Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice L. Jacobs
Remarks to the United States Naval Academy
Rickover Hall, Annapolis, MD
September 15, 2008, 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Good afternoon, I’m pleased to be here today and to have the opportunity to speak to fellow public servants about my experience as U.S. Ambassador to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, post 9/11 changes in visa processing and my current responsibilities as Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs.
As the U.S. Ambassador to The Republic of Senegal from 2006-2007, I was able to witness firsthand Senegal’s interest in broadening ties to the United States as it seeks a more productive economic and security relationship with us. Senegal is a major United States ally and our diplomatic relationship is crucial. As an African Muslim society it shares many of our fundamental values and international goals. It is a country that is cited as a model within the region for its traditions of democracy, peace and tolerance. Senegalese armed forces are professional, well disciplined and firmly under civilian control.
The United States has clear goals in our engagement with Senegal. We continue to promote economic growth, combat extremism and terrorism, encourage democracy and rule of law, resolve regional conflicts, and promote mutual understanding through a dynamic Muslim outreach program and other public diplomacy activities. We also provide high quality consular services. These goals seek to assist Senegal as it faces obstacles to its development in its lagging economy, high poverty, and illiteracy rates. The investment climate must improve to create more jobs for Senegalese. Fifty percent of young men have no jobs, 60 percent of people cannot read or write, 65 percent of people lack electricity, and 86 percent have no access to potable water.
I made it a priority as Ambassador to promote Muslim outreach and I vowed to support Salafist ideology; a practice idealizing an uncorrupted, pure Islamic religious community, to keep extremism from taking hold. From the grassroots level to the highest levels of government, Senegal has consistently demonstrated its commitment to fostering interfaith dialogue. In May of 2006, Dakar hosted the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations High-Level Group, organized by then U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to draft recommendations on narrowing the gap between Islam and the West and toimprove the understanding and cooperative relations among nations and peoples across cultures and religions and, in the process, to help counter the forces that fuel polarization and extremism.
I hosted Rabbi Arthur Schneier, President of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, along with a number of Senegalese Muslim leaders at my residence. A prominent Senegalese religious leader told the Rabbi: “All religions in our world share the same sky and all prophets from the same source.” The public diplomacy programs within the Embassy made it possible to engage moderate Senegalese religious leaders which in turn enabled us to interact effectively with potentially influential younger and under-served audiences. The Muslim outreach program – which included donations of Arabic/French language books and identification of key community leaders for the International Visitor (IV) program – was cited as a model by Washington.
The embassy requested and received a $600,000 grant from the State Department to expand a regional FM radio station owned by Cheikh Hassane Cisse, a moderate religious leader who promoted peaceful aspects of Islam. The goal was to educate people and raise awareness for dynamic dialog between cultures and for religious tolerance. The Koranic School Outreach program administered by the United States Agency for International Development was an absolute success story. USAID sought $1 million per year under the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism and Economic Support Funds for Muslim outreach. The program benefited some 4,800 vulnerable children living and studying in Koranic schools (daaras). During a trip to northern Senegal, I saw firsthand how the program supported improvements of daily life, health, nutrition and learning conditions of children in daaras. By providing improved infrastructure, hot meals and basic learning materials, students no longer followed the traditional practice of begging to raise funds for school needs. Teachers were being trained to teach math, life skills and health education. Vocational education in carpentry, sewing, masonry and tannery were being offered, and the leaders of the schools were becoming receptive to incorporating secular education in their curriculum and in promoting better nutrition and hygiene among students.
Muslim outreach was a significant aspect of my initiatives while Ambassador, but the growing U.S. military presence in Senegal required diplomatic engagement as well. The Senegalese have an intense amount of good will towards the United States and are eager to accept whatever assistance the United States can provide. The overarching goals were to reinforce the partnership and to address the poverty and slow pace of economic growth. Our assistance programs, required dedicated coordination, and in no way did we want to interfere in local politics or disturb social harmony.
Our military’s goal was to encourage and enable the Senegalese security forces to remain an important regional partner in the global war on terrorism, building upon training, equipment, and Joint and Combined Exercises. Senegal was a model partner and in 2007, Senegal promulgated counterterrorism legislation and hosted three Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership conferences. Through the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program Senegal became the world’s ninth most important peacekeeper with over 2,000 peacekeepers and civilian police in six countries.
