On September 22nd, on the margins of the 66th United Nations General Assembly in New York, the U.S. and Tunisian governments signed the Joint Political and Economic Partnership (JPEP). As I reflect on the remarkable events that led to the Tunisian revolution, it is clear that the voices of workers and youth everywhere must continue to be heard. Secretary Clinton’s signing of this strategic partnership symbolizes the solidarity that the American people feel with Tunisians as well as with people struggling for democracy in the region and beyond.
It has been less than a year since the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, who felt powerless to feed his family, started in motion the dramatic events of the “Arab Spring.” While the causes of the revolutions are numerous – rising food prices, youth unemployment, political oppression, and the struggle to provide basic necessities for loved ones – the people’s call for basic dignity could no longer be repressed.
During the Tunisian revolution, the voice of workers, demonstrating on the streets, helped force out the old regime and usher in a new transitional government. The people, exercising their newly found right to freedom of assembly, have demanded that the transitional government be accountable to the Tunisian people. The right to associate – a basic human right – is at the core of any democracy. On October 23rd, Tunisians will exercise another fundamental right – the right to vote in democratic elections, in this case for Constituent Assembly.
It is clear that respect for human rights and sustainable democracies are most effectively built on a strong foundation of social and economic inclusion. As Secretary Clinton has said:
“We cannot build a stable, global economy when hundreds of millions of workers and families find themselves on the wrong side of globalization, cut off from markets and out of reach of modern technologies…And we cannot advance democracy and human rights when hunger and poverty threaten to undermine the good governance and rule of law needed to make those rights real.”
Tunisians understand this as they endeavor to build an inclusive democracy and claim the right of all Tunisians to have a voice in how they are governed and in how they live their lives. The people of the United States stand with Tunisians as they take this important step to strengthen their democracy.
Michael Posner: Testimony Before the Subcommittees on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade and International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight Committee on Foreign Affairs
QUESTION: So we can start (inaudible). My name is Bill Odidi, and I’m honored to have here with me Secretary of State of the United States of America Hillary Clinton. Welcome, Madame Secretary of State.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. It’s very good to be with you.
QUESTION: Yeah. So you’ve been here, what, a couple of days, and I know it’s been hectic. But you look fresh so (inaudible) and you’re in the midst of this very long tour.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s hard because I am so excited to be here. I have always wanted to come to Kenya. And this is my first opportunity, but I will be back. I have felt very welcomed by the people. The challenges facing Kenya are extremely important, and the United States wants to do more to help the people of Kenya realize the full potential that we know is here.
QUESTION: Your Administration, the Barack Obama Administration in America, is pretty young. And I just notice that this is the first time that both the President and Secretary of State have been to a continent in such – well, Africa, I imagine, in such quick succession. Yet, the average Kenyan, it seems to me (inaudible) you’ve got so much on your plate. Is Africa, or Kenya, really a priority for this Administration?
SECRETARY CLINTON: And the answer is yes. And I think both the President’s visit to Ghana and the very important speech he gave there, my visit to Africa, starting here in Kenya, are meant to send a signal that we want to elevate Africa and African concerns, not just in American foreign policy, but in global policy. If you look at any problem we’re facing today, and if you look at any opportunity that exists today, Africa is ripe with both peril and promise. And we want to work with the people of Africa to help solve problems and to give more support to those who are moving their countries in a new direction.
QUESTION: Now on specific issues, Kenya is is the grip of a food crisis and much of the concerns (inaudible) President Obama while in Ghana and after the G-8 had agreed $3.8 billion on agricultural aid, in which areas would this be channeled? Because I listened to your speech yesterday and you spoke about a green revolution.
SECRETARY CLINTON: And that’s we intend to achieve. President Obama asked me to lead our government’s efforts on food security. We were able to not only contribute our $3.8 billion, but to get the world to commit to $20 billion. Now we have to translate that into reality, and there’s three aspects of it. First, of course, is emergency food aid. I am very concerned about the figure of 10 million Kenyans facing starvation and malnutrition because of the continuing drought, the fourth year of inadequate or no rainfall. So we have to provide emergency assistance.
