US Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec at Africa Regional Governance and Best Practices Conference

Friday, August 2, 2013
US Ambassador to Kenya speaks behind a podium flanked by Kenyan and American flags
US Ambassador Robert Godec discusses the importance of democracy, good governance and inclusive leadership in Africa.
International Republican Institute, Kenya

Honorable Speaker Ethuro, Honorable Governors, Honorable Members of Parliament and the Senate, Honorable Members of the East African Legislative Assembly, Honorable Assembly Speakers and Members, Government Officials, and members of civil society. 

Ladies and gentlemen, it is an honor to be here with you today. As a representative of one member of the community of democracies, I am grateful for the opportunity to engage with you to discuss and compare notes on how to advance good governance.  It is most certainly an evolving practice and one that gains by shared experiences. 

The U.S. Government is strongly committed to advancing democracy, good governance and inclusive leadership in Africa.  A growing number of African leaders have come to power through peaceful and credible elections. Increasingly, these leaders are supporting each other and looking out for their neighbors.  Africa’s progress on improving governance is critical for its future.  The United States has welcomed the opportunity to help support this progress.  This afternoon, I would like to say a few words about two subjects.  First, the US commitment to Africa.  And second, the importance of good governance and how we are partnering with Africans to improve it.  

At the outset, I want to underscore that the United States is committed to a strong, deep, and enduring partnership with Africa.  Africa is important to the United States, and indeed the world.  The continent matters and the world is paying attention.  For the United States, Africa has been particularly significant.  Many of our citizens, including our President, trace their heritage to Africa. 

President Obama, during his recent visit to the continent, underscored the importance of our relations.  He highlighted many aspects of our partnerhship and the progress Africa is making on such challenges as strengthening transparent and inclusive governance.  The President announced plans to build on existing relations with Africa through three new initiatives: Power Africa, to mobilize investment to deliver electric power to more Africans; Trade Africa, to expand economic ties and trade among Africa, the United States and other markets; and the Young African Leaders Initiative, to bring young leaders forward, train them and prepare them for service to their countries.  These new initiatives complement the investments the American people have already made in programs to strengthen health care, agriculture, education and security, among others.

The U.S. Government is also supporting such programs as the Partnership for Growth, which has brought together African leaders and the international community to identify and address key constraints to development. The U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) offers tangible incentives for African countries to continue their efforts to open their economies, build free markets, and benefit from greater access to American consumers.  Building upon the success of AGOA, here in this region, the United States announced in October 2012 a Trade and Investment Partnership with the East African Community.  Together with our African partners, we invest in young people, support improvements in health, work to strengthen education systems, encourage trade and investment, and broadly to deepen the connections between the countries on the continent and the United States.   

But the United States is not simply a provider of trade, aid, and advice.  We believe in good governance and, across the continent, we have provided support to improve it.  We have helped to build strong electoral commissions, strengthen internal accounting and auditing systems, and create anti-corruption watchdog agencies.  We have worked with civil society, supported freedom of expression and the media, and encouraged citizen participation in government decision-making.  In all of this, we have worked in partnership with Africans. 

The challenge, of course, is how to improve governance.  It is a challenge that every country, including the United States, faces.  A few weeks ago, right here in Mombasa, I had the privilege to speak with Kenya’s new county governors.  In my address, I emphasized four lessons the United States has learned from its own 230 year experience of federal-state-local government.   First, generally, smaller government is better government.  The public sector really should only take on jobs that the private sector cannot or will not do.  Once the government does take on a task, the efficient, effective, honest delivery of goods and services is paramount.  Second, when deciding which level of government takes on a particular job, it is wise to choose the one that can both get the job done and is closest to the people.  Local governments are often more responsive to local priorities and preferences, and better able to adapt programs to unique local circumstances.  Third, governments must establish the rule of law as well as ensuring opportunities remain open to all citizens.  Finally, in making these decisions, citizens must consider how to pay for the choices they make. 

Making statements about good governance, however, is easy.  Putting them into practice is not.  Nonetheless, making the right decisions on governance is essential to Africa’s future.  For good governance and economic growth are inextricably linked. Together, they are the keys to a nation’s stability, the well-being of its people, and to prosperity. That is why support for democracy and governance is an integral part of the US support for development in Africa. We offer support in a variety of ways.  In Kenya, for example, we assist the National Assembly and the Commission for Implementation of the Constitution in the work they do.  In Liberia, the U.S. government helps civil society organizations expand their role from delivering services to engaging in governance and policymaking processes. We are also working in places like Sudan and Zimbabwe to empower civil society, and amplify the voice of the average citizen, so that they can build a brighter future.  In other countries, we have other programs, but always with the same goal: strong, effective governance. 

Forging a common vision on good governance is, I believe, important to improving it.  A common vision about governance contributes to stability, security, and prosperity.  In Kenya, that vision is embodied in the 2010 Constitution and a document called Vision 2030.   Together, they are the foundation for transformational change in governance in Kenya.  Together, they will help ensure the rule of law, establish strong local government, and promote the well-being of all Kenyans. 

To forge a common vision, it is essential to involve everyone in a society… men and women, businesspeople, civil society, the old and the young, everyone who has a stake.  But while everyone matters, with an eye to the future, I would suggest that it is particularly important to engage the young.  It is the young, of course, who will inherit what we do now and who will lead in the future.  Too often, they are disconnected from society, have little say in decisions, and too little hope for the future.  Here in Kenya, the US government has supported young people through the “Yes, Youth Can” program.  Across the country, a million young Kenyans have created parliaments or bunges focused on economic empowerment and ensuring their collective voice is heard.  The bunges are giving Kenya’s young a larger say in their own lives.  A program I mentioned earlier, the Young African Leaders Initiative, or YALI, will also invest in the next generation of African leaders.  These two programs and many others across the continent can help ensure Africa’s young have an opportunity to help shape Africa’s future.   

In summary, we know that it takes time to build a strong democracy and good governance.  Along the way, there will be problems and setbacks.  It requires constant commitment and hard work.  Yet democracy and good governance will do more for a country’s future than any aid program.  The improvements Africa has already made have begun to yield results.  Further progress will truly unlock Africa’s potential.  I hope that the time and ideas you shared here this week will assist you in making concrete and practical progress. Please know that the United States is proud to partner with you and your countries in the effort to build democracy and strong governance.  Together, I know we will create a better future for both Africans and Americans. 

Thank you.

Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort, Mombasa, Kenya
Issuing Country 

Last updated: May 21, 2014

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