I encouraged U.S. military engagement in Senegal because it reinforced good relationships and demonstrated to Senegal our confidence in their country. The programs that meant the most to me were the ones that addressed what I saw as the greatest needs in Senegal. They were capacity building, human rights training, medical exercises and humanitarian activities, including building schools and clinics. Because the Department of Defense is better funded than State, I was always looking for engagement activities that would have the biggest impact on advancing U.S. Government goals.
For a regional approach to succeed as contemplated under the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, the United States needs to work on increasing regional cooperation among partner countries. We need to give equal, if not more weight to the civil component of the war on terrorism because social, cultural, political and economic circumstances can lead to extremism. This includes development assistance and outreach programs that target Islamic institutions. We need to appreciate local realities, particularly in terms of technological solutions and respect the laws of the nations we are engaging with. A variety of illegal and criminal activities serve to weaken fragile governments and have a nexus to terrorism – illegal immigration, illegal fishing, smuggling of arms, and perhaps most importantly, drug trafficking, a growing concern in West Africa. Gaining greater control of maritime transportation routes can reduce many of these activities.
NAVEUR’s West Africa initiative, now called Africa Partnership Station (APS), is an international effort aiming to enhance regional and maritime safety and security in the West and Central Africa. Effective maritime safety and security will contribute to development, economic prosperity and security ashore. I was truly blessed with a strong Country Team while serving in Dakar and I had excellent support from the DATT and ODC.
In leading the Embassy of Senegal there was an imperative interagency relationship that had to be kept up. There were no significant conflicts while I was Ambassador but perhaps the biggest interagency challenge was changes made to foreign assistance planning and procedures. There was a new office created in State to oversee assistance provided by USAID and bureaus within State. This was a huge undertaking requiring training, and close coordination within the Mission and with Washington. Washington wanted to centralize planning and to have more of a say in how money was spent. Overall this incorporated funding cuts and some posts experienced lay-offs of USAID staff. Despite the fact that it was a very difficult time for all agencies, I enjoyed excellent cooperation from all offices and agencies within the Mission because they were the basis for many successful programs in Senegal.
Those interagency working relationships I maintained as Ambassador in Senegal have carried over in my current role as Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs. In leading the Bureau of Consular Affairs, I am committed to protecting the lives and interests of American citizens abroad and to strengthening the security of U.S. borders through vigilant adjudication of visas and passports.
The Bureau of Consular Affairs is composed of approximately 10,000 employees working in over 300 locations worldwide. If we were a private company we would be a fortune 1,000 company, but we work more like a public utility, touching lives and always available when an American is in a crisis situation. Just last week marked the seventh year anniversary of September 11, 2001, and the Bureau of Consular Affairs has worked relentlessly over the past seven years to improve the transparency, efficiency, and predictability of the U.S. visa process. Our commitment is to maintain America’s traditional welcome for legitimate travelers while vigilantly protecting U.S. border security for the benefit of American citizens and foreign visitors. Recent innovations to steamline post-9/11 visa processing include electronic visa applications promoting efficient data-entry, increasing the number of applicants each mission can interview daily in addition to scheduling visa appointments online. We give priority appointments to student applicants and urgent business travelers to encourage and support international business and education.
The changes we have made are not only securing our borders but include a dedicated initiative to make sure our welcome mat is out for legitimate travelers coming to America. In 2007, we issued over 6.4 million non-immigrant visas including an all time high of 651,000 student and scholar visas. In 2008, we expect the number of issuances to be slightly higher. However, in creating a secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the American people and the international community we rely heavily on our relationship with the military, especially during crisis situations.
During the Lebanon evacuation in 2006, together we successfully evacuated approximately 15,000 American citizens and family members. It was a tremendous undertaking and the largest evacuation of its kind since World War II. In fact, we gained a citizen along the way — a child was born en route to Cyprus.
Since then, during general strikes in Guinea in 2007, DOD augmented transportation options for official and private American citizens departing the country due to food and fuel shortages, and the threat of civil unrest.
This winter in Chad, DOD supported our embassy once it was forced to relocate to the airport because of fighting between Chadian military and rebel forces near the embassy and brought in both security and technical assistance as well as offered transport out to private citizens. In carrying out this work there are strict provisions regarding requests for interagency assistance. We work very closely with the Office of the Secretary Defense to ensure that all processes move as swiftly as possible to uphold our obligations in protecting Americans abroad.
Clearly these examples, and many others, underscore how important and inspiring the work that we all perform as public servants is and can be. Our interagency relationships are valuable not only to those who work for the government but also to the American people we serve.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.