This evening I have a special thought for our Muslim brothers and sisters who are at the midpoint of the great month of Ramadan. Salam Aleikoum, Ramadan Kareeem. I pray God Almighty blesses you and gives you a peaceful fast.
Honorable guests, Independence Day in Abidjan this year is even more special, because we are honored to count among us my dear friend and colleague, Ambassador Bisa Williams, the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, responsible for West Africa and sub-Saharan African economic policy issues, who is traveling in the region. Bisa, “Akwaba,” welcome, to Abidjan.
Ladies and gentlemen, celebrating Independence Day also gives me the opportunity to reflect upon the concepts of freedom and democracy. President Franklin Roosevelt said, and I quote, “In the truest sense freedom cannot be bestowed, it must be achieved.” On July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia, our Founding Fathers put forth the Declaration of Independence, and with this fundamental document, they unleashed the American Revolution, and launched our country on its path toward democracy. Clearly, that path has been long.
What is the fundamental idea that we gain from these experiences? It is that our democracy progresses while incorporating our sensibilities, and over the course of time, we have expanded our definition of “We, the People.” At the beginning, African-Americans were not part of this “We.” And the Native American populations of North America were not part of it either. Without the right to vote, women also initially were excluded. And just ten years ago, only six percent of our states gave the right to marry to our gay citizens; but on June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States proclaimed that these marriages are now legal throughout the land.
This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the law covering those Americans living with a disability, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the first comprehensive law in the world to guarantee equal rights to persons with disabilities. Today, the ADA inspires equality of opportunity, bringing disabled people to our classrooms, boardrooms and legislatures. We commend Côte d’Ivoire’s recent engagement in this issue, and its offer of government employment for the disabled.
Some people will say that our democracy has progressed too slowly, since it effectively took 100 years and a Civil War to recognize African Americans as citizens, and yet another century to legislate their civil rights. Even today, social and ethnic tensions in places like Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland, show that our work is far from complete. And the horrible tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina, highlights that the unacceptable and hideous stain of racial hatred persists. Nevertheless, I am convinced that democracy endures because through freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, we will come to hear the voices and the hopes and dreams of all our populations. Only in this way can we ensure the greatest possible participation in our evolving democratic experiment.
But everyone knows that freedom is challenging, and elections, in particular, test the resilience of a democracy. Côte d’Ivoire faces an important test in October and we stand with the Ivoirian people in praying for a peaceful, transparent and inclusive process. But, as we have learned over the course of our own history, building and consolidating democratic institutions needs a lot of work, both before and beyond Election Day. And we see this in Côte d’Ivoire as well. Thus, we encourage Côte d’Ivoire to redouble its efforts to include each Ivoirian in its economic prosperity and in the work towards social cohesion and national reconciliation.
As we prepare to celebrate the 239th anniversary of the United States of America, and Côte d’Ivoire celebrates its 55 years of independence in just over a month, we can reflect on our rich and dynamic bilateral relationship. We can refer to the Africa-U.S. Summit in Washington, the Millennium Challenge Corporation of the United States’ Threshold Program for Côte d’Ivoire, the increased interest American investors are showing in Côte d’Ivoire, and the possibility of direct flights from Abidjan to the United States. Moreover we can cite our solid partnership in the fight against HIV/AIDS. And we have witnessed signs of joy and national accomplishment like the triumph of the Elephants at the African Cup of Nations. One success calls to mind another, and we hope to taste the champagne of victory for our own women’s national team, who will face Japan on Sunday at the World Cup in Canada.
Distinguished guests, dear friends, I would like to conclude my talk by citing President Woodrow Wilson, who described the American Revolution as “a beginning, not a consummation.” After the declaration of our independence, we have learned that democracy flows like a river with a powerful current of freedom, bounded by the banks of Constitutional law. But it can also meander, change direction with elections, split and rejoin after obstacles such as the Civil War. We see in Côte d’Ivoire similarities with our own past, present and future, and we recognize our shared dreams of security, stability and prosperity. Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends, please join me now in a toast, in thanks for the year that we have spent together, in hope for a peaceful, inclusive and transparent election in Côte d’Ivoire, and even more importantly, in celebration of freedom, and the friendship that unites our two great democracies. (Toast).