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Ambassador Gonzales' Remarks at the Lwanza Traditional Ceremony
August 14, 2023

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Michael Gonzales
Lwanza Traditional Ceremony
August 13, 2023

As Prepared for Delivery

  • Your Royal Highness, Chief Hamusonde VII;
  • Your Royal Highnesses, Visiting Chiefs from across the province and country;
  • Provincial Minister, Honorable Cornelius Mweetwa;
  • The Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Hon. Gary Nkombo;
  • All Cabinet Members present;
  • Honorable Kasautu Michelo, Member of Parliament for Bweengwa constituency;
  • Other Members of Parliament;
  • Provincial Permanent Secretary Dr. Namani H. Monze;
  • Other permanent secretaries present;
  • Monze Town Council chairperson, and other mayors and chairpersons present;
  • Monze District Commissioner and other district commissioners present;
  • The Chairperson for the Lwanza Traditional Ceremony;
  • Members of the Lwanza Traditional Ceremony organizing committee;
  • Members of the media;
  • Distinguished invited guests;
  • Ladies and Gentlemen –

I am delighted to join you as the guest of honor at this year’s Lwanza Traditional Ceremony.  As the Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Zambia, clearly, I am the seniormost representative of the American government to the Zambian government.  But, more than that, I am a representative of the American people to the people of Zambia.  And, I would argue that that role may be even more important than the governmental role.  Because, while the relationship between our countries is stronger today than it has ever been in history, it is the relationships between our people that are deep, broad, and eternal.  So, as much as I love living in Lusaka and working with government and business leaders, I know that it is here – in the rural areas – where the real Zambia is.  And that is why I am so deeply honored and humbled to join you here in Bweengwa not only to witness, but to join you all in celebrating, this year’s Lwanza Traditional Ceremony.

I value opportunities like this to travel outside of Lusaka, to see more of this beautiful country and to take part in one of your important traditional ceremonies.  Zambia’s rich and diverse cultural heritage is one of your greatest assets.  In particular, I am honored to be invited here, to the village from which His Excellency President Hakainde Hichilema hails.

I understand that this ceremony is held to commemorate two important aspects of cultural heritage:

First, to pay homage to and seek guidance from ancestral spirits;

And second, to celebrate the continued cattle heritage of the Lundwe-speaking people spread along the Kafue Plains – and to recognize the importance of the care and strong bond herders have with their cattle, recognizing the wealth of the Lundwe-speaking people in this part of the country.

In the United States, we too have a rich tradition of celebrating our cultural influences, which are rich and varied in a country made of immigrants and people from a wide range of ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds.  Throughout my career as a diplomat, I have tried to recognize, to shed light on, and join in on the many American months of celebration such as those recognizing Hispanic, Black, or Asian American Heritage.

Celebrating these events helps strengthen our shared community and common cultural ties and values while also recognizing and appreciating our uniqueness.  It is precisely this blend of unique backgrounds and common values that make a diverse society vibrant.  After all, if we were all the same, we would be boring and complacent.  If we were all different but did not share common values, we may find ourselves to be opponents.  But, when we bring our differences together through shared values and aspirations, that is when we become a society that thrives and becomes more than just the sum of our parts.

That is why I am so energized to see so many traditional leaders, chiefs and chieftainesses here celebrating alongside His Royal Highness Chief Hamusonde VII: because their presence is the manifestation of their respect for his subjects and the broader fraternity shared among the traditional leaders, the custodians of the cultures of Zambia.  That brotherhood among the Zambian people – the people of one Zambia, one nation – is the basis of Zambia’s strength and the foundation for Zambia’s success.

Not only does the U.S. continue to celebrate cultural influences, we work with other countries to help preserve cultural sites, objects, and collections.  In Zambia, we most recently partnered with the National Heritage Conservation Commission and the National Museums Board on projects to preserve the Mwela Rock Paintings in Kasama and to restore facilities at the Livingstone Museum.  We are excited to continue working hand-in-hand with the Zambian people to preserve Zambia’s rich cultural heritage.

You know, I first came to Zambia as a young man of 20 years old.  I first came to Africa to conduct research in Namibia.  Five years after Namibia’s independence, I was fascinated by the boldness, the pride, and the unity of the Ovambo, Herero, Nama-Damara, and San people in coming together to cast off the shackles of colonialism and apartheid rule while celebrating their cultures through bold colors, impassioned dances, and a shared vision for an independent nation.

I came to Zambia in transit, not as a destination.  While I was in southern Africa, I was intent on seeing with my own eyes the glory and majesty that are the ruins of the ancient civilization known today as Great Zimbabwe.  Beginning in Windhoek, I extended my thumb over the road, hitchhiking for days on end toward my destination – through Grootfontein and Rundu and Katima Mulilo; through Kazungula and Livingstone; through Victoria Falls and Bulawayo until I reached Masvingo.  Indeed, the lure of Africa’s rich cultural heritage was so strong as to make me happy to walk so many kilometers, wait for hours for rides, camp or bunk with welcoming strangers-turned-new friends for days on end just so I could witness for myself one of the pinnacles of Africa’s cultural richness.

