By Earl Miller, US Ambassador to Botswana
I love Independence Day. I love joining friends and colleagues to celebrate with food and music and reflect on the founding of the United States, now 240 years young. I am proud of America’s ideals: equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The first three words of our Constitution, in bold script, are “We the People.” The story of America is our journey, our striving, ongoing and imperfect, to live up to those ideals of hope and opportunity for all people. To know our history, our possibilities, our limitations. The dream of democracy, self-determination and equality is not, of course, just an American dream. One of the reasons the United States and Botswana have such a strong partnership is our shared aspiration to these ideals. In this special year, as Botswana celebrates 50 years of independence, I quote a great statesman, the first and founding President of the Republic of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama, who in 1970 described his vision for a young nation:
“Our principle aspiration is to make a contribution to the victory of democracy, dignity and self-determination throughout Southern Africa. This ambition must be fulfilled by the only means available to us – the development of Botswana whose unity and independence is based on social and economic justice for its people, regardless of race, colour or tribe.”
I congratulate the people of Botswana for turning Sir Seretse Khama’s vision into reality. An extraordinary accomplishment achieved through enlightened and compassionate leadership, good governance, and the wise investment of natural resource blessings into social infrastructure and human capital. Botswana is one of Africa’s great development and democratic success stories. A success all the more remarkable when one considers the economic situation of the country at the time of independence. Sir Seretse Khama, in his first public speech as President of the Republic of Botswana, said on October 6, 1966:
“Botswana is a poor country and at present is unable to stand on its own feet and develop its resources without assistance from its friends.”
I am proud to say the United States and Botswana have been friends from the very beginning. We were eager to answer Sir Seretse Khama’s call in a partnership that has grown and thrived for fifty years. In fact, we were here from day one. On September 30, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson sent the governor of the State of Hawaii, John Burns, to represent the United States at Botswana’s independence celebration. President Johnson chose Governor Burns because Hawaii is Botswana’s neighbor - through the center of the Earth. Burns delivered America's gift - a light airplane - at a midnight ceremony amid a dust storm. That day Botswana's flag flew above Iolani Palace in Honolulu.
One of the first examples of our friendship came with the December 1966 arrival of a cadre of skilled and enthusiastic Peace Corps Volunteers who worked as teachers and advisors to ministries across the country. Since 1966, over 2,500 Peace Corps Volunteers have lived and worked across Botswana and we currently have 130 Volunteers in country and expect the arrival of 82 more in August. Our health partnership is one of the strongest in the world. Through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the United States has invested more than $750 million dollars to assist Botswana in combatting HIV/AIDS. We are proud to support Botswana’s recently announced “Treat All” policy to provide anti-retroviral therapy to all who test positive for HIV/AIDS. This bold and important step puts Botswana on track to be one of the first countries in Africa to achieve epidemic control. My son recently joined me from Florida. We have relatives in Orlando. We grieve for victims of the hateful attack there. Haven’t we all seen too much hate, too little respect and tolerance and common decency?
You can hear the poet’s words: “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Many of you have expressed your concerns to me about the tone of election campaign rhetoric in the United States. Let me be clear. Divisive rhetoric, wherever it comes from, does not reflect Secretary Kerry’s or President Obama’s view of our foreign policy objectives. It certainly does not reflect mine. And it does not reflect our values as Americans. The first thing a president does when he or she takes the oath of office is to swear to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Discriminating against a religion is against our Constitution and against who we are as Americans.
On Monday evening, we held an iftar in honor of Ramadan in this house with our Muslim friends and neighbors. The White House has held an annual iftar since 1996. The first was held by Thomas Jefferson, our third President, when he hosted the first Muslim ambassador to the United States in 1805. President Obama has said, “I stand firmly with Muslim American communities in rejection of the voices that seek to divide us or limit our religious freedoms or civil rights. I stand in celebration of our common humanity and dedication to peace and justice for all. This sacred time reminds us of our common obligation to uphold the dignity of every human being. We will continue to welcome immigrants and refugees into our nation, including those who are Muslim.”
Let me close with the words of perhaps our greatest American, Abraham Lincoln. In his first inaugural address, a month before the outbreak of our terrible civil war, the new President said to a divided nation, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Happy Independence Day. God bless all of you. God bless the Republic of Botswana. And God bless the United States of America.