Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A New Beginning – Reaffirming America’s Partnership With Nigeria: Amb. Sanders' Remarks

A New Beginning – Reaffirming America’s Partnership With Nigeria
U.S. Ambassador Robin Renée Sanders

Maiduguri, Borno State
July 1, 2009

(As delivered)
All other protocols duly observed.
Assalaamu alaykum.

May the Lord bless you and keep you this day. With this homage it is my honor to be here today before so many distinguished academics scholars community and religious leaders.

This is my first trip to Borno but I am aware of the many, many programs the U.S. government does with the universities youth and the greater community in Borno State and in Maiduguri from education to health (particularly HIV/AIDS) to agriculture. These are all part of the people of America reaching out to you to build mutual understanding across nations, peoples, religions and perspectives. We live today in a global village – as we have so often heard – meaning we all need to become better global citizens and I believe this is what my country and the American people under the President of the United States of America Barack Obama are trying to do.

As President Obama said during his landmark speech in Cairo this is a New Beginning for America and the American people not only with the Muslim world but with all diverse people of the world in order for us to do several things better as Americans:
  • We want to respect our global neighbors more as I respect you here today;
  • We want to listen without arrogance or malice so that we can walk and work hand-in-hand;
  • We want to learn from you so that our children can grow up in a peaceful empowering environment;
  • But most of all we have mutual understanding for each other so that your nation and my nation – Muslim and Christian Nigerians as well as Muslims and Christians all over the world and Americans – can live as part of human kind in harmony in peace and in prosperity.
President Obama acknowledged the world’s debt to Islam for its historic contributions to education innovation science medicine but also for its respect for all other religions and its respect for racial equality. What I like to call the pillars of diversity.

Borno is an important part of that rich tradition. For over a thousand years the Great Borno Kingdom has influenced and dominated Islamic leadership dominated knowledge scholarship and trade. Borno’s influence continues to be felt today through institutions of learning throughout the region and by its importance in regional trade.

President Obama promised the U.S. would pursue new partnerships with governments citizens community organizations religious leaders youth business leaders international organizations and civil society in the areas of education economic development science and technology and health. These are the areas that the U.S. Mission to Nigeria my Embassy is working on to ensure we have a New Beginning here between the United States of America and Nigeria. Under President Obama’s New Beginning his priorities for Africa which were recently outlined by our new Assistant Secretary for Africa Ambassador Johnnie Carson are:
  • Promoting and strengthening democratic institutions and the rule of law;
  • Encouraging long-term development and growth;
  • Assisting in the prevention and resolution of conflicts;
  • Working with African nations to address old and new challenges
  • But most importantly – remembering to listen and learn from you and that is why I am here today to listen to you and to learn from you.

For Africa we all know that solutions to all of Africa's problems including helping the Continent to reach its full potential won't come quickly or easily. However today I am pleased to reaffirm the commitment of my government and the people of America to continue to work together with you and your government under the U.S.-Nigeria Framework for Partnership which is synergistic with the goals of the Seven Point Agenda. President Obama has said we would work with like-minded countries like Nigeria to strengthen democracy and governance – by protecting human rights especially the rights of women supporting religious freedom addressing corruption promoting economic development investing in the people of Nigeria – through programs that promote health and education – and enhancing peace and security.

Now I want to turn to the issue of building mutual understanding particularly with the Muslim world. It is so important to me personally and to my President that I want to share with you that I hosted recently a distinguished group of Nigerian Muslim and Christian religious leaders at the Embassy as well as senior editors from Nigeria's major media so that we could watch the live broadcast of President Obama's speech together and discuss some of the issues raised therein together. I have worked in other Muslim countries from Sudan to Senegal so I am committed to the messages of President Obama. I want to share with you though several of the issues noted by President Obama that seemed to resonate strongly with my guests providing a range of emotions and feelings. One of my guests said to me that day that “it was as if he were speaking directly to Nigeria." As I have traveled in this country over the last few weeks I have met with many Nigerians during that time who have shared similar views with me and even since I have been here in Borno State about President Obama’s Cairo speech. In fact this morning I met with a group of Borno’s most prestigious religious leaders to hear their views on U.S. foreign policy and to discuss the speech. They said that many of the goals aspirations and visions of the future expressed by my President were things they wanted for Nigeria particularly government of the people respect for the rights of minorities and all religions putting people above the party and combating corruption.

