Good evening and thank you for joining us to celebrate the 241st anniversary of American independence. This is the third and, I expect, the final Independence Day that I will have the honor to address all of you as the U.S. ambassador to Namibia. It has been nearly three years since my wife, Mindy, and I arrived in Namibia and started to appreciate this country and its people, and everything that they have accomplished in just a quarter-century.
Mindy and I returned last Thursday from a week long trip to the northern Kaokoland, in Kunene region. The trip was the latest installment in our private exploration of Namibia, which has taken us to nearly every corner of this country. I have to admit, though, that the Kaokoland trip was a new extreme for us – let’s just say that the roads north of Orupembe will challenge even the best off-road drivers! – but it allowed us once again to experience the spectacular beauty and tremendous diversity and richness of this vast country.
Since the first days of Namibian independence in 1990, the United States has been investing in helping Namibia succeed. In the process, we’ve invested in virtually every sector of Namibian society and in every region of the country. So one of the added benefits of our adventures traveling around Namibia – just as of the many official trips I’ve taken – is that I get to think of myself as an investor checking on the return from his investments. After three years, I can tell you that I am one satisfied investor! Certainly, challenges and risks abound – as they do everywhere – but I’ve been able to see for myself what Namibia’s people and government have accomplished in the last 27 years, and it is nothing short of remarkable.
One area where the United States has invested heavily is Namibia’s youth. America has believed in the importance of Namibia’s youth from the very beginning. Whether it’s USAID’s decade-long program in the 90s to help convert the Namibian primary education system to an English-language base, or the schools and libraries built by the Millennium Challenge Account, we have invested significantly in helping this country’s youth succeed. And I believe they will succeed, because I’ve had the chance to talk with and read to Namibian schoolchildren around the country, and I have seen for myself their eagerness for education and their excitement to build a better country for themselves.
One of the most important ways the U.S. has invested in Namibia’s youth is the Peace Corps. The first group of 14 Peace Corps Volunteers arrived here in September of 1990, less than six months after independence, and since then more than 1,700 have served in Namibia. The program has been and continues to be one of our most important investments in Namibia’s future. I have seen for myself its positive impact all over this country, like at the primary school outside of Katima Mulilo where the principal proudly showed me how much his learners’ test scores have improved over four years with the help of two Peace Corps Volunteer teachers.
But Peace Corps isn’t our only investment in Namibia’s future. Just two weeks ago, we sent this year’s Mandela Washington Fellows from Namibia to the United States. The 22 fellows will return in August and September with newfound global connections and an expanded network across the continent. As has been the case every year, this year’s Namibian fellows reconfirmed my confidence about the future leaders of this country and their ability to keep it on the path of success. As an example, before she left one of this year’s Fellows told me that she was already planning to use what she learns in the U.S. to help her build a platform here to provide legal services to Namibians who can’t afford them.
Another major area of investment for the United States since 1990 has been Namibia’s environment. In the first 15 years after independence, the U.S. played a crucial role in building Namibia’s uniquely successful communal conservancy program – a program that has become the model for other African countries seeking to safeguard their own environmental resources. Mindy and I have been able to see the program’s success for ourselves first-hand by staying in lodges inside some of the conservancies.
In the last decade, our investment in the environment extended to building environmental and tourism infrastructure through the Millennium Challenge Account, and most recently we have concentrated on working with the Namibian government and civil society to combat poaching and wildlife trafficking. That challenge, of course, continues, but environmental conservation is an area where Namibia’s accomplishments have been matched by few other countries, and I am proud that my country has contributed to that success.
America has also invested in the success of Namibia’s democratic system. This country has had strong democratic traditions and strong governance from its beginning, and they remain strong today. Witness, for example, Namibia’s number-one ranking in Africa in press freedom according to Reporters Without Borders. But to help ensure the continuing strength of Namibia’s democracy, we have sought to bolster key democratic institutions, particularly through programs supporting the independence of the judiciary and the professional skills of law enforcement. Our efforts have been aimed at making the delivery of justice to the Namibian people even more effective, and it is another area where I think the return on our investment has been strong.
America’s most significant investment by far since 1990 has been our investment in the health of Namibia’s people. In the 1990s our efforts focused on removing the deadly explosive remnants of Namibia’s independence struggle. In my time here, we have worked to mitigate the impact of drought on Namibia and its people. Last year, we instituted water-conservation efforts at the Embassy that permanently reduced our home and office water consumption by more than 70 percent. At my residence, we buried and built a patio over our swimming pool and converted the entire garden to low-water and indigenous plants. In recent months, USAID provided eight water tanker trucks to NamWater to promote community and school sanitation. Separately, USAID rolled out drought assistance activities that will provide nutrition screening and counseling to 42,000 people and food supplements to up to 14,000 vulnerable children in food-insecure districts.
I know there’s a tendency to think that the crisis is over because it rained in Windhoek this year, but I have seen for myself the regions that didn’t get good rains, like Kunene, and still need help. More than that, the cycle of drought will certainly return, and we believe that investing to address it now will lessen the impact the next time the rains don’t come.
If I had to identify one symbol of my country’s commitment to investing in Namibia’s success, it would be the partnership between the Ministry of Health and Social Services and PEPFAR to help save Namibian lives. Since the inception of the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief in 2003, the U.S. has invested well over a billion U.S. dollars in this country’s fight against HIV and AIDS. In the past year alone, we have spent more than US$70 million through PEPFAR to help Namibia combat its HIV/AIDS epidemic and reach the UNAIDS 90/90/90 targets by 2020.
We’re doing that through a complex array of activities that is carefully and constantly coordinated with the Ministry of Health and Social Services. This year alone, our activities have included hiring and training more health care professionals; improving their access to the latest information through remote-training technology; providing 4×4 vehicles to facilitate their access to hard-to-reach clinics in high-need districts; making crucial testing laboratories more available and convenient; building new sites where life-saving anti-retroviral drugs can be distributed; and even, where necessary, providing facilities for the doctors and nurses to live and work in.
If I can put my investor hat back on, the return on our PEPFAR investment is the one that pleases me most. Namibia is now closer than any other high-burden country to controlling its HIV epidemic and producing an AIDS-free generation. Former President George W. Bush visited Namibia in April because he wanted to see the success of the program he started, and to encourage us all to keep at it. Yes, we still have more to do, but my country is committed to continuing to help Namibia safeguard its people, who are its most precious resource.
All of you here tonight are integral to Namibia’s continuing success. My thanks to all of you, whether in government, civil society, the private sector, or international relations, for everything that you do every day to help this country succeed. I want to thank the members of my Embassy team, as well, for the crucial part they all play in America’s investment in Namibia’s success. In particular I’d like to acknowledge those members of the Embassy community who are transferring this season, especially my assistant, Terri Mays, and my very able deputy, John Kowalski, who for three years have been with me at the center of everything the American Embassy has been doing.
In the months I have remaining in Namibia, I intend to continue the work we are doing, for it is the core reason America has a presence in Namibia. As I said two years ago, we are here to help Namibia succeed through finding Namibian solutions to Namibian challenges. Many of those challenges are not faced by Namibia alone; they are global issues that all nations confront in their quest to provide peace and prosperity for their people. Through our shared efforts and through our friendship, both our nations are stronger, our people are better off, and our futures are brighter. That’s why America’s friendship and commitment to Namibia’s success will continue.
In that spirit, I would like to propose a toast on behalf of the government and people of the United States of America to the continued good health and success of His Excellency Dr. Hage G. Geingob, President of the Republic of Namibia, and the governments and people of our two great nations.