Monday, January 17, 2022

VOA Interview: US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield returned to public service earlier this year when President Joe Biden named her as the United States representative to the United Nations.

The veteran diplomat had a 35-year career with the US Foreign Service that included leading roles in US policy in sub-Saharan Africa as well as in management leadership positions within the State Department. He also served as ambassador to Liberia and had overseas postings in Kenya, The Gambia and Nigeria.

Thomas-Greenfield talks with VOA host Heday Adams straight talk africa, during the US-Africa Business Summit about US policy towards Africa, how countries in the region are recovering from the pandemic, and why women should play a central role in that effort.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

VOA: Earlier this year, you acknowledged that Africa faces many challenges: COVID-19, of course, poverty, terrorism, many others. But you also said that the Biden administration understands that it needs to focus on the opportunities on the continent, not just the challenges. What are the biggest opportunities the United States sees on the African continent today?

Linda Thomas-Greenfield: Before COVID-19 hit Africa, African economies were some of the fastest growing in the world. And somewhere out of the 10 fastest growing countries, six were in the continent of Africa. As we’ve said here in the United States, I see many opportunities for these countries to build better now, and with more equitable growth, with more diversity, with more market-based transparent practices and so on. With focus you can build better. Climate Smart Futures. And at the same time, I have to focus on equity for women who have been major players in the African continent market.

So let’s start with climate change. Climate change is a challenge for all of us all over the world. But it also presents a tremendous opportunity to create well-paying jobs as the world transitions to renewable energy on the continent of Africa and develops transformational technologies that help countries reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. can help to be. We are committed to ensuring that developing countries can build back greener, for example through public climate financing. Africa, which has a population of 1.3 billion and an average age of 19 years… Africa’s youth are perhaps one of its greatest resources. For example, there is a tendency to view puberty as a problem. But for the continent of Africa, youth are an opportunity, and they are an opportunity that the continent needs to take advantage of.

VOA: Many African nations are currently experiencing the worst increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths since the pandemic began and it is all largely driven by the delta version. What are the most worrying pandemic trends you see on the continent at the moment? And what is your assessment of the way African governments have responded to these twin health and economic crises?

Thomas-Greenfield: This pandemic has indeed had a devastating impact on the economies of African countries, and as we reflect back over the past 18 months, I have to say, the actions taken by African leaders to combat COVID-19 include: Many have saved countless lives. Many of these countries closed down. Many of them already had experience in dealing with pandemic-like situations when some of them had to deal with Ebola.

But the situation was getting worse and especially African countries were not able to use the COVID vaccines after the arrival of these vaccines. And they were unprepared, for example, with the challenges of their very weak health care systems, countries faltering. And with this new delta version, I think the situation is about to get worse. You may know that President (Joe) Biden has just announced and pledged that the United States will be the world’s arsenal of vaccines. I like that phrase. And we’re working as fast as we can to get shots into weapons not only here in the United States, but through COVAX (a worldwide initiative that aims to provide equal access to COVID-19 vaccines directed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, coalition). There is access (Pandemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organization) to the continent of Africa to receive as many vaccines as possible, as well as through bilateral donation of vaccines. And so we see that we are not just fighting the disease, we are fighting to secure decades of development progress so that the pandemic can be overcome.

VOA: Given the opportunities for the US on the African continent and beyond the COVAX commitments, what is the US willing to do to ensure that Africa is not left behind as economies around the world try to recover?

Thomas-Greenfield: We have tremendous programs that work with youth, who are working with women, not only through USAID (US Agency for International Development), but through DFC (US International Development Finance) Working with finance ministries to support their development agenda. Corporation), the World Bank and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) to ensure that these countries get injections into their economies.

VOA: International organizations and civil society organizations are sounding the alarm that all hard-earned progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment is now at risk of being disenfranchised. Can you help us understand what is at risk for women right now, especially women on the African continent? And do you think that any setbacks facing us now can be overcome in our lifetime?

Thomas-Greenfield: We have to do everything we can to make sure that we can find a way to change the experiences women in Africa have right now. There’s a lot of risk, but it’s not just women and girls, it’s for their whole family because we know that when women are empowered, they empower their families, they empower their communities, They empower their countries.

We have to work with these countries to ensure that the pandemic and the alarming numbers of women around the world who have been forced to choose between their jobs and their families and their health and their businesses, are forced to move forward. to get adequate support. But what we’ve seen, and I think what has been so devastating, is the impact. Initially, I saw statistics that indicated that child marriages were on the rise, girls being raped… that people were taking advantage of women and girls in these situations. …we have seen that COVID-19 seems to reverse decades of hard-earned achievements for girls, including access to education. … and so this is something that we have to work to address, not only to get the vaccines out but to get girls back in the classroom.

VOA: Women’s safety and girls’ education are perhaps (are) among the most heart-wrenching and heart-wrenching stories of the groups affected by this pandemic. UN policy on the impact of COVID-19 on women states that women around the world earn less, save less, have less secure jobs, and are more likely to be employed in the informal sector Is. And in some African countries, there are no fiscal relief packages or social safety nets as we see in the United States and other countries in the West or to help mitigate the devastating effects of this pandemic on women’s lives and their lives. Are there any other benefits. Livelihoods What do you think African governments stand to gain by including women in their economic recovery strategies, and what could they lose if they don’t?

Thomas-Greenfield: I think countries are now, leaders are now more aware about the importance of including women in their country’s development plan. Because over and over again, and I say this over and over again, when we invest in women they invest back in their families, they invest in their communities, and they invest in their countries. And in many of these countries, they represent 50% of the population. You cannot ignore 50% of your country and think that your country is going to progress. So if they don’t include women in their development plans, if they don’t include women in their investment efforts, these countries are at a loss. They are missing what these women can contribute to their countries. We have seen successful, women-run businesses across the continent of Africa. And we see how successful women have been in building their communities through civil society activities. But we have also seen that they are much more affected by the virus than other parts of the population and for this reason, we need to make sure that we pay more attention to them, otherwise we can give to women, To build these economies as we begin.

VOA: You are a longtime champion of gender equality. … there is a generation of educated but unemployed youth in Africa. They are grappling with unprecedented and uncertain times. They have been called the “epidemic generation”. What immediate investments can governments, businesses and the international community at large make in Africa’s youth, especially its girls? What kind of investments can be made today that will prepare them and build resilience for any crises that lie ahead?

Thomas-Greenfield: When you consider the fact that the average age on the continent of Africa is 19, we started with that. And then you have countries like Niger, where the average age is 15. If we do not focus on young people, we are neglecting a country. Half the population is under the age of 19, so that’s why I’m most proud of the work I did, and the (US President Barack) Obama administration to support youth across the continent of Africa.

The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) will pay dividends on the continent of Africa long after I leave. And that’s something that we all have to make sure we continue to invest in. Invest in mentoring youth, encouraging youth, supporting youth leadership in government, in business, in civil society, in education. … we want them to be leaders in their community. We want them to be leaders in their business. We want to be leaders in their churches, in their schools. And they will begin building the next generation of leaders on the continent. And this is where the future of Africa lies.

VOA: Madam Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Thank you very much for your time and I really appreciate it for being here with me.

Thomas-Greenfield: Thank you very much. And again, I know Africa has a bright future because I know there are a lot of young people out there building that future one brick at a time. And we are going to see the results of their work in the future.

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