U.S. Department of Defense

09/27/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 09/27/2023 08:14

A Partnership of Principle and Progress: Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the National Archive of AngolaSecretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Provides[...]

Well, thank you, Ambassador, for that kind introduction.

And good afternoon, everyone. This really is an outstanding crowd.

Ministers of State, Ministers, Justices, Ambassadors, distinguished guests-thank you for being here today.

It is the honor of a lifetime to be here with all of you.

This is my first trip across Africa as the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

And it is also the first visit to Angola by an American Secretary of Defense.

So it's especially fitting that we've gathered at Angola's National Archive-because I believe that we can make even more history together, and make even more progress together.

My team and I arrived in Angola yesterday after some great meetings with our valued partners in Djibouti and Kenya. And I'm especially pleased to be wrapping up a busy week-long trip to Africa here in Angola.

Over the past few years, America's relationship with Angola has taken huge strides forward.

Angola has become a highly valued, highly capable partner for the United States-and a rising leader in the region and beyond. So we're deepening our cooperation with your government on military modernization, training, maritime security, and medical readiness. And we're committed to working together even more closely on peacekeeping, climate, intelligence, space cooperation, and more.

So I'm here in Angola to strengthen that robust and equal partnership.

But I'm also here in Africa to underscore something even bigger.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am here because Africa matters. It matters profoundly to the shape of the 21st-century world. And it matters for our common prosperity and our shared security.

Africa also matters deeply to the United States, and to my boss, President Biden. And I can tell you firsthand that the President believes that Africa's success is crucial to all of our futures.

His passion for Africa goes all the way back to his days as a young senator. So when President Biden spoke last year in Washington to African leaders from 49 countries, he said it from the heart: "The United States is 'all in' on Africa's future."

Now, the President also knows that the continent faces major challenges. Africa is on the front lines of many of the 21st century's most urgent shared threats: pandemics, food insecurity, the climate crisis, terrorism, the plundering of resources, and the return of autocracy.

But as I've seen firsthand this week, some very inspiring African leaders, activists, and change-makers are on those front lines too. And they're confronting a whole range of big challenges head on.

I'm thinking today of one young Angolan named Boas Fernando. And I think we've got him here with us today.

He's an entrepreneur working to end food insecurity here in Angola. And several years ago, he received a fellowship from our State Department to study in the United States. So this son of Angola found himself in Iowa-a state where the average low temperature in January is around minus-nine degrees Celsius.

But Iowa is also a major producer of corn, a crop that's in high demand here in Angola. And Mr. Fernando realized that he could use his skills-and the relationships that he had built in Iowa-to connect American farmers with Angolan consumers, and bring corn from Iowa to the shores of Angola.

And that's great for both of our countries. In fact, he was so inspired by his time in Iowa that he's now working to adapt the agricultural business models that he saw there to grow Angola's own food stocks.

Now, that's a story of drive and partnership. So let's give that young man a hand.

And that's just the tale of one young person.

When you stack together all the energy from this country and this continent, when you add up everything that I've seen this week-well, I come away from this trip with a whole lot of optimism about Africa's future.

As President Biden says, "There's a fundamental truth of the 21st century… that our own success is bound up with others succeeding as well."

So when we all have a seat at the table, when we work as equals toward shared goals, when we listen and not just lecture, when we invest in our common security-then we have the building blocks for a partnership of principle and progress.

The United States is deeply committed to making sure that Africa enjoys all the protections of the international rules and norms that advance security and prosperity.

Other powers may see African countries as proxies or even pawns-but we see African nations as partners.

The Biden administration believes that the future is being written today in Africa. And we want to move forward together, through growing partnerships rooted in mutual cooperation and mutual respect.

Now, you've heard this administration's commitment to Africa from President Biden, Vice President Harris, Secretary of State Blinken, Treasury Secretary Yellen, the First Lady, and many others. But as the Secretary of Defense, I'd like to focus today on how we can build up defense partnerships that advance our shared security and extend our shared values.

So I'd like to talk about how the United States military is working with our valued partners in Africa to make the continent and the world more secure, open, and just. I'll talk frankly about the challenges that we face on security, counterterrorism, and 21st-century dangers. And I'll tell you why I am so optimistic that our shared future is one of peace, prosperity, and above all, freedom.

Now, our military cooperation with our African partners today is far stronger than it was just a few years ago.

We're working to deepen defense relationships rooted in equality and mutual respect.

We're joining hands with new partners and building new coalitions to oppose aggression and uphold sovereignty.

And we're empowering our partners to pursue locally, nationally, and regionally led solutions to the dangers that they face.

These threats include violent extremism, piracy, cyber vulnerabilities, and climate disasters-all too often made worse by weak governance, predatory institutions, or persistent poverty.

