It is a pleasure to be at the University of Botswana today. Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to discuss U.S. foreign policy and our bilateral relations with Botswana.
We congratulate Botswana on 50 years of independence in 2016. Botswana has an amazing story to tell: having risen to upper middle income status from being one of the poorest countries in the world in just a couple of generations. Yes, Botswana has benefitted greatly from its remarkable diamond deposits, but for many other countries great wealth from extractive industries has not been used to uplift the population.
A short flashback: On September 30 1966, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson sent the governor of the State of Hawaii, John Burns, to represent the U.S. at Botswana’s independence celebration. President Johnson chose Governor Burns recognizing that Hawaii is Botswana’s neighbor – through the center of the Earth. Burns delivered America’s gift — a light airplane — at a midnight ceremony amid a dust storm. That same day Botswana’s flag flew above Iolani Palace in Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii.
As one of the first countries to recognize Botswana’s independence, the United States a witness to Botswana’s journey as well as an enthusiastic partner. Many Americans want to come to Botswana because it is transitioning from being a primary donor recipient to a partner county in a broader sense.
We have five major strategic goals in Botswana:
- Health: Our top goal is to help Botswana achieve and sustain HIV/AIDS epidemic control. In the past ten years, the U.S. has contributed $700 m towards this end through the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). A large percentage of our mission works directly on this goal, including staff from the Centers for Disease Control, the United States Agency for International Development, and the Peace Corps.
We are excited that Botswana is moving towards a policy of Test and Treat, in which all HIV+ patients will be able to receive immediate treatment. Suppressing viral load in all HIV+ persons will bring the country much closer to epidemic control. We also urge the Government of Botswana to explore options to treat non-citizens and their children. Non-citizens are a significant portion of the population, and Botswana will not be able to control the epidemic without treating them.
- Conservation and the Environment: Botswana is a model in Africa for wildlife conservation. The Okavango Delta has been designated the 1000th UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Lonely Plant rated Botswana the #1 tourist destination for 2016.
Our mission is host to a Regional Environment Office that coordinates with all of the SADC countries, as well as a regional U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service attaché who serves as a liaison on the law enforcement side. Ambassador Miller is personally committed to wildlife preservation and combatting poaching. He has visited most of the parks in Botswana and in February traveled to Chobe with the Chinese Ambassador to highlight conservation issues.
Our Regional Environment Officer works close with the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife, and Tourism and recently coordinated the visit of a U.S. Congressional Delegation that spent some time in Kasane, meeting with Minister Khama and local stakeholders.
We support efforts around the world to operationalize Wildlife Enforcement Networks (or ‘WENs’) to promote regional cooperation in countering wildlife trafficking and to prevent the loss of nations’ precious wildlife resources to transnational criminal poaching syndicates. For that reason, we support the establishment of a WEN for Southern Africa. Through our regional USAID programs we provide assistance in protecting delicate ecosystems, including the Okavango Delta, and promote community based natural resource management programs to enfranchise impoverished populations living near wildlife areas in the economic benefits of ecotourism. Through the Forest Conservation Board, a debt for nature swap, we forgave million in debt that Botswana now uses to make grants to preserve its forest natural resources.
A major priority in 2016 for President Obama has been building on the momentum that was generated late last year in Paris, where nearly 200 nations came together to reach an historic agreement on climate change. And this agreement was made possible by unprecedented collaboration on climate issues between the United States and China, which began an initiative by President Obama that we would partner with China on this shared global priority. And together, China and the United States stood up and announced well in advance of Paris what our goals would be with respect to our reductions and urged every nation to announce its own targets for reducing carbon emissions.
The Paris plan is designed to keep pace with technology and to get stronger as time goes by. The agreement sends an unmistakable message to governments and to the private sector alike. That’s the power of this agreement. The message of Paris is that the time is now to undertake a permanent transition to a new and low-carbon energy future for the world. We and our partners are continuing to follow up with all countries in the world to encourage them to sign and join the Paris Agreement.
- Trade, Investment, and Commerce: Botswana has a growing and modernizing economy. In addition to promoting increased trade and investment with the U.S., we encourage Batswana entrepreneurs and advocate for a business environment that will promote diverse, private-sector led economic growth.
Efforts focus on helping Botswana diversify its economy away from diamond dependence and improve the doing business climate through technical assistance by our USAID funded Southern Africa Trade Hub, through funding experts to work with the Botswana Government procurement officials to obtain better value from large infrastructure programs and promoting business to business connections between American and Batswana firms.
In addition, the U.S. prioritizes empowering Africa’s next generation of civic leaders, entrepreneurs, and agents of change in all of these efforts. Africa is a young continent, and its youth are critical to its future. That is why – through President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) – we are providing tools to support leadership development, promote entrepreneurship, and connect young leaders with one another, and with the U.S. These capable individuals, including nearly 60 from Botswana to date, are already changing the continent for the better, and their ideas and ingenuity will shape the trajectory of Africa’s progress for years to come
Last year President Obama signed a 10 year extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act; we provide duty free access to over 6,400 product categories in order to promote growth in Africa. This program is the most generous unilateral market access program the U.S. has in place and it has created over 300,000 jobs over the last 15 years. On April 19, the Ministry of Investment, Trade, and Industry hosted an AGOA Workshop, in which the U.S. mission participated, with the goal of boosting exports from Botswana.
- Democracy and Governance: As we do throughout the world, the U.S. in Botswana prioritizes the strengthening of democratic institutions and respect for human rights.
Neither societies nor democracies are static; norms and values must be continuously reinforced, and even countries with positive historical records must proactively work to ensure they maintain high standards. We are working with the Government to help Botswana build on its good historical record, and are funding technical assistance programs involving diverse areas such as strengthening the functions of Parliamentary committees and improving the professionalism of investigative journalists.
Advocacy areas include respect for the human rights of minority groups, freedom of the media, and refugee issues.
We admire the Government of Botswana’s willingness to speak out on international issues of concern and hold fast to its principled positions. Many countries around the world subscribe to a foreign policy philosophy of “go along to get along” allowing regional hegemons to determine foreign policy positions based their realpolitik versus greater moral or ethical considerations. In contrast, the Government of Botswana has been willing to speak out when people have faced oppression in North Korea, Sudan, or Zimbabwe – just to give a few examples. I’ve read editorials in the local media criticizing this outspokenness, but I think Batswana should be proud of their country’s courage and honesty.
- Peace and Security: We partner with Botswana to prevent and resolve regional conflict, counter transnational threats and promote regional security cooperation including law enforcement.
We have worked for many years with the highly professional Botswana Defence Force to provide equipment and training to the officer and non-officer corps. This has taken the form of participation by senior officers in courses at some of our most prestigious military academies in the U.S. Through our successful North Carolina State Partnership Program expert military trainers from the U.S. provide training courses here in Botswana. This has helped maintain the operational readiness of the BDF to meet challenges here in Botswana such as from poachers and to be able eventually to resume participation in International Peacekeeping Operations.
We are particularly proud of our partnership with the GoB in running the International Law Enforcement Academy in Otse, co-located with the Botswana Police College which provides leadership and specialized training in investigative techniques to senior law enforcement officials and prosecutors from over 30 countries in Africa. The year, the ILEA celebrates 15 years of operations in Botswana.
The U.S. Embassy in Botswana looks forward to the next 50 years of friendship and partnership. I encourage you to follow our activities on Facebook: you can find us by searching “U.S. Embassy Gaborone.”