Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the Swearing-in Ceremony for the President’s Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement

Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the Swearing-in Ceremony for the President’s Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good afternoon, everyone. 

AUDIENCE:  Good afternoon.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Chris, always wonderful to be with you, but especially on this day, with this group, on this occasion.  Senator Coons has been extraordinary in his devotion to Africa, in his devotion to the relationship, the partnership between the United States and Africa – a matter of principled leadership for many years and an incredible partner.  And of course, we always say, “Blessed be the check-writers.”  (Laughter.)

Deniece, to you my great thanks, and to an incredible team: Molly Phee, Judd Devermont, our colleagues from the State Department, the National Security Council staff who’ve done so much to bring this council to life today.  And I also want to very much acknowledge the work of another extraordinary diplomat who I’ve had the privilege of working with and learning from for many years, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, who helped share his unmatched expertise – (applause) – unmatched expertise and passion for driving U.S. engagement with Africa.  At the State Department, when we say, “Here’s Johnnie,” this is – (laughter) – this is what we mean. 

And to our new members, to their families, welcome. 

This is a day we’ve been looking forward to for some time, and it is both an honor and a privilege and a joy to be part of the inaugural meeting of the President’s Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement. 

Last year, in Pretoria, I had an opportunity to lay out our Strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa.  It spells out shared priorities across the continent, how we intend to promote transparent, accountable government, to strengthen security, to create broad-based economic opportunity, to build climate resilience, food security, and so much more. 

And at the heart of this blueprint is partnership.  It’s about what the United States can do with African nations, not for African nations.  And that’s because on every issue of consequence to the region, our progress depends on working together as equal partners.  That means strengthening our relationships between our governments, between the private sector, between our civil societies.  And it means strengthening engagement with Africa’s dynamic diaspora here in the United States – the descendants of formerly enslaved people and the nearly two million African immigrants who maintain extraordinarily close ties to their home countries.

Now, I’ve had the chance to spend some time with this incredibly vibrant community myself, here as well as in Africa.  That includes sitting down with a younger generation, young leaders who are creating jobs for young people in the United States and in African nations, training American nonprofits in techniques learned from fighting infectious diseases in Malawi to so much more. 

What’s clear is how profoundly this diaspora has shaped societies on not one but on two continents.  Just last week, in fact, President Biden awarded the National Science Medal to Gebisa Ejeta, an Ethiopian American plant geneticist whose research is helping literally millions of people grow crops that can withstand extreme temperatures that we’re increasingly seeing. 

The significance, the promise of the African diaspora is so great that the African Union actually recognized it as the continent’s sixth region.  We want to further empower and amplify that immense potential. 

That’s why at last year’s African Leaders Summit, President Biden created the Advisory Council to give us advice, recommendations on how we can better strengthen ties between the people of African countries and the people of the United States.  In the months since the summit, the White House, the State Department have consulted stakeholders.  We’ve considered more than 100 candidates, and ultimately, we asked the 12 – as I think you’re quickly becoming known – (laughter) – to serve in this vital role. 

Now, no single group can capture the diversity, the vitality of the African diaspora, but this is a pretty remarkable collection of leaders.  You all hail from nine U.S. states with roots stretching back to more than half a dozen African countries.  You come from the worlds of business, higher education, the faith community, the nonprofit sector.  We have a former ambassador to South Africa; a two-time WNBA all-star; we even have an EGOT winner.  So now Viola Davis can add Advisory Council member to the Emmy, the Grammy, the Oscar, the Tony award.  (Laughter.)  And I know which one will get place of pride – pride of place on the mantlepiece.  (Laughter.) 

And because this is an initiative that President Biden launched, it seems very fitting that our council chairman is from the state of Delaware.  In the coming months, we will be looking to each of you as a source of innovative ideas.  This group is a platform for meaningful dialogue and a bridge to strengthening connections between the United States and the African diaspora. And that’s especially true as we continue to deliver on the commitments that we made at the leaders’ summit. 

Ambassador Carson’s been following up on these commitments.  That’s why President Biden asked him to take on a role immediately after the summit to make sure that, while we had three incredible days with our colleagues from Africa here in Washington, it’s the 362 days that follow that really make a difference.  Are we making good on what we said we would do?  And that is vitally important to keeping faith with the summit and keeping faith with our partners around the world.

We’re going to solicit your ideas on ways that we can get more diaspora members involved in trade and investment, in development – all related to Africa – to improve everything from deploying clean energy to expanding digital access across the continent. 

We’ll consult on how to strengthen ties through educational exchanges like the Young African Leaders Initiative and International Visitor Leadership Program, two of really the flagship programs that we’ve had – one dating back many years in the State Department, another to the Obama-Biden administration, but both incredibly vital for making these connections, creating these connections, and building new networks among our people that will carry us forward for many years to come.  And we’ll explore ways to further cultural connections across sports, across television, across music, across fashion. 

We’ll seek your partnership in further advancing equity and opportunity for the diaspora community, including through the UN Development Forum on People of African Descent.  Strengthening equity is a key focus of the State Department’s own equity action plan. 

And if I can make maybe just a small recruiting pitch:  the African diaspora has brought so much to our own diplomacy over so many years.  One of the things we’ll ask you to do is to see if you can help bring more of this incredible talent to bear at the State Department itself.  We are on a recruiting mission.  We want the best people for our diplomacy, and we want a department that actually reflects the country that it represents.  This isn’t just a matter of doing the right thing; it’s doing the smart thing.  We’re operating in an incredibly diverse world at a time where there’s a greater multiplicity and complexity of challenges than ever before, certainly in the 30 years that I’ve been involved in this.

The greatest advantage we have in operating in that world, the greatest advantage we have in actually advancing American values and American interests, is our own diversity.  And so if we’re shortchanging ourselves by leaving that diversity off the team and off the playing field, it’s not right and it’s not good for America.  So we’re going to look to you to see if you can help us recruit some new talent.

Now many of you have spoken powerfully about how having a connection to this country and to one in Africa gives you the best of both worlds.  Each of you carries those worlds within you.  And with this council advising our government’s efforts, we hope you’ll help us bring out the best in both African countries and in our own. 

Now, to administer the oath, it is my honor to introduce a leader who has been, day in, day out, shaping our nation’s foreign policy; someone who personally understands the strength of this community; a woman who received, I think it’s fair to say, a rock-star welcome when she visited the continent this past April; and a woman who is the Vice President of the United States of America, Kamala Harris.  (Applause.)

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