Remarks by Ambassador Rebecca Gonzales at the U.S. Independence Day Reception 2019, Maseru, Lesotho

Ambassador Rebecca Gonzales at the Fourth of July Reception 2019

Bo-‘Me le Bo-Ntate

Good afternoon and welcome to all of you.  

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 Acting Chief Justice
Honorable Deputy Prime Minister
Honorable Members of His Majesty’s Cabinet, many of whom are here with us today, including the Honorable Minister of Finance Dr. Moeketsi Majoro who will share some thoughts with us shortly

His Lordship the President of the Court of Appeal

Members of the Council of State

Honorable Leader of the Opposition in Parliament

Their Lordships Judges of the High Court
Their Excellencies, Heads of Diplomatic Missions and International Organizations
Honorable Members of Parliament
Leaders of Political Parties
Church Leaders
Members of the Embassy Team
Distinguished Guests
My fellow Americans

Ladies and Gentlemen

Welcome!

Last year for our Fourth of July celebration, our theme was my home state of Texas. This year, we are visiting Kentucky, home to the most prestigious horse race in the United States, the Kentucky Derby. Lesotho has its own horse-racing tradition. I had the honor to attend the Semonkong races with my son last year. We saw bo-Ntate draped in blankets coming from across mountains on all sides, the horses neighing and stomping their hooves, eager to race. The pride and exuberance shown by Basotho as they took part in this time-honored tradition was so moving.

At the Kentucky Derby, you see men and women come to Churchill Downs, dressed in their bright colors and bold hats, to watch these majestic animals run the “Race of the Roses.” The derby gets this nickname from the blanket of red roses that is draped over the winner. Tonight I wanted to honor our shared tradition of horses and horse racing – and because I want to speak to you about the race we are running together to reach HIV/AIDS epidemic control. And before I continue on my remarks, I want to recognize my special guests, our ten Basotho champions who were selected for their incredible courage and commitment to ending HIV in this country. In the coming weeks, you will see more of them, but tonight you can recognize them because, as befitting of champions, they are each wearing a red rose.   

It was my mission to visit all ten districts of the Mountain Kingdom in my first year. In addition to commemorating 10 years of PEPFAR in Lesotho, the purpose of these trips was for me to see how our U.S. government programs, our investments, are doing in Lesotho. It is my duty as President Trump’s personal representative to ensure that American taxpayer money is well spent. I met with district officials, community leaders, American business owners, and local Basotho to understand how the U.S.-Lesotho partnership is working for them. 

In all these travels and here in Maseru, I have seen the incredible results of what Americans and Basotho have accomplished together. I am deeply proud of the volume and depth of this partnership.

  • We awarded 8.6 million maloti to OnePower, an innovative solar power founded by a returned American Peace Corps volunteer, which will bring 20 megawatts of power to Mafeteng district.
  • We invested more than 3.5 million maloti invested in community and NGO projects ranging from education to income-generation to civil engagement.   This includes building of classrooms and hygiene facilities built across Thaba-Tseka, Butha Buthe, Mokholong, Berea and Mohale’s Hoek.
  • As part of our strong support for critical security sector reform, we trained more than 115 police and security sector personnel both here and abroad. We re-established cooperation between the U.S. military and the Lesotho Defence Force. We anticipate providing nearly 15 million maloti in military training over the next year, as progress continues within the LDF, especially under the leadership of Lt. Gen. Letsoela.
  • Through PEPFAR, the United States contributed a record-setting amount of 1.25 billion maloti this year to help Lesotho reach epidemic control. That makes over 6 Billion maloti that America has dedicated to support Lesotho’s HIV/AIDS response.
  • Speaking of major milestones, last year, we celebrated 50 years of continuous Peace Corps presence in Lesotho. We were truly honored that Their Majesties and many of you, celebrated with us at Thaba Bosiu, the birthplace of this great nation. We are deeply grateful to the communities who have welcomed and supported our more than 2600 American volunteers over these many years. 