Now, I must admit, as the United States Ambassador to Zambia nearly 30 years later, that my first visit to Zambia was not intended to see or celebrate Zambia, but rather to get from Namibia to Zimbabwe.  I regret to tell you that I was ignorant then of Zambia’s deep cultural richness, but I am honored to report that today I am correcting that and I have come to Hamwala Village today to see and join you all in celebration.  And, while personally I am so excited to be here today to join the Lwanza ceremony for myself and to share this experience with my daughter, I am also here very intentionally as the United States Ambassador to Zambia to shine a light on Zambia’s cultural richness.  I am here to publicize and shine a huge American spotlight on yet another of the countless reasons why Americans should come to Zambia, of what they can see here, and what they can experience.

Because, again, while our governments can, and are, doing great things in partnership with one another, it is that people-to-people connection between Americans and Zambians that will truly bring our countries closer together.  We need to bring Americans not just to Livingstone or South Luangwa or Lusaka or Lower Zambezi.  We need to bring them here, to Bweengwa to see the real Zambia: the Zambian people.

And let them come first as tourists.  Let them celebrate, and enjoy, and dance, and laugh, and let them do what I have since done…let them fall in love with Zambia.  Because then they will come back.  They will come back with their friends.  They will come back with church groups.  They will come back to support schools and clinics.  They will come back to invest and create jobs.  Those relationships, those are our shared destiny as Americans and Zambians.

Your Royal Highness, ladies and gentlemen,

The relationship between Zambia and the United States dates to 1964 when Zambia first achieved independence.  Since then, our relationship has grown, and today is stronger than ever.

Ours is a partnership based on shared democratic ideals, growing commercial engagements, long-standing health cooperation, and enduring people-to-people ties.

The United States strongly believes in – and we are investing in – Zambia’s democratic and economic success for the benefit of Zambians.  If you need proof of our investment, just look at the many senior-level U.S. government officials who have recently visited Zambia.

In the past year alone, two cabinet ministers, a 22-member delegation of leaders from the American Congress, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the head of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and our very own Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris have all come to Zambia to show the United States’ continued investment in Zambia’s success.

When Vice President Harris was here, she told me how excited she was to be back in Zambia.  You know, the American Vice President had visited and lived in Zambia for a while as a child.  Did you know that?  Indeed, her grandfather lived here as an advisor to President Kaunda, and his young granddaughter spent a significant part of her formative years in, longing for, and dreaming of this great country.  And this year, for the first time in decades she returned.  But, she did not return as a young girl in pig tails, but as the Vice President of the United States of America enamored with, inspired by, and driving America’s continued investment in this great country: Zambia!

Not only do these visits help advance our shared goals here in Zambia, they also showcase Zambia’s investment potential and we see more American investors and others are increasingly focused on Zambia on the world stage….bringing job opportunities to the Zambian people.

In my 25-year career as a diplomat, I have never seen this level of sustained, senior-level U.S. government focus on any country where I have served, compared to what I am seeing now in Zambia.

In addition to these visits, the United States and Zambia co-hosted the Summit for Democracy in Lusaka in March.  Nations from around the world gathered to recommit to advancing democracy in their countries under the model and encouragement of Zambia.  The Summit highlighted free, fair, and transparent elections as foundational to democracy, but emphasized that elections alone do not make a democracy.

Instead, what defines a democracy, is accountable and responsive democratic governance that meets the needs and expectations of the people.   Zambia’s record of free and fair elections and peaceful transitions of executive office, the New Dawn Administration’s focus on redoubling investment in health care, hiring 30,000 new teachers, attracting investment that creates jobs, reforming laws long used to suppress dissent, and the campaign against corruption all demonstrate that democracy delivers for the people.

The pattern of engagement we have seen over the past two years is proof that the United States is investing in the future the Zambian people aspire to.

It is a future punctuated by inclusive and sustainable economic development, the impartial application of the rule of law and protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, an end to the cultures of corruption and impunity that have prevailed for too long, and equitable delivery of public services to enable all Zambians to envision and realize a better future.

The United States is committed to ensuring that every Zambian can support themselves and their family.  We are also proud to partner with Zambians to improve public health across the country.

That sounds good, but let me tell you…it is true!  Today, one in every three kwacha spent in Zambia’s healthcare system is provided as a grant from the American people.

The United States recently announced our commitment to contribute over 13 billion Kwacha to Zambia’s national HIV response over the next two years.  Over the past 20 years, these total investments of over 125 billion kwacha have truly impacted the lives of virtually every Zambian.