Today in highlighting several issues addressed by President Obama and considering them in the context of our partnership and engagement with the people of Nigeria let us start with democracy and respect for diversity.

Nigerian democracy has come a long way in the ten years since 1999. In fact I recently participated in recognition programs on the ten-years of your country’s “uninterrupted democracy” along with an esteemed Special Guest former Secretary of State Colin Powell. The transition of power from one civilian president to another in Nigeria in 2007 was historic. I congratulate Nigeria on the progress it has made. It is a testament to the vigor and belief of the Nigerian people in the benefits of the democratic process. And today as we stand at the midpoint of Nigeria's presidential election cycle the U.S. Mission will continue to partner with the Nigerian people on things they request us to do to help strengthen and deepen your democracy.

We have been told that Africans yearn for democracy and in the last two decades dozens of African countries have embraced democratic rule in one form or another through the electoral reform process free and fair elections and freedom of association. I have heard a lot recently in Nigeria about electoral reform as a key pillar for your country to move forward. However electoral reform is something Nigerians must do for Nigeria. We get asked a lot about this but this is your country. We can help when asked but Nigerians must be in the lead. Free and fair elections are the lynchpins of a democratic system – the ultimate voice of the people. For example as stakeholders in their government the Electoral Reform Committee’s regional public hearings gave voice to the Nigerian people and an opportunity for an open and frank debate on what Nigerians want in their electoral system.

The United States continues to look for ways to work with the Nigerian government and the National Assembly to bring meaningful reform to the electoral process. We also recognize the important roles that civil society and a free press bring to advancing democracy in Nigeria. As former Secretary of State Powell recently said when he was visiting Nigeria in June – “democracy not only calls for but respects a clash of ideas in order to thrive.” The U.S. Mission has worked very closely with civil society and the press throughout Nigeria by hosting a series of civil society forums on democratic principles community outreach capacity building and electoral reform in Abuja Lagos and Port Harcourt that included respected experts such as Dr. Julie Sullivan who discussed the role of civil society in a democracy and how to build strong coalitions.

A democratic government is by definition founded on the principle of representing the interests of its people. President Obama challenged all leaders all over the world to abide by the highest standards of public trust when he said this and I quote:

A government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your power through consent not coercion you must respect the rights of minorities and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients elections alone do not make true democracy.

Although these words were said by the President of the United States I believe they ring true for each person and every nation that believes in the democratic experience. I am the product myself of the success of a democratic experience.

According to the World Bank $1 trillion dollars is paid every year around the world in bribes and according to the United Nations more than $400 billion dollars has been looted from Africa alone. This is money not spent on health care education roads and employment generation; money not spent on improving the lives of those very people that government is meant to represent. In Nigeria as of 2008 roughly 500 billion Naira in cash and property gained through corruption was recovered in the last five years.

One other important pillar of democracy is fighting corruption. Nigeria has taken critical steps to lay the framework to combat corruption at every level; however this anti-corruption framework needs to be used – not selectively but across the board – to ensure that no individual can go without impunity and that government revenue meant to benefit all the Nigerian people does just that.

The other key pillar in democracy according to my President is respect for religion. Nigeria is a religiously diverse nation with proud rich traditions in both the Muslim and Christian faiths. My President stressed that "people in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind and the heart and the soul." And indeed there is a great deal of respect for religion in Nigeria – mosques and churches stand side by side and freedom of religion is enshrined in the constitution.

However we have all seen too often in the press over the past year here in Nigeria where economic or political conflicts have led to religious or sectarian violence; and how some have used religious differences to divide people for short term political gain.

