Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Daniel L. Foote: Youth Leadership and Good Governance

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Daniel L. Foote
Youth Leadership and Good Governance
University of Zambia, Lusaka, Zambia
July 25, 2019

 (as prepared for delivery)

Vice Chancellor Mumba, Dean Kusanthan, staff and students, thank you for the warm welcome.  It feels good to be back here at the University of Zambia, the nation’s premier institution of higher learning.  I will keep my remarks brief so that we can spend more time in conversation.

The U.S. government’s partnership with the Zambian people covers many aspects, which include promoting democracy and good governance, health and education, economic development, and peace and security.  Just in the health sector alone, our partnership has saved the lives of over a million of our HIV-infected brothers and sisters; many of them were young people just like you who are now living a long-healthy life even though they are HIV-positive.  The $500 million per year we provide as Zambia’s largest bilateral donor—all of it in the form of direct grants, none of it requiring repayment—touches millions more through development, health, 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 and academic institutions.

As the U.S. Ambassador to Zambia, I have been fortunate to visit all 10 provinces of the marvelous country.  During these visits, I have had the privilege to speak with many fascinating young people like yourselves.  My conversations with young Zambians have helped me understand the country better, and I strive to be a bridge to help Zambians better understand America.

Young Americans and Zambians have many of the same goals and aspirations.  They both want a stable country, good jobs, and enough money to raise and educate their children so that they in turn can aspire to greater things.

The U.S. Embassy seeks to support young Zambians so that they can be leaders in government, business, and civil society.  Since 2014, Zambian leaders have participated in the Mandela Washington Fellowship Program for Young African Leaders.  This year, we selected 26 dynamic young people who stood out among more than 1,000 Zambian applicants for this program.  We are excited to provide these outstanding young Zambians an opportunity to enhance skills, learn about America, and join with other leaders from across Africa and the United States to build a network of young leaders who can share ideas and best practices for dealing with challenges that communities face.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship and the Young African Leadership Initiative Regional Leadership Centers are empowering hundreds of dynamic Zambian leaders every year.  To create successful entrepreneurs, the government must create an environment that allows businesses to thrive through tax and regulatory consistency, access to credit, and policies that promote transparency, anti-corruption practices, and adherence to the rule of law.

Zambia’s Mandela Washington Fellows and other young savvy professionals and entrepreneurs are key drivers of Zambia’s long-term economic development.  The accountability, transparency, and community engagement that these leaders foster will play an important role in creating a stable, peaceful, and business-friendly environment.

I urge you, the future leaders of this country, to get involved both politically and economically to push Zambia towards a brighter future, which should include a larger leadership role in Africa.

I mentioned earlier that I have been to all 10 of Zambia’s provinces.  Has anyone else been to all corners of Zambia?  I have spoken with people across the country and across all walks of life.  We’ve talked about 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.

Some of you might have heard what I said during the U.S. Embassy’s celebration of my nation’s independence a couple of weeks ago.  If not, then you might have read my responses in “The Diplomat’s Agenda” earlier this week in the Zambia Daily Mail.  On both occasions, I shared some universal desires expressed by my Zambian friends, and ideas for progress toward each, which coincidentally align closely with American beliefs.  If you don’t mind, I would like to share those desires and ideas with you.  I think they are important to young Zambians like you studying the disciplines you have chosen.

First, we all want good governance that effectively utilizes resources and improves the lives of our families.  We are all aware of instances of budgeted funds, not to mention donor assistance, diverted for corrupt personal or political use.  My thinking is that Zambia’s governance could improve markedly by focusing more intently on fairly governing and providing appropriate services to its citizens.

Second, we all want our governments to be transparent and accountable.  People cannot freely participate when governments are not open about their dealings.  Non-transparent contracting and debt acquisition are imposing problematic debt on recipient countries, fueling corruption, and limiting the options for citizens to determine their futures.  By passing into law and implementing, finally, the Access to Information Bill, publishing debt and procurement arrangements, and mandating and publishing reports on the assets of government officials, Zambia could significantly mitigate corruption and improve trust.

Third, we all want economic prosperity and better opportunities for our children and ourselves.  For U.S. investment into Zambia to be possible, American businesses require stability, predictability, and a clean, even playing field.  They face grave legal consequences under U.S. law for “donations” to expedite deals, creating competitive disadvantages.  Zambia could be a world leader in tourism, largely through conservation investment.  Right now, Zambia is losing the key to that touristic expansion to poaching of its natural endowment of elephants, lions, lechwes, etc.  The reported complicity of a few bad officials from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) stains the institution’s name.

I think Zambia could better attract American investors by creating a more business-friendly climate, minimizing regulatory interference and corruption, offering incentives, and establishing tax regimes that enable investors to adequately profit from risking their capital.  Also, without sufficient political commitment, resources, and effective DNPW leadership and partnerships, many more of Zambia’s iconic species will rapidly become extinct, crippling the key pillar of future tourism.

Lastly, everyone wants to enjoy universal human rights and freedoms.  Some of our fundamental rights, freedoms, and individual choices include speech, press, assembly, religion, conscience, 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.  Using the term, “fake news” as an excuse to suppress or persecute individuals and media organizations for expressing dissenting opinions goes against both our countries’ constitutions and ideals.  Thus, both of our governments should remember that democracies must withstand criticism and accusations, best refuted through positive words and actions rather than unproductive attacks, harassment, censure, or imprisonment.

I would like to end by saying to you, students at UNZA and other youth, that you have a responsibility to be actively engaged in developing your communities and your country.  Always seek ways to volunteer, to be involved in community service, and to promote democracy, good governance, and accountability.

Thank you.  I welcome your questions.