Through the collaboration between the United States and Zambia – and more tangibly through the work of nurses, doctors, midwives, clinicians, and all healthcare workers – pregnancy-related maternal deaths have dropped by 30 percent since 2014.  Mortality among children under the age of 5 years has declined by 20 percent since 2016.

The impact of our partnership is clear.  Today, over 1.2 million Zambians receive HIV treatment, and the life expectancy of Zambians has grown from 44 years in 2000 to 64 years today.  And, Zambia has seen a 50 percent reduction in new HIV infections since 2010.

Moreover, the U.S. government will continue to partner with Zambia to improve the quality of health and education.  But let me be clear, even though this support is provided completely for free – as grants – it is not “aid,” it is not charity.  It is investment.  You know, charity is what you give to people who cannot help themselves.  Investment is what you provide because you believe in and are inspired by people.  And America is investing massively in Zambia today.

We are fostering sustainable trade and business development opportunities between our two peoples, and to support the Zambian government in its promotion of regional peace, security, and stability.

In December last year, President Biden announced plans to invest 1 trillion kwacha over the next three years across the African continent, including an initial 2.8 billion kwacha into the critical minerals industry right here in Zambia.   He also announced an initial U.S. government investment of 4.7 billion kwacha in developing the Lobito Corridor, to connect the DRC and Zambia with global markets through Angola.

We invest as a sign of our renewed commitment to the partnerships between the United States and Africa – between countries, between institutions, and among our people.  We remain focused not on what we will do for Zambia as a donor, but on what we can do with Zambia as a partner invested in Zambia’s success.

And so, it is an honor and a privilege that I join you today as guest of honor at this ceremony.  But, it is particularly an honor because I understand that this is the community from which His Excellency President Hakainde Hichilema hails.

Too often, when we think of development and success, we think of the big cities and famous people.  But, I want everyone to think about how not that long ago – only 50-some years – a young boy looking after his cattle around here had a dream.  He had what President Obama calls “the audacity of hope” to envision something better for himself and for his family.  He worked hard, studied hard, focused, and he was determined.

But, he did not do it alone!  I know that he was able to succeed because those around him – maybe even some of you here today – believed in him.  You supported him.  You encouraged him.  You enabled him.  President Hichilema has told me several times about how it was only because he received support to go off to school that he was able to turn his tenacity and his vision into a reality.  His success is because of you!

In my country, we have a term for that.  We call it “the American Dream.”  The American Dream is an ethos, a belief, a faith that we can become anything we set our mind to become.  We believe it because, time and again, we have seen it become a reality.  We have seen the kid tinkering with electronics at home only to invent the computer and become Bill Gates – the richest man in the world.  We have seen a mixed-race boy with a funny name in Hawaii become President Barack Obama.  We’ve even seen a poor kid in California become the first in his family to go to university and become the U.S. Ambassador to Zambia.

But, the American Dream doesn’t just happen.  It happens because a young person has a spark.  It happens because she has a role model to look up to.  It happens because someone encourages him.  It happens because a family supports him.  It happens because a community comes together as her champions.

But, the American Dream is not unique to America.  The American Dream is alive and well here.  The America Dream is the Zambian Dream.  And it has happened right here, too.  It happened when a community believed in a barefoot boy tending his cattle and encouraged and supported him.  Through the support of those around him, that boy became a successful businessman, the President of the Republic, and a leader on the global stage.

While I am inspired by President Hichilema’s story and I am honored to call him a personal friend, I know that at its core that success is the result of this community!  That story is your story!  That success is your success!  And, perhaps most importantly, that success can happen again and again.

So, I ask of each one of you: what is your dream?  What are you doing to support this community’s next Hakainde Hichilema?  Because the Zambian Dream does not just happen.  YOU make it happen.  Talk to children throughout the community about school and what they are learning.  Read to them, read with them, or have them read to you.  Encourage them to explore and ask questions.  Teach them the skills that you have.  Support the young entrepreneur who is starting a business.  Promote one another.

And know that America is there with you.  That is what the millions of books, the free medicines, the bed nets, and the vaccines are for.  That is why we support the electoral commission and anti-corruption efforts.  That is why I work to bring more tourists and visitors to Zambia and that it why one of my most important jobs as Ambassador is to promote trade and investment between America and Zambia.  It is because we believe in the Zambian Dream.  You inspire us and we are investing in your success.

But let me be clear…we recognize that only you – only Zambians – can make the Zambian Dream a reality.  We can help you, we can support you, we can promote you and champion you.  But, only you can make the Zambian Dream come to life.

As I conclude, I assure you that the United States will continue to partner with Zambia to improve the lives and opportunities of all Zambians, including – Your  Royal Highness – those who are here within your chiefdom.

It is now my honor and privilege to declare the 2023 Lwanza Traditional Ceremony officially open.

Twalumba kapati. (Twaa-Lu-mba  Ka-paah-tea)