Africa Regional Media Hub Podcast with Ambassador Joseph Macmanus, Permanent Representative of the United States to International Organizations in Vie

Picture of Ambassador Joseph Macmanus
Joseph Macmanus was confirmed by the Senate as the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office in Vienna and to the International Atomic Energy Agency on September 22, 2012.

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Interviewer:  Good Morning from the U.S. State Department’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I have with me today Ambassador Joseph Macmanus, the Permanent Representative of the United States to International Organizations in Vienna. Good Morning, Mr. Ambassador.

JEM: Good Morning.

Interviewer: I understand that your organization provides U.S. representation to a number of different international organizations in Vienna.  Can you tell us a little more about your work and how it relates to your current visit to Africa?

JEM: As the U.S. Ambassador to International Organizations in Vienna, I represent the United States at a number of international organizations that are based there.  Vienna, like Geneva and New York, is a hub for UN regional activity.  In Vienna those UN-based or UN related activities are the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, among others. South Africa also plays, and other African nations play, an important role and have Ambassadors at all of those organizations.

Interviewer: And it’s because of your work with the International Atomic Energy Agency, that you’re here in Africa?

JEM: Yes, an important part of what the United States does in its cooperation with South Africa is, I think, very familiar to a number of South Africans. We have a large USAID mission here. We also have representatives and programs from PEPFAR, from the US Department of Agriculture and from the Center for Disease Control in the United States.  They are engaged in a number of development activities like the Global Health Initiative and Feed the Future, and other agricultural programs.  So, I think people are very familiar, South Africans and elsewhere in the continent, there is a familiarity with working cooperatively with the United States on issues and problems where we want to contribute and want to cooperate. At IAEA there is a department or division that is responsible for technical cooperation. This isn’t exactly development assistance, but it is very similar. And the technical cooperation programs that take place, which occur here in South Africa and other countries in Africa, are meant to assist those countries in activities related to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Of course South Africa has a large nuclear energy sector, and also a great deal of familiarity with peaceful uses techniques.

Interviewer: So what has the IAEA achieved in African countries since its operation in the continent?

JEM: Well, you know, I think in just a very quick way as a summary — the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation program is active in 40 countries in the continent, and these programs tend to center around very key areas: health care, both knowledge and treatment, as well as addressing trans-boundary animal disease, providing access to clean water resources, providing food security and a stable source of income through employment of crop development techniques. So there are some very practical applications that involve techniques that the IAEA has developed in their nuclear application laboratories.

Interviewer: So can you unpack some of these projects by describing them in more detail?

JEM: Yes, I would be happy to. I think if I begin with health programs, I think those are most obvious and available to people if they are thinking about why is it that the International Atomic Energy Agency would be involved in health care projects in South Africa.  A principal area of work, and I think the Director General of IAEA Yukiya Amano has visited many times in Africa and has visited South Africa, one of the programs that the Director General has supported with his leadership and seeking support of donor countries is in addressing the growing problem of cancer.

I know that cancer is sometimes thought of as a disease that afflicts industrialized nations. But that is far from the case.  Cancer is a public health issue, a public health problem that occurs in all countries in the world and often times the direct problems of cancer aren’t able to be addressed because of the development level in the country.  Either the means are not there or the training isn’t there.

The United States has used funds in technical cooperation in a program we call the Peaceful Uses Initiative to provide over $300,000 to the Africa Regional Cooperative Agreement Group.  This is a group of 30 African countries that work cooperatively on IAEA peaceful uses programs.  The AFRA or the Africa Regional Cooperative coordinates with all 39 IAEA African member states to propose and implement technical cooperation activities under IAEA*.  On cancer in particular, and I started by talking about that, we support the IAEA Program of Action for Cancer Therapy. It’s called PACT, P-A-C-T. And PACT conducts studies or assessments of national cancer fighting capabilities in individual countries in order to make recommendations that would help build that capacity.  The fact is that there are, of course, techniques that are available for helping to address cancer.  People have, I think, become very familiar with radiation therapy that is used to address cancer. And yet that capability of using radiation to mitigate cancer and tumors, while it is well known, is not a technology that has great dispersal throughout Africa and other countries that are in development.

* Clarification: AFRA currently coordinates projects with 39 of 44 African Member States. AFRA projects related to cancer treatment have been conducted in 30 African countries.

