Remarks at Africare Bishop John T. Walker Memorial Dinner

Linda Thomas-Greenfield
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
Washington Marriott Wardman Park
Washington, DC
December 5, 2015

Thank you Steve. And good evening. To quote Nathaniel – ‘wow.’ Nathaniel, I did know that I had to speak, so I came prepared. Let me thank you Steve, and thank all of you for your support, and particularly thank Africare.

Ladies and gentlemen, friends of Africa, it is a privilege for me to be here among so many people who support Africa. I want to thank Africare for inviting me tonight to be your keynote speaker. When Steve called, he asked me to be speaker. He didn’t tell me I was getting an award.

I am really fortunate to be here with my family and again with so many friends. It is truly an honor to receive this award and to be included in such a distinguished list of individuals who have received this award in past years – thank you. Bishop Walker dedicated his life to promoting social justice, and he championed the rights of the poor. He set an example that all of us should strive to live by.

During my 34 years in the Foreign Service, I’ve had the privilege of partnering with Africare. When I served as the U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, Africare partnered with USAID in a five-year project to rebuild health services in the country, and it took ownership of 16 health facilities in support of this project. Boy was that timely! We are all too aware today of how vital and scarce health facilities are in Liberia. So again, thank you.

Today I would like to recognize Africare’s founders - Dr. William Kirker and his wife Barbara, C. Payne Lucas, and Dr. Joseph Kennedy, who I met as I walked in this evening – for having the vision and motivation to build Africare from scratch into the fantastic organization it is today.

I also want to welcome Robert Mallet, Africare’s new president, and Franklin Moore, the new Chief of Programs. Franklin and I go way, way back. We were students together at the University of Wisconsin. And Franklin hasn’t changed since those days, and it has been more than 30 years. Gentlemen, I want you to know that the expectations are high, but we are here to support you. You have a great organization behind you. Your success is Africare's success, and Africare's success is Africa's success.

Ladies and gentlemen, I know you did not come for a boring speech tonight. So I’m not going to give you a boring speech – I can promise you that. It is going to be short. My goal tonight is to charge you up and to provoke you into action.

I don't intend to sweet talk you and tell you about the great things that are happening in Africa. Why? Because you know about Africa's greatness. You know about the opportunities. You know that six of the 12 fastest growing economies are in Africa. You also know how resource rich the continent is. And you know about the extraordinary potential. So I don’t have to talk about that with you.

What I want to talk about tonight is what more we should be doing to address Africa's challenges – among them poverty; lack of education and opportunity; instability and corruption; conflict and terrorism. How can we make our voices heard? How can we make a difference? What do we need to do to make organizations like Africare stronger? What are we doing to mentor the next generations of C. Payne Lucases, Martin Luther Kings, Randall Robinsons, Andrew Youngs, Bernadette Paulos, and Mel Footes?

Ethiopia is facing its worst food crisis in over a decade. As many as eight million people are already in need of emergency food assistance, and El Niño is exacerbating the situation. The challenges could be even greater next year as food shortages affect regional security and slow economic growth. This is not the Ethiopia of the 1980s – let me be clear. Today the country and government are much better prepared to cope. But El Niño is a global phenomenon with devastating repercussions. Who is raising this issue? And how can we respond together to prevent the deaths and starvation that could result?

South Sudan has been at war with itself over the last two years because its leaders chose war over peace; war over their children’s health; war over democracy. This is unacceptable! The conflict has displaced over two million people and has made South Sudan one of the most food-insecure countries in the world. More than three million people are facing life-threatening hunger. The U.S. government helped shepherd South Sudan’s creation. And we have tried vigorously to compel and convince its leaders to implement the peace agreement that they finally, grudgingly signed. But we need your help too. We cannot let things continue on the same path. We cannot be silent in the face of suffering.

Violent extremist groups in Africa are proving to be resilient, adaptable, and capable of deadly assaults. The attack in Mali just two weeks ago was a stark reminder. I was at Anita Datar’s memorial service today. It was a sad and happy moment – sad because we lost such a promising young person, and happy that she had had such a positive impact on so many lives. Boko Haram killed upwards of 6,000 people last year, making it just as deadly as ISIL in terms of acts of terrorism. This morning in Chad – did you hear on the news? There were three suicide blasts in Lake Chad that killed 30 people and injured 90. Do African lives matter? How are we going to stop the killing of innocent civilians? Where are the demonstrators? Who is saying ‘Je suis Africa?’ I am Africa. Please.

Africa loses hundreds of millions of dollars every year to corruption - much of it to its own leaders. Every dollar stolen hurts African economies. And worse than anything, it diminishes Africa’s education, and it diminishes infrastructure. And corruption erodes Africans’ faith in their institutions, and confidence in their governments. What are we doing to deal with this? We have to address it.

Ladies and gentlemen, we need to get out there and redouble our advocacy efforts, both here in the United States, and in Africa. The key word here is partnership. Our shared goal is partnering with Africans to promote democracy, peace, and prosperity, and to enable Africans to succeed in improving their own lives. There are many USAID and Africa-led initiatives that are helping to tackle these challenges I’ve mentioned. We need to support those efforts.

And we should also make sure to highlight the success stories of Africa – successes like the election last weekend in Burkina Faso that produced a peaceful democratic transition of power and demonstrated Burkinabe’s strong commitment to democracy. Even though I talked tonight a lot about crisis, we here know, you in this room know Africa is far greater than the sum of its catastrophes.

Here in the United States, we need to recruit more individuals and organizations to help us in our efforts to improve the lives of Africans. We also need to be visiting high schools and universities to engage with students and mentor them. We need to inspire them to become passionate about Africa, like all of us here in this room. We need to inspire them to become the next generation who will lead development efforts in partnership with young Africans.

And we need to be doing all of this together. We must collaborate. The work we do is a team sport. Africare and the U.S. government have a long history of working together to advance development in Africa, and we want to strengthen that partnership even more. And we want to partner with new organizations as well.

And once again, let me thank you from the bottom of my heart for honoring me tonight. When I was growing up in Louisiana, I dared to dream big. But I don’t know that I dared to dream this big. The honor that you have accorded me tonight is even greater because I know those who came before me on this stage were truly giants, and because I know what a tremendous impact Africare has made for Africa the world. Together, we can do even more. And I tell you – we will. Thank you, and goodnight.