Sep 2, 2008, 8:05 AM
The United States deputy assistant secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, Bisa Williams, yesterday announced that as a cornerstone of the US Africa policy, with many nations across the continent embracing democracy, they would like to work with the government of The Gambia and civil society to create a better environment for political discourse, adding that an engaged citizenry in the political process will also improve the country’s economic and social development.
She further stated that democracy also calls for respect for human rights for the freedom of speech, press and religion, as well as for other basic rights.
Williams was speaking during a meeting with journalists and students at the American Corner located at the Comium building, where she reported on her discussions with the Gambia government, civil society organizations and business operators and answered questions from the audience.
Starting with the audience, she described the work of journalists as crucially important in all societies, and called on journalists to uphold the principles of their profession by reporting accurately with honesty and integrity and hold the Gambia governmental accountable for the promises it makes.
Asked specifically about Gambia-US relations, Williams said the relationship goes far into the past before independence, and is even today manifested by the maintenance of official diplomatic relations between the two nations, and the presence of US Peace Corps in The Gambia for well over 40 years now.
“The people-to-people interaction between The Gambia and US is stronger than ever before,as evidenced by the presence of hundreds of Gambian students in US including Ali Sumbundu, the first Gambian ever to be accepted into a US military academy,” she noted.
According to her, US students from St Mary’s College in Maryland continue to spend a semester every year at the University of The Gambia.
The US diplomat said there might have been differences, but there is a strong commitment from both The Gambia and the US to relations between the two states.
She took the opportunity to applaud the Gambia government for its investment in health, education, and immunization to prevent diseases.
‘’These investments are important to help Gambians achieve prosperity and contribute to the overall development of The Gambia, and the United States will continue to partner with The Gambia to achieve our collective goals in these areas’’.
Still on US-Gambia relations, Williams said the US has contributed some 60, 000 dollars in grants to five recipients from its Democracy and Human Rights Fund, designed to protect political and religious freedom, rights of women, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable minorities.
She announced that there has been a resounding response from The Gambia to the Young African Leaders Initiate, YALI, which seeks to bring together some 500 young Africans to empower the future generation of the continent.
“I applaud all the hundreds of young leaders who submitted their applications, and we are looking forward to The Gambia’s participation, ‘she said.
Obama Africa Summit
The US under secretary went on to announce thatPresident Obama is looking forward to receive African leaders including President Yahya Jammeh in the USA later this year, to further strengthen ties between the US andAfrica.
‘‘This summit will build on the progress made by Obama’s last summer visit to advance the US administration’s focus on trade and investment in Africa, and highlight America’s commitment to African security, its democratic development and its people,’’ she noted.
The State Department official called for the maximization of the opportunities provided by the AGOA, which creates a chance for African products to find markets in the USA. However, she recognized that the absence of capacity to produce on a larger scale from some African countries is a negative factor.
Williams was accompanied to the American Corner by the US Charge d’Affaires Richard Yoneoka and senior officials of the US embassy in Banjul.