Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Daniel L. Foote
Independence Day Reception
U.S. Chief of Mission’s Residence, Lusaka, Zambia
June 27, 2019
(as prepared for delivery)
Mulibwanji, nakulandilani. My wife Claudia, son Danny, my Embassy colleagues, and I extend our warmest welcome to you, as we observe the 243rd anniversary of the independence of the United States of America.
The United States and Zambia share values, ideals, and dreams for our people. My country has long been Zambia’s top bilateral donor by a large margin, through direct, non-debt assistance, which comes at no cost—ZERO, ever—to the Zambian people. Our partnership has transformed your health sector, most notably saving the lives of over a million of our HIV-affected brothers and sisters. The $500 million per year we provide touches millions more through development, education, youth and exchange programs, conservation, our work to attract investment, and in many other areas. And that doesn’t count the exceptional impact by scores of private American philanthropic organizations.
Let me admit that U.S. democracy and government are far from perfect. We constantly experience challenges and difficulties, but we are strengthened by differing viewpoints. We will not impose our values, but we will encourage aspiring partners to strengthen their sovereignty, and realize the benefits of free markets and individual liberty. Since arriving in your beautiful Republic, I have always said that my job is not to tell Zambia what to do or how to do it. I believe my government’s work is to identify mutual interests with Zambia, and join forces with your government, people, and cooperating friends to work toward our shared goals. But partnerships must go both ways.
Once upon a time, a wise father, tired of his seven sons not working together, summoned the boys. He showed them a bundle of seven spears wrapped together with string, and commanded, “Break them.” Each son tried by himself, straining and straining, but none were able to break the bundle. “Untie the bundle,” said the father, “and each of you take a spear.” When they had done so, he called out to them: “Now, break,” and each spear was easily broken when they worked TOGETHER.
My message today: “A stronger Zambia-U.S. partnership—TOGETHER—means a better Zambia!”
During my time here, I’ve come to see that the impact of American support to your people could be greatly enhanced by a much stronger, reciprocal commitment by the Zambian government to our relationship. By deepening, and better enabling, not just Zambia’s, but also America’s hopes for our partnership, I am certain that TOGETHER, by promoting our shared values and goals, we can markedly boost Zambia’s progress, to our mutual benefit.
I’ve been blessed to visit all 10 Zambian provinces. I have talked with people across the country, from all backgrounds, classes, and political affiliations. We’ve discussed their needs, challenges, fears, opportunities, and frustrations. I’ve found that despite our differences, we are extremely similar in our humanity, and we are frustrated when our voices go unheard. Please allow me to share some universal desires expressed by my Zambian friends, and a few ideas for progress toward each, which coincidentally align closely with American beliefs.
- We all want good governance that effectively utilizes resources and improves the lives of our families.
As I watch Zambia’s reputation as a strong democracy slip in international reporting, I fear it’s partly driven by divisive politics and a sub-optimal focus on the welfare of the Zambian people. Zambians tell me they are sick of the political-party cadres, corruption, and the daily political attacks—from all sides. I would say this regardless of who is in power; the United States supports no political party over any other. We do firmly support the will of Zambian citizens expressed through free, fair, and transparent democratic processes.
- Idea: Zambia’s people want politicians and leaders to be more responsive to the needs of all citizens, and to focus less on constant “campaigning,” and the narrow political and economic interests of connected individuals.
- We all want our governments to be transparent and accountable.
People can’t freely participate when governments are not open about their affairs. Non-transparent contracting and debt acquisition are imposing problematic debt, fueling corruption, and limiting the options for citizens to determine their futures. Zambia has every right to maintain diplomatic and commercial relationships with any country. Many Zambians believe, however, that their country should be careful about becoming beholden to autocratic nations that act chiefly in their own interests, limit fundamental freedoms and human rights, censor information available to their people, persecute religious minorities, and muzzle the media in their own countries. Also, we are all aware of instances of budgeted funds, not to mention donor assistance, diverted for corrupt personal or political use.
- Idea: By providing citizens better access to government dealings, such as by enacting the Freedom of Information bill, by publishing debt and procurement arrangements, and by requiring and disclosing reports on the assets of government officials, Zambia could significantly mitigate corruption and improve trust.
- We all want economic prosperity and better opportunities for our children and ourselves.
To that end, I constantly receive requests to help attract more American money to Zambia. To invest, American businesses require stability, predictability, and a clean, level playing field. They face grave U.S. legal consequences for “donations,” or bribery, to expedite deals, often creating competitive disadvantages. Zambia could be a world leader in tourism, largely through conservation investment. But right now, you’re losing the key to that touristic expansion to poaching—of your natural endowment of elephants, lions, lechwes, etc.—and the reported complicity of a few bad officials from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) stains DNPW’s name. American and international conservation investors, with tens to hundreds of millions of dollars, and major community development plans, at the ready, are regularly met by ever-changing requirements, unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, stall tactics, and worse, at every step.
- Idea: Zambia could better attract American investors by creating a more business-friendly climate, minimizing corruption, offering incentives, and establishing stable tax regimes that enable investors to adequately plan and profit from their risk.
- Idea: Without sufficient political commitment, resources, and effective DNPW leadership and partnerships, many of Zambia’s iconic species face rapid extinction, which would cripple the key economic-growth pillar of increased tourism.
- Everyone wants to enjoy universal human rights and freedoms.
Some of our fundamental rights, freedoms, and individual choices include speech, press, assembly, religion, opinion, and lifestyle. Disinformation has been around as long as human society, but fair, mature societies accept that free speech protects the vast majority of expression and strengthens democracy. While I admit that the term “fake news” probably originated in the United States, using that as an excuse to suppress or persecute individuals and media organizations for expressing dissenting opinions goes against both our countries’ constitutions and ideals.
- Idea: All democracies should remember that we must withstand criticism and accusations, which are best refuted through positive words and actions, rather than unproductive attacks, harassment, censure, or imprisonment.
As I said before, “A stronger Zambia-U.S. partnership—TOGETHER—means a better Zambia!”
I believe you have a saying in Nyanja to help me express that thought: Chala chimodzi sichitola nsabwe. For us non-Nyanja speakers…“One finger cannot pick lice.” TOGETHER, we accomplish much more.
Zikomo kwambiri! Thank you very much!
To the good health and long life of His Excellency President Edgar Chagwa Lungu, to the United States of America, and to Zambia. May the friendship and partnership between our nations continue to grow.