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Chairman Menendez’s Opening Remarks at US-Africa Leaders Summit Congressional Reception

Washington, DC – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the below statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit Congressional Reception.

“To the esteemed leaders of the many African nations represented here today, welcome to Washington. This Summit is the first of its kind to be held in Washington – a gathering of African and American dignitaries, presidents and prime ministers, members of Congress, CEOs, and civil society leaders who have come together to discuss the many challenges and opportunities we face together and to strengthen the historical bonds between our countries.

“The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee – chaired by Congressman Royce – are Africa’s champions in the U.S. Congress, and we are honored to host this conference. Whether it is supporting the people of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, responding to the latest developments in Nigeria, Egypt, or Libya, the United States is invested in Africa and committed to the people of Africa, united in the shared values of our citizens.

“And speaking for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I assure you nobody understands the importance of the relationships between the United States and your countries better than Senator Coons, Chairman of the Sub-committee on African Affairs. He is a tireless advocate for your interests and a proud co-host of this gathering.

“I know that Congressional leaders and our other co-hosts are equally strong advocates. Congressman Eliot Engel, Congressman Christopher Smith, and Congresswoman Karen Bass, in their leadership roles, have focused their attention on key issues facing Africa and its people, from security issues, to humanitarian efforts, to the trade and development cooperation that unites our nations.

“Let me also acknowledge a friend and former colleague: Secretary of State John Kerry, whose work on African issues – notably his extraordinary commitment to PEPFAR – has been a decade-long record of hands-on personal engagement.

“I am pleased that we are also joined today by several of my Senate colleagues: Senator Mazie Hirono, Senator Johnny Isakson and Senator Tim Scott.

“I also want to recognize House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other members of the House of Representatives and, from the Obama administration, Ambassador Susan Rice and Ambassador Samantha Power.

"I wish to especially welcome Chairperson Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma of the African Union Commission, who will give remarks on behalf of all the delegations participating in the Summit.

“Also, since our theme is: ‘Investing in the Next Generation,’ it is fitting that we recognize and welcome the Mandela Washington Fellows from President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative – YALI. These young leaders remind us how much we all have to gain by investing in the next generation. They are the future of their nations and the world.

“With that, I welcome all of you to the United States Senate at this moment when Africa is, more and more, in the global spotlight. The continent is witnessing enormous economic growth and dramatic social and political change.

“Let’s not forget that the continent is home to six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world, second only to Asia in terms of economic growth. The rapid spread of technology, increasing regional connectivity, infrastructure improvements, and opportunities for investment are unprecedented. All of which are strengthening the bonds between our nations as well as increasing demand for U.S. exports and investment – a victory for all of our nations and people.

“The United States will continue to partner with African nations to mitigate those challenges as our geopolitical interests increasingly merge. We are turning to our African partners at the United Nations, and bilaterally, to help address global issues ranging from nuclear proliferation to climate change, terrorism, and a host of transnational threats.

“I see this summit as a statement of our mutual commitment to engaging regularly on these and other key global issues – peace and security, governance and human rights, trade, investment, and development – all issues that present new opportunities to build strong partnerships.

“That said, there are serious and substantial challenges to address as well. Political instability, corruption, income inequality and health pandemics all threaten progress, and several nations remain at the brink of civil war.

“I commend the leaders here this evening who are fully committed to bringing stability, democracy, good governance, and development opportunities to your nations, and we are committed to supporting those efforts. We remain steadfast in our support for free, fair and inclusive democratic processes in Africa and around the world.

“But democracy is not just about elections. It’s also about institutions, transparency, inclusiveness, and ensuring that every citizen – regardless of creed, ethnicity, or circumstance – has the ability to hold his or her elected leaders accountable.

“We are committed to maintaining our long-standing support for the development of the continent. Since 2010, U.S. bilateral assistance to Africa has exceeded $7 billion annually, and continues today.

“Secretary Kerry knows that PEPFAR remains the largest commitment by any nation to combating a single disease internationally. Through 2013, PEPFAR supported over 6.7 million peoples’ access to antiretroviral treatment, and helped 17 million people with care and support, including more than 5 million orphans and vulnerable children. In fact, in 2013, the one-millionth baby was born HIV-free as a result of PEPFAR.

“The United States is also committed to maximizing trade and investment benefits that can create jobs and economic growth in all of our nations. The world has fully recognized Africa’s extraordinary economic potential. But, as we continue to work together, we also understand the significant remaining barriers to fully harnessing this potential, including a lack of reliable access to electricity and the need for diversified and robust trade between our nations.

“That’s why there have been bipartisan efforts in both the House and the Senate to assist your efforts to attract private energy investment and provide power to the 600 million people without access to electricity. Our ultimate success will help increase access to reliable electricity by encouraging reforms to attract private investment and promote policies to provide 50 million Africans first-time access to electricity and add 20,000 megawatts of electricity to the grid by 2020.

“Many of your foreign ministers spent today at the annual AGOA forum. It is important to recognize that the African continent is vastly different since AGOA was first authorized by Congress in 2000 and while much progress has been made, there is still much work to be done.

“We must acknowledge that trade tariff preferences alone are not enough to ensure sustainable growth. We will need to use every tool in our economic statecraft toolbox – from OPIC loans and guarantees to assistance from Ex-Im Bank, the Foreign Commercial Service and the Agency for International Development – if we are to maximize economic progress.

“Those are the issues and opportunities before us at this historic Summit where we can strengthen our relationships, meet every challenge, and maximize every opportunity for progress – together.

“We are all guided by the life and legacy of the man we knew as Madiba, the icon and activist, a statesman and a peacemaker.

“Today, as we witness both profound suffering and incredible courage around the world – in Ukraine, the Middle East, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, in Central America and here in the United States – we, as public servants and stewards of those we represent, would do well to remember Madiba’s example when he said: ‘Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.’

“But he also said, ‘to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of other.’ Let us be ‘real leaders’ who work together to ‘enhance the freedom of others.’

“Once again, let me welcome all of you to Washington.

“Let us work together to engage and mentor the next generation, empower women, educate children, encourage innovators and entrepreneurs, and ensure that the people of the United States and Africa’s many nations can build a better life for themselves and their families. Thank you very much."