Independence Day Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Howard Van Vranken

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Gaborone, Botswana

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Dumelang, Bagaetsho! Today as we mark the 247th anniversary of the founding of the United States of America, we also celebrate the shared commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and human rights that bind us together in enduring friendship with the Republic of Botswana and its people. I would like to recognize leaders of the Government of Botswana in attendance, members of the diplomatic corps, as well as representatives from civil society, business, education, the arts, medicine, the military, and other friends of the U.S. Mission.

Senior government officials, heads of civil society, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, with all protocol observed, dumelang! You are all key in forging the strong relationship between the United States and Botswana, and you honor us with your presence here tonight. I also want to thank our very generous sponsors who helped make this event possible. Specifically, Hilton Garden Inn, Bokomo, BoLux, Flo-Tek, Koko Consulting, Natural Selection, and Solar Power were tremendously generous and we thank you.

I’ve said it before: The United States and Botswana are like brothers and sisters. And our long history of partnership is based on shared values—a commitment to democracy, rule of law, human rights, and a prosperous economy where people are free to build their own futures, and respect for international law. This has been an auspicious year for the United States and Botswana, and we have much to be proud of. For example, this year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The progress Botswana has made has been laudable and the achievement this year of 95-98-98 and Silver Tier status is remarkable. The United States has invested more than $1 billion in the health of Batswana during the past 20 years to help support these efforts and we are committed to seeing the job through. The United States will continue to partner with the Government of Botswana and work towards the 2030 goal of ending HIV/AIDS and focusing on non-communicable diseases as the population of people living with HIV ages.

Can you imagine that? We’re talking about achieving the goal of ending AIDS. Who would have thought 20, 10, even five years ago such progress would be conceivable? It shows what is possible when excellent leadership is informed by science and acts boldly and with determination. And we are honored to be joined today by one Botswana’s bold leaders, His Excellency Former President Festus Mogae, whose decisions in so many ways were instrumental in leading the fight—he made sure medicines were available to everyone who needed them. He destigmatized the disease and was the first to initiate widespread testing. And he bravely told the world about the threat facing Botswana—he told the United Nations in 2001 that Botswana faced extinction if it didn’t confront this disease. That statement greatly influenced many leaders, including President Bush, who initiated PEPFAR in 2003. In part thanks to President Mogae’s vision, not to mention the leadership of President Masisi and others since then, we find ourselves in a tremendously advantageous place. Congratulations Botswana and to all her partners, including the United States, who helped achieve these impressive goals.

Another area of successful cooperation is our security partnership. The United States strives to be Botswana’s security partner of choice, as we work together to improve Botswana’s capacity to respond to environmental threats; help stabilize the region; and counter transnational criminal activity. Our security relationship with Botswana is one of the strongest in Africa; the BDF routinely participates in and hosts major U.S. military exercises and security conferences such as the Climate Change Symposium happening this week in Gaborone and has developed partnerships with the U.S. military and the North Carolina National Guard. And we are thankful for Botswana’s leadership in the deployment of peacekeepers to Mozambique.

On security matters, the United States knows Botswana is a capable partner. I mentioned Botswana’s respect for international law earlier, and Botswana’s principled positions at the United Nations to uphold the sovereignty of Ukraine were courageous. That kind of leadership defines Botswana’s approach to issues at the UN, in the African Union, and in Southern Africa. And for that, I ask that The Honorable Foreign Minister Kwape accept our thanks and pass to His Excellency President Masisi our gratitude and assurance that the United States will continue to stand, with Botswana, on the side of peace, stability and justice.

One of our goals is to make the world a more prosperous place and the United States is committed to helping Botswana diversify its economy and create private sector-led growth. This year, for the first time ever, Botswana exported finished jewelry to the United States, a development which creates jobs here and provides U.S. consumers with the lasIng beauty of Africa. I was honored to be on hand when President Masisi received 162 of the highest quality American beef cattle, to be used for breeding. I am certain this will rejuvenate Southern Africa’s cattle stock and we were delighted Botswana sought American bulls and heifers. And of course, two weeks from today, we will witness the biggest U.S.-Botswana commercial event in history. The Government of Botswana and the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) will co-host the 2023 U.S.-Africa Business Summit; its theme is “Enhancing Africa’s Value in Global Value Chains”. I cannot overstate how big this is. More than 1,000 U.S. and African private sector executives, international investors, heads of state, and multilateral stakeholders are coming to Gaborone.

