July 9, 2015
On July 2, 1776 the Continental Congress voted to declare independence from Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, was formally adopted by the Congress two days later, on July 4.
We Americans celebrate our national birthday on July 4 but it might easily have been July 2. Our second president, John Adams — who was instrumental in the push for independence — wanted July 2 to be our national day.
I wish I could say that was why we were celebrating our national day today – but the truth is that it’s to get a head start on a long holiday weekend.
The July 4th weekend is one of the most popular of U.S. holidays, I think in large part because it is the only one that falls during the summer months when as the saying goes “the living is easy.”
Like most Americans, I grew up going to baseball games and watching fireworks during the July 4 weekend — and eating. Americans love to eat and we especially love to eat the sort of picnic food we have in store for you later today.
But like every national day, July 4 is also a day of great symbolism.
America is 239 years of age today – or in 2 days if you like.
We are the world’s oldest democracy.
Our founding fathers, people like Adams, like Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence, or like George Washington our first President and the man who led our fight for freedom, were all believers in democracy: “Government of the people, by the people and for the people” — as a later great President – Abraham Lincoln – famously put it.
So above all, July 4th is a celebration of freedom and democracy.
Zambia too is a great democracy; one of Africa’s most successful. And so it is fitting that we celebrate together today rule of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Winston Churchill once said that democracy is the worst form of government – except when compared to all other forms of government.
Yes, democracy is messy and loud and full of contention. But in the end it is the one form of government that ensures that government is working for the good of all rather than the narrow interests of the few.
Take the United States for example. We may be the oldest democracy but we are far from a perfect one. We have many flaws but we are a work in progress; a country that is changing and improving all the time.
When I was growing up one could not have imagined an African-American president for instance — or a woman president potentially in our near future.
One could not have imagined the Supreme Court decision last week that legalized same-sex marriage.
One could not have imagined that this month we would be celebrating 25 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which enshrined civil rights protections for individuals with disabilities.
All of these event and many others, as President Obama said last week after the Supreme Court ruling, have “perfected our union a little more.”
Zambia is not only a country with a democratic history it is also a country with a bright economic future. Its economy has been growing fast and is poised in the near future to take off; to grow even faster.
What would an economically successful Zambia look like?
It would be a breadbasket, with a thriving commercial agricultural sector exporting foodstuffs throughout the world. It would have well-run extractive industries, with vibrant, value-adding, downstream companies generating well paid jobs. It would be an electricity exporter, with hydro and solar plants generating large, environmentally safe power surpluses. And it would have a world-class tourism industry with Victoria Falls, one of the world’s natural wonders, and with some of the best safaris and game-viewing in Africa.
What must Zambia do to realize this vision and to ensure its place as one of the brightest of Africa’s emerging economies?
It must educate its children better; all of its children. It must adopt market–friendly policies that unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of the country – so evident in its young people. It must conquer the scourges of HIV/AIDs and malaria.
Above all it must maintain its democracy, its peace, its stability. Zambia has an enviable reputation for democracy but reputations are hard won and can be easily lost. Elections must be free, fair, peaceful and adhere to its constitution for Zambia to keep its democratic reputation and to realize its bright future.
The United States, like many of the countries represented here today, is committed to helping Zambia achieve that bright future. We are Zambia’s largest bilateral donor, with a particular emphasis on assistance in the health sector. We have extensive education exchanges, including the Washington Mandela Fellowship from which many bright young Zambians have benefited. We have a growing economic relationship.
But above all we have a commitment to help Zambia’s democracy deepen and mature.
That commitment manifests itself in many ways, not least our efforts to encourage freedom of expression, without which no democracy can be sustained.
There is a famous saying attributed to the great French writer Voltaire to which Americans ascribe: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
And speaking of defense, I would like to acknowledge our honored guest, the Deputy Minister of Defense.
The United States and Zambia have a growing security relationship that is rooted in the reality that we saw again last week in Tunisia, in Kuwait, in France that no country, no matter how stable and peaceful, is immune to the security challenges of our day.
Zambia has chosen to play a role in African peacekeeping, a leadership role for which it is well-suited, and we have chosen to help train their military to play this role; to help Africa become safer and more secure so that it can become more prosperous and freer as well.
Let me end there and say simply God Bless America and God Bless Zambia; “Lesa Apale” America, “Lesa Apale” Zambia.
And let me now offer a toast to His Excellency, President Edgar Chagwa Lungu and to the Zambian people.