Khotsong, Bo ‘Me le Bo ‘Ntate
Welcome to all of you. I am honored that you were able to join us for this celebration.
Before I begin, please allow me to pay my respects to:
His Majesty the King
The Right Honorable the Prime Minister and
the First Lady
Honorable President of the Senate
Honorable Speaker of the National Assembly
Her Ladyship the Chief Justice
Honorable Deputy Prime Minister
Honorable Ministers of His Majesty’s Cabinet, many of whom are here with us today
I’d like to extend a particular welcome and thanks to the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, who will share some thoughts with us shortly,
Their Lordships Judges of the High Court
Their Excellencies, Heads of Diplomatic Missions and International Organizations
Honorable Members of Parliament
Leaders of Political Parties
Members of the Embassy Team
My fellow Americans
Ladies and Gentlemen
On July 4 this year, the United States of America will be 241 years old. Today is the third time in Maseru I’ve had the honor and privilege of standing at this podium to celebrate the birthday of the United States. During these three years, I’ve been able to travel across much of this mountain kingdom to see first-hand its breathtaking beauty and its amazing potential. I’ve also seen Lesotho experience political difficulties and challenges to good governance and the rule of law. However, I am optimistic that Basotho from all walks of life – politicians, representatives of civil society, business leaders and ordinary citizens — will be able to come together to forge a new way forward. A way forward that moves Lesotho beyond recurring patterns of political instability and a culture of impunity toward a more mature democracy, a more vibrant economy, and a more prosperous nation.
I want to congratulate Basotho for voting peacefully on June 3 in an election all major observer groups, external and internal, found to be credible and a genuine reflection of the will of the voters. It is also important to acknowledge the impressive work of the Independent Electoral Commission, which ran a well-managed, credible process, and all major parties for accepting the outcome.
Prior to the election, the leaders of all major parties took the very important step of signing a pledge to support an independent, inclusive, and transparent process of political reform. Now that the election is over, we urge all parties to honor that commitment: for the government to be inclusive and for the opposition, members of civil society, and ordinary citizens to be engaged as well. Most Basotho I’ve talked to agree these reforms are badly needed to strengthen Lesotho’s democratic institutions and to make government more effective.
As Lesotho embarks on a process of reform, I have thought a lot about my own country’s history. U.S. democracy is by no means perfect; no democracy is. Although the ride has sometimes been bumpy, our institutions are strong, have been evolving for more than 240 years and will continue to evolve. It is hard to imagine now, but the United States was nearly 150 years old before women were allowed to vote. And, until 53 years ago, black Americans did not enjoy equal protection under the law and were often treated as second class citizens, unable to attend the school of their choice, sit in the front of a bus or drink from many water fountains. And many of you might not be aware of it, but we had a politicized public service in the United States for more than a hundred years. Incoming administrations appointed their own political supporters to fill jobs across government, at all levels, not just at the most senior policy-making level.
We have, fortunately, moved beyond those particular injustices and shortcomings. Women participate fully in our political process, including by voting; all Americans enjoy equal protection under the law, regardless of race; and the federal government is staffed by a professional civil service that is legally insulated from political pressure.
This progress wasn’t achieved overnight; in many cases, it took years and years of struggle. How was this progress achieved? Well, it took determined leadership from presidents with vision who, in the face of strong and often hostile opposition, put national interest above partisan concerns. It took inspired engagement from prominent Americans outside government, from iconic figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Susan B. Anthony, an activist who played a pivotal role in the women’s suffrage movement. It took unbelievable courage from ordinary citizens like Rosa Parks, whose determination not to give up her seat to a white person on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, catalyzed pressure for change and made her a hero of the civil rights movement. And sometimes that progress required legislation or even amendments to our constitution. But the struggles were worth it. They resulted in a more just society and a more capable, depoliticized government.
As Basotho from all walks of life, inside and outside government, focus now on forging a stronger, more sustainable democracy, I am reminded of the inspirational words of John F. Kennedy, when he accepted the Democratic nomination for president on July 15, 1960. President Kennedy said then:
“I think the American people expect more from us than cries of indignation and attack. The times are too grave, the challenge too urgent, and the stakes too high to permit the customary passions of political debate. We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future.”
As the new government looks to build a better future for all Basotho, I want to acknowledge the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for its important work here. SADC has engaged forthrightly and energetically in trying to help Lesotho move beyond a period of political crisis and to lay fertile groundwork for real reform. We salute SADC for that engagement, and continue to believe that full implementation of the Phumaphi Commission recommendations offers the best way to resolve the difficulties of the past and to embrace the opportunities of the future.
And, now, if you will permit me just a few minutes to share what I think is so special about the relationship between the United States and Lesotho. Our two countries have enjoyed 50 years of partnership, during which we have built a strong and productive friendship and achieved some important milestones.
First, in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Lesotho has seen impressive progress over the last two years. And that hasn’t happened by accident.