But secondly, we can’t just provide emergency assistance. We have to work with farmers to increase their productivity. And I went to the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute, which is one of the most well regarded in Africa, and there is a long connection with the United States. And they are doing a lot of good work to improve productivity, to improve the soil. So we’ve got to make sure that that very important research gets out into the field. And 70 percent of the farmers in Kenya are women, and they’re very often left out of the educational process, of the new technology. So let’s begin to focus on helping the farmers of Kenya get better prepared for the next problem; that means a better irrigation system; that means more drought-resistant seeds; that means better-suited fertilizer to keep the soil rich.
And finally, we have to do more to create a market for farm goods that can travel. And I saw some of that over at the Research Institute, where people are taking products and they are dry-freezing it. They are using to create what we call value-added groceries, and then they can export it and they can store it. So there’s a lot to be done, and that’s the goal of our food security initiative.
QUESTION: Okay. Would part of your foreign policy emphasize cultural exchanges between the two countries? I mean, for instance, there’s been a huge number of Americans coming to the birthplace of President Obama’s father, which is in western Kenya.
SECRETARY CLINTON: We think that’s wonderful and we want more exchanges, both cultural and educational. When I was at the University of Nairobi, the chancellor there said that he was grateful for the United States support of the university of the years. Well, we want to even do more to help education, and particularly higher education, in Kenya. And we want more Kenyan students to have the same opportunity that President Obama’s father had to study in the United States.
QUESTION: Yeah. Here’s my final one. You were passionate during the speech at the conference opening, saying you’d like to hear everywhere in Kenya that this is a great place to (inaudible). When you spoke about achievements of women like Wangari Maathai, what really touched me is that you said that what we should do today should be geared towards the future generation. The young girl listening to this interview deep in rural Kenya, what would Hillary Clinton like to tell her?
SECRETARY CLINTON: First of all, I would like to tell her that she is very valuable as a girl, that anyone who tells her that her future is less important, or her very being is somehow secondary to her brother, is wrong; that God made both girls and boys for a purpose. We need both of you. And for a young girl to do what she can to prepare herself for the future, try to go to school as long and far as you can, try to find the time to study and to learn so that you can be more prepared and confident about your future. Look for ways to continue your education even if might mean leaving your home so that you could be an educated woman and therefore could contribute to your family and your community.
And be concerned about what kind of world your children eventually will inherit. So look for ways to make a difference that will improve the quality of life, that more children will be able to go to school, more people will be able to have access to health care, more jobs will be in the rural areas. Be proud of where you came from, but be motivated to try to make it better.
QUESTION: Could you pass our very best wishes to former President Bill Clinton –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: — and to the current President? And I know you’re working very, very well together with him, despite the fact that you actually ran against him for the U.S. presidency. And good luck to you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. And of course, that’s an important lesson. Yes, we competed very hard against each other. And then when President Obama won and he asked me to serve with him, I decided that was in the best interest of my country, and I’m very glad I did. It’s been a wonderful personal and professional relationship, because we’ve got to keep our eyes on the future: What do we need to do to help the children of America and the children of the world have the opportunities they deserve?
QUESTION: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, what a pleasure this has been. I cannot tell you what this means to me and to the millions of Kenyans who are listening to this broadcast. And here Kenya, you say asante sana. It means thank you very, very much. I’ll have you speaking some Swahili (inaudible). Asante.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Asante.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much.
U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William R. Brownfield met with leaders of the Colombian Federation of Educators on March 25. The Ambassador commended FECODE leaders for their dedication to the defense of workers’ and teachers’ rights, and expressed concern that Colombian labor leaders continue to face threats and violence due to their professional activities. The Ambassador emphasized that “labor organizations like FECODE play positive, essential roles in all democratic societies, including the United States and Colombia.”
FECODE was founded in 1959 and represents 220,000 workers organized in approximately 33 unions. It is one of the largest union federations in Colombia, with a large presence in the public education sector. Its leaders work on a national scale to uphold the rights of Colombian workers and teachers. Ambassador Brownfield met with the leaders of the General Confederation of Workers (CGT) in October of last year, and labor leaders from the United Confederation of Workers (CUT) in February of 2010.