Khotsong, Bo ‘Me le Bo ‘Ntate
Welcome to all of you. I am delighted that you were able to join us for a celebration which is very special to Americans.
Before I begin, 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
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 Minister of Foreign Affairs Tlohang Sekhamane, who will be addressing 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
Two hundred and forty years ago in the summer swelter of Philadelphia, a band of patriots who had grown tired of the abuses of a foreign government declared independence from the British Empire and gave birth to a new nation. As an Ambassador of the United States of America, I am honored to celebrate that brave declaration with you here today.
One hundred and ninety years later, the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho secured its independence from that same British Empire. The United States promptly recognized the government of His Majesty King Moshoeshoe II, beginning a warm and close partnership that has now lasted 50 years.
It is tempting to think that is where the similarities end, between a kingdom in the sky and a nation bordered by two oceans. But we are not so different; there is much more that we have in common. In both our countries, the democratic tradition runs deep. Lesotho may not have had a formal democratic constitution until it approached independence. Who, though, could doubt that King Moshoeshoe I, who brought together his advisors on the pitso grounds of Thaba Bosiu and was governed by the Sesotho proverb “A chief is a chief by the people” could have happily compared theories of democratic governance with Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, our third president, wrote in our Declaration of Independence that “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Jefferson, like King Moshoeshoe, offered his countrymen a vision of a free nation. But in the U.S., as in Lesotho, the blessing of visionary founding fathers is not enough to sustain a nation. In each generation, nations like ours will struggle from time to time to live up to our founding ideals. It is easy for us to think, with the benefit of 240 years of hindsight, that the success of the American endeavor was inevitable, but nothing could be further from the truth.
In 1826, America celebrated its 50th birthday, as Lesotho does this year, and the viability of our democracy and the endurance of our founding principles were still very much in doubt. The country was deeply divided. President John Quincy Adams had been elected two years before with just over 30% of the popular vote in what his opponents called “a corrupt bargain,” and the Democratic-Republican Party, which had ruled for 26 years, was breaking into factions. America was fundamentally divided, between states where the abhorrent practice of slavery was legal and those where it had been abolished. Thirty four years later a terrible Civil War would resolve that division in tragic fashion. The Civil War ended slavery and ultimately strengthened our democracy. However, the deaths of 620,000 Americans were a painful reminder of the costs of staying true to our founding principles. As Thomas Jefferson wisely said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
Today, our leaders rely on the American people to keep them true to our fundamental ideals. We also expect the international community to hold us to our own high standards. In 2014, President Obama said in an address at the United Nations, “We welcome the scrutiny of the world – because what you see in America is a country that has steadily worked to address our problems and make our union more perfect.”
To preserve our ideals the U.S. will continue to be vigilant. Lesotho must also be vigilant, in order to remain true to the first King Moshoeshoe’s ideals of peace, consultation, and a government that is both accountable to the people and responsive to their needs. And just as the U.S. welcomes the advice and friendship of Lesotho, we hope Lesotho will do the same while, as we have for 50 years, we continue to stand by your side as you face your own challenges and remain vigilant in defense of your founding principles.
SADC too has been and continues to be a strong partner for Lesotho. As we all know, SADC played a critical role in facilitating the 2015 election. And when Lesotho asked for help after the tragic killing of General Mahao one year ago, SADC answered that call. It established a Commission of Inquiry to get to the bottom of his tragic death and the context that enabled it.
Let me say two things here. First, the United States strongly supports SADC’s engagement in helping Lesotho address its challenges. Second, we believe the Commission led by Justice Phumaphi did very important work that uncovered key details about the terrible events of June 25 last year, and identified some of the root causes of what happened. We agree with SADC that implementation of the Commission’s recommendations would help Lesotho move beyond a period of difficulty and strengthen democratic institutions and rule of law, and it is our hope that government will embrace that path forward. That is a message I shared with SADC Executive-Secretary Stergomena Tax, when I met with her in Botswana last week.
Looking back over the past year, while Lesotho has faced many challenges, it has also made meaningful progress on issues that are at the core of our partnership, perhaps most prominently in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
After His Majesty, King Letsie III, dedicated a significant portion of his Speech from the Throne to the HIV challenge in Lesotho, the government reestablished the National AIDS Commission – also known as the NAC — in December. We look to the NAC to hold accountable all those involved in the fight against the epidemic, to eliminate duplicative programming and to ensure that the substantial resources devoted to this effort are having a real impact. The NAC should hold all of us — the government of Lesotho and its partners — to clear identifiable targets so that we can start measuring our progress in months rather than years.
