Omni Shoreham Hotel, 2500 Calvert Street NW, Washington, DC
Sunday, May 20, 6:00pm
Your Excellency, Ambassador Etoundi Essomba, Madame Essomba,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Cameroonians, colleagues, and fellow friends of Cameroon:
Good evening, Bonsoir.
Thank you for the honor of addressing you this evening on behalf of the United States government. It is a pleasure to celebrate Cameroon’s national day with you.
I have a special affinity for Cameroon and its hospitable people. My first diplomatic posting was in Cameroon. My husband and I have many fond memories of dancing to makossa, eating ndole, and drinking jobajo. I recall the euphoria and declaration of a national holiday when the Indomitable Lions returned to a hero’s welcome in Yaounde after winning the men’s Africa Cup of Nations in 1988, a feat I was happy to see the team repeat last year. And, also in 1988, as a junior political officer, I observed the reelection of President Paul Biya.
Our two countries share a strong partnership that dates to Cameroon’s earliest days of independence. The United States was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with the sovereign Republic of Cameroon in 1960. In 1962, President Kennedy welcomed then-President Ahidjo to Washington for a state visit. I was not yet four years old at the time of that visit so do not remember it personally, but I do recall President Biya’s bilateral working visits to Washington in 1986 and 2003, and was myself serving in Cameroon when President Biya received President Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz in 1987.
From the very start and through the present day, the U.S.- Cameroon relationship has been based on mutual respect, as we work together for a more peaceful and prosperous future, and strive to build the long-term stability that will attract further economic growth.
We appreciate Cameroon’s effective role in fighting and degrading Boko Haram, whose terror campaign continues to affect the lives of citizens – Muslims, Christians, and people of traditional beliefs – who live in northern Cameroon. As we partner with you in this struggle, we look forward to continued progress against a brutal enemy.
We also commend Cameroon for its membership in the Coalition to Defeat ISIS and its major contributions to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in the Lake Chad Basin Region, and to MINUSCA, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the neighboring Central African Republic.
It is worth noting in this context that last year’s UNDP study found that 71 percent of radicalized Sub Saharan Africans became that way due to a negative encounter they, or someone close to them, had had with security forces. This clearly shows that respect for human rights is not just the right approach, but it also has enormous implications for reducing grievances that can fuel extremism.
The United States and Cameroon share many other common priorities: fighting human trafficking, halting the illicit wildlife trade, protecting the environment, and improving maritime security. Additionally, our two governments are working together to improve the health of Cameroon’s people, including by fighting HIV/AIDS and emergent pandemic threats. Most recently, while in Garoua, U.S. Ambassador Peter Barlerin inaugurated Cameroon as a partner in the President’s Malaria Initiative.
Exchanges and student programs reinforce the strong ties between Cameroon and the United States. For example, Peace Corps Cameroon, established in 1961, is one of the oldest uninterrupted programs in the world, with a current focus on agriculture, education, and community health. Over time, more than 3,680 volunteers have built capacity throughout Cameroon and fostered enduring friendships between our peoples.
This summer, as part of the fifth edition of the Young African Leaders Mandela Washington Fellowship, we look forward to welcoming 17 promising young Cameroonians. We look to the youth to contribute positively to Cameroon’s growth and deepen the historic links between our two peoples.
While our numerous exchange programs expose Cameroonian youth and professionals to American best practices and skills, all of our programs also educate Americans here in the United States about Cameroon, on subjects ranging from the Bamun script developed at the turn of the 19th century, to the development of high-yield seeds at the Institute of Agricultural Research for Development in Yaounde.
I look forward to our two nations’ seizing the many opportunities ahead, and working together to strengthen our partnership in pursuit of a Cameroon that is prosperous, resilient, and unified, from North to South, from East to West, and we assure you of our steadfast commitment to Cameroon’s territorial integrity.
We applaud Cameroon for its many accomplishments, and rejoice in its potential, as it prepares for the eventual passing of the torch to a new generation of leadership. Last year, I felt fortunate to visit “Africa in miniature” once again, and observe the great strides in its development in the 30 years since I lived there.
However, as friends, we are concerned by current internal tensions. We sincerely hope that all elements of Cameroonian society can undertake genuine, inclusive dialogue to resolve these differences peacefully, so that Cameroon can realize its vision of becoming a middle income country by the year 2035. In the meantime, we wish for this beautiful country a peaceful year ahead, full of progress, and free of hate speech and violent conflict from any source.
Thank you once again for this great honor, Mr. Ambassador, and congratulations to the government and all the people of Cameroon and of Cameroonian descent on today’s celebration of your national day.