Ladies and gentlemen,
Two hundred and forty-seven (247) years ago, 13 British colonies situated in North America declared their independence from Great Britain and formed a new country. The founding fathers of the United States of America wrote in the Declaration of Independence the following words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
At the time, those words, did not apply to women, indentured servants, indigenous people or enslaved Africans. Yet, those very words have inspired millions of Americans, representing every faith, gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, to strive to create an America where everyone is equal, justice prevails, and individual liberties are respected.
The words “justice”, “liberty”, and “equality” define America’s ideals. These words also define how America engages with the world. And finally, these words define how we, at the U.S, Embassy, partner with The Gambian people.
In 2016 Gambians commenced the journey from autocracy to democracy. Today the brutal 22-year reign of Yahya Jammeh is over, but the United States understands that the trauma, fear and the devastating impact of those 22 years has not ended.
Every Gambian, young and old, is negatively impacted by Jammeh’s rule. Jammeh and his accomplices not only raped, tortured, killed and disappeared countless numbers of people, he dismantled government systems, confiscated privately owned property, bankrupted businesses, plundered the treasury, and weakened basic services delivery.
Today, free, fair and peaceful elections, free speech, free press, free association have been restored. While this is a significant milestone, it is the start of a long journey toward justice, liberty, and equality.
The Rev, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
The success of Gambia’s democratic and economic journey is inextricably linked to the success of democracy in West Africa,
across Sub-Saharan Africa and around globe. Democracies must stand together.
Achieving justice, liberty, and equality will not be easy and Gambia’s success is not guaranteed.
The United States will be a steadfast partner to The Gambian people as you seek justice, liberty and equality.
- To the victims of the brutal 22-year rule of Yahya Jammeh, I declare that the people of the United States are Here for You. The U.S. government is helping the Ministry of Justice stand up the Special Prosecutor’s Office and the hybrid ECOWAS court that will investigate and, where appropriate, try the human rights violators of the Jammeh regime. We are training judges to hear cases, and civil society and media to monitor the system. We are putting a computer assisted case management system in the courts to efficiently administer justice. We are pursuing criminal charges against a Jammeh accomplice and human rights violator who is located in the U.S. We have sold Jammeh’s property in Maryland and will forfeit and send the funds back to The Gambia. We are certain the government of The Gambia will do the right thing with these funds.
- To rural Gambians, we are Here for You. The U.S. Government will provide technical assistance that helps farmers use best practices to produce higher yields and move produce from the farm to markets.
- To the Gambian people who battle malaria, a devastating disease that debilitates workers and kills vulnerable pregnant women and young children, we are Here for You. On World Malaria Day, President Biden announced that the U.S. will join the government of The Gambia, civil society, health and community workers, and other donors to eliminate malaria in The Gambia.
- To the children of The Gambia, We are Here for You. The U.S. government will work with the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education and donor partners to provide a school feeding program that improves the nutritional intake of more than 50,000 school children and trains teachers and engages parents. These children are the leaders of tomorrow. We will work to give them the foundational skills needed to live their dreams.
- To the youth of The Gambia, we are Here for You. Last December President Biden announced that The Gambia is eligible for a Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact. The compact design is underway. The Gambian government and the MCC have identified two areas that have the potential to spur economic growth – Utilization of the Gambia River to enhance tourism and maritime transport and Education, particularly secondary, technical, vocational training for youth. By improving river transport, the U.S. will stimulate private sector investment that will create commercial and tourism jobs and by training women and men with the skills needed to fill those jobs, we will create economic opportunities for Gambian youth.
- And, to the women of The Gambia, we are Here for You. (Let me REPEAT that. Women of the Gambia, we are here for you) Gambian females constitute more than 50% of the population, yet, in many respects girls and women are the most marginalized segments of the population. In 2015, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that “No country can get ahead if it leaves half of its population behind.”
Evidence shows that when a country invests in women and girls, the individual’s status improves but that of her family, community and nation also improves.
At least fifty percent of the participants of every U.S. Embassy program are women and girls, including training under USAID projects, State Department grants to Gambian NGOs, school clubs, communities, and participants in our exchange and fellowship programs. More than 53% of U.S. Embassy supported business start ups are women-owned and they are thriving.
The majority of the MCC Threshold Board members are female Gambians, including the Chair, making the MCC Threshold Board one of the most inclusive boards in the country. Empowering Gambian women will ensure that The Gambia achieves middle-income country status.
- To the women of The Gambia, I quote the phenomenal poet and author Maya Angelou, “Your crown has been bought and paid for. Put it on your head and wear it”.At last year’s Independence Day celebration, I promised that we, at the U.S. Embassy, will engage with humility and transparency. I stated that we will listen and acknowledge that we do not have all the answers; that, together with the people of The Gambia, we will identify challenges and solutions; and that we are confident in knowing that we are at our best when we work in an open and inclusive manner for the freedoms, we all cherish.
- Gambia, we have kept our promise. Regarding the construction of a new U.S. Embassy, we listened to the Government of The Gambia, local and international environmentalists, and a range of scientists. We welcomed differing points of views and fact-based comments from journalists. We conducted due diligence on the WALIC site, including a biological assessment, which raised concerns about the possible impact on the surrounding environment that would be difficult (not impossible) to mitigate. We also appreciate that the adjoining Monkey Park is a national treasure.
For these reasons, we decided to look for an alternate location for the new U.S. Embassy. We are committed to building a modern, climate-friendly, Embassy that reflects the deepening partnership between our countries. We will continue to be transparent, science-based and respectful as we move forward to secure an alternate location.
- Tonight, I recommit to the pledge I made last year to engage The Gambian people with humility and transparency. We will continue to listen and, together with the people of The Gambia, find solutions that help both our people and nations thrive.
- The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King stated that “…Progress is neither automatic nor inevitable … Every step toward the goal of justice requires … the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
- To all the dedicated, passionate people in this hall, I thank you for joining us in the celebration of the U.S. Independence Day and the partnership between our peoples and nations.