Speech of Ambassador Robert T. Yamate
July 4th Celebration
CMR Ambaranjana, Antananarivo
June 30, 2017
Thank you everyone for joining us today, to help us celebrate the 241st anniversary of American Independence, and the 150th anniversary of the establishment of American-Malagasy relations.
In 1866, one hundred and fifty years ago, President Andrew Johnson sent the first representative of the United States Government, Mr. John Finkelmeier, to negotiate a treaty with the new sovereign of Madagascar, Queen Rasoherina.
In his dispatches back to Washington, Finkelmeier told of the gracious people he found in Madagascar, of the beauty of its seaside towns, and of the wealth of natural resources that gave this island such enormous potential for growth. He marveled at the intricacies and complexities of the Malagasy traditions and customs, and of the energy and vibrancy he found in Toamasina – along with the accompanying high price of real estate in this bustling port city. His overall impressions can be summed up in this phrase from one of his earliest letters home. “The country of Madagascar has far surpassed my expectations.” Many of us here today still repeat that same phrase, “The country of Madagascar has far surpassed my expectations.”
The first U.S.-Madagascar treaty was signed during a period of enormous change for our two countries. The United States had just emerged from a civil war, and was recovering from the loss of one of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln. As former slaves began to take their roles as free citizens, there were enormous social and political changes taking place through our society. In Madagascar, Queen Rasoherina had been on the throne for just three years and, following the death of her husband, was looking to redefine her country’s relationship with Europe on terms that respected Madagascar’s sovereignty.
Despite the uncertainty that prevailed in both our nations, in 1867, the United States of America and Madagascar signed a treaty and found a way to build a partnership – a friendly and cooperative relationship that benefited the people in both countries at that time, and which continues to this day.
As Madagascar continues to create and strengthen a stable democracy, America will continue to be its partner, as we have for 150 years. Through USAID, we will continue to fund improvements to health care, agriculture and nutrition. This year we launched, together with the Ministry of Public Health, an exciting new $33 million community health activity – Mahefa-Miaraka (which means ‘We’re Able Together’) to improve the health of millions of Malagasy women and children. Just last week, we awarded $33 million for a water, sanitation and hygiene program, designed in close collaboration with the staff of the Ministry of Water, Energy and Hydrocarbon.
We will continue to sponsor artists like Kenny Wesley to build cultural bridges between our people. We will continue to promote military-to-military cooperation, to provide training to military personnel by engaging in joint exercises, and through donations of equipment like the Metal Shark Patrol Boat we presented to the government earlier this year. We will continue to support people who want to master English through scholarships, exchange programs, English Language fellows, and especially through the work of Peace Corps volunteers, where nearly 150 volunteers work side by side with Malagasy students, farmers and health workers fostering collaboration and friendship between our cultures while promoting education, food security and good health.
Americans and Malagasy share an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit, and we embrace, we welcome, and we adapt to change and diversity in our lives. It is evident as we see the effect of urbanization to the thousands of small businesses that line the streets of Antananarivo and other major cities throughout the country. I see it in the Mandela Fellows and other Young African Leadership Initiative participants, who are brimming with ideas on how to spur economic growth and development. I see it the public and non-profit sector, as my colleagues and I work with our partners in the government and NGOs to devise innovative responses to problems in Madagascar, such as the effects of climate change, the ongoing drought in the South, and the seasonal cyclones that wreak havoc on coastal areas.
There can be no doubt that our countries will both face many kinds of change over the next 150 years of our relationship. But I have no doubt that as Madagascar continues to develop into a more prosperous state with a robust democratic tradition; our partnership will only strengthen, to the benefit of both our countries.
Last November, the United States held the election for our 45th president, an election that many thought would be historic for the election of the first female president. Instead, it was historic for the election of the first person with no prior government experience, as either an elected official or a military leader, but nevertheless was a titan of American business and a model of entrepreneurial success that caught the imagination of the American people. The victory of Donald Trump, and now President Trump, came as a surprise to many experts and pollsters, and while those who supported other candidates were disappointed, we – as Americans – accepted the result as a nation.
Since taking office, President Trump and his administration have worked to find common ground with Democratic and Republican lawmakers so that he can implement the policies he thinks are best for the country and fulfill his campaign promises of creating a stronger and more secure United States – which will in turn lead to a more stable world for all of us.
While our U.S. elections called attention to the existing differences between various groups within our country and the challenges we face as Americans, we acknowledge those differences and we will continue to face those challenges together, as Americans.
I will readily admit my country – America – remains deeply divided in a political sense and while many remain disappointed with the outcome of our Presidential election last year, our electoral process remains sacrosanct. Our electoral process has withstood the test of time since independence in 1776 and is a Constitutional right – a Constitutional right of the people, by the people, and for the people.
And so, as Madagascar looks to 2018 for your own presidential and legislative elections, keep in mind the most recent American example where we overcame a difficult and contentious election – out of respect for the electoral process. No matter how difficult, no matter how contentious – have the free, fair, inclusive, and transparent elections that are in the best interests of the Malagasy people, let the Malagasy people decide, and let the Malagasy people take responsibility of the results – whatever they may be.
Thank you very much, God Bless Madagascar and God Bless the United States of America.