Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
December 7, 2023
Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at the Dedication Ceremony for New U.S. Embassy Compound in Windhoek, Namibia
Thank you very much. Thank for that incredible introduction and thank you for the greetings that you all are sharing with us today. To all of those present in the audience – let me just say, all protocols observed. But I particularly want to thank Ambassador Berry and Deputy Prime Minister Nandi-Ndaitwah for your hospitality, your friendship, and your commitment to strengthening the partnership between our two countries.
I want to take a minute to also acknowledge a brave young man. Earlier you saw me on this stage, showing my strategy for “Gumbo Diplomacy.” Now I believe it’s impossible to not find some kind of common ground with the person who you just spent hours sweating onions and cooking down a roux.
Clearly, I know my gumbo. And now, everyone here knows that I know my gumbo. And so, it takes a special kind of guts to serve gumbo to the lady who knows gumbo. And yet, that’s exactly what Chef Chris Williams did. And might I say, he did it darn well. So, let’s give him a round of applause.
So, to Chris, and all of the Namibian food vendors with us here today, thank you for feeding us, and for all your work to make our food systems more sustainable and secure.
Friends, it’s really great to be back here in Namibia. I first came to Namibia, I think, in around 1999. I was the head of Refugees Programs at the U.S. Mission in Geneva. I came a second time in, I think, 2016, when I was serving as the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, and remember thinking I have to return when I have more free time to experience this place. Because when we travel officially, as my staff has seen over these two days we were in Ghana and today – we don’t play, we work. We go from location to another, flying the flag, engaging with the population, learning about the priorities in the country – but we don’t really spend any time learning about the country.
When I was here last, I thought, one day I have to return to Namibia and really get to know the country. So, in 2019, after I retired from the government – I am not retired anymore, but I did retire – I came to Namibia for a vacation with my husband, my brother, my sister-in-law – and we explored this country. We explored Windhoek, we marveled at the red sand dunes in Sossusvlei. I rode the dunes in Walvis Bay and that was not fun, it was scary, but I did it. We learned that Namibia has more cheetahs than anywhere else in the world, and got to see them up close at a conservation center and fed one with my hands – and I’m happy that I still have five fingers on that hand. I don’t think I’ll do that again either.
All to say, I am grateful for the special partnership between the United States and Namibia – one that introduced me to this extraordinary country more than a decade ago, that has brought a number of members of the Biden-Harris Administration, including the First Lady, to Namibia over the past few months, and that brings me back here today to cut the ribbon on this new embassy.
This new embassy is a symbol of – and testament to – our strong, abiding relationship. This compound takes U.S. engineering, environmental, and construction expertise and blends it with Namibian architectural traditions, locally sourced materials, and of course, inspiration from the natural landscape.
But more than just what this embassy was made of, or made to look like – we put a lot of thought into how it would be built, and who it would be built by. And as you heard from the Ambassador, we employed over 2,000 Namibians – with a special focus on giving jobs to women. We offered workers financial training. We donated over 400,000 meals to school-age children in their communities.
So, to every Namibian who helped bring this vision to life – thank you. This incredible structure is because of you – and it is for you. And that not only applies to what happens within this building – but to the extraordinary work happening beyond it. I think about our partnerships to empower women and young people, like the ones gathered here today, who are the powerhouse behind economic growth of this country.
Partnerships to diversify Namibian exports and promote respect for workers’ rights, including through the AGOA program. Partnerships to strengthen inclusive democracy, and protect the environment – an idea Namibia enshrined in its constitution before anyone else. And, of course, our longstanding partnership on public health, which has become a model for what we can do, when we work together.
Over the last 18 years, the United States has invested over $1.5 billion to end HIV/AIDS in Namibia through our PEPFAR partnership. Today, we gather in one of the first high-HIV-burdened countries to achieve the UNAIDS 95-95-95 goals – that 95 percent of people with HIV, knowing they have HIV; 95 percent of those who know they have HIV, getting treatment; and 95 percent of those getting treatment, seeing viral suppression.
We’ve seen a remarkable three-fold reduction in HIV-related deaths. A five-fold reduction in new HIV infections. And so much more resiliency in medical supply chains and lab systems, in healthcare training and prevention programs. Benefits that extend to every aspect of public health: from COVID-19 prevention and vaccine access to TB tracing and testing.
Friends, we hope this embassy strengthens the bond between our nations even further. That this structure can preview what’s to come in the future.
Together, we will work to ensure that communities are just as climate-resilient as this compound itself. We will expand business relationships, like the ones that brought this embassy to life, and create more opportunities for equitable, inclusive, and accessible development. And we will continue to work to protect human rights, combat corruption, and strengthen democracy – the ultimate tie that binds our two nations together.
So, thank you once again to everyone who made this event, this compound, and all of the extraordinary diplomacy it will support, you made it possible.
Here’s to many, many more gatherings between our two nations to come.
Thank you very much.