Moderator: Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and thank all of you for joining this discussion. Today, we are very pleased to be joined by Heather Merritt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Deputy Assistant Secretary Merritt, also known as DAS Merritt, will discuss the Kenya Bilateral Strategic Dialogue, her recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and INL programs on Crime and Corruption across Africa. She is speaking to us from Washington, D.C. We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from DAS Merritt, and then we will turn to your questions. We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the time that we have which is approximately 30 minutes.
At any time during the call if you would like to ask a question, you must press “*1” on your phone to join the question and answer queue. If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag #AFHubPress and follow us on @StateINL and @AfricaMediaHub. As a reminder, today’s call is on the record and with that, I will turn it over to Deputy Assistant Secretary Merritt.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Heather Merritt: Good morning, Tiffany. Thanks so much for that introduction and good morning to the journalists who are calling in from around the continent. I want to thank you all so much for taking the time to join today, and I know you’re calling in from many different countries, many different time zones. I am so pleased to see the number of journalists that are calling from countries that I have had the pleasure of living and working and sharing a part of your country as a part of my life, so a special hello. I know we have got folks on the line from Zimbabwe, Botswana, Nigeria, (Portuguese greeting).
I really appreciate everyone’s interest, and I know it’s getting late in the day for some. For those of you who are not familiar, the part of the State Department that I am here representing today is the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. It’s a long name, and we usually refer to it by the acronym of INL. INL works around the globe to counter international crime, illegal drugs and instability, and we do this by providing assistance to help countries deliver justice through strengthening their police, their court systems and their prosecutors. Through diplomatic engagement and on the ground foreign assistance programs, we encourage reform, promote effective governance, help to improve the rule of law and develop accountable institutions.
I think of most relevance to you on the phone, our work is one important element of overall U.S. relations with Africa, and I think some of you have noted in my bio, Africa has a very special place in my heart. It’s the place where I have spent most of my diplomatic career. Across Africa, we just see countries potential for positive gains in the economic, security and political spaces whether that comes through ending conflict, democratic transitions of power or improving the economy, but there are also many needs and there are security gaps that hampers some of that progress. Certainly parts of Africa are hindered by weaker government institutions, problems with corruption and human rights.
Many weak and fragile states still lack the ability to address transnational terror and criminal threats including those that directly affect the United States. These challenges though provide opportunities for U.S. partnership with our African partners. INL works with a number of countries across the continent, partnering with governments to develop justice sector capacity, deliver citizen insecurity and maintain rule of law. And we do this because these are the elements needed to prevent and address non-state criminal and terrorist threats.
I wanted to just offer at the top a few examples of INL’s work across the continent. I think Tiffany mentioned in her introduction that I just returned from a very productive trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo last week. While I was there, I met with partners working to improve and expand the security and justice sector in that country. Following the election of President Tshisekedi earlier this year, the DRC government issued a comprehensive plan to reform its national police. And to support this important goal, INL is working to improve and expand Congolese civilian law enforcement capabilities and to professionalize police procedures and organizations.
One highlight of my trip was when I had the chance to meet with the Congolese alumni of the International Law Enforcement Academy, or ILEA, and INL has a network of ILEAs around the world. The one that many of you may be familiar with, there are two on the continent, our ILEA based in Gaborone, Botswana, which I have had the chance to visit many times during my assignment there and our newer regional training center in Ghana and through these academies, we are able to help train partner nation law enforcement personnel, corrections officials, judges, prosecutors and other civilian security actors, and our alumni are able to exchange information with one another and learn new techniques and tools in their areas of interest.
This year, 52 participants from Congo are scheduled to attend 9 different ILEA courses. They are going to go to courses covering topics including anti-corruption, human trafficking and countering violent extremism. So meeting the previous alumni from Congo of our ILEA program and we have about 120 of them so far, vividly illustrated to me the real impact that these expert trainings are having and how much our alumni are returning to the DRC and making great use of techniques, tools, tactics that they’ve learned at those ILEA trainings. It was really heartening to see. Beyond the DRC, I also wanted to mention that INL participated two or three weeks ago here in Washington in a really important series of meetings that furthered the Kenya-United States bilateral partnership. We held the first ever Kenya Bilateral Strategic Dialogue here in Washington.
