Your Royal Highness, Prince Hlangusemphi, Representative of His Majesty;
Emakosikati, Your Royal Highnesses;
All protocols observed;
Lishonile and Welcome to all.
It is a tremendous pleasure for me to stand here today in the company of so many colleagues and friends to celebrate the 240th anniversary of the United States’ Declaration of Independence, and to dedicate our new embassy building. Many, many years of planning and considerable human and financial resources went in to creating this building, and it is truly an honor for me to be here to see all of that hard work come to fruition.
Although many have commented on our large physical footprint here, you should know that this building has a small carbon footprint. I know many of you had a chance to take a brief tour, but I want to share with you just a few aspects of what makes it a truly remarkable building. First, consider our water use. Even as we enjoy our food and drink here today, we are all acutely aware of the severe drought that has placed 25 percent of Swaziland’s population in a position of serious food and water insecurity. In light of these dire circumstances, in this complex, we don’t waste any water. Every drop that falls on these grounds and all the runoff water inside the building is captured, treated, and recycled so that it can be re-used. The lovely landscaping was completed with drought resistant, indigenous plants which are irrigated with this recycled water. We are also able to cover about 35 percent of our electricity resources through our on-site solar power system. Beyond our solar panels, we also haveregenerative elevators. They are called that because, depending on the number of people in the elevators as they go down or up, they actually produce electricity.
But the new Embassy is not just good for the Swazi environment. It’s also good for the economy. The U.S. Government employed at various times more than 800 Swazis in its construction, many of them young people (including young women) who have learned valuable skills and trades which will better position them for future employment.
Several people have asked me why we needed such a large building for our Embassy. It might surprise some of you to learn that in terms of square footage, our new space isn’t much bigger than the space we moved out of, which included our offices at the Central Bank of Swaziland and multiple buildings at our Kent Rock facility. This new building provides us a sizeable, centralized, and secure space to more efficiently and productively carry out the important work in which we are engaged. We are now better able to fully integrate the work of all our aspects of the embassy, from consular and management services to public affairs outreach and political and economic engagement. Where we previously were somewhat disparate pieces, this facility has assembled those pieces into a magnificent mosaic.
I’d like to highlight in particular the work of our PEPFAR team. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, has grown tremendously since its start in Swaziland in 2004. The United States Government, through PEPFAR, is now the largest contributor to Swaziland’s efforts to combat HIV, covering 39% of the total budget. We have a great partnership with the Swazi government in these efforts. We are constantly looking for innovative approaches to break the cycle of transmission, and ensure that people know their HIV status and have access to treatment. And we won’t stop. But that kind of work – that kind of progress – takes people. And people need space. In recent years, our staffing levels have grown to meet the budget levels coming into Swaziland, including staff to provide the management services that are so vital to keeping the PEPFAR team, along with the rest of our offices, running.
When you look at this building, I hope you see a commitment to environmental sustainability, and an opportunity for integration. I also hope you see a convening space where people can meet, discuss ideas, or perhaps enjoy some great music. Spaces like this – or schools, churches, and even public parks – are crucial to the exercise of several fundamental freedoms. This year marks the 50th anniversary of two of the core international treaties which have in many ways defined the world’s understanding and interpretation of international human rights: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Even if you have never heard of the ICCPR, you are probably familiar with the rights it guarantees, including freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly. There are many reasons to work to make sure that everyone in society – regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, political persuasion, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation – enjoys the protections laid out in this treaty. Everyone wants their families to live in an environment where their rights are respected, but the only way to secure such respect for ourselves is to guarantee it for others. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “we are all caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
As we gather before this remarkable building on this beautiful Swazi winter afternoon, I’d ask that you consider the importance of convening spaces and their connections to the freedoms of assembly, association, and expression. Whether it be just a handful of people as part of a community event or program, or hundreds or thousands of people for a convention or a demonstration, the right to assemble is a fundamental and critical part of a free society. I have spoken to some of you about how the principle of accountability runs through our engagements in Swaziland. Freedom of assembly allows citizens to hold their governments accountable through debates and advocacy. In the United States, the freedoms of assembly, association, and speech were critical to the success of the movements to abolish slavery, grant women the right to vote, and uphold the civil rights of African Americans. Events of the past several years have underscored that, even as we achieve major positive milestones, public vigilance and advocacy remain necessary as we grapple with issues ranging from racially motivated police brutality to, just two weeks ago, an unimaginable crime of hatred against the LGBTI community. We are, as our constitution says, continuously striving to form a more perfect union.
The right to speak freely, to peaceably assemble to exchange ideas or express ourselves, express our anger if necessary, is fundamental to a nation’s continuous growth and development. This is just as true in Swaziland as in the United States. The positive change sought by the Swazi government and people alike is only possible when all can take an active role in calling and working for the changes they would like to see in their country. When we talk about the benchmarks for AGOA, we are urging the Government of Swaziland to ensure the presence of an enabling environment for such activism to take place is allowed. I have met many Swazis who want to be part of moving this country to a stronger future, but that cannot happen if citizens are not permitted to associate and speak freely or if individuals who criticize the status quo can risk losing anything from a child’s bursary to their physical liberty. In the words of American journalist Edward R. Murrow: “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty.”
I’ve also heard Swazis express concerns that allowing large groups to gather, opening space for discussion of controversial subjects, or simply letting some organizations exist will risk disrupting the peaceful way of life Swazis enjoy. I think the best response to such concerns comes from the late, Greatest, Muhammad Ali, who said: “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” I know there are many courageous Swazis, both within and outside government, who are ready to take up that challenge. This building symbolizes our commitment to continuing partnership with all of you in this endeavor.
In that spirit, I would ask you to join me in a toast: to the official opening of our new embassy building here in Ezulwini and to His Majesty King Mswati III.