238th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence

Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen welcome to our celebration of the 238th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.  We pay homage to the dedication and courage of those who created our country and we celebrate the tradition of liberty and equality that are central values of the United States of America.

Tonight, we also celebrate the vibrant partnership between the United States and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – a partnership that has steadily expanded and matured since Congo’s independence in 1960.  I congratulate the Congolese people on the 54th anniversary of their own independence, which they celebrated on Monday.  The key areas of partnership and common interest between the United States and the DRC are well known.

In regard to peace and security, we applaud  the impressive advances made over the last year by Congolese forces – with help from MONUSCO — in eastern  DRC.  The defeat  of the M23 and significant progress against the Allied Democratic Forces and other armed groups  have improved prospects for stability  in the entire Great Lakes region. We believe it is time to build on this progress and use the same approach to bring an end to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) through rapid voluntary disarmament if possible, and decisive military action if necessary.

With respect to democracy and governance, we urge continued close consultations among the Independent National Electoral Commission, the Government, and political parties to develop the maximum consensus possible on plans for the electoral cycle.  We call for the respect of the constitution, including provisions for the timing of presidential elections and mandating executive term limits.  We believe public confidence in the electoral process would be enhanced by issuance of  a comprehensive electoral calendar for local, provincial and national elections, up to the Presidential level.

On the economic growth and development agenda, we commend the efforts of the DRC government to ensure macroeconomic stability and welcome its commitment to further reforms that will encourage private sector growth  American private sector investment in Congo  is complemented by our far-reaching bilateral assistance.  This U.S. support helps expand the DRC’s economic and human potential by providing critical assistance in the fields of health, education, the security sector, and humanitarian response, among others.

We know that much hard work remains to achieve progress on peace and security, democratic reforms, and economic growth and development.  Sometimes we hear that an “old democracy” like the United States can’t fully appreciate the challenges and risks faced by those who achieved independence more recently.  Yet, tonight is a time to remember that the United States was also once a fragile young democracy, struggling in its early years after a hard-fought revolutionary war, suffering dysfunctional governing systems, beset by pockets of civil unrest and rebellion, and facing economic disorder.   Emerging from those difficult circumstances required the singular courage of leaders of character, such as George Washington, who looked beyond personal and party gain and who established institutions and traditions designed to outlive any particular administration, and indeed their own tenure in office.  In a spirit of service to their country, they made choices bigger than themselves, and in doing so defined true civic leadership and took their immortal place in history.

Finally, as an example of our close U.S.-Congo partnership, I am honored that this evening we are joined by the Second Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden, who is the wife of Vice President Joe Biden and a distinguished educator in her own right.  Her visit to Congo is focused on girls and women’s empowerment through education, entrepreneurship, and political involvement.  We all know that when women are able to participate and contribute the full measure of their talents, then our societies, our economies, our nations, and our collective futures are strengthened.

I’d like to take this opportunity now to invite Dr. Biden up to say a few words.  Thank you again and Happy 4th of July.