Through these gatherings, the governments of the U.S. and Kenya reaffirmed the importance of our bilateral relationship and made new commitments in a number of priority areas. I had the privilege of co-leading the security and democracy pillar of that dialogue, and we committed INL to supporting two of Kenya’s priorities – building a modern and professional police service and increasing the fight against corruptions. We are doing this through technical and operational assistance to the internal affairs unit of the National Police Service, the independent policing oversight authority and the National Police Service Commission and other programming.
Looking a little bit more broadly at East Africa, INL contributes to the stabilization of countries through the development and reform of security and criminal justice sectors. In places like Somalia that are undergoing transition emerging from violent conflict or grappling with under governance spaces. In West Africa, INL supports Department of State and U.S. priorities to reduce instability, counter transnational organized crime, particularly drug trafficking, and promote greater regional cooperation. Strengthening cooperation between U.S. law enforcement and our West African partners is an especially important consideration. Law enforcement working together across borders is a necessary element to stop transnational organized crime.
In the Sahel, we are working with partners facing significant security challenges. INL programs aim to improve the capacity of the criminal justice sector and also to increase the linkages between security actors and the communities they serve. We’re working to help the communities better understand the services they receive from those security actors and to assure that security actors have a community orientation in everything that they do. Part of the reason we do this is that confidence in the state increases when government acknowledges and addresses previously inadequate policing, issues with corruption or inhumane prison conditions. Our efforts in the Sahel are helping law enforcement serve and protect communities better through modernised policing techniques, more efficient administration of justice and more professional prison management.
Finally, I want to mention INL’s work in North Africa where we have been working to promote sustainable security reforms, reduce conflict in crises and improve partner capacity to work with U.S. law enforcement. We are also working to reduce corruption and strengthen regional governance. Our work in North Africa is critical to the success of U.S. and partner nation political and counterterrorism objectives and integral to improving stability, particularly in the areas with deep governance and security challenges such as in Libya.
INL focuses not only on specific countries or regions within Africa, but also some of our work focuses on specific types of crime. We definitely are perceiving a growing threat from transnational organized crime actors, both in East and West Africa. Some of this is the product of burgeoning illicit markets on the continent. Markets for smuggling and illegal trade in people, in drugs, in weapons and in wildlife. Porous borders, under resourced law enforcement and increasingly diffuse and technologically advanced trafficking networks are particular challenges.
I finally should note that wildlife poaching and trafficking represents an escalating international security and conservation crisis and that is something that we here in INL give significant attention to along with our partner nations on the continent. Operations have expanded beyond small scale or opportunistic crimes and unfortunately what we are seeing now in many of your countries is coordinated slaughter which was commissioned by armed and organized criminal syndicates. These crime networks are proliferating and they are striking new and powerful alliances and engaging in a range of illicit activities. So we are very concerned about the growth of those wildlife trafficking rings and the range of crime that they are connected to.
INL takes a criminal justice approach to countering this scourge. We support training and technical assistance for park rangers and law enforcement including training on investigations that enable your host government officials to follow the money and conduct cross-border investigations of wildlife crime. We also provide training to prosecutors on wildlife laws and strategies to help them achieve successful prosecutions in this area. Finally, we offer technical assistance to help governments strengthen their domestic laws and increase the penalties for wildlife poaching and trafficking. So with that overview, I want to thank you again for being on the call today and I look forward to our discussion and to your questions.
Moderator: Thank you DAS Merritt. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing: The INL programs on crime and corruption across Africa. For those of you listening to the call in English, please press “*1″ on your phone to join question queue. Using a speakerphone, you may need to pick up the handset before entering “*1.” For those of you listening to the call in French and Portuguese, we have received some of your questions submitted in advance by email and you may continue to submit your questions in English via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Our first question will go to our listening party at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa. Operator, could you open the line please.
