Keynote Speech by Ambassador Christopher J. Lamora
As Prepared for Delivery
International Relations Institute of Cameroon (IRIC)
Tuesday, May 30, 2023, 14:00-16:30
Students, faculty, and distinguished guests,
Good afternoon. Thank you for having me here today. The last time I was here, last June, I attended your 50th anniversary celebration. It’s wonderful to be back today for a more substantial engagement with you. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time.
I want today’s session to be as interactive as possible, and I look forward to a robust question-and-answer period. But I think some opening remarks first on the United States’ engagement with Africa in general and with Cameroon in particular will be useful for setting the stage.
To put it simply—Africa matters. Scientific research has proven that humanity was born on this continent, and even though over thousands of millennia our species has expanded throughout the world, our collective future will also be shaped right here. This is already happening.
Important breakthroughs in medicine and climate change… Amazing innovations in information technology and other 21st Century industries… Tremendous entrepreneurship among women and young people… These are already occurring across the continent and here in Cameroon. And the United States is here, working with African governments and businesses and civil society organizations and everyday citizens to facilitate this in countless ways. And we will continue to do so.
But let me back up a step. Because this engagement is by no means new.
The United States has been engaged in Africa, including in Cameroon, across decades. Yes, we have responded and will continue to respond to urgent pressing events such as pandemics and refugee crises. But we also remain committed to our longtime, long-term work to invest in Africa’s tremendous human capital and in its institutions, as well as our longstanding partnerships with African nations and people to promote shared goals in peace, security, and prosperity.
The U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit hosted by President Biden in December was a recent example of our longstanding partnership. I can’t tell you how pleased we were that President Biya, joined by some 10 ministers, participated in the Summit. Not only did this strengthen our government-to-government ties, but it also laid the groundwork for new business-to-business relationships that have the potential to result in millions of dollars (billions of francs CFA) in bilateral trade and investment as well as the creation of hundreds if not thousands of jobs in both our countries.
But the African Leaders’ Summit wasn’t a standalone event. It fit into the larger context of our overall Africa policy.
So what is U.S. Africa policy? In his visit to South Africa last August, Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined the U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, listing four core priorities:
- Foster openness and open societies;
- Deliver democratic and security dividends;
- Advance pandemic recovery and economic opportunity; and
- Support conservation, climate adaptation, and a just energy transition.
As the Secretary said, “[This is a strategy] that reflects the region’s complexity – its diversity, its power and influence – and one that focuses on what we will do with African nations and peoples, not for African nations and peoples.”
The United States and our African partners can’t achieve our shared goals either here on the continent or around the world unless we work together as partners… or, as you like to say here in Cameroon, lorsqu’On est ensemble.
This brings me to my next topic — our critical partnership with Cameroon, which includes a broad range of issues, some of which I’ll cover in the next few minutes.
First: Cameroon plays a key role in regional stability and remains our strongest regional partner in countering terrorism in the Lake Chad Region. The dedication of the Cameroonian government and armed forces in this regard has been admirable. In this effort, we have assisted the Cameroonian military in building its capacity as part of the Multinational Joint Task Force to counter ISIS-West Africa and Boko Haram.
When I was in the Far North Region in February, I had the opportunity to visit Salak Base just outside Maroua and to talk with Cameroonian military officers about the work we’ve done together and that Cameroonian troops continue to do every day to disrupt violent extremist organizations. An important part of this effort is the buy-in and support of the local population, which is why we’ve done so much work training Cameroonian forces in civilian-military relations.
Meanwhile, down south, along Cameroon’s coast, we’re cooperating on maritime security. As we mark the 10th anniversary of the Yaoundé Architecture and Yaoundé Code of Conduct this year, we commend Cameroon’s leadership in the Interregional Coordination Centre for Gulf of Guinea maritime security. Whether you’re talking about piracy, unregulated fishing, or the economic potential beneath the sea, securing Cameroon’s territorial waters is in everyone’s collective interest.
Turning now to humanitarian assistance and health… The United States is the largest single-country donor of humanitarian assistance in Cameroon for food, water, shelter, and services for vulnerable populations including refugees and internally displaced persons. Much of this assistance is funneled through, and delivered by, UN agencies. But we are increasingly using local Cameroonian implementing partners as well.
Likewise, helping to improve health outcomes is a top U.S. priority. Our cooperation with the government, NGOs, private sector, and civil society spans all 10 regions.
As an example, this year we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of PEPFAR—the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. In Cameroon, the United States has invested more than 350 billion Francs CFA through PEPFAR, making tremendous progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS and strengthening Cameroon’s health system. This longstanding partnership also laid a critical foundation that helped Cameroon prepare and respond to other pandemics, including COVID-19.
But even people who feel physically safe from violence and physically healthy will not develop to their fullest potential if their human rights are constrained. The promotion and protection of human rights are U.S. priorities in Cameroon, in Africa more broadly, and around the world. To that end, we engage with government officials and collaborate with partners to prevent abuse, provide care and solace to victims, and hold perpetrators accountable. Our work in the human rights arena globally is perhaps best known through the Department of State’s annual Human Rights Reports, but the breadth of our human rights work is enormous, so perhaps we’ll have a chance to get more into that during the question-and-answer session.
Another key priority across Africa is to promote economic growth and two-way trade and investment. To this end, among other approaches, we facilitate trade missions for Cameroonian businesspeople to connect with U.S. counterparts, often resulting in joint projects. This weekend, two members of our Embassy team will accompany 40 Cameroonian businesspeople to New York for the International Franchise Expo.
We also sponsor trainings and exchange programs to develop the next generation of Cameroonian entrepreneurs and business leaders, often working in concert with organizations such as the American Chamber of Commerce.
Ultimately, everything I’ve been talking about this afternoon is really about people. Their potential. Their hopes and dreams. What they can do to realize those. And how the U.S. Government might be — and has been — a positive actor and catalyst for that.
For instance… More than 2000 Cameroonians have participated in U.S. Government-sponsored exchanges over the past 65 years, including quite a number of current and former senior government officials as well as several of your faculty. Just last week, I had the pleasure of welcoming this year’s cadre of 17 Mandela Washington Fellows to my residence as they prepare for their upcoming programs in the United States. We’re proud of all our exchange alumni, who are giving back to their communities upon their return, sharing what they learned in the United States, and exemplifying the enduring partnership between our two countries.
This year also marks the 60th anniversary of Peace Corps Cameroon, which since 1962 has seen more than 3,800 volunteers come here, serving in every region. Many Cameroonians have told me about remarkable Peace Corps Volunteers who touched their lives. And I have no doubt that many remarkable Cameroonian communities have shaped the lives of Volunteers in return.
In closing, I’d like to emphasize this: While I by no means want to speak for you – as I said at the outset, I want to hear from you – one thing I know is that Africans want to see the United States as a partner: a political partner, an economic and commercial partner, and an investment partner. The United States wants those things too.
We can’t achieve our goals around the world without the leadership of African governments, institutions, and citizens. African voices, African leadership, and African innovation all are critical to addressing the most pressing global challenges.
Regarding the U.S.-Cameroon relationship, I’m optimistic about our future together. In every major field, our two countries are working together for our mutual benefit.
We are invested in Cameroon’s future. We are invested in Africa’s future. And we will continue to be.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to our discussion.