Khotsong, Bo ‘Me le Bo ‘Ntate
Please allow me to pay my respects to:
His Majesty the King
The Right Honorable the Prime Minister
Honorable President of the Senate
Honorable Speaker of the National Assembly
Her Ladyship the Chief Justice
Honorable Deputy Prime Minister
Their Lordships Judges of the High Court
Their Excellencies Heads of Diplomatic Mission and International Organizations
Honorable Members of Parliament
Leaders of Political Parties
Senior government officials
Members of the Embassy Team
My fellow Americans Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you for joining me in celebrating the 239th anniversary of the independence of the United States of America. On July 4, 1776, a small band of American patriots declared certain truths to be self-evident – that we are created equal, with certain inalienable rights, including the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That our destiny is not determined for us, it is determined by us. Every year, in the United States and around the world, we celebrate and honor that vision.
With picnics, parades and fireworks, families and friends gather to reflect on the founding of our country and the shared values which connect us as Americans — a common belief in freedom, equality, economic opportunity, tolerance for the views of others, self-reliance, and charity towards those in need. It is a very special day for all Americans, and we are delighted that you are here to celebrate it with us.
Since the founding of our nation, we have strived to realize the promise of America’s “experiment in democracy” – in our ongoing effort to form a more perfect union. President Obama described that effort when he said, “the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.” These are not just American ideals. They are values that we all share and they represent the aspirations of people here in Lesotho and around the world.
Last year, just before coming to Lesotho, I was fortunate to be in Washington, D.C. during the historic African Leaders’ Summit. There, President Obama spoke eloquently about the historic shift that is taking place right now in Africa, a continent increasingly viewed as a place of opportunity. The President expressed the strong commitment of the United States to investing in Africa’s future; to investing in a partnership that empowers Africans, and builds their capacity to solve problems, to grow, and to flourish. And that is exactly what we are doing here in Lesotho.
The United States is a committed partner to the people and government of Lesotho and we are proud to support your efforts to improve health, expand economic growth, and strengthen democratic institutions and civil society.
One example of our strong and enduring commitment to Lesotho is in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the American people have provided more than $225 million in bilateral support to help Lesotho combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Thanks to that investment, 53,000 pregnant, HIV-positive women have received prophylaxis so their children are born disease-free; hundreds of thousands of Basotho seeking to know their HIV status have been tested and counseled; and 114,000 Basotho living with HIV have been able to access life-saving antiretroviral therapy.
Despite the gains, HIV/AIDS remains a national emergency in Lesotho, and much work remains to get the epidemic under control. According to the most recent data we have, 19,000 Basotho are infected with HIV every year – that’s 52 Basotho every day. We are thus ramping up our efforts in the highest-burden districts to ensure that as many HIV-positive Basotho as possible receive care and treatment.
In addition, we are increasing our focus on two demographic groups particularly affected by the epidemic. 1,600 babies are born HIV-positive every year – that’s a tragedy, because of the devastating impact on the next generation and because we know how to prevent transmission from mother to child. Through a new initiative – the Accelerating Children’s Treatment (ACT) Initiative – we are investing an additional $14 million in Lesotho to double the number of children on ART by the end of 2017.
The second demographic group in Lesotho disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS is girls and young women. Let me give you a couple of troubling figures. Basotho girls between the ages of 15 and 19 have an HIV prevalence of 4%. That rate skyrockets to 24% for young women between the ages of 20 and 24. Put another way, adolescent girls and young women account for 22% of all new infections even though they comprise only 11% of the population. Through our new DREAMS Initiative, we will devote substantial resources to prevent infections among young women between the ages of 15 and 24 in Maseru and Leribe districts. Our goal is to reduce new infections among those young women and girls by 40% by the end of 2017.
Government leadership is obviously critical in generating momentum in the fight against HIV/AIDS and in reducing the stigma that prevents too many Basotho from getting tested and on treatment. In that vein, I want to offer my praise to His Majesty, for devoting a significant portion of his recent Speech from the Throne to this particular challenge, and to the First Lady, who spoke so eloquently about the need to support children and adolescent girls infected and affected by the epidemic. And we are deeply appreciative of the Deputy Prime Minister’s leadership in working with all stakeholders to design a new National AIDS Commission that is vigorous and effective. And if you will permit me one final note of thanks – to Minister of Health Monyamane. Mr. Minister, thank you for the energy and strategic vision you have brought to your new role. We look forward to continuing and deepening our partnership with you and your team.
I am convinced that with all of us working closely together – the government, the Global Fund, external partners, and civil society – it is possible to get this epidemic under control. Let us together transform Lesotho into a shining example of what’s possible when it comes to HIV/AIDS. Achieving an AIDS-free generation is absolutely within reach, but to get there, we must all step up our efforts and coordination.