Operator: I am sorry, what line would you like opened?
Moderator: Addis U.S. Embassy, Addis Ababa.
Operator: I do not see that line is queued up.
Moderator: Zelalem Befekadu.
Operator: Okay. Your line is open, please go ahead.
Question: Good afternoon. My name is Samuel Getachew. I am from Reporter Newspaper in Ethopia. My question is there has been some changes in some of the ivory or elephants being allowed to be killed in Botswana, and I just wanted to know your reaction. And also what specific issues are you dealing with within in Ethiopia. Thank you.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Heather Merritt: Samuel, thanks so much for calling in today and thanks for your question. Yes, I do understand that there have been some changes in Botswana related to legal hunting of elephants with, what’s the word I am looking for, licensed hunting. I really don’t think that that’s something that I am able to comment on today. I think that is a broad question for environmentalist and conservationist to discuss whether or not that is the right approach. But really I am here from a law enforcement perspective and so our concern is stopping the illicit poaching and trafficking of these beautiful animals. I think that a broader conversation within the conservation and the CITES community about different approaches to achieving that protection is an important one, and I am sure the Government of Botswana is having that and I would encourage all of you who are interested to be a part of that conversation.
I am so glad you asked about Ethiopia. INL until now has not had a program in Ethiopia, but we are in close discussions with your government and with the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa and I am very, very optimistic that we will be able to start a cooperation between the United States and the Government of Ethiopia in the area of civilian security and justice later this calendar year. So I would say that I am very much looking forward to furthering our discussions. I think that there’s a lot that the United States could bring to the table to support the Ethiopian government as it works on very important justice sector and civilian security reforms and I think we will have some additional news on that probably in the next three to six months. So stand by and I look forward to working more closely with you in Addis.
Moderator: Thank you. Our next question will go to the listening party at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. Could you open the line please?
Operator: The line is open, please go ahead.
Question: I am Ester in Nairobi, and my question is there has been a lot of arrests and convictions, and (inaudible) from the arrests they have made we are seeing (inaudible) agencies concerned around corruption but there aren’t really any convictions made, sort of recommendations that you would have for law enforcement to ensure that they don’t just arrest criminals but actually have convictions at the end of the day. My name is Ester from The Star.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Heather Merritt: Well, Ester nice to meet you over the phone and thanks so much for calling in from Nairobi from The Star. I think you raised a really important point and that is that anti-corruption investigations are particularly complex. They tend to involve multiple jurisdictions because often corrupt officials are able to move assets amongst various jurisdictions both within your country and internationally. We know, for example, that there are certain jurisdictions with favorable tax laws, there are jurisdictions that are just attractive because people want to spend their ill-gotten gains, and unfortunately my country is one of those jurisdictions that’s attractive.
What I would say though is that you know we are working in close partnership with the government of Kenya and I do know that there is an increased focus currently and the United States continues to encourage that focus within the Kenyan government. I think that it is sometimes hard when you perceive from the outside that the convictions aren’t coming fast enough, but I would say that to some degree these cases are time consuming and one has to be a little bit patient.
I think there also has to be significant institutional strengths that these cases are also very difficult and then it’s difficult sometimes to resist pressure from various interested parties because let’s face it, there are significant pressures on our law enforcement and our justice officials in every country including my own when cases become significant. But I think that it’s really important that they stay the course. You know I would also say that we are working together on a number of areas to increase the ability, for example, our work together in Kenya of the United States and Kenyan Government over the years, we have helped to stand up the independent policing oversight authority or IPOA, which has really been a key oversight tool and an institution that’s helping to ensure accountability and citizenfocus on the behalf of the police. We have helped to stand up the internal affairs unit within the police and we are now looking forward to some additional U.S.-Kenyan cooperation to work on serious crimes in some of these cases.