So we're determined to work with our valued African partners to develop the capabilities that they need to keep their people safe. So our outstanding U.S. Africa Command, led by General Michael Langley, provides a range of support to our partner security forces. And that includes professional military education, capacity-building, counterterrorism, logistics, and much more.

To further grow the capacities of our African partners, President Biden last year established the 21st-Century Partnership for African Security. This important initiative supports AFRICOM's work alongside our partners up and down the continent-from building up maritime capacities in Djibouti to training alongside Kenyan forces on special operations.

Now, many of our partnerships-including with Angola-focus on our expanding cooperation on maritime security. African coastal nations must be able to tackle threats at sea, from trafficking and piracy to illegal and unregulated fishing. So we're working with our partners to block illicit activity, to deepen interoperability at sea, to protect local fisheries, and to keep the commercial shipping lanes free for everyone.

Now, far too many Africans still face persistent threats from violent extremist organizations.

Terrorist groups like al-Shabaab and ISIS deliberately target innocent civilians and wreak havoc on communities across the continent. And their cruelty propels waves of suffering and instability that spill across borders.

So African security forces must be able to combat these groups, defend their sovereignty, and protect their people.

That's a key focus for AFRICOM.

Last year, the United States re-established a small, persistent military presence in Somalia. That has let us do far more to advise, assist, and train the forces taking the fight to al-Shabaab. And under President Hassan Sheikh, Somalia has made important strides toward retaking its territory and disrupting the group's vicious attacks.

We're also deepening our counterterrorism cooperation with Kenya, Morocco, Tunisia, Djibouti, and many others. And the United States is working to help our friends in Africa build stronger institutions to tackle the long-term forces that breed extremism.

But we also take a broader view of security. It's always easier to stamp out an ember than to put out a blaze.

So we're doubling down on conflict prevention-especially through the U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability. We're working with seven African partners to find creative ways to prevent conflict before it starts, to invest in locally led solutions, and to buttress lasting peace.

One of our key partners here is Mozambique, whose president I hosted at the Pentagon just last week.

Four years ago, the Maputo Peace Accords sought to end a years-long surge in extremist violence. Since then, nearly all former combatants have been demobilized, and Mozambique is working to get former fighters integrated into promising new lives.

That work is far from finished. But it's an inspiring example of how a country can move from a fragile ceasefire toward lasting stability.

Now, an important part of our peace-and-security work is bringing more women to the table.

Women and girls often suffer disproportionately from war and conflict. But when women get to lead, when they can participate fully as negotiators and peacebuilders, the chances of a just and lasting peace go way up. And that's why Angola hosted an important conference on women, peace, and security in March.

Now, we're also working more and more closely with our African partners on several emerging threats.

Like the rest of the world, life in African countries is increasingly online. So we've been working together to deepen cyber security for our friends-as well as expanding cyber information-sharing to help African countries fight the digital malice of outside misinformation and disinformation.

We're also cooperating more closely in space.

Last year, at the first U.S.-Africa Space Forum, we committed to working together on the peaceful use and exploration of outer space. I'm delighted that Nigeria and Rwanda recently signed the Artemis Accords, which lay out shared principles to guide space exploration. And we look forward to doing much more with our African partners in this important domain.

We're also brought together by the ongoing battle against infectious disease. So we're redoubling our common efforts on pandemic response and medical readiness.

COVID-19 has taught the whole world a stark lesson. And that lesson is that a threat to global health anywhere is a threat to security everywhere.

So I'm proud that the United States has delivered more than 200 million lifesaving COVID vaccine doses to sub-Saharan Africa, including nearly 11 million to the people of Angola. And during the first months of the COVID pandemic, the Department of Defense provided medical equipment, mobile clinics, lab supplies, and more.

AFRICOM also works regularly alongside our African partners to prevent outbreaks, stand up clinics and field hospitals, and train for future crises.

Last year, right here in Angola, your Armed Forces hosted the first medical-readiness exercises ever held in this country. And earlier this year in Kenya, U.S. and Kenyan military medical personnel treated Kenyan patients together during a two-day clinic. One American medic recalled learning from his Kenyan counterparts a vital new technique for caring for expectant mothers.

And that's just another reminder of the expertise that our African partners bring.

Now, that takes me to the climate crisis.

And this continent has seen firsthand how unpredictable weather, natural disasters, and other fallout from climate change can produce poverty, instability, and insecurity.

So we're working with our African partners to grow your capacity to stand up early warning systems, improve resilience, and strengthen emergency management. And AFRICOM is working with our partner militaries to improve their readiness, conserve land, and protect natural resources.

Now, there's a common thread running through these many areas of cooperation.

Our work together supports our shared interest in a secure, resilient, and open Africa, governed by laws and rules that allow everyone to prosper.

