US pledges to ensure African voices are ‘valued’

WINDHOEK, Namibia (AP) — U.S. first lady Jill Biden told an enthused crowd of Namibian leaders on Thursday that the futures of the U.S. and Africa are “intertwined,” saying that African voices and leadership are critical to solving the world’s most pressing challenges.

Biden spoke at a luncheon she hosted in her honor, which featured colorful singing and dancing, as well as drumming. her five-day visit to the continent, He shared with her how Namibia’s struggle to end apartheid inspired his decision to speak out as a U.S. Senator. Namibia was once under South Africa’s rule, and the government operated under an now-abolished system that allowed white minorities to rule.

“He understood then, as he does now, that our futures are intertwined,” the first lady told an audience of about 200 Namibian government officials, former Namibian first ladies, diplomats, nongovernmental organization and community-based leaders, United Nations staff and others.

Namibian first lady Monica Geingos told Biden that her visit was a “powerful” sign of friendship for a country that “needs work.” Geingos added that “one of the reasons Namibia doesn’t make international headlines is because it’s a functioning democracy with the fundamentals in place.”

Biden stated that she visited Namibia because of the friendship she made with Geingos during the time President Hage Geingob, the Namibian first lady, traveled to Washington last year to host a summit for African leaders.

“You know, sometimes you meet someone and you instantly know that you will be friends,” she said of Geingos, explaining how their “conversation and laughter came so easily.”

Biden ticked off climate change, economic inequality and strengthening democracy as among the world’s big challenges.

“African voices, African leadership and African innovation all are critical to addressing the most pressing global challenges and realizing the vision we all share, a world that is free,” she said.

“We’re committed to making sure that African countries not only have a voice” in international organizations like the U.N. Security Council “but that those voices are valued as equal partners, working side by side, to advance our shared priorities and empowering women and youth, strengthening global health and building economic prosperity,” she said.

Many African leaders feel like they are being ignored by the larger economies of the world.

Biden also praised Namibia’s progress in slowing the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, with U.S. funding and assistance through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The program, also known as PEPFAR (President George W. Bush created it in 2003) and celebrates its 20th anniversary.

“You’ve slowed down the spread of HIV, making breakthroughs and supporting communities so that that disease is no longer a death sentence,” she said.

The U.S. has committed more than $100 billion to the global response to HIV/AIDS via PEPFAR. This is the largest single-nation commitment to a single disease. According to the U.S. State Department more than 25,000,000 lives have been saved around the world.

Biden visited Hope Initiative Southern Africa later Thursday. This non-governmental organization works to end hunger and poverty in marginalized communities throughout the region. PEPFAR funds some of its programs, including one to prevent new HIV infections, and another to combat gender-based violence. The first lady was scheduled to meet with several participants.

“None of us can heal the world’s wounds alone,” Biden said. “But when we join as partners, we see that liberty and wisdom, hope and compassion, they can cross borders, too.” We can all work together against injustice, and we can be the arms of hospitality, and the hands of kindness. If we fall, we can support each other and stand shoulder-to-shoulder.

After their visit to Namibia, Biden and Naomi Biden will travel to Kenya with Naomi Biden, her granddaughter. It is Biden’s sixth visit overall to the continent, but her first time as first lady. It’s also her first visit to Namibia.

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