So I would just say that the work is ongoing, but the biggest lesson I think we take from the United States and other well-meaning partners of Kenya is that strengthening those anti-corruption institutions, whether it’s the investigators on the law enforcement side, the prosecutors or even the judges, they need to be empowered and strengthened and given as much independence as possible, so that they are able to carry out the people’s work and I would encourage everyone to follow those cases closely, but to be a little bit patient because they are complex cases that take time. Thanks very much.
Moderator: Thank you. Our next question was submitted via email in advance from Emmanuel Ogbeche from The Abuja Inquirer. He asks briefly what efforts are on the ground by the United States to repatriate stolen funds to Africa and specifically to Nigeria?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Heather Merritt: Thanks so much Emmanuel for that question. It’s a really important one. You know the United States continues to work closely with Nigeria on recovery of stolen assets. One example of our work together was that we worked together at the Global Forum on Asset Recovery which the United States co-hosted along with the U.K. in December, 2017 and this forum sought to strengthen international cooperation on four focused countries where we thought there was an opportunity to make significant progress on asset recovery efforts. Nigeria was one of those four focused countries along with Sri Lanka, Tunisia and Ukraine. So at this event, which was known by the acronym GFAR, we convened law enforcement and asset recovery practitioners from 26 different jurisdictions around the world to consult with one another on specific cases.
These meetings allowed investigators and prosecutors working on these types of cases to exchange information, discuss hurdles to the ongoing cases and determine a way forward to address those challenges. GFAR ultimately helped to advance several ongoing asset recovery cases including some big ones that affected Nigeria. I also wanted to note, I had a note of how much has actually been. It’s a great question and we are certainly working together, but it does take time and we recognize that. I want to just add on the broader question of illicit financial flows and asset recovery the United States is working. We are really committed to recovering public assets stolen by corrupt officials that were stashed abroad and we are proud to be a global leader on this issue.
In the past 10 years, the U.S. Department of Justice has restrained more than $3.2 billion in assets that were linked to corruption and more importantly we have returned to their appropriate jurisdictions over $500 million since 2007 and over $200 million of those returns were this year alone. What we have learned over the years is that criminals are getting better and better at hiding their assets and hiding their crimes. So these cases are very time consuming and they take a lot of coordination across jurisdictions. The State Department’s role in this along with our law enforcement counterparts and partners is that we really facilitate the cooperation amongst the foreign partners and INL helps to support the asset recovery efforts through capacity building for partner nations like Nigeria, like Kenya, like the countries on the line.
This capacity building we’re providing is not only critical to recovering stolen assets, it’s also aimed to help prevent future corruption from happening in the first place by strengthening those institutions that we talked about and we are trying to ensure that the assets being returned are done so in a safe and secure way so that they are used appropriately by the government to benefit the people of your country and not vulnerable to falling into the wrong hands a second time.
Moderator: Thank you so much. Our next question will go to the listening party in Addis Ababa. Operator, can you open the line please?
Operator: Again, which line would you like opened?
Operator: I am sorry, I didn’t hear that.
Moderator: Zelalem at the U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa.
Operator: Line is open, please go ahead.
Question: My name is Bamlak Taddese, I am working with Afro FM in Addis Ababa. I would like to thank you madam to explore with me the issue of corruption in Africa. New leaders like President-Elect of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa and Tshisekedi and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia are expressing the commitment in fighting corruption. So I would like to hear your opinion please madam, could corruption be a threat to the latest kind of reform that is happening in Africa. What’s your option on this? Thank you.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Heather Merritt: Thanks so much for your question. I am sorry we had a little technical interference. I didn’t catch your name, but thank you for the question from Addis. I think if I heard you properly your question was do I think that many of the new reform, the leaders who have come online in the last year who are pledging reform, will corruption be a deterrent or derail their reform efforts? I think the general position, my feeling is that corruption is always a threat. It’s a threat in every country and it’s a threat to anybody’s political or reform agenda, no matter how well intentioned. That’s why it’s really important that we invest in strengthening institutions, both criminal justice, courts and civil society institutions that are poised to combat corruption.
