Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to our celebration of the 239th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. In just over 1000 words, the Declaration laid out our nation’s central philosophy—that we are all created equal, that we all enjoy unalienable rights, and that any government derives its just power from the consent of the governed in order to protect those very rights. It is that tradition—those ideals—that we celebrate tonight, and we are honored to do so in a spirit of common purpose with our Congolese friends and partners here in Kinshasa.
The Declaration of Independence and our Revolutionary War were only the starting point to the hard work necessary to create America as a nation. Constitution necessarily followed Revolution. Our Constitution went beyond the basic tenets of the Declaration, providing the legal framework for a transparent and representative form of governance and creating a system of checks and balances. This system was designed to restrain corruption and abuse, and assuring the protection of basic rights and freedoms for all American citizens.
Noble as it was and is, the Constitution alone did not ensure the success of our democratic experiment. It took a few key early examples of leadership from every branch of our government to create America as we know it today. In the Executive Branch, our first president, George Washington, despite immense popularity, chose to step down as president after two terms in office, setting the precedent of the first peaceful transfer of power in our young democracy. In the legislature, the first ever session of our Congress, ratified our Bill of Rights—enshrining individual liberties such as freedom of expression and assembly for all Americans—and limiting the power of the legislators themselves to violate these cherished principles.
And in the judiciary, the early case of Marbury v. Madison—the first in which the U.S. Supreme Court applied the principle of “judicial review,”—established the power of federal courts to void legislative or executive acts in conflict with the Constitution. In all three branches, at key decision points in our early history, it took leaders who exemplified commitment to nation above their own interests and who had a vision for the long-term future of the country beyond their own tenure—indeed, beyond their own lives.
Without a doubt, Congo is today at a pivotal historic moment, that also demands its leaders’ selfless commitment to the national interest. This great nation can justifiably celebrate the impressive gains made over the last dozen years in the areas of peace, democracy, economic growth and stability. The challenge at this point is how to consolidate and expand that progress and to finally bring an end to the presence of illegal armed groups in eastern Congo, to enshrine democratic tenets in the governance of the country, and to increase and expand access to the benefits of economic growth.
In the area of peace and security, there is an opportunity to draw on both the increasingly capable Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) and the availability of willing and able partners in the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSC) to end threats from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), and other armed groups who have for many years preyed on the civilian population in eastern Congo. Continued delays in resuming cooperation between MONUSCO and the FARDC are causing unnecessary further suffering among the Congolese victims of these armed groups.
In the area of democracy and good governance, the approaching electoral cycle offers an opportunity to reinforce democratic gains of the past decade and show Congolese, Africans and indeed the world that the DRC can achieve a peaceful, fair and democratic transfer of executive power for the first time in its history. Time is short to hold free, fair and credible elections by the end of 2016. Hard decisions are needed soon on a wide range of issues — including the feasibility of the electoral calendar, voter registration to include those who have turned 18 years old, the budget, elections security and the impact of decentralization. These topics have been highlighted by civil society, political parties of all stripes, and President Kabila himself. It appears therefore that a dialogue, with a focus on the election calendar and completion within the constitutionally mandated timeline, offers a promising opportunity to seek broad political consensus on this objective.
In the field of economic development and growth, the achievement of significant macroeconomic stability and high rates of growth have created a foundation for improved lives for the Congolese people. The United States is a steadfast development partner – particularly in the health and education sectors. Additionally, American firms have invested in Congo and stayed the course over many decades. We were also pleased with the creation last year of the American Chamber of Commerce in DRC. We believe that, ultimately, the economic trajectory of this nation will be greatly enhanced by improved security conditions and by credible and transparent democratic institutions that reassure both Congolese and foreigners alike to make the long-term human and capital investments to develop this country to the benefit of its people.
Finally, let me close on a personal note, not one of policy. Traditionally in the United States, Independence Day is a time for Americans to reconnect with friends and family — whether on Main Street in small towns or at a casual backyard barbecue. On behalf of all of us here at the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, our local staff and our American diplomats far from home, we especially appreciate your joining us this evening as our Congolese and diplomatic friends and family. Thank you again and Happy 4th of July.