During this trip we’ll be going to Tanzania and to Ethiopia.  In Tanzania there is an institute, the Ocean Road Cancer Institute in Dar es Salaam. And this is a PACT Model Demonstration Site. This gives both Tanzania and the Africa Regional Cooperative a platform by which they can share and learn information about cancer therapy using radiological or nuclear medicine and it will also be a platform from which countries can develop their own capabilities.

Let me just touch on one other thing in terms of health care.  I think many people are familiar with the program of addressing both the problem of malaria as born by mosquitos and the problem of tsetse fly and Trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness. In both cases, there are radiological techniques, sterilization techniques that have been developed at IAEA that are now more widely practiced at laboratories in the developing world, and the developed world, that address pests that affect agricultural output as well as human health.  There are projects for instance in Mexico, in the United States, in Central Europe that deal with the fruit fly, which is a scourge that will destroy fruit crop.  The sterile insect technique which is used to address malaria and malaria mosquitos was developed at IAEA and has been widely practiced at laboratories throughout Africa.  As well the sterilization of tsetse flies and then the release of sterile flies into the population is a way of controlling the spread of sleeping sickness. So these are very practical techniques that directly benefit the health of populations in Africa.

Interviewer: South Africa is the first stop on your regional tour. Would the U.S. be supportive of South Africa expanding its nuclear medicine capacity? What is the outlook in this area?

JEM: South Africa, of course, has a very well developed nuclear capability, in both nuclear power and nuclear applications.  I think that there is both a knowledge base, people who are well-versed in management of nuclear techniques, again both in nuclear power and areas like healthcare.  So South Africa, one as a leading country, technological country, in Africa and two as a center that can support regional activities, is a wonderful center for developing nuclear medicine. South Africa has its own initiative, it’s called Nuclear Technologies in Medicine and the Biosciences Initiative. The initiative is a partnership of higher education institutions, research organizations, governmental organizations, and the private sector. And they conduct research to develop new approaches to treat diseases. The initiative supports human resource development, including 60 percent women, and works jointly with some of the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation projects. So South Africa actually is a wonderful location for development of those techniques.

Interviewer: You had mentioned these programs affect other areas of development, such as food security. Are these part of USAID’s programs like Feed the Future?

JEM: Technical Cooperation and Peaceful Uses Initiative, the food security projects in technical cooperation, don’t fall under USAID programs, but they are complementary and support the same goals.  In fact I am talking to you today from the AID headquarters in Pretoria. We had a long meeting early this morning- you are not my first conversation today I have to say- but we met for over an hour and talked about cooperation between the IAEA activities that we coordinate in Vienna on technical cooperation and how those could be added to and combined with the programs at USAID.

Let me mention a couple of examples.  The South African government expressed interest in the capabilities that we funded for a peaceful initiative project in Ethiopia to detect and respond to trans-boundary animal diseases. The South African response, and this is also one of the benefits of cooperative program development, is that countries have the chance to see and understand a particular project and then expand it to fit the circumstances of their own needs. So South Africa, having seen this trans-boundary animal project in Ethiopia, in effect picked up the project. The project was proposed for expanding associated labs in Africa to prevent the spread of diseases such as Foot-and-Mouth Disease and African swine fever throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

This was a multilateral investment – South Africa provided funding, funding was also through the African Renaissance Fund.  Japan provided some further assistance as did the United States.  So what we have is a project that started out in Ethiopia as a sort of demonstration project and that had developed truly into a regional project with cooperation and support from a number of governments and leadership from South Africa.  Those are wonderful examples of the kind of cooperation that can occur in a technical cooperation environment when the practical uses are seen in health and livestock and in food security.

Interviewer:  How prepared is the IAEA to improve and sustain its operations in the face of the present effects of climate change in African communities?

JEM: I think it is very well prepared to do so, and in fact, there is ongoing cooperation in the Technical Cooperation Fund and the Peaceful Uses Initiative for projects that are already working to address the impacts of climate change. I’ll give you an example, many of the technical assistance projects that we fund through the IAEA focus on water resource management, water being a scarce commodity, a very valuable commodity in countries around the world.  In the United States — water resources are not a question of whether you are a developed or developing nation, it affects all countries–the United States understands this extremely well.  Sorry, I am jumping around here.  A major African regional project that the U.S., Sweden, Japan, and Australia support – and one that is of key importance to the IAEA Director General who I mentioned earlier — is a project that aims to support rational and sustainable management of shared groundwater resources.  Like any border issues, groundwater and access to water, is central sometimes to relationships between states, between neighboring states.  In the Sahel region there is a project underway that uses isotope hydrology techniques. Now before I lose you I’ll explain very briefly.  Not all isotopes are dangerous and need to be handled with the same care that nuclear material is given in power applications and other installations. Sometimes they are used as a marker. They are placed in water supplies and traced. It is very easy to understand the movement of ground water: where resources are, where there are pools of water that exist, and what the extent of the movement of groundwater is.  That mapping technique is aided through the use of stable isotopes. This then gives the countries in the Sahel region a picture of the resource that they are discussing.