Even in the heat of conflict however we can find the cooling waters of tolerance. A pastor from Jos relayed to me recently that a mob came to burn his church during the November, 2008 violence in that city. But it was the Imam from across the street together with his Muslim congregation who stood up to the mob and defended the church Muslims and Christians side by side. We heard stories in Jos and Bauchi of neighbors of different religions sheltering neighbors – and even strangers – regardless of their faith.

These are important steps, which is why we have been asked to train three Conflict Mitigation and Management Regional Councils (CMMRCs) and assist with the Interfaith Mediation Center to effectively anticipate and mitigate ethnic and religious tensions.

I have been reading throughout press commentary that Nigerians also welcomed President Obama's observations on the issue of women's rights. He said "Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential." This too is a key pillar in democracy.

We are also actively supporting education programs as education helps mitigate conflict. We have a U.S. Ambassador's Scholarship Program which includes Islamiyyah primary schools as well as non-formal education for Almajiri boys. There are currently 333 recipients of the U.S. Ambassador’s Scholarship Program in 12 schools in the North East Region of Nigeria with 166 Scholarship students right here in Borno State alone.

One other key sector that helps build democracies is a functioning health care system. The people of America are helping to support Nigeria’s efforts in reproductive health HIV/AIDS and polio primarily through the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief known to many Nigerians as PEPFAR in which the American people have committed an estimated $68 million in the past four years to reach over 94,000 orphans and vulnerable children and about 9,000 caregivers. We also have HIV/AIDS outreach efforts on the radio in Hausa which opens up dialogue about health and other key issues affecting northern Muslim communities.

Turning to the commercial aspects of our development engagement with Nigeria the U.S. and Nigerian governments are working closely through our Trade and Investment Framework Agreement to increase Nigeria’s exports to the United States thereby adding jobs and more importantly reducing poverty in Nigeria. The African Growth and Opportunity Act or AGOA provides Nigeria with an important avenue to export its products to the United States and we recently opened an AGOA Resource Center in Lagos with the Bank of Industry to further enhance our trade relationship. But for you in this region I know agriculture is so important. So I want to assure you that we are very much focused on that sector and on food security where my government has provided and plans to provide depending on our Congress over $25 million per year in food security for Nigeria.

The last area I am going to highlight in our engagement today is peace and security. We are listening carefully to the discussions going on now on amnesty in the Niger Delta. We are friends of Nigeria and we want what you want to see a conflict-free region that can develop and thrive and where the lives of civilians are always protected. We also all know that peace and security are fundamental pillars of democracy as well so I want to highlight for you what President Obama has said about another global peace and security issue you follow closely – the issue of Israel and Palestine.

On Israel and Palestine the President reaffirmed in his Cairo speech that the United States of America will align its policies with those who pursue peace including Israelis and Palestinians who deserve to live in peace and security in two states. He called on all parties to fulfill their obligations agreed to under the Road Map.

Israel's right to exist cannot be denied. At the same time Israel must recognize that building Israeli settlements must stop and that the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security adding that Israel must live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society.

Palestinians must have dignity opportunity and a state of their own. At the same time Palestinians and Hamas must abandon the violence that kills the innocent and surrenders moral authority.

I work for the President of the United States of America and the New Beginning he stressed between Americans and Muslims is also for Nigeria and the United States. We share common principles of justice and progress; tolerance and dignity; and respect and understanding. He has said we as Americans will listen and I have listened and learned from you today.

There is a strong friendship between the people of America and people of Nigeria and a strong bilateral relationship of mutual respect. Through our partnership we will continue to support you and all Nigerians to strengthen democracy encourage respect for human rights invest in the people of this great country promote women’s rights respect for the diversity of religion the diversity of political views and the diversity of perspectives on the world so I have come I have listened and I have heard you today. We are friends we are one. May God's peace be upon you.

Askir-Nyena. Thank you.

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