Remarks by Ambassador Rebecca Gonzales on the 245th Independence Day of the United States of America

Televised Address, Maseru, Lesotho, July 2, 2021: 

Before I begin, please allow me to pay my respects to:

His Majesty King Letsie III,
The Right Honorable the Prime Minister,
Members of His Majesty’s Cabinet, in particular the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations, Honorable ‘Matsěpo Ramakoae,
The Basotho Nation,
My Fellow Americans in Lesotho,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of my Embassy colleagues and the American people, I bring you warm and heartfelt greetings as we commemorate the 245th Independence Day of the United States of America.  I am deeply thankful to have Foreign Minister ‘Matšepo Ramakoae here with me to deliver an address on behalf of the Kingdom of Lesotho because our nations have shared a long and enduring partnership for over the last half a century.

This July fourth address will be my last as the U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Lesotho.  While I will miss out on celebrating my final holiday with a traditional, in-person gathering of colleagues and partners from across Lesotho, it remains essential, now more than ever, that we keep ourselves and our families safe and healthy as we remain in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic.  As I reflect on my more than three years in Lesotho, I am honored by the trust placed in me to lead the U.S. Embassy team in Maseru.  We strive each day to uphold and strengthen the robust and enduring partnership that has existed between our two nations.

Allow me to start my address by stating that over the two hundred and forty-five years since our nation’s founding, Americans have worked towards the elusive yet inspiring charge of our Constitution – the charge “to form a more perfect union.”  We have faced domestic struggles throughout our nation’s history that have tested our commitment to upholding and advancing the democratic institutions and processes we proudly celebrate.  But democracy also empowers people to be the change they seek.  And the reality is that for too long, many American citizens have been denied the fullness of our democracy.  This must change.  And only with truth can come healing, justice, and repair.

President Biden has prioritized racial justice as an essential aspect of a U.S. foreign policy that aims to promote human rights for all individuals.  Addressing systemic racism and restoring our democracy at home is a critical part of the Biden Administration’s foreign policy vision – we cannot be credible advocates for democracy and human rights abroad if we are not demonstrating our commitment to them at home.  We are committed to creating a fairer and more just society because our greatest strength lies in the power of our example.  It gave me hope that President Biden recently declared Juneteenth a national holiday, as this symbolic gesture allows all communities to more fully understand the historical importance of a day that has been celebrated by the descendants of enslaved Africans in my home state of Texas for more than 150 years.  On Juneteenth, we celebrate survival and reflect on the steps still needed to move the nation forward in securing equal rights and protections for all.  We’re not perfect – far from it – but we are constantly striving to live up to our highest ideals and principles.  The American story is one of courage and resilience, which is as true today as it was for our founders over two centuries ago.

In our increasingly connected world, many challenges we face are global, and the experience has shown that the best path to resolving such problems is when nations work together.  For this reason, under President Biden’s direction, the United States has been restoring alliances and recommitting to multilateral institutions.  We rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, the World Health Organization, and re-engaged the United Nations Human Rights Council.  This global re-engagement is vitally important as we continue to battle the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic across the African continent and confront other world challenges.

We must continue the practices that have kept us safe over the past year because our individual efforts to wear a mask, wash our hands, and remain socially distanced have proven to keep us safe.  And, until every person who wants a vaccine has received one, we are not yet in the clear.  That is why in recent weeks, President Biden has authorized the United States government to undertake a robust global operation to work through multilateral mechanisms and stakeholders.  Last month alone, the United States donated 80 million COVID-19 vaccines to countries around the world, with a promise of many more to come.  U.S. support for global vaccination efforts follows America’s core values; we know that sharing vaccines will save lives and bring the world closer to the end of this pandemic.

In addition to vaccines, the U.S. continues to provide millions of dollars in equipment, tests, and therapeutics to our partner nations worldwide. As President Biden has stated, our initial donation of 80 million doses is just the beginning.  Fifteen million of the first 80 million doses will be distributed to African nations through our partnership with the African Union and the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.  These vaccine donations are in addition to the $4 billion (approximately 61 billion Maloti) the U.S. has already committed to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, making the United States the single largest contributor to the international response to COVID-19.  As with all of the vaccines we have committed to sharing: these vaccines will be delivered as expeditiously as they become available.  And our doses come with no strings attached.