The event is a testament to His Excellency President Masisi’s outstanding commercial diplomacy. We particularly appreciate that President Masisi views the United States as the business partner in many sectors. This event demonstrates the United States’ longstanding commitment to Africa and strong ties between the people of United States and Africa. This being pride month, we recognize the significant strides Botswana has made on Human Rights, including the rights of the LGBTQI+ community. And we look forward to legislation in this critical area to codify the gains made in the recent past. Again, Botswana’s courageous leadership on this issue stands in stark contrast to those on the continent who, sadly, seem to be moving in the wrong direction.

Our work with Botswana extends to the International Law Enforcement Academy, which our two nations run. We expect to expand our Peace Corps in the coming year to increase the numbers of volunteers working in Health, Education and Community Economic Development. And, of course, we rely on the Agency for Global Media which manages our radio operations throughout the region from their facility near Selebi Phikwe.

These achievements are impressive and we and Botswana are rightly proud. But much remains to be completed and we recognize the challenges we face as well as the opportunities they present. In renewable energy, Botswana is blessed with many advantages, including tremendous potential for solar energy. Exploiting this advantage to generate electricity will create jobs, help alleviate the regional power crisis, and save money that is currently spent on fuel and energy imports. We want to help find a way forward. You might know that the United States was instrumental in the creation of the Rooftop Solar program which helped Batswana install over six megawatts of rooftop solar systems across the country. In partnership with the African Development Bank and the World Bank, we are working on a 2023 rollout of a Regional Market Study to characterize a vision for private sector-led clean energy investment in Botswana and Namibia. In addition, within a few weeks we will complete the installation of a 11 kW solar photovoltaic system on my house, to generate electricity for either household use or delivery to the grid. Botswana could develop a thriving energy economy, become electricity self-sufficient, re-invest significant wealth into the Batswana people, and become a global leader in clean energy “manufacturing.”

The United States and Botswana are working to realize Botswana’s energy goals and to develop a regional market outlook that guides private sector investment and growth in the clean energy sector. Our countries each face a scourge which is difficult to articulate and even harder to address. I’m talking about overcoming Gender Based Violence (GBV). GBV is a serious human rights violation and a threat to life, health, and wellbeing with serious implications for society. Anyone can fall vicIm to GBV. Women and girls are especially at risk. It is our collective moral imperative to address GBV at every opportunity. Gender Based Violence increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Government of Botswana took concrete steps to address the problem – it established GBV courts and specialized police units to handle GBV crimes, and it improved support for victims. We recognize that GBV is preventable.

We continue to collaborate with the Government of Botswana and civil society to raise awareness to prevent GBV and to expand comprehensive and quality GBV services. One key catalyst to improving the lives of women and girls around the world is to increase the number of women in positions of power, especially in politics and policy making. The perspectives and skills that women bring to leadership consistently result in more equitable opportunities and outcomes including economic, social, and political advancement for all members of society. We are committed to working with Botswana to address this problem.

Democracy and governance, as the United States well knows from nearly two and a half centuries of experience, is something that we must constantly address and refine. Each election presents a challenge, to make sure our system is fair, so the outcomes reflect the will of our people. I know the United States is imperfect in some regards, but what sets us apart, and what aligns us squarely with Botswana, is our determination to get it right. We look forward to witnessing a vigorous democratic process here in Botswana and in the United States, where the voices of all sides are heard, women and youth participate actively in the process, and the will of the people is exercised freely and fairly.

I believe in America. And I believe in Botswana. We will get it right, and we will work together closely, like brothers and sisters, until we do. Our partnership is strong, our mutual respect is deep, and our commitment to our friends remains steadfast. So, please join me now in a toast to our independence, and to a prosperous and secure future.

To our enduring bilateral partnership over the past 57 years, strengthened by our shared values of health, peace, and prosperity for both our people. And, in honor of the President of the Republic of Botswana, His Excellency, Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Masisi. To the President! Pula!