Ambassador Gilmour’s Remarks at the 2017 Independence Day Celebration

Ambassador during his speech
Ambassador during his speech
Ambassador during his speech

Remarks July 4 celebration 2017

(protocol opening)

Good evening and thank you for joining us to celebrate the 241st anniversary of the independence of the United States of America.

We are privileged to celebrate here tonight in the beautiful Radisson Blu, thanks to the very generous financial support of several private sector donors: American companies, companies that sell American products and services, and companies that do substantial business with the United States.  They are:

Contour Global Togo
Ethiopian Airlines
Asky Airlines
Mint Hotel
PAKO Agency Ltd.
Radisson Blu 2 Février Hotel
Mr. Masud Zaidi
American Container Lines

The Embassy is proud of our partnership with the business community here in Togo.  All of these companies have worked closely with us to improve the business climate and to enhance the conditions for investment.  Please join me in thanking our donors with an enthusiastic round of applause.

I’d like to acknowledge our musicians, my friend David Kokodoko and his group Dunamis.  They represent Togo’s many talented musicians, painters, sculptors and artists who enhance the quality of life for all of us.  Culture raises the profile of the country and makes Togo a better place to live, and that represents an important contribution to economic development.

I would also like to recognize one of our Embassy colleagues who will be leaving us very soon, and tonight is her final official event.  Our Deputy Chief of Mission, Dana Banks, her husband Mohammed and their son Christopher are leaving Lome after three years. They are leaving behind many friends and they will be greatly missed.  I would like to take this occasion to thank Dana for her unwavering dedication and outstanding service.  I know that we all wish Dana and her family great happiness as they move on to an exciting new assignment in Pretoria, South Africa.

Our theme for this evening’s celebration is the commercial relationship between Togo and the United States.  Togo will soon host a very special event to mark that partnership, the AGOA Forum trade summit, from August 8 to10.  Trade ministers from the United States and 38 African countries, as well as CEOs, entrepreneurs and civil society representatives, will come to Lome for a three day summit to discuss how to increase trade between the United States and Africa.

The AGOA Forum presents an unparalleled opportunity for Togo to promote itself and its products to the United States, the largest consumer market in the world.  AGOA is the “African Growth and Opportunity Act,” an American law that gives preferential access to the exports of African countries to the American market.  Togo has enjoyed this privilege since 2008, but until now, has not taken full advantage of this opportunity.

The presence of the AGOA Forum in Lome will provide the occasion for Togolese companies to learn how to sell their products to the American market to increase the trade between our two countries.

I am pleased and proud to tell you that we have made many advances this year to strengthen commercial ties between the United States and Togo.  In July of 2016, the Prime Minister and I had the privilege to launch the first-ever direct air connection from Lome to the United States, on Ethiopian Airlines.  This year the Embassy has maintained an energetic dialogue with the business community and has encouraged the government to improve the conditions for the private sector.  Just a few days ago, the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the government announced agreement on an MCC Threshold Program that will promote important reforms in telecommunications and the securing of land titles, which will boost productivity in the economy and give confidence to investors.

The United States continues to encourage Togo to make reforms to qualify for the MMC “Compact,” an important objective that has the potential to bring international investment that will be much greater than the donor assistance that Togo currently receives.

To reach the objective of the MCC Compact, Togo must continue to strengthen rule of law, reduce corruption, increase government transparency and accountability, and expand democratic participation. The United States is encouraging Togo to continue its process of political and constitutional reforms, decentralization and the holding of local and legislative elections in 2018.

I often say that Togo is a country of tremendous potential.  But Togo is in a global competition to attract investment, and there is a risk of being left behind.  Togo cannot just wait for investors to come.  It must proactively promote the advantages of doing business here, especially to the United States and other countries of the English-speaking world, including your large neighbors, Ghana and Nigeria.

There are two things that Togo can do right now to better connect the country to the global market and create opportunity for its citizens.

The first thing is to strengthen the learning of English, the language of international business.  Togo has the elements in place to be the crossroads of West Africa and the bridge between the Francophone and Anglophone countries, in trade and tourism.  But for that to happen, more Togolese must learn to speak English well.  Businesses are struggling to find qualified candidates who speak English.  The teaching of English in schools should begin at a younger age, and there should be more English on radio and television.

The second thing is to increase connections with the Togolese diaspora.  The diaspora are a tremendous resource as a connection to other countries and a priceless source of information about foreign markets. They are Togo’s export agents, already in place and ready to help.

One of our sponsors who is here tonight, Mr. Olowo-n’djo Tchala of Alaffia, is a great example.  He was born in Togo and moved to America 20 years ago.  He often says that he started his business by thinking about what Togo could produce and what America wanted to buy.  Then he made the connection between the two, with great success.

For the past year, the Embassy has maintained a robust dialogue with many members of the diaspora in the United States.  I can tell you that many of them want to come to Togo to start businesses, and they have professional skills the country needs.  They want to invest in Togo, but because of past political events and mistrust, they are not sure how they will be treated.

The government should initiate a serious and sustained dialogue with diaspora, in order to move beyond the problems of the past and reduce mistrust, so that Togolese everywhere can work together for the benefit of the country.  The diaspora are a source of wealth that Togo cannot afford to ignore.

Thank you for coming this evening and celebrate this special occasion with us.  We will continue to work together with you to strengthen the ties between our two countries, and to help make Togo more democratic, more secure, and more prosperous.  I wish you a very pleasant evening.

Thank you.