Thomas Jefferson said he would rather celebrate the Fourth of July than his own birthday. The older I get the more I share that sentiment.
Welcome, everyone, to the birthday celebration of the United States of America.
Thank you, thank you so much, for being here to share this tradition with us.
Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to organize this year’s celebration: Ursula, Tebogo, so many others. Thank you, Chuck, and our superb embassy choir for your beautiful renditions of our national anthems.
Special thanks to Anthony Stanco and the Crucial Elements, who traveled all the way from my home state, Michigan, to be with us today. And thanks in advance to our very special musical guest who will be on stage shortly.
As a former Marine, it is especially gratifying to thank our Marine Security Guard detachment and their flawless presentation of the colors. You make us proud. Semper Fi.
Please join me in a round of applause for everyone who contributed to this evening’s celebration. This is truly a community effort, above all.
Minister of Infrastructure, Science and Technology and Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, The Honorable Nonofo Molefhi.
Government of Botswana Minsters and Permanent Secretaries
Esteemed diplomatic colleagues
This Independence Day celebration is an occasion to enjoy great food, wonderful music, and the company of friends. It is also a time for Americans to reflect on the founding of our country 239 years ago. While our Declaration of Independence is the most American of documents, and we proudly associate ourselves with the promise of equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, these ideals are not uniquely American. These rights belong to everyone. These values we all share. They represent the aspirations of people in America, in Botswana, and around the world.
You may have heard me say it before: there is nowhere I would rather serve than Botswana. There is nowhere I would rather celebrate my country’s Independence Day and founding principles than in this nation, one of Africa’s great development and democratic success stories. Botswana is one of the continent’s longest-standing multi-party democracies. It is one of the United States most reliable and valued partners in Africa.
Our engagement with Botswana, across a range of issues, underscores our global partnership. Our health partnership has made a world-wide contribution to HIV treatment and prevention. The United States has invested more than $700 million dollars over the past decade through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to assist the government of Botswana in its response to HIV/AIDS.
Botswana is on track to be one of the first countries in Africa to achieve epidemic control before 2018.
Botswana works with the United States and takes principled stands to promote democracy, good governance, and human rights throughout the continent. Our military-to-military relationship is strong and our economic ties strengthening. We work closely on conservation and environmental issues and are allies in the battle against wildlife trafficking.
I see this partnership so clearly when I visit the United States’ best ambassadors, our Peace Corps Volunteers. Over the past year alone, Peace Corps volunteers, with their Botswana partners, trained 10,000 young people in life skills, reached over 14,000 individuals with HIV prevention interventions, and empowered 5,000 individuals to address and reduce Gender-based Violence. We receive 79 new volunteers in August, bringing our total number to almost 150. That’s a lot of ambassadors.
Today we celebrate the very essence of America. The spirit that has defined us as a people and a nation for more than two centuries. We look back in awe at the small band of patriots who risked everything, defied an empire, to declare “these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.”
We celebrate our founding generation who gave their blood to give meaning to those words, pledging their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. We celebrate principles that are timeless – tenets first declared by men of property and wealth, but which gave rise to what Lincoln called a “new birth of freedom” in America: civil rights and voting rights, workers’ and women’s rights, the rights of the disabled, the rights of every American.
We’re reminded our declaration made us a beacon, inspiring people with ideals that still light the world.
239 years later, the words are just as bold, just as revolutionary. Martin Luther King Jr. read them at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1965.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
And then Dr. King said, “The American dream reminds us – and we should think about it anew on this Independence Day – that every man is an heir of the legacy of dignity and worth.”
We’ve come so far and have so far to go. Many rivers to cross. We saw this again last week at another church, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The story of the United States is our struggle to live up to our founding principles and ideals. Many rivers to cross.
But cross them we will. We will carry on the improbable experiment that began more than 200 years ago in my country. Fifty years ago next year in this remarkable country. Not simply declaring our principles, but living them.
And here in this still young century, we renew our commitment to stand with those around the world, who, like us, still believe in that simple yet revolutionary notion – all people, everywhere, are created equal.
Happy Independence Day. God bless all of you, God bless Botswana, and God bless the United States of America.