Last year in April, Lesotho became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to adopt the “Test and Treat” approach to HIV/AIDS, which means anyone who tests positive for HIV begins treatment immediately. Those on treatment are able to live full, healthy lives, and do not transmit the virus to others. That was an important decision by government and it has produced dramatically positive results. Let me give you one compelling example. In the five districts where the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is focused, 111,000 HIV-positive Basotho, 47% of the total, were on anti-retroviral (ART) treatment before Test and Treat was implemented last year. One year later, at the end of March, ART coverage had increased to 56%, which meant 141,000 Basotho were on treatment. Let me repeat that. In one year, coverage went from 111,000 people to 141,000, from 47% of the total to 56%. This rapid increase provides compelling evidence that together we can overcome the HIV epidemic in Lesotho. The dramatic progress was noticed in Washington by our Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, which oversees the PEPFAR program. That office, encouraged by these achievements, and growing more optimistic at the prospect of reaching epidemic control in Lesotho, increased our annual budget from $50 million last year to $80 million this year.
The previous government, in particular Minister of Health Monyamane and his team, deserve credit for important achievements in the fight against HIV/AIDS. But, as Dr. Jonas Salk, the American developer of the polio vaccine famously said, “the reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more.” We look forward to working with the new government to build on the impressive progress of the last two years.
Specifically, in the coming year, I hope to see self-testing for HIV available nationwide. Self-testing has proven particularly effective in encouraging young people and men to learn their status.
I also hope to see pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, or PrEP, become widely accessible. We know that the risk of new HIV infection in the population is very high. Especially in the young men and women who are the future of this nation. All Basotho at higher risk of infection can use PrEP to protect themselves and their loved ones from ever contracting HIV in the first place.
Achieving the Sustainable Development goal of ending HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 will not be easy. But please know that as Basotho confront this epidemic, you will continue to have a determined and collaborative partner in the United States.
Another linchpin of American support for the Basotho is trade. The African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA, provides trade preferences to African nations. AGOA has made Lesotho the second largest supplier of textiles to the U.S. in sub-Saharan Africa and is responsible for the creation of nearly 40,000 jobs. Those jobs also support an estimated 110,000 family members as well as countless vendors, taxi and bus drivers, and others who provide services to the factories and their employees.
AGOA eligibility is, however, only available to countries that meet specific criteria that include a commitment to political pluralism, human and worker rights, the rule of law, a market-based economy, and the elimination of barriers to U.S. trade and investment.
Lesotho is eligible for AGOA trade benefits this year. For Lesotho to remain eligible in 2018, the U.S. government will be looking for further concrete actions that address concerns about impunity and the rule of law. Full implementation of the SADC Commission of Inquiry recommendations would be a welcome signal of resolve on these critical issues.
Another sign of our engagement with Lesotho was the $363 million Millennium Challenge Compact which focused on health, water, and private sector development and ended in 2013. The achievements of this successful partnership are visible everywhere. There are 138 clinics, 10,000 latrines, 14 renovated outpatient departments in hospitals, and the Metolong Dam, thanks to MCC’s partnership with Lesotho. And it is my hope that Lesotho will take the steps necessary to restore Lesotho’s eligibility for a second compact, underscoring its commitment to the rule of law and a culture of accountability.
While we do a great deal with the government, the U.S. is also proud of the strong people-to-people ties between Americans and Basotho. More than 600 Basotho have gone to the United States on U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs.
We also support an advisor to counsel Basotho interested in studying in the United States. That advisor works at the American Corner in the State Library, where we also provide a range of programming on American culture. At that American Corner, young people can also access our Leadership Innovation Hub to learn about opportunities in professional development, networking, and mentorship.
And, finally, since 1967, a year after Lesotho’s independence, Peace Corps has supported volunteers working to promote mutual understanding and build bonds of friendship between our two nations. Over the past 50 years, more than 2,300 Peace Corps volunteers have served here, working closely with their Basotho counterparts in the fields of education, health, and agriculture. Currently, 95 Peace Corps volunteers are serving in all 10 districts of the country. They work as teachers—in primary and secondary schools—or in the health sector, helping to support Lesotho in its struggle against HIV and AIDS.
As a former Peace Corps volunteer myself, I am very proud of Peace Corps’ wonderful legacy in Lesotho. I have enjoyed meeting with volunteers across the country and have been so impressed with their contributions and how well they integrate into their communities. I’ve also been very touched by the many accounts I’ve heard from Basotho about how Peace Corps volunteers have touched their lives.
In conclusion, since the end of the cold war, U.S. policy toward Africa has been one of the strongest areas of bipartisan agreement in U.S. politics. President Clinton created AGOA, President Bush launched PEPFAR and MCC, and President Obama inaugurated the Young African Leaders Initiative, and each subsequent President and Congress have embraced these initiatives. Now with a new President, a new Congress, and a new Secretary of State, our commitment to democracy, trade, and health on the continent remains strong. In remarks to my colleagues at the State Department, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated this commitment when he said:
“Africa is a continent of enormous opportunity, and needs… and will continue to receive our attention to support stabilizing governments as they are emerging and continuing to develop their own institutional capacity,… but [we are] also looking at Africa for potential economic and trading opportunities… Africa still struggles with huge health challenges. And those are important to us and they’re going to continue to get our attention.”
Since Lesotho gained its independence in 1966, across ten U.S. Presidents and two Mosotho Kings, Americans and Basotho have enjoyed a friendship based on honest dialogue, a commitment to development, and mutual respect. In that spirit, allow me to propose a toast:
“To His Majesty’s good health, and to the enduring friendship between the governments and people of the United States of America and of the Kingdom of Lesotho. To His Majesty!”