(As Prepared for Delivery)


4 JULY 2018


On behalf of all my U.S. Embassy colleagues, thank you for honoring us with your presence this evening.  It is wonderful to be here with all of you tonight as we celebrate the 242nd anniversary of the United States of America.  I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the government of Burundi and Burundians on their 56 years of independence, which they celebrated on July first, though I would be remiss not to mention that the richness of this country’s language and culture should remind us all that Burundi existed as a nation long before the 56 years we are celebrating.

For the United States, July 4th isn’t exactly the day we gained independence, but instead it’s the day we declared our independence, in a document called the Declaration of Independence.  In that Declaration, our Founding Fathers laid out a vision – bold, optimistic – of the country they wanted to create, one in which all people were equal and where the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness would not be constrained.

Our Founding Fathers, understanding that differences can divide, left us with the strong conviction that our country’s greatest strength would come from our unity as a people and from embracing our diversity.  They also instilled in us strong traditions and institutions that guide to the present day.  Our country, however, has always known internal conflict – among our Founding Fathers, through our Civil War, and still today.

But, as Ronald Reagan, one of our recent presidents, said: “the things that unite us – America’s past of which we’re so proud, our hopes and aspirations for the future of the world and this much-loved country – these things far outweigh what little divides us.”  In Kirundi, he would have said, “ivyo dupfana bisumba ivyo dupfa.”  (What unites us is bigger than what divides us.)

During the almost two years I have spent in Burundi, I have had the chance to visit every province of the country, and I have been moved by the joyful, warm welcome in each one.

Some of my most memorable experiences thus far have been attending family celebrations, from “gusaba irembo” to “gushika murugo.”  Witnessing the process that unites two families of Burundians has given me greater insight into both the beauty and the challenges within Burundian society.

Plus, I learned to carry a basket on my head! I feel truly welcome in this country.

I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight the partnership between our two countries.  We want to see our cooperation continue to strengthen and Burundian lives continue to improve, which is why we support – together – a wide range of projects that improve health, including fighting HIV/AIDS and malaria; that foster economic development, working with Burundians of all ages and levels across the society; and that strengthen education.

All of us at the U.S. Embassy were deeply saddened by the recent flooding that affected thousands of Burundians and destroyed many homes and livelihoods.  I am pleased to announce tonight that the U.S. government is responding by providing $50,000 worth of emergency support and provisions for Burundians affected by the floods.

I would also like to recognize Burundi’s ongoing commitment to international peacekeeping and the dedication of its brave soldiers in AMISOM and the Central African Republic in pursuit of our shared goals of regional stability.

Having spoken of our Embassy’s work, let me take a moment to recognize that our relations extend beyond that of our government.  Indeed, there are many American “ambassadors” here in Burundi.  They are educators, medical personnel, entrepreneurs, businesspeople, missionaries, and NGO representatives, among others – and sometimes they are a combination of several of these.  They are working alongside Burundians to save lives, increase literacy, share knowledge, expand access to clean water and electricity, and help people reconcile with one another.

Bamwe bamwe bavuga Ikirundi neza nk’Abarundi! (And some speak Kirundi like Burundians!)

These Americans share the very best of America with Burundians and they remain an essential part of our long-term commitment to this country.

From the many precious moments I have spent with Burundians, I have learned how important trust is and how absence of trust has continued to play a powerful, negative role in this country.  It has led to traumatic events within families.  It has fueled cycles of social division, exclusion, intolerance and human rights abuses.  And it has contributed to the zero-sum, winner-take-all nature of Burundi’s political and economic situation.

In contrast, reinforcing trust can have an opposite, very positive effect, including between people and their leaders.  We welcomed President Nkurunziza’s announcement that he will not run again in 2020 as an opportunity to build trust within the political class and strengthen democracy.

When I first arrived in this country in 2016, Burundians counseled me to be patient: “buke buke bushikana umusiba ku mugezi,” (slowly, slowly, the worm crawls toward the river), letting me know that things in Burundi take time.  However, these days, time seems to be accelerating, especially with 2020 elections just over the horizon.

Elections everywhere bring out the spirit of competition, but as we know, transitions of power in Burundi have often been associated with fear, with violence, and with increased tension.  This is only exacerbated when political leaders – government or opposition – encourage Burundians to focus on their differences and on their fears, rather than laying out a positive vision for the whole country’s future.

Many Burundians, and especially young people, have told me they hope the next two years will be different.  Youth represent not only the majority of the Burundian people, but also the country’s very future.  Increasingly educated and more tech-savvy than the rest of us, they represent this country’s brightest hope.  At the same time, their expectations to earn a salary or start a business and improve their lives have grown–while opportunities to achieve the success they desire remain limited.

In the spirit of cooperation between our two countries, the United States Government has sought to address the needs of Burundians under 35 through on-going and new projects specifically directed at them.  Among these are programs that heal trauma, foster reconciliation, strengthen entrepreneurship and English language skills, and improve media reporting on economic issues.

Given the critical importance of youth, I hope that both the government and opposition will keep the future of young people at the heart of their political proposals to prepare this country for a better tomorrow.  Likewise, the private sector, civil society and the media have a critical role to play in the creation of an environment that supports the economic development and empowerment of young people.

Or, as we say in Kirundi: “aho Uburundi butunze urutoke, hubakwa inzu.”  (When people have a common objective, they succeed.)