You know one thing that came up during my trip to the Congo was a discussion about the role that salaries and particularly low salaries play in anti-corruption and there was some useful comments from my DRC colleagues about the fact that it is sometimes difficult when judges, police, other civilian security actors are underpaid, they may be more vulnerable to corruption and I certainly agree that an adequate salary helps to bolster the corruption fight. But you know I also made a point several times in my time in the DRC that adequate salaries are not enough, that even in countries where officials are very well paid, there are sometimes people who fall prey unfortunately to corruption and so we have got to do everything we can to strengthen institutions.
You know the example that I gave which is one I think many of you on the line can relate to is you know we had a big corruption scandal about three years ago within the world football body, within FIFA. It’s not because Sepp Blatter was underpaid, it’s not because the FIFA commissioners around the world were underpaid that they were susceptible to bribes and that they sort of undermined the norms and the purpose of that body. They made a decision to engage in corruption and so there was luckily outside oversight, there were whistleblowers and there were institutions that were able to do investigations to hold accountable those who were involved and to get past it.
So I think for all of us the ability to have those strong institutions are incredibly important. I think that that is the issue. It is all about stopping impunity, it’s about society’s demanding accountability, but most of all it’s about developing strong independent institutions that are able to combat corruption across the criminal justice sector and that’s absolutely an issue even in places with good intent. So we as citizens and as journalists have to help hold our governments accountable and to strengthen those institutions. And the United States is here partnering with many of your nations to do that through some of our cooperation programs. Thank you very much for that question.
Moderator: We are running out of time. I would like to offer a question to the listening party in Nairobi, if you could please open the line.
Operator: The line is open, please go ahead.
Question: Alright, my name is (inaudible), I work with Capital FM in Nairobi and my question is on the South Sudan peace process. The U.S. has raised great concerns on what appeared to be illicit financial (inaudible) in the region and warned countries in the region to put measures in place to ensure that warlods in South Sudan don’t get safe haven in Nairobi in terms of, and of course other capitals in the region, in terms of investing their ill-acquired wealth. So my question is, are you satisfied with what the countries in the region are doing to deter leaders who may be violating for instance, I mean to keep violators from South Sudan from investing their ill acquired wealth in the region. Thank you.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Heather Merritt: Thanks so much for your question from Capital FM in Nairobi. I am not an expert on the illicit financial flows coming out of South Sudan, but I would know that the United States remains committed to peace returning to the people of South Sudan. It has been a very disappointing several years watching the instability and insecurity there. The United States was a friend and partner to South Sudan from the very beginning and it has been a difficult time watching the unrest.
I would just repeat my point that I made earlier that I think it is incredibly important that all of the countries of the region continue to strengthen their anti-corruption institutions to guard not only against theft from your own government coffers in countries like Kenya or in countries like Tanzania, other regional powers, but I think it also helps to address situations like the one that you just mentioned. That if you have a strong anti-money laundering regime, if you have in place adequate measures in your banking system, that your bankers are able to report suspicious transactions appropriately to national authorities, that investigators within your law enforcement entities are empowered to trace what’s happening with that money and to investigate whether it is the proceeds of either corruption or other forms of transnational crime and let’s not forget terror financing.
You know in East Africa you are still very much dealing with the threat of Al-Shabaab and other terror groups and terror financing is also an issue. So the key in all of these situations is empowered institutions and anti-money laundering and counterterror finance laws that meet or exceed international standards, appropriate training and empowerment for your investigators and your courts. So I would just say we continue to work together with the governments of the region on all of that. It’s incredibly important for the United States, for the good of the people of South Sudan and for the good of all of our nations that we are strong. Crimes like that increasingly know no boundaries and that’s why we have to work together in strong partnership with strong criminal justice institutions. Thank you.
Moderator: Thanks. I would like to get to one of our journalists who are on the question queue. Do you have time for one last question?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Heather Merritt: Yes, ma’am.