Even with all these accomplishments, I have seen that we have more work to do.  A lot more work to do. On my travels, I saw vividly how vital it is for Lesotho to continue on a path of stability and reform. It is vital to ensure that our joint efforts are sustainable and the strides we have fought for together are not in vain.

On economic cooperation for example, we encourage Lesotho to take greater advantage of AGOA. Diversification is key to economic growth and stability in this country; the trade preferences afforded Lesotho through AGOA are massive.  The legislation is in place through at least 2025 and there are more than 6,400 other product lines that Basotho businesses can take advantage of and export successfully to the United States.   

When you think of AGOA, I don’t want you to think just Thetsane and textiles. I want you to think trout and technology; fruits and vegetables, handicrafts and flowers. Lesotho can also add value to its exports by processing raw materials and moving up the value chain in established sectors.  The Embassy and our Southern Africa trade hub will continue to provide support and training to connect Basotho businesses with the U.S. market – so that buyers in the United States can look for and rely on that label – Made in Lesotho.

On the Millennium Challenge Corporation, I wanted to update you on where we are in the compact development process. Our MCC and LMDA teams have been working non-stop on the development phase to determine what potential projects will reduce economic constraints to growth. But continued eligibility is not guaranteed. 

MCC colleagues from Washington visited last week to check on progress and to evaluate whether or not this country has the political will and ability to undertake the policy and institutional reforms necessary to move the process forward. As we have said repeatedly and consistently since reselection in 2017 – Lesotho must continue purposefully on the path of reforms and political stability to avoid disruption or delay to this process. Let me stress that this compact, like the previous one, is not for one group or government above another, it is for all Basotho.   

That’s why I must remain optimistic on behalf of the Basotho because I have seen how that the first compact transformed their access to health care and water resources. I must remain optimistic because I know what is at stake. However, the truth is I am deeply concerned – by indications that corruption is on the rise; that political space is shrinking, that institutions of accountability, which must be independent and properly resourced, are being politicized and undermined. I am concerned that, despite progress in the security sector, there is still a risk security forces will be exploited for political purposes. I am concerned for rule of law and for the reforms process.

Failure to implement reforms — the comprehensive, transformative, and inclusive reforms that Basotho have identified for themselves as the way to reach the Lesotho they want —  failure to implement those reforms could have far worse consequences for Basotho than interrupted compact development. Those consequences could last far beyond our current generation.    

When we act like we have all the time in the world, we are really borrowing time from our children and grandchildren. With the speed and complexity of today’s technology, a moment’s delay can put us years behind. Lesotho cannot afford such delays. Your country’s future cannot be left behind with fingers pointing to a pile of roadmaps or draft legislation collecting dust. All of you here have the power to act, to determine whether or not this country stays on the right path. As the representative of your long-standing and most steadfast diplomatic partner, I implore you to take action and move forward with commitment, accountability, and urgency on the reforms process. The future of your nation depends on it and time is short to demonstrate progress.   

Urgency is not just needed in the political sphere, but also in our joint efforts to end HIV/AIDS in Lesotho. So now, we will get back to our horse-racing theme to talk about the race to epidemic control. We are racing to change the future of Lesotho, the future for Basotho, for a future where our children and grandchildren can speak in the past tense about this disease. 

We have the tools we need today to end the epidemic by 2020.  What we need is to renew our sense of urgency and commitment, and to involve every Mosotho in that process. We want people to Be Aware of their risk, know their status, and learn about prevention. We want people to Be Honest with their partners, families, and health care workers so we can target HIV testing services to those most at risk, especially amongst men and youth. We want people to Be Accountable and adhere to treatment, because in doing so, they can reduce the risk of transmitting to partners. If we commit to the race, our prize can be a time in which the HIV/AIDS epidemic no longer defines Lesotho’s present or its future.   

In conclusion, I would like to thank our Basotho champions and all of you for joining us here tonight to celebrate America’s Independence Day. Let us win this race together and ensure more stable, prosperous, and healthier futures for both our nations.

Kea Leboha.  Khotso, Pula, Nala.