wants to put down roots. And you can bet that message is being heard loudly and clearly in Moscow and Beijing.
"In Sudan and South Africa, Russia is already using the same playbook they used to attack the United States in 2016 to spread disinformation. Kremlin-aligned private military corporations are gaining a foothold in the Central African Republic and Chad which may be a precursor to similar Russian military involvement across the continent.
"China now has a military base in Djibouti, making it the only country in the world that hosts both a Chinese and an American military base – talk about hedging your bets! China has also been actively exporting surveillance technology to African governments—a direct threat to open civic and political space that is already quite fragile in some countries.
"And there are a number of hotspots across sub-Saharan Africa that deserve our immediate focus.
"At the top of the list is Sudan. Since December, Sudanese citizens have peacefully protested against the government’s repression and mismanagement of the economy. In mid-September, Sudanese security forces seized power from Omar al-Bashir, ending three blood-soaked decades in power.
"But despite calls from the African Union and other partners including the United States, the Transitional Military Council has not been responsive to protesters’ demands for an immediate transition to a civilian government.
"Earlier this week, at least eight protesters were killed by government security forces, and the longer this standoff between the military and the protesters lasts, the greater the threat for widespread violence and greater destabilization. I urge the Administration to keep working with other diplomatic partners to encourage and incentivize an immediate transition to a civilian-led government in Sudan.
"I’m also deeply concerned about the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s now surpassed 1,600 cases.
"The United States has supported the Congolese government's response, but poor access, distrust of the government, and attacks against health care workers have hindered efforts to identify and treat cases.
"I have to mention: when we invest strongly in global health we’re better able to mount a response and help both DRC and surrounding countries like South Sudan and Rwanda build their capacity to prepare for future outbreaks. That’s why it’s so baffling when the Administration sends up budgets requesting deep cuts to these efforts and uses bad tactics to delay and deny funding against Congressional intent."