As U.S. Ambassador, I am proud to note that the United States is continuing its global leadership in public health and the international COVID-19 response, which is critical to ending this pandemic.  Over the last year, the United States government has moved swiftly to support the local response to control the spread of COVID-19 in the Mountain Kingdom.  The United States government has directly contributed nearly $6 million (approximately 86 million Maloti) to help the Kingdom of Lesotho prepare for and address the COVID-19 outbreak through trusted implementing partners and the Ministry of Health.  Following a second wave earlier this year, Lesotho received additional support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, for vaccine preparedness and case management.  Additionally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, has provided training for Basotho health professionals ahead of the COVID-19 vaccine roll out, surveillance and monitoring, and the procurement of laboratory supplies and equipment.

Working with the Department of Defense, CDC, and USAID, the U.S. Embassy in Maseru has also supported the donation of personal protective equipment (PPE), testing kits, and medical devices, such as oxygen concentrators, to local hospitals and medical facilities.  We have also equipped implementing partners in undertaking capacity-building efforts to empower those responsible for the local COVID-19 response; this includes establishing clinical management guidelines and facilitating training.  This support will continue to build the capacity of the Ministry of Health to receive, administer, and implement Lesotho’s national COVID-19 response and vaccine program.

Through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief or PEPFAR, the United States is proud to support Lesotho’s leadership on the country’s HIV/AIDS response.  Last year, the Kingdom made tremendous progress in surpassing the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets, achieving 90-97-92, and taking control of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  This is a tremendous accomplishment worthy of much praise and celebration.  It is also significant in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the fact that Lesotho once had the second highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the world.  To Lesotho, I say Ke ea le lebohela!  Looking ahead, our efforts must focus on maintaining a stable and responsive national HIV/AIDS program that will ensure continued commitment to the processes that have proven to save lives and move the country ahead to the next set of milestones in the global fight against HIV/AIDS.  During my tenure as the U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Lesotho, I have always expressed the U.S. government’s strong interest in achieving goals that remain of mutual importance to our two countries.  Central to those goals is securing a safe and healthy future for Basotho across the Mountain Kingdom.  To achieve this goal, we must remain steadfast in the bilateral efforts between our nations to reverse the burden of HIV/AIDS across Lesotho.

As your long-standing and most resolute partner, one of the United States government’s most important goals is to see the government of Lesotho take sustained action to enforce legislation and implement new initiatives that address the issues of human trafficking in the country.  Again, I congratulate you – Ke lebohela Lesotho le Basotho, as your upgrade from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watchlist in this year’s Trafficking in Persons report indicates a positive development.  However, Lesotho will have to step up its efforts over the next year – most importantly, investigations into credible allegations of official complicity in human smuggling and human trafficking, to remain eligible for future U.S. development assistance, such as the country’s second Millennium Challenge Corporation compact, which is necessary to increase economic growth, reduce poverty, and create sustainable opportunities for Basotho. This is critically important, not only for the U.S.-Lesotho relationship; but for Lesotho’s own credibility and standing in the world.  The Tier 2 Watchlist upgraded ranking indicates that the U.S. Department of State recognizes that Lesotho is working to comply with the minimum standards to combat human trafficking more fully.  We know there is more work to be done, but we are encouraged by the progress we have seen.  I will continue to strongly urge the government to ensure the country’s anti-trafficking laws are faithfully executed.  Lesotho’s future is at stake.  Justice must be served because no one is above the law.

Although I will not be present in Lesotho for the next election cycle, I will make the following commitment – regardless of the shape of the next government, or the identity of the Prime Minister, the United States looks forward to maintaining our strong partnership with the people of Lesotho.  I have no idea who will win next year.  But let me share with you the advice that I regularly give to Lesotho’s political leaders—all of them, regardless of party or position.  The people of Lesotho are tired of corruption, and they’re tired of politicians that spend more time proposing legislation to benefit themselves than they do working to serve the people who elected them.  If you want to win votes, show you’re honest and show that you can provide for all the Basotho people—not just your own friends and supporters.  If you’re in parliament, focus on passing good legislation and conducting credible oversight.  If you’re a minister, execute your duties diligently and for the good of the people.  If you’re in opposition, make good faith critiques and propose the best alternatives you can devise to the policies you believe are wrong.  The people of Lesotho are exhausted with political games and big personalities.  It is time for elected officials to show that government can deliver results.  I urge all of Lesotho’s politicians to focus on delivering what the people of Lesotho need – it is their fundamental right.