The United States will never take your partnership for granted. The people of Africa deserve to chart their own sovereign paths. And we aren't asking African countries to choose any side other than their own.

Africa deserves better than outsiders trying to tighten their grip on this continent. And Africa deserves better than autocrats selling cheap guns, pushing mercenary forces like the Wagner Group, or depriving grain from hungry people all around the world.

As President Biden has said, "The future will belong to those who embrace human dignity, not trample it."

So we want our work together to produce lasting security, not a brittle status quo. And we can all see the damage when leaders turn predatory or institutions grab resources for themselves.

For lasting success, African countries need responsive, transparent, and civilian-led institutions that uphold human rights, defend the rule of law, and work for all of their people. And Africa needs civilian leaders who keep faith with their citizens and heed their voices.

As President Obama said in Ghana in 2009, "Africa doesn't need strongmen. It needs strong institutions."

So the United States is committed to supporting whole-of-government policies that advance peace, security, and democratic governance together. And those elements are inseparable.

That's especially important at this moment of profound challenge for democracy in Africa.

Across the continent, we've seen autocrats undermine free and fair elections and thwart peaceful transitions of power.

Now, as some of you may know, I had a brief, 41-year career in a U.S. Army uniform. And every day of those 41 years taught me the importance of civilian control of the military. So let me be blunt.

When generals overturn the will of the people and put their own ambitions above the rule of law, security suffers-and democracy dies.

As the Biden administration's strategy for sub-Saharan Africa notes, "Effective, legitimate, and accountable militaries and other security forces are essential to support open, democratic, and resilient societies and to counter destabilizing threats."

Or to put it more bluntly: militaries exist to defend their people, not to defy them.

And Africa needs militaries that serve their citizens-and not the other way around.

That will remain a core principle of America's engagement with our African partners.

So we will continue to invest in professional, civilian-led militaries. We'll work together to deepen the norms against toppling democratic governments. And we'll be candid with our partners when their security institutions fall short of those universal standards.

This isn't easy. But it is the best and shortest path to lasting peace and prosperity. It is the path that millions of men and women across this continent have freely chosen. And the United States is proud to stand with all those who seek free, open, and democratic governments in Africa.

Ladies and gentlemen, I've been deeply moved by the hospitality, the leadership, and the idealism that I've witnessed this week.

And I'm also moved to be here today at a site that enshrines Angola's past-both the glory and the grief.

It is very American to believe that hope can be stronger than history. But it's also very African.

We all know that the United States and Angola were first connected by the slave trade. And four centuries ago, slavers from far away put the men, women, and children of this country in shackles-people who looked just like you and me.

The horrors of slavery will always be a part of the shared history of our two countries. And we must never forget them.

But today, our countries are joined in very different ways-and by our shared dream of a bright future that can help to heal the agony of the past.

Today, the ocean that once carried desperate, enslaved people from Angola to America has become a basin of peaceful cooperation. And last year, the United States and Angola were two of the 18 countries that signed the Joint Statement on Atlantic Cooperation, declaring our shared commitment to a vast region of law, conservation, and peace.

We know that the walk to freedom can be long. And no one gets it right all the time.

I love my country so deeply that I fought for it and bled for it. But America isn't trying to cover up our imperfections. And when a democracy falls short of its best traditions, as we all sometimes do, the whole world gets to see it.

But that's the point.

The genius of a democracy is not that it is perfect. The genius of a democracy is that it can always open up space to let its citizens strive to live up to the universal values of freedom, self-government, and human rights. And the genius of a democracy is that it is always a work in progress.

That's personal for me.

I am a child of America's segregated South. I grew up in a time of legalized racist segregation in America.

And I stand here in Africa as America's first Black Secretary of Defense.

So I believe with all my soul in the progress that we can make together.

I've seen institutions move from discrimination to democracy. I've seen leaders learn powerful lessons from the tragic past. And I've seen democracy be a mighty engine for its own renewal.

Now, my story is not your story. And my country's journey is not your country's journey.

But I believe to my core that our dreams are shared and our futures are linked.

In 1966, one of my heroes, Robert F. Kennedy, traveled to Cape Town, some 2,000 miles south of here. And he said, "Nations, like men, often march to the beat of different drummers… and the precise solutions of the United States can neither be dictated nor transplanted to others. What is important, however, is that all nations must march toward increasing freedom; toward justice for all; toward a society strong and flexible enough to meet the demands of all of its people, whatever their race, and the demands of a world of immense and dizzying change that face us all."

Now, ever since Senator Kennedy spoke those words, the "immense and dizzying change" that he described has only sped up.

And there is one clear way to confront that change-and that is together.

So in the years ahead, let us stand together as equal partners.

Let us work together on the great security challenges of our times.

And let us march together toward increasing freedom and justice for all.

Thank you very much.