SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, thank you, Ambassador, for that very kind introduction, and good afternoon, everyone.
SEC. AUSTIN: You know, this really is an outstanding crowd.
Mr. President, ministers of state, ministers, justices, ambassadors, distinguished guests, thank you all for being here today. It is indeed the honor of a lifetime to be here with all of you, and this is my first trip across Africa as a U.S. secretary of defense. And it’s also the very first visit, as you heard the ambassadors say, the very first visit to Angola by an American secretary of defense. So it is especially fitting that we are gathered at Angola’s National Archive, because I believe that we can make even more history together and we can 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, and Angola has become a highly-valued and 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 and training and 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 to underscore an important point, and that is that Africa matters. It matters profoundly to the shape of the 21st Century world. And it matters for our common prosperity and our shared security. And 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.
You know, his passion for Africa goes all the way back to his days as a young senator. So when President Biden spoke 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 inspiring — very inspiring African leaders and activists and change-makers are on those front lines as well. And they’re confronting a whole range of big challenges head on. I’m thinking today of a young Angolan named Boasia Fernando. And I think Boasia is here with us today.
Boasia is 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. And Iowa is a state where the average low temperature in January is around -9 degrees Celsius. But Iowa’s 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 in Iowa to grow Angola’s own food stocks. Now, that’s a story of drive and partnership.
So let’s give Boasia a hand.
And that’s just the tale of one young person. But when you stack together all the energy of this country and this continent, and 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 towards shared goals, when we listen and not just lecture, when we invest in our common security, then we have building blocks for a partnership, a principle in progress.
The United States is deeply committed to making sure that Africa enjoys all of the protections of the international rules and norms that advance security and prosperity.
You know, other countries 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, the First Lady and many more. But as the secretary of defense, I’d like to focus today on how we can build on 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, more 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’m 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 that are rooted in equality and mutual respect. We’re joining hands with new partners in 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 and predatory institutions and 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 partners in Africa, and that includes professional military education, capacity-building, counterterrorism, logistics and much, much more.
To further grow the capacities of our African partners, President Biden last year established the 21st Century Partnership for African Security. Now, this important initiative supports AFRICOM’s work up and down the continent, from building up maritime capabilities and 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 and defend their sovereignty to protect their people, and that’s a key focus for AFRICOM.
Last year, the United States reestablished a small, persistent military presence in Somalia, and that has led us to 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 stride towards retaking its territory and disrupting the group’s vicious attacks.
We’re also deepening our counterterrorism cooperation with Kenya and Morocco and Tunisia, Djibouti and many others, and United States is helping our friends in Africa to build strong institutions and to tackle the long-term forces that breed extremism.
But we also take a broader view of security. You know, it’s always easier to stamp out an ember than it is to put out a blaze, so we’re doubling down on conflict prevention, especially through the U.S. strategy to prevent conflict and to promote stability. We’re working with seven African partners to find creative ways to prevent conflict before it starts and to invest in locally-led solutions to buttress lasting peace.
One of our key partners here is Mozambique, whose president I just hosted at the Pentagon last week. Four years ago, the Maputo Peace Accords sought to end the years-long surge in violence, and since then, nearly all former combatants have been demobilized, and Mozambique is working to get former fighters integrated into promising new lives. Now, that work is far from finished, but it is an inspiring example of how a country can move from a fragile cease-fire 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 and participate fully as negotiators, the chances of a just and lasting success go way up.
And so that’s why Angola hosted an important conference on women, peace and security in March.
Now, we’re also working more closely with our African partners on several emerging threats, and like the rest of the world, life in African countries is increasingly online, so we’ve been working together to deepen cybersecurity 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, and I am delighted that Nigeria and Rwanda recently signed the Artemis Accords, which lay out principles to guide space exploration, and these principles are shared principles, and we look forward to doing much, 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 efforts on pandemic, the response and medical readiness. You know, COVID-19 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 am proud that the United States delivered some, I think two million — 200 million vaccines, COVID vaccines 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 and assistance to our partners here in Angola, and we’re very, very proud of that, along with the work that we did throughout the rest of Africa.
AFRICOM also works regularly alongside our African partners to prevent outbreaks and 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 conducted 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.
You know, one of our medics, one young American medic, recalled learning from his Kenyan counterpart a vital new technique for caring for expectant mothers, and that’s just another example 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 and 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, preserve land, and protect natural resources.
Now, there’s a common thread running through these many areas of cooperation. Our work together supports our shared interests in a secure, resilient, and open Africa, governed by laws and rules that allow everyone to prosper.
And so the United States will never take your partnership for granted. The people of Africa deserve to chart their own sovereign paths. And so we aren’t asking African countries to choose any side other than their own.
You see, Africa deserves better than outsiders trying to tighten their grip on this continent. Africa deserves better than autocrats selling cheap guns and pushing mercenary forces, like the Wagner Group, or depriving grain from hungry people around the world.
As President Biden has said, “the future will belong to those who embrace dignity and not trample it.” So we want our work together to produce lasting security and 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 and defend the rule of law and work for all of the 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 strong men, 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.
And that’s especially important at this moment, this moment of profound challenge for democracy in Africa. Across the continent, we’ve seen autocrats undermine free and fair elections and block peaceful transitions of power.
Now, as some of you may know — and you heard the Ambassador say — I had a brief 41-year career in the 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 and not to defy them. And Africa needs militaries that serve their citizens and not the other way around.
And 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 will work together to deepen the norms against toppling democratic governments, and we will be candid partners when their security institutions fall short of those universal standards.
You know, this isn’t easy but it is the best and shortest path to lasting peace and prosperity. It is a 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, deeply moved by the hospitality, the leadership, and the idealism that I’ve witnessed this week. I’m also moved to be here today at a site that enshrines Angola’s past, both the glory and the grief.
You know, it’s 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 and women and children of this country into shackles, people who looked just like you and me. And the horrors of slavery will always be a part of the shared history of our two countries, and we must never forget them.
And 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. And today, the ocean that once carried desperate and 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 of the time. You know, I love my country so much that I fought for it, but America isn’t trying to cover up for our imperfections. When a democracy falls short, when it falls short of its best traditions, as we all sometimes do, the whole world gets to see it. But that’s not the point. The genius of a democracy is not that it’s perfect. The genius of a democracy is that it can always open up space to let its citizen strive to live the universal values of freedom and self-government and human rights.
And the genius of a democracy is that it is always a work in progress, and that’s personal for me. I am a child of America’s segregated South. I grew up in a time of legalized and racist segregation in America, and I stand here today 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 a tragic past, and I’ve seen democracy become 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… But what is important… is that all nations must march toward increasing freedom and toward justice for all and 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, and many, many thanks for your tremendous hospitality.
Source: U.S. Department of Defence