It is one thing to know that there is a well and you can get water out of it.  It is another thing entirely when you are trying to develop patterns of economic development, of social development, in a country and you don’t have a clear picture of what water resources are available—how many wells would be supported by the reservoir that exists in a particular region. So this technique has been especially useful in helping countries in the Sahel and it can be applied in many other cases.

Interviewer: What is the United States’ view on how African governments should go about managing the exploitation of uranium resources?

JEM: Well of course uranium resources are a sovereign issue that countries face. In the non-proliferation context there is a great international interest, in organizations like the IAEA, that countries, as they develop uranium do so in a responsible way. This has to do both with human health and safety but also understanding where sensitive materials are being directed. Uranium mining and milling in and of itself is not a particular threat. But understanding how the mining is taking place and how the materials are being handled is important.

The U.S. has provided Peaceful Uses Initiative support to a regional project called “Strengthening Regional Capabilities for Uranium Mining, Milling, and Regulation of Related Activities.”  That is a long title.  But what it means is pretty much what I’ve said, which is that in the context of mining and milling there are procedures or regulatory mechanisms that should be in place. People should be satisfied and comfortable that the mining is taking place in a safe way and the government should be satisfied that they can do this in a way that does not undermine human health or safety, or undermine the commitment of the government to protecting those resources and directing them appropriately. So that kind of cooperation—I think South Africa is a great proponent of non-proliferation in the IAEA and as a national responsibility, and I think this is a way of advancing that.

Interviewer: In what new areas is the IAEA looking toward in promoting sustainability in Africa?

JEM: The answer to that depends on the individual member state.  The member state, the participant state in IAEA, develops for their own country, based on needs, what they take to be their priorities, and they engage with IAEA and the Technical Cooperation Department in a kind of development conversation or technical assistance conversation on what projects would be most appropriate to their particular needs. South Africa knows that it has, as I have said, an active, vibrant nuclear capability. Many countries in Africa do not.  So South Africa’s conversation with IAEA about technical assistance would be different from that of a country that didn’t have the same kind of resources and capabilities that South Africa has. But, at the end of that conversation is one thing that should be true in all cases and that is that the technical cooperation conversations that take place are of direct benefit, and fit into the development goals and the economic goals and the technology and education goals of the country and that confidence is part of the process of developing projects, both in technical cooperation and in what we call the Peaceful Uses Initiative.

Interviewer:  Well Ambassador, that certainly is an impressive list of projects. All of these projects really seem to have different development objectives, to which quite a bit of funding has been contributed.  What’s the end goal of these programs?

JEM: Well, I think it’s the same as the end goal of all development assistance projects – which is the growth of capabilities of the education and training and experience that individuals in a country need in order to gain ownership over these capabilities and map their own future. Development assistance doesn’t work as development if the development factor goes on endlessly. So development should be a term, like an education. It should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And the purpose, whether it’s an individual project, or an overall goal, should be a country taking control of its own future, providing for its own needs, addressing its own problems cooperatively. There are very few problems I think in the world today that countries can solve solely and simply on their own.  I think that we know that we live in a—it’s said again and again that we live in a connected world—and we do, but not just in terms of technologies and communications, but also in terms of responsibilities.

I spoke a moment ago about shared water resources in the Sahel region in Africa. This is, in a way, a perfect analogy, a metaphor.  If you want to solve the problems of water in your country, you cannot do so without talking to your neighbors.  If you want to deal with animal-borne disease, or with a disease that’s borne by pests, they don’t recognize borders. Disease and tsetse flies go where they wish to go.  So we will always be addressing these things cooperatively. But that cooperation should be one of equals in terms of their capability, their background and their training.  And that really is the key goal to our technical cooperation projects.  But it is exciting work.

Interviewer:  It certainly is. And that brings us to the end of our discussion. Thanks very much Ambassador Macmanus for the illuminating information on the various projects that the U.S. government is involved in through the IAEA and thanks very much for your time.

JEM:  Thank you. It was a great pleasure.