Independence Day Remarks by Ambassador Christopher J. Lamora
As Prepared for Delivery
Chief of Mission Residence, Yaoundé / Thursday, July 6, 2023
Bonsoir, Good Evening, and thank you once again for joining us this evening as we celebrate the 247th Independence Day of the United States of America.
This is my second Independence Day as Ambassador to Cameroon, and it’s amazing to me that an entire year has passed since we came together on the Embassy lawn.
In the United States, we often celebrate this day with fireworks and picnics alongside family and friends. We can’t give you fireworks tonight, but it’s still our privilege to celebrate together with you — our closest friends and partners, who are indeed members of our extended U.S. Embassy family.
Just as the end of one calendar year and the beginning of another are a natural time to reflect on the year past and look hopefully to the year ahead, so too is the marking of another year of American independence. So please allow me to assess how the values articulated in our Declaration of Independence and other founding documents translate into our multi-faceted relationship with the government and people of Cameroon.
As you walked in tonight, no doubt you noticed the six large seals along the walkway, which correspond to the six U.S. Government agencies present here in country, each of which has been contributing to the strength and growth of our bilateral relationship: the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Health & Human Services (better known here as CDC); the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); and the Peace Corps. Individually and together, our diverse American, Cameroonian, and third-country staff members from these six agencies have worked tirelessly to achieve our common goals with Cameroon. I’m incredibly proud of the work they do every day, and I congratulate them for their successes.
Last September marked the 60th anniversary of the Peace Corps in Cameroon. Many Cameroonians have told me how their lives were touched – and in fact transformed – by one of the more than 3,900 Volunteers who have served here since 1962. And this legacy continues. Although the Peace Corps’ presence was temporarily interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, our first new Volunteers returned to Cameroon last October, others joined them last month, and we’re excited that some 40 volunteers are now serving in the Adamawa, Center, East, Littoral and South regions. We look forward to that number’s continuing to rise.
This year, we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR, which has saved millions of lives around the world. PEPFAR has invested more than 385 billion francs CFA in Cameroon, with benefits extending well beyond HIV. These investments strengthened Cameroon’s ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and other emerging public health threats. Much work remains to achieve our shared vision of ending HIV as a public health threat by 2030. Yet I’m confident that we will get there together, based in our bilateral partnership with Cameroon that has already been so fruitful, as well as the leadership of our Global AIDS Coordinator, Cameroonian native son Ambassador Dr. John Nkengasong.
We were honored that H.E. President Paul Biya traveled to Washington last December for the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit, which highlighted the positive trajectory of the U.S.-Cameroon relationship. At the summit, President Biden underscored and reaffirmed to his 49 fellow heads of state and government our commitment to collaborate with African governments, business, and citizens to strengthen people-to-people ties, build a strong and sustainable global economy, foster new technology and innovation, prepare for future pandemics, tackle the food security and climate crises, support democracy and human rights, and advance peace and security.
It’s a bold agenda and a recognition that African countries are key geopolitical actors who will shape the future. Not just the future of the African people, but of the world. At the same time, the Summit also represented a continuation of the work we have done together for decades in partnership with Cameroon and other African nations.
As all of you know by now, I can personally attest that Cameroon changes Americans’ lives. But it’s not just me. In April, we sent a group of Cameroonian journalists to the United States to learn about countering misinformation and disinformation. One of the people they met was Mark Griffin, the Chief Legal Counsel of the City of Cleveland. Mark served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Rey-Bouba in the North Region in the late 1980s and remains passionate about this country more than 30 years later. In fact, one of his first comments was “How are the Indomitable Lions doing?”
It’s these personal connections, more than anything else, that will allow us not only to face but also to respond to, and to solve, today’s complex global challenges.
Just last week, I was in the West Region, where I met several young, dynamic alumni of U.S. Government exchange programs who are leading positive change in their respective communities. And they are just a tiny drop in the bucket of the more than 2,000 Cameroonians who have participated in such programs since 1956 – even before Cameroon’s independence!
We’ve accomplished a great deal with the government and people of Cameroon over the past year. But let’s not rest on our laurels. Let’s meet the moment and continue to build a more peaceful, prosperous, just, and inclusive future for both our countries.
How to do that is something we’ll have to figure out together. But here are a few thoughts:
Fostering Africa’s sustainable and inclusive economic growth is a U.S. priority, including in Cameroon – the economic engine of Central Africa. Such growth creates jobs and is a win-win on both sides of the Atlantic, which is why members of our team led a group of Cameroonian businesspeople to New York in June for the International Franchise Expo. And it’s why we continue to engage on fostering an attractive business climate and to fund projects to train emerging Cameroonian entrepreneurs, such as our soon-to-be-launched Academy of Women Entrepreneurs.
We also know that security challenges — whether in the Gulf of Guinea, the Far North, or the Northwest and Southwest regions — are serious threats to the safety, health, and prosperity of Cameroonians. We have undertaken a variety of initiatives to strengthen Cameroon’s maritime security as well as the country’s ability to defeat Boko Haram and ISIS West Africa.
And we continue to work with a wide range of stakeholders to bring lasting peace to the Northwest and Southwest regions, as well as to provide assistance to those whose lives have been upended by the crisis. Last week, I met with internally displaced persons in Dschang and in Bafang who expressed gratitude to the communities that have welcomed them, but who more than anything simply want to be able to go home when it’s safe for them to do so. We share that desire, and we remain committed to doing whatever we can to make that day a reality.
The indictment of three American citizens of Cameroonian origin in November 2022 and the federal prison sentencing of several others earlier this year are clear demonstrations that we mean business. The United States will continue to hold individuals accountable for violating U.S. laws. However, the crisis will not be solved in an American courtroom or with weapons. Cameroonians hold the keys to ending the crisis and we encourage all parties to continue and expand the conversation to develop a peaceful way forward.
Mr. Minister, Dear Friends –
A year ago, I told you that our engagement with Cameroon, and with Cameroonians, would never come from a paternalistic perspective of asserting we know best, but from that of a friend who wants to see you thrive. I think that’s what we’ve done, and I recommit to you that that is what we will continue to do. The path to success won’t always be a tranquil river, and sometimes progress will take longer than we all might like, but I’m confident that, working together, we will absolutely achieve our common goals.
Some of you have heard me recount the Aesop fable about the crow and the pitcher, so please forgive me if this is a repeat. In short, the story goes that a thirsty crow finds a pitcher that has water way down in the bottom, but she can’t reach inside and can’t knock it over. Then she has the brilliant idea of dropping small pebbles into the pitcher, one at a time, to displace the water bit by bit so it eventually rises to where she can reach it and quench her thirst.
Just think how much faster the water would have risen if other crows were helping her to add pebbles.
That is what the United States has done in, and with, Cameroon for decades, and what we continue to do today.
We are with you in your effort to quench your thirsts for economic growth and development, for citizen-responsive governance and respect for human rights, and for the peace and security that all Cameroonians deserve: for you today, for your children, and for your children’s children in a brighter tomorrow.
Thank you very much.