Remarks on the Occasion of the 239 Anniversary of the United States’ Declaration of Independence

group photoThank you all for joining us today for this 239th anniversary of the United States’ Declaration of Independence.

Our Independence Day commemorations always provide an opportunity for Americans to consider our continuing experiment in self-rule.  In 1776 the idea that common citizens have the right to rule themselves was radical.  Today, the idea is broadly accepted, but implementing it remains hard.

In the last year, we Americans have been reminded again of the work we must still do to overcome racism and violence.  As President Obama said last week in Charleston, “As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.”  In the same week that we confronted the tragic legacies of our past, our Supreme Court’s decisions on access to health care and the affirmation of full rights of our LGBTI brothers and sisters offered beacons of hope for the future.   The United States remains a work in progress, but our commitment to building a better society is strong.  Like most Americans, I look to the future with optimism.  We continue to believe in the promise of our ideals.  And, we continue to believe that we can build a future that honors those ideals.  That same optimism guides our approach to Zimbabwe.

We continue to believe in the future of U.S. – Zimbabwe relations, so are embarking on a multi-million dollar project to build a new embassy compound, a project that will create jobs and skills, boost Harare’s economy, and serve as a clear expression of our commitment to Zimbabwe.

We continue to believe in hard work and agriculture in Zimbabwe and, in the last five years, have supported over 140,000 small-holder farmers to improve their incomes and food security.  Sales by those farmers have totaled $210 million and include exports to South Africa and the USA.

We continue to believe in the importance of women in society, so are proud supporters of programs in Zimbabwe such as the Women’s Development Dialogue, and the African Women Entrepreneurs Program.

We continue to believe in the fundamental importance of the rule of law and human rights, so will not hesitate to express our concern over events such as the abduction of Itai Dzamara.

We continue to believe in the power of business to create jobs and prosperity, so will continue to promote trade and investment opportunities such as the U.S. trade delegation to Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwean trade delegation to the U.S. that both occurred last month.

We continue to believe in the importance of informed and responsive government institutions, so continue to support programs that provide information and analysis to Zimbabwe’s policy makers and that help strengthen parliamentary functions.

We continue to believe in the importance of citizen access to government, so continue to support programs that offer mechanisms for citizens and leaders to meet and discuss issues important to both.

We continue to believe in the humanitarian and developmental imperatives of addressing hunger and health in Zimbabwe, so will continue to work with partners to build on the $400 million we have provided for public health and emergency food assistance in the last three years.

We continue to believe in Zimbabwe’s intellectual power and potential, so our Educational Advising and U.S. Student Achiever Programs have linked Zimbabwean students to more than $20 million dollars in university scholarships in the last three years.

Most importantly, we continue to believe in the capacity of Zimbabwe’s people to build a better future.

With us today are 10 Zimbabwean Youth Ambassadors who have participated in some of our youth-focused programs.  Let me ask them to raise their hands and identify themselves so that you can speak with them and learn directly from them how bright Zimbabwe’s future is.  I often say that “Zimbabwe’s future is in the hands of Zimbabweans.”  Please take the opportunity to shake the hands that are building that future now.

Among the 10 Youth Ambassadors are two alumni of President Obama’s Young Africa Leader Initiative; two alumni of our U.S. Student Achievement Program; one alumna of our professional exchange programs; and five young people who have participated in the Zimbabwe Works program, a program that has provided skills and entrepreneurial training to more than 8,000 young Zimbabweans in the last three years.  There is information about these programs in the tents behind you.

I am very proud to announce that the Zimbabwe Works program is now co-funded by the U.S., British, and Swedish governments and will accordingly be able to serve an additional 22,000 youth in the coming three years.  We will also place a greater emphasis on women who tend to face greater barriers in employment.

All of these young Zimbabweans have dreams and are working to fulfill those dreams.  They are creating Zimbabwe’s future, and we support their dreams of a prosperous, just and healthy future. We continue to believe in the promise of Zimbabwe’s ideals and we continue to believe that Zimbabweans can build a future that honors those ideals.  That was our commitment in 1980, and remains our commitment today.

Please allow me to close by quoting a few lines of the great South African poet Don Mattera’s poem “Zimbabwean Love Song”:

Zimbabwean love song

Sing and dance
Sons, daughters of Zimbabwe

It is the call of a timeless glory
And the beat of the native song

That beckoned you to struggle on

Thank you.