Turning to economics, thanks to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), Lesotho is one of sub-Saharan Africa’s largest suppliers of textiles to the United States. That is a remarkable accomplishment, given Lesotho’s size and population, and it has generated tens of thousands of jobs here.
I am happy to report that on Monday, President Obama signed legislation that extends AGOA for 10 years. A ten-year extension gives companies the certainty needed to expand capital investments and supply chains. I would encourage Basotho entrepreneurs to consider diversifying the range of exports under AGOA, which permits duty-free entry into the United States for nearly 7000 products.
Staying on the economic front, I want to update you on the status of negotiation of a second Millennium Challenge Compact. In 2013, Lesotho successfully completed a five-year, $363 million Compact focused on health, water, and private sector development. A very strong partner during the Compact’s implementation, Lesotho committed $150 million of its own funds to ensure the completion and sustainability of all the projects.
Subsequently, in December 2013, the MCC Board selected Lesotho as eligible to submit a proposal for a second Compact. To remain eligible, Lesotho will need to demonstrate its commitment to good governance and rule of law, and ensure the sustainability of Compact I investments. We hope that Lesotho can fulfill these commitments so that we can move ahead with a second Compact that will have substantial benefits for the Basotho people.
Strengthening Democratic Institutions
On the political front, we were pleased to participate as observers in the elections this past February. The IEC deserves great credit for its superb organization of the election, at shorter than usual notice, and the Basotho public is to be congratulated for voting peacefully and for accepting the very close outcome. We welcomed the commitment of the new government, as articulated in the coalition agreement, to enhance stability and reform the constitution, the public service, the judiciary, and the security sector.
There seems to be a clear consensus among Lesotho’s political leaders that these reforms are critical to strengthen the country’s democratic institutions and to avoid a recurrence of previous cycles of political instability. We will look for opportunities to support these reform efforts, as we firmly believe Lesotho’stability and development depend on the ability of its leaders to move forward together in a manner that builds confidence among all Basotho. I know that it is not always easy after such a close, hard-fought election, but I hope you will agree that it is essential.
Ultimately, democracy is fundamentally about everyday people – everyday citizens. As President Obama recently said, “When people are free to speak their minds and hold their leaders accountable, governments are more responsive and more effective. When nations uphold the rights of all their people -— including, perhaps especially, women and girls -— then those countries are more likely to thrive.” And as Secretary of State John Kerry reminds us, “Democracy is not a final destination, it is an endless journey.” That is true for both the United States and Lesotho – and we stand with Lesotho, in partnership, as it walks that sometimes challenging path.
Since 1967, a year after Lesotho’s own independence, the U.S. Peace Corps has supported volunteers working to promote mutual understanding and build bonds of friendship between our two nations. Over the past 48 years, more than 2300 Peace Corps Volunteers have served here, working closely with their Basotho counterparts in the fields of education, health, and agriculture. Currently, more than 90 Peace Corps Volunteers are serving in all 10 districts of the country; working either as teachers in Basotho schools or in the health sector helping to support Lesotho in its struggle against HIV/AIDS. A former Peace Corps Volunteer myself, I have met with volunteers across the country and been so impressed with their contributions and how well they integrate into their communities. I’ve also been greatly moved by the many accounts I’ve heard from Basotho from all walks of life about how Peace Corps volunteers have touched their lives.
Another tool we have used to strengthen our partnership is people-to-people exchanges. More than 500 Basotho have gone to the United States on U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs, creating an unshakeable and lasting bond between our two countries. Among these exchange programs are President Obama’s flagship Young African Leaders Initiative, which sends Basotho to the United States for six weeks of professional development. The Fulbright, Humphrey, and International Visitors Leadership Programs provide additional courses of study of various length and focus.
We also support an EducationUSA 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, Basotho youth can also access our Leadership Innovation Hub and learn about opportunities in professional development, networking, and mentorship.
In conclusion, I want to underscore the strength and durability of the partnership between Americans and Basotho. We have been friends for a very long time, and we are accomplishing a great deal together. As my boss, President Obama, has said, “The United States is determined to be a partner in Africa’s success — a good partner, an equal partner, and a partner for the long term…We recognize Africa for its greatest resource, which is its people and their talents and their potential…We want to build genuine partnerships that create jobs and opportunity for all our peoples and that unleash the next era of African growth.”
Today, as we celebrate the birthday of the United States, we reaffirm our longstanding commitment to working with Lesotho to achieve a more prosperous, secure, and healthy future.
In closing, 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!!!