Like Basotho, Americans have continued to reckon with issues of accountability for incidences of violence that have occurred at several points during our country’s two hundred- and forty-five-year history.  As President Biden recently noted, nations that want to build a better future must come to terms with the dark events of their past.  Lesotho must develop strong institutions to carry out accountability and oversight functions.  It is my fervent belief that to bring an end to the decades-old perpetual cycle of killings and in order to heal this nation, the families of the victims must be heard, and justice must be served – regardless of status or political affiliation.  That is one of the fundamental principles of the rule of law as enshrined in Lesotho’s constitution and many other countries in a democratic dispensation.  No one is above the law and perpetrators must be held accountable.

Over the last year, we’ve been here beside you as Lesotho battled the challenges imposed on businesses by the COVID-19 pandemic.  The loss of economic security and diminished income is a reality many Basotho face as we continue to weather the global pandemic.  As we look toward the post-COVID recovery, I would like to reaffirm the U.S. government’s commitment to supporting ongoing and sustainable economic development in Lesotho.  I promise that we will continue to support the development of long-term strategies to ensure the sustainability of the business sector, which is the backbone of any economy.  We have been a proud partner to the country’s private sector, particularly firms seeking to explore both the South African and U.S. markets through the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA.  While textiles and garments have dominated Lesotho’s exports, I encourage diversification into non-textile products prior to the AGOA legislation’s expiration in 2025.  We remain dedicated to supporting private sector competitiveness and accelerating the implementation of economic reforms to increase investment and jobs in Lesotho.

On the subject of economic competitiveness and the benefits of a strong private sector, I want to salute one U.S. company currently bringing great benefit to Lesotho—solar power provider, OnePower.  OnePower was founded by my honorable friend Matt Orosz, who first came to Lesotho many years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer.  After serving as a Peace Corps teacher in Lesotho, Matt returned to the United States and earned a Ph.D. in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Matt could have found a good job anywhere in the world.  But he chose to return to Lesotho and found a company that now provides dozens of good paying jobs for Basotho.  Thanks to OnePower, the village of Ha Makebe has electricity today—and over 6,000 more households in Lesotho will soon be able to turn on the lights thanks to OnePower’s innovative microgrids.  Moreover, OnePower will soon help Lesotho cut its dependence on foreign power suppliers.  By the end of the year, OnePower’s solar plant in Mafeteng will start supplying the Lesotho Electric Company with over 55 gigawatt hours of affordable, clean electricity every year.  I’m so proud of this remarkable partnership between Basotho and Americans.

As I noted earlier, our greatest assets are our allies and alliances.  The challenges over this past year have been daunting, but what I have come to learn quite well is that when we work together to pursue shared goals, we’re all stronger.  Partnership remains a critical requirement to weather the turbulence created by the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, and it will move us forward on the robust agenda our countries seek to achieve together.

That said, as President Biden has noted, we have always been a forward-looking nation, one still striving toward a more perfect union.  And, as we celebrate this year’s Independence Day, we also look forward to July 4, 2026, when we will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the United States’ independence.  Today, we begin that celebration with our partners at the America250 Foundation and invite all Americans, as well as our friends abroad, to help honor our past and shape our future.

On behalf of the United States of America and the U.S. Embassy in Maseru, I thank you, Lesotho, for your partnership.  I will close with a phrase that truly captures the essence of our longstanding bilateral relationship during my time in this beautiful mountain kingdom – Let’soele le beta poho.  United We Stand.

As I conclude my tenure as U.S. Ambassador, I remain grateful and honored for the warm kindness your Kingdom has shown me.  We will continue to accomplish great things together.  Basotho ke sechaba sa ho beoa peo, ke tla lula ke le hopola.  Basotho are beautiful and I will always remember you.

Kea Leboha.  Thank you.

Khotso. Pula. Nala.