Remarks by Ambassador Robert Yamate

Independence Day Reception
Villa Philadelphia,
AntananarivoJuly 1, 2015

Honorable guests,

What a pleasure it is to be hosting you here at Villa Philadelphia, the first time we have had an Independence Day reception at the Ambassador’s residence in six years, and the first time in as many years that a United States Ambassador has had the honor of presiding over such an event.July 4th of this year marks the 239th anniversary of the United States’ Declaration of Independence.

It also marks one year since Madagascar and the United States fully re-engaged following the 2013 elections that marked the return of democracy to Madagascar.

The achievements we mark over this year in our bilateral relationship are indeed significant and worth mentioning.  Just a year ago, AGOA eligibility was restored, as a direct result of the restoration of elected democracy and renewed respect for human rights ushered in by President Rajaonarimampianina’s election.

Today, a year on, Madagascar is beginning to reap the benefits of this restored trade program.  It was always going to take time for Madagascar to emerge from the dire economic situation the newly elected officials inherited upon assuming office in 2014.  Although progress can sometimes be hard to see in the moment, the fact is, progress is being made. Madagascar is steadily finding its footing again.

There are bound to be challenges and occasional setbacks – some the result of external forces, some internally generated – but make no mistake about it: a stable and democratic Madagascar has the brightest of futures ahead of it. The United States’ development assistance is again on the rise, and such development is a joint effort.

Just two weeks ago, I traveled with the Minister of Environment to Fianarantsoa and Ranomafana to see the incredible work being done by Malagasies and Americans together, with assistance from USAID, Stonybrook University, the Peace Corps, and numerous international and local groups – to restore forests, create jobs in impoverished areas, increase crop yields, protect Madagascar’s precious and unique wildlife, and to help build rural health capacity.

The work being done in Fianarantsoa and Ranomafana, and in dozens of other locations around the country, is the clearest demonstration of the amazing results we can achieve when we all work together, in unison and as partners.As many of you know, this is the second time in Madagascar for my wife Michiko and myself.

We were here in the late 1980s, when we first fell in love with the people and the culture of your incredible country.  Madagascar has changed in so many ways since our first adventures here.

I still remember walking out of my office at the old U.S. Embassy in Antsahavola, to mix and mingle with Malagasy in the Buffet du Jardin, or chatting with shoppers at the supermarche’ Prisunique.Michiko and I retain ouning of democratic roots, increased economic growth, and increased oppr immense affection for Madagascar, and hope our return will witness further deepeortunities for all.

Increased opportunities, especially for the omnipresent youth population of Madagascar, the dynamism and optimism of which are represented here today by the  2014 Malagasy participants in President Obama’s flagship program for young African leaders, the Mandela Fellows.  Creating a stable democracy, particularly after the events of recent years, was never bound to be easy.  We in the United States sometimes need to be reminded of the ups and downs we had in our own first decades of independence.

There were simply different viewpoints fueled by different interests – geographic, economic, and ideological – not unlike what Madagascar has experienced in its own process of laying the foundation of an independent state.  But the key to building a stable democracy is to persevere: to adhere to framework documents, to amend them as necessary but respect the need for their permanence, and to place the needs and well-being of the people ahead of individual interests, ambitions, or rivalries.

Democracy can be a challenging method of government, as we have seen from the events of the past few weeks.  But like the United States, Madagascar is rich in diversity, rich in natural resources, and rich in its talented people.

I am optimistic that the tensions of the past few weeks can be a lesson, providing an opportunity to reflect on what steps elected officials can take to consolidate the gains of the past year and a half and create, together, a better future for the people of this country.

As I reflect on what the United States and Madagascar share and have in common, I think back to a Malagasy saying – “Tsihy be lambanana ny ambanilantra.”  That is, “All of us who live under the same sky are woven together into one great mat.” So in closing – rich, poor, old democracies or new, regardless of skin color or level of education or occupation or orientation, we do indeed all share the sky above, and we are indeed all woven together into one great society. Thank you.