Moderator: Okay great. Operator, could you open up for Gary Raynaldo from the Diplomatic Times?
Operator: Your line is open, please go ahead.
Question: Good afternoon, Madam Merritt. Gary Raynaldo here with Diplomatic Times. I have a question on your recent trip to the DR Congo in the context of the G5 Sahel, the increased terror attacks that we see in Burkina Faso and Mali, and the New York Times reported that there was a terror attack linked to ISIS in DR Congo is the first of its kind. So what type of resources does the INL have to tackle, with InterPol, with AFRICOM. That’s my question.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Heather Merritt: Hi Gary. Nice to meet you over the phone and thanks for calling in from the Diplomatic Times. I think you are right to ask about the various threats that are undermining security and peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There have been recent media reports about illegal armed groups with increasing ties to terrorist organizations, including ISIS, that is certainly of concern to not only the people and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, but friends and partners like the United States. I think everyone is aware that that is a country that is facing enormous challenges. There’s still a large Ebola epidemic. There are illegal armed groups causing problems in the east.
We have a large peacekeeping mission there from the United Nations, so many of our nations are involved in the attempts to bring peace and stability back to the Congo. I would note, we are working on a number of things in DRC that may help to increase their resilience to these threats. Certainly our work on community policing which we have done over the past four to five years in several provinces. We have police in those provinces that are better trained, better equipped in newly refurbished or rebuilt police stations in many cases and have a greater community orientation. So we have helped to build confidence and support and trust between the police and the local communities they serve. I was able to see that work in the field during my visit to Lubumbashi and to hear from the mayor of Lubumbashi and the head of the (inaudible) which is one of the neighborhoods that we are working in about how this community policing project which was implemented by our partner, The International Organization for Migration, has really had a positive impact on security.
I would also note, and I think I mentioned earlier, that DRC is one of the countries that participates in our International Law Enforcement Academies, our ILEA system. Through that training we’re helping to strengthen the capacity to our DRC partners on topics including countering violent extremism, but also anti-corruption, human trafficking and a number of other specific technical areas. So I would say that you know we are already partnering to strengthen civilian security within the very challenging security environment of the DRC. We are having some successes in the areas of community oriented policing. We are also looking forward to some additional work in the future supporting President Tshisekedi’s anti-corruption agenda and continuing to facilitate the speedy and effective functioning of the justice system through some projects and all of that is going to strengthen I think the country’s resilience to threats, whether they are transnational crime threats or some of these new and emerging terror groups that are exploiting the security vacuum in the DRC. So I think we are working together hand-in-hand and the key is supporting those institutions to be resilient to the broad range of transnational threats, so thanks Gary.
Moderator: Well, that concludes today’s call. DAS Merritt, do you have any final words?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Heather Merritt: Thank you so much. Listen, it has been a pleasure to speak with you all today and I look forward to continued conversations whether it’s on future trips to the region, your visits here to Washington or over the telephone on another occasion about a specific topic. I would just leave you by saying that you know INL is working to partner with countries around the continent because it’s in our mutual interest. We recognize that crime increasingly knows no boundaries and that unfortunately drugs that are transiting Mombasa or transiting Johannesburg, Harare, Kinshasa, Luanda, are not only a threat to the people of your countries, they are also a threat to the security and stability of the United States. Internet-fueled crime now is easier than ever for money and for goods to move very, very quickly from one part of the world to another. So INL is here as a friend and partner. We have staff and programming in almost every, in many other countries on the continent and we look forward to continuing our partnership to strengthen everyone who is part of that criminal justice network so we can work together to fight people who are trafficking in wildlife, people who are trafficking drugs, people who are trafficking in persons and to keep the personnel and the citizens of all of our nations safer through effective policing community-oriented law enforcement and effective justice. So thank you in advance for being our partners and we look forward to continuing our work together to fight crime and drugs around the world.
Moderator: Great and thank you Heather Merritt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, for joining us and thanks to all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the African Regional Media Hub at email@example.com. Thank you.