Ambassador David Gilmour
Remarks at Welcome Reception, Lome
January 20, 2016
Welcome to the American residence, we are delighted to have you with us this evening. Let me begin by wishing you a very happy new year, and best wishes for prosperity and health for you and your families in the year ahead.
I feel very fortunate to arrive in Togo at a time of great change and hope for the future. As a career diplomat with 30 years’ experience in Africa and elsewhere, I see Togo as a young country with tremendous potential. Strategically located at the heart of a market of 300 million people, with a world-class seaport and airport, valuable natural resources and the friendliest people in West Africa, Togo has advantages that other countries can only dream of. With these valuable assets, Togo has the opportunity to leap ahead and really take off.
I have just arrived and am still learning about Togo, but I see reforms and positive changes here that reflect the reforms elsewhere in Africa. These reforms are encouraging, but large and serious challenges remain in Togo, as is the case across the continent. Seventy-five percent of the population is under 35 years old, and youth unemployment is high. Those young people are connected to the outside world, and they have high expectations of greater democratic participation and making their voices heard. A large share of the population still lives in poverty, and as the economy grows, prosperity must be shared among all citizens, including the majority of Togolese who live in rural areas. The economy must be opened to encourage private sector competition and investment that will create jobs. Most importantly, rule of law and a truly independent judicial system must be present to protect the fundamental rights of all citizens and provide a predictable environment for investors.
Relations between Togo and the United States have recently taken an important step forward, with the selection of Togo as eligible for the Millennium Challenge program. The Millennium Challenge is based on the principle of encouraging positive reforms in good governance, economic freedom and improving social services. Under the program, the United States offers a large amount of assistance if a country makes a series of reforms that create conditions for sustained economic growth.
Togo’s selection for the Millennium Challenge Threshold program is a recognition of the progress that Togo has made in recent years, and it aims to encourage Togo to make even more reforms that will offer the possibility of large assistance in the future, under the Compact program of Millennium Challenge.
The Millennium Challenge Board of Directors has noted the need for Togo to expand democratic participation and to strengthen rule of law and transparency. The Embassy of the United States has for many years played an important role in strengthening Togo’s democracy. I wish to assure you tonight that we will continue to play that role, to facilitate dialogue to promote constitutional and institutional reforms, and to promote freedom of expression, transparency and rule of law.
Of course, the United States relationship with Togo goes well beyond the subjects I have mentioned, to include culture, education and building connections between citizens of our two countries.
Since my arrival, I have been delighted to find an extraordinary level of artistic talent in Togo. I am a musician, and I come from a family of artists. During my tenure in Togo, I intend to promote artistic exchanges as a source of national pride and also as a very important element in economic development. As Lome aspires to become an international transportation hub and tourism destination, it must attract and retain intelligent and creative people. Those gifted people will come to a city if it has an excellent quality of life. Art, music, fashion, theatre and a rich cultural environment will bring the most talented people to Togo who will help create a new level of prosperity.
As a first step to promoting art and culture in Togo, we are very pleased to have with us tonight a number of artists and musicians. I am delighted that we can exhibit some of their work and hear their music. My colleague Mr Meron will give you more details about that in a few minutes.
Let me close by returning to the subject of potential. In my previous position in Washington, I was privileged to be part of a team with the White House that created President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative, known as YALI. We have some of the participants of that program here tonight. The American Embassy is very proud of our many programs that encourage and develop the capacity of Togo’s youth as leaders and entrepreneurs. During my tenure in Togo, we will expand these programs. You will see me frequently in public shining a light on the great accomplishments of these Togolese young people. They have the talent, enthusiasm and vigor that will help Togo reach its maximum potential. It is for we, the older generation, to allow them to unleash their energy to help bring positive change.
Thank you again for joining us, and enjoy the evening.