Remarks by U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Officer Sean J. McIntosh During the Step Afrika! Performance in Kabwe

Remarks by U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Officer Sean J. McIntosh
Step Afrika! Performance
Makululu (Comet) Grounds, Kabwe, Central Province, Zambia
September 11, 2019

(as prepared for delivery)

Ms. Idah Ngoma, Central Province Cultural Officer
Mr. Brian Williams, Step Afrika! Founding Director
Talented dancers of Step Afrika!
Ladies and gentlemen of Kabwe

Mwilibanji, Makululu.  Mwilibanji, Kabwe!  Good afternoon!  Welcome to this very special event featuring the foot-stomping masters of step dance, Step Afrika!  As part of the U.S. Department of State’s Arts Envoy program, the U.S. Embassy is ecstatic to bring this exciting group to Zambia.  The Arts Envoy program, formerly known as Jazz Ambassadors, sends American artists like Step Afrika! to countries around the world to engage in cultural exchange and to build capacity in the arts.

While I know we are all eager to get on to the show, it is important to recognize our partners who had a tremendous role in bringing this fantastic program together.  First, I would like to acknowledge our implementing partner, Umodzi Arts Organization.  Wallace, Sefelino, Joseph, you and your team have been nothing short of professional and extraordinary.  Second, I would like to recognize our corporate sponsors, Neelkanth Sarovar Premiere Hotel, Yash Pharmaceuticals Limited, Prudential Life Assurance Zambia, and 3@1/PostDotNet.  Third, I would like to thank our implementing partners of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), particularly USAID-DISCOVER Health, for its assistance in getting out a vital message of this cultural and health campaign.

Step Afrika! is a group that combines dance traditions that are both uniquely American and African, including African-American traditions of step and hip-hop, and traditional West and Southern African dance styles.  This year, the group is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its founding.  With its roots in southern Africa, it’s no surprise that the group has themed its visit, “The Year of the Return.”  The visit of this illustrious group is a demonstration of the close cultural connections between the United States and Zambia.

Step Afrika!’s work in Zambia is about more than cultural exchange.  It is also about calling on youth to step up and take an active role in the quest for HIV epidemic control and ultimately an AIDS-free Zambia.  Through the group’s performances and workshops here in Kabwe and later on this week in Lusaka, we are encouraging young people to get tested, to know their status, and to start and stay on treatment if they test positive.

The opportunity for Zambia to reach HIV epidemic control by next year was was once thought impossible.  Since 2004, the U.S. government has contributed more than $4 billion to the fight against HIV in Zambia.  I am proud to say that today, through our strong partnership, nearly one million Zambians are currently accessing lifesaving HIV treatment—allowing them to live longer and healthier lives.

However, HIV remains the leading cause of death in Zambia.  This means our work is far from done.  Young people, particularly young men, remain the group the least likely to get tested, the least likely to know their status, and the least likely to get on and stay on lifesaving treatments.  Central Province’s participation is critical for Zambia to reach epidemic control by next year.  Yesterday at Mulungushi University, over 50 people accessed HIV education and testing services.  We would like many more people than that figure to access these services during this program.  In this general vicinity, you can see a tent over there.  We have made it convenient for you to receive your HIV education so please get tested, know your status, and if positive, start and stay on treatment.  Think of a young person you know who is here with you today.  Tell him/her to get tested now.  It is the best way to protect everyone from HIV.

Thank you all very much for coming this evening.  Let’s give Deatrice, Matthew, Conrad, Vincent, Ronnique, Anesia, Jordan, and Nicolas a warm welcome and enjoy watching Step Afrika! do what it does best—rock the house!