In a second important development, Lesotho demonstrated impressive leadership in becoming the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to adopt the “Test and Treat” approach to HIV/AIDS. Under “Test and Treat,” anyone who tests positive for HIV can begin treatment immediately, instead of having to wait until his/her CD4 cell count drops below a certain level. This new approach will ensure that larger numbers of HIV-positive Basotho are able to live longer, healthier lives, and it will decrease transmission rates as well, because anti-retroviral treatment reduces the level of the virus in the blood.
Despite this progress, there are still major challenges to overcome if Lesotho is to achieve the Sustainable Development goal of ending HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. Lesotho has one of the highest rates of new infections in the world, and only about 40% of HIV-positive Basotho are on lifesaving treatment. To get ahead of this epidemic, to prevent it from spiraling out of control, Lesotho will need to double the number of people on treatment by 2020. Make no mistake; that goal, doubling in three years what has taken 10 years to achieve, is incredibly ambitious.
Please know though that, as Basotho confront this epidemic, you will continue to have a determined and collaborative partner in the United States. Through PEPFAR, the United States has committed more than $265 million to this struggle in Lesotho since 2007, and is committing an additional $51 million for the coming year. The focus of PEPFAR’s efforts is to get as many people tested and on treatment as possible. Specifically, our goal in the next two years is to get 80% of HIV-positive Basotho on treatment, in the five districts where the disease burden is the heaviest. That will not be easy, but I believe it is possible with energetic and visionary political leadership, with good data, with effective use of health workers’ time and energy, and with close coordination among all the key partners involved in this struggle.
Another place where our support for the Basotho people and our commitment to Lesotho’s development has been clear is trade. Thanks to the African Growth and Opportunity Act or AGOA, which provides trade preferences to African nations that meet criteria related to free markets and rule of law, Lesotho is the second largest supplier of textiles to the U.S. in sub-Saharan Africa. AGOA is responsible for the creation of nearly 40,000 jobs in Lesotho. 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. I want to commend the government’s efforts, through the good offices of Minister of Trade Setipa, to expand Lesotho’s production into more of the 7,000 product lines that enjoy duty free entry into the U.S. under AGOA.
It is important to note that there is an annual review process for AGOA eligibility. What that means is that, in order to benefit from AGOA’s trade preferences, countries must adhere to certain eligibility requirements established by the U.S. Congress. These criteria include a commitment to political pluralism, human and worker rights, the rule of law, a market-based economy, and elimination of barriers to U.S. trade and investment.
Lesotho is eligible for AGOA trade benefits this year. For Lesotho to remain eligible in 2017, the U.S. government will be looking for 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 commitment to Lesotho was, of course, the $363 million Millennium Challenge Compact which focused on health, water, and private sector development. The evidence of this successful collaboration between our two countries is visible everywhere. The 138 clinics across the country, the 10,000 latrines in villages nationwide, 14 renovated outpatient departments in hospitals, and the Metolong Dam, which helped prevent this terrible drought from becoming a catastrophe. These are all remarkable examples of what we can accomplish together. And it is my fervent hope that Lesotho will take the necessary steps to restore its eligibility for a second compact, so that we can achieve so much more.
In addition to working directly with Lesotho’s government, we take pride in strengthening people-to-people ties between Americans and Basotho, through a range of academic and cultural exchange programs. More than 500 Basotho have gone to the United States on U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs, forging lasting friendships and strengthening mutual understanding.
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.
Since 1967, a year after Lesotho’s 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 49 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, 90 Peace Corps Volunteers are serving in all 10 districts of the country. They work either as teachers — in primary and secondary schools — or in the health sector, helping to support Lesotho in its struggle against HIV and 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 about how Peace Corps volunteers have touched their lives.
I’d also like to thank the Government of Lesotho for its commitment to Peace Corps. It was a privilege for me to join Minister Sekhamane earlier this year in signing the first new Peace Corps country agreement since 1967. Thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister, for all of your work in helping us reach that milestone.
Finally, I am pleased to announce that, with the generous support of the American people, the United States is contributing $2 million (equivalent to 30 million maloti) to support drought relief activities in Lesotho and we are exploring additional possibilities for assistance.
I would like to conclude today by recalling something Secretary of State John Kerry said in a speech to the African Union in 2014.
“This is clearly a moment of opportunity for all Africans. It is also a moment of decision, because it’s the decisions that are made or the decisions that are deferred that will ultimately determine whether Africa mines the continent’s greatest natural resource of all, which is not platinum, it’s not gold, it’s not oil, it is the talent of its people… The nations in Africa, like nations all over the world, are strongest when citizens have a say, when citizens’ voices can be a part of the political process, when they have a stake in their nation’s success.”
In Lesotho, this is indeed a moment of decision and opportunity, of consequence and hope. Today, as we celebrate the birthday of the United States of America and fifty years of friendship between our two countries, I hope the next half century will see our partnership grow and deepen as we work together to fight the burdens of poverty and the scourge of AIDS, and to strengthen and expand the connections between our two societies.
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!”