Thank you, Dean Ayres. It’s great to see all of you here in the room and joining virtually. There is nothing like a college campus in early fall. I am proudly a fourth-generation educator and have spent half of my adult life in higher education, including 5 years here at the Elliott School. It’s great to be back!
Today, I am going to speak to three issues, which will hopefully provoke an interesting and useful conversation. First, I’ll discuss how U.S. foreign policy is made. Then I’ll share with you more about my role as the lead implementor of U.S. foreign policy in the field. And finally, I’ll share my thoughts on why l our economic partnership with South Africa matters.
And I am going to do that all in seven minutes.
People outside the beltway often think that U.S. foreign policy is created in a secret office by PhD holding experts that are masters of illusion, crafting complicated deals, creating secret alliances, and drawing up complex rubrics.
As GWU students, you’ve probably seen many a State Department officer at Tonic for work happy hours or have crammed into the Metro with them on your morning or evening commutes. The best kept secrets of Washington are really no secret to you.
And they shouldn’t be to anyone.
The U.S. National Security Strategy is no more a secret than Ben’s Chili Bowl. It’s a 48-page unclassified document that is available online to anyone in the world. This document clearly lays out the U.S. Government’s priorities, and those priorities are the basis for everything we do. That document is the key to our foreign policy.
There are some pretty smart people in this room, and I am sure several of you have read this riveting document. For those who have not, let me quickly summarize.
President Biden’s National Security Strategy outlines how the United States will advance our vital interests and pursue a free, open, prosperous, and secure world. It is in our national interest to 1) protect the American people; 2) expand economic opportunity, and then 3) to defend worldwide democratic values that are the heart of the American way of life.
All countries of the world create policies that support their own self-interests Otherwise, they will fail.
I am going to repeat something in case you just missed it: it is in the U.S. national interest to not only protect and secure the United States, but also to protect democratic values around the world.
We cannot isolate from the world. Terrorism knows no borders. Pandemic disease knows no borders. Climate change knows no borders. And those are just a few examples.
It is in our national interest to ensure that other countries are also prosperous, safe, and democratic.
Many of you here are likely very familiar with the mechanisms the U.S. Government utilizes for engaging in diplomacy abroad. But for those who may not, I will take a quick moment to explain:
When we’re talking about foreign policy in a specific country like South Africa, the President of the United States selects just one person to represent him – and hopefully one day her – abroad and that is an ambassador.
I am the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of South Africa.
But of course, I – like my ambassador colleagues around the world – don’t take on the task of representing the United States to the people and government of South Africa alone. In my case, I lead a mission that includes an embassy, and three consulates general. Our team of over 1,200 staff, work to advance U.S. interests in diplomacy, development, and defense.
An ambassador must delicately balance the roles of being the voice and face of the United States and leading his or her team to accomplish our goals, while also interpreting what is happening abroad, and building and maintaining relationships with the host government and host country citizens. An ambassador then advises on what we’re seeing in our host country, providing that information to the President, Secretary of State, and their teams who lead our policy making process.
South Africa is a world leader, and especially a continental leader, with a diversified market-based economy, and, I think, most importantly, a stable democracy.
Every day I work to see that U.S. foreign policy for South Africa supports the necessary synergies to ensure Americans and American businesses are safe and prosperous in South Africa, and that South Africa can protect itself and its citizens, grow its own economy and protect its stable democracy, while also supporting security, economic growth and democracy in Africa.
I will give a few examples of how we have accomplished those goals.
In 2017, a young South African man named Murendeni Mafumo [Moo-Ren-Den-e Mah-Fume-oh] was selected out of thousands to attend a six-week leadership program for young African leaders in the United States.
Every day as a child, Murendeni had to collect water from a river, or sometimes if he was [air quotes] lucky, he could wait in line for hours to take water from a truck. Then the real work started, as he had to lug about five gallons home, making sure not to spill a single, precious drop.
Later in life, when he was a young adult, he was shocked to learn that people in South Africa’s larger cities did not have this same struggle. He decided to do something about it.
He founded Kusini water – a social enterprise that builds water treatment systems from nanotechnology and macadamia nut shells. His company brings thousands of gallons of water to communities in need. The filtration device he created is portable and operates with solar power.
In 2021 Murendeni received a grant from the U.S. Embassy in South Africa to recruit and mentor water champions in rural communities and his business is thriving. And more secure water resources for South Africans means a more stable, secure partner for the United States.
Another, more well-known example of collaboration is the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which was started in 1994 and has reduced AIDS-related deaths in South Africa by more than eighty percent.
Many people, including me, have spoken about the success of PEPFAR, but have you thought about people living with HIV who also have kidney failure? Persons living with HIV have had limited access to dialysis. In the past, a patient with both kidney failure and HIV was sent home to die.
In 2008, a South African doctor named Elmi Muller—who received U.S. government grants for health research for ten years—performed the first worldwide HIV positive to HIV positive kidney transplant. That patient is still alive today. Since then, over 50 South Africans going through the painful process of kidney failure have received new kidneys.
Dr. Muller’s work and that of her staff also led to the passage of the U.S. HIV Organ Policy Equity Act (HOPE) in 2013, that facilitates the training of doctors in American hospitals to perform the transplant services for persons living with HIV. That means U.S. Government support for South Africa’s efforts to fight HIV and improve health for its citizens led directly to better heath care for Americans and a medical breakthrough that is improving health and advancing medical research globally.
From 2019 to 2022 alone, the U.S. Government has helped South African companies export over ninety-six million dollars of goods to the United States—through the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA. If you go to Trader Joe’s today and buy an apple, or mandarin orange or grapes from South Africa, it is very likely that product came into the U.S. tax free, a benefit that no other G-20 country can claim. That means not only means more nutritious food in U.S. grocery stores, but also thousands of South Africans – most from previously disadvantaged communities — who now have good jobs and more capacity to overcome the legacy of Apartheid. They will build a better future for their children in a more stable, equitable and diverse democracy that will be a market for and can partner with the United States – economically and otherwise — and serve as a model in the region.
Lastly our partnership has made serious progress toward South Africa’s implementation of a Just Energy Transition. South Africa is one of the 15 top carbon emitters in the world. In fact, it is the largest greenhouse gas emitter on the African continent. If South Africa can transition from coal power to green energy, and if they can do that in a way that prioritizes justice and aims to leave no one behind, the world’s greenhouse gas emissions will significantly decrease. That’s why, the U.S. Government is partnering with South Africa to develop key renewable energy skills and unlock green economy investment opportunities at the community level. And as we do, we unlock opportunities, innovations, and resources that will help us implement our own Just Energy Transition at home in the United States.
The U.S. and South Africa are strong strategic partners that collaborate on health, science, education, business, and more.
It is and will continue to be in the U.S. national interest to see that South Africa remains a safe, stable, democratic regional leader, that its economy is prosperous and growing while its carbon footprint is shrinking. It’s no secret why we care: it’s in our national interest.
I will continue to lead the U.S. Mission to South Africa with that in mind, and I challenge you as you study, graduate, and seek employment in international fields to recognize that strengthening democracies and bolstering economies is the foundation for global peace and prosperity for all.