Mariel Saez 202-225-3130
WASHINGTON, DC – House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) delivered remarks today at the 'Towards an Action Plan for Democracy: An African Civil Society' Conference hosted by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Whip Hoyer was introduced by NED’s President, Carl Gershman. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you, Carl – not only for that warm introduction but for three decades of work to advance the cause of freedom around the world.
“President Reagan and Dante Fascell’s vision of support for democratic movements globally remains very much alive today through your work at the National Endowment for Democracy, its partner organizations, and, most important, through the courageous activists here today.
“You stand on the frontlines of freedom. You keep fighting for the basic values of human liberty and democracy, in spite of efforts by governments to close down civil society organizations, restrict the press.
“I am honored to be here with you. And I thank the Administration for hosting the Africa Summit, which in the past few days has brought together leaders for frank and constructive discussion on Africa’s future.
“There has been a clear message of optimism emerging from the summit. This gathering tonight is so critical because it highlights the role of civil society in strengthening Africa. I see a continent of opportunity.
“Across Africa, a middle class is rising, activists are building democratic institutions, and nations once torn by hatred are making progress through cooperation. From Dakar to Dar-es-Salaam, from Cairo to Cape Town, Africa is changing. Much of that change has been the result of greater cooperation among nations to maintain security and promote the rule of law.
“The African union has become a powerful force for stability and democratization, with peacekeeping missions in Sudan and Somalia that are working to save lives and encourage peaceful solutions to conflict. But much of that change has also come from people power – the undeniable force of ordinary men and women who stand up and say ‘enough’ to corruption and ethnic divisions.
“Thanks to the tireless efforts of civil society activists, Nelson Mandela’s dream of ‘an Africa that is in peace with itself’ indeed grows nearer.
“With increasing access to the internet and mobile technologies, more and more Africans are able to engage with others around the continent and around the world and build connections that can turn into business opportunities and facilitate the spread of democratic ideas.
“But pro-democracy activists continue to face difficult challenges, which include limits to free speech and free press in some places and physical intimidation and violence in others.
“This is an issue that extends beyond Africa. The world cannot afford to ignore challenges to democracy and human rights in Africa – or anywhere. What is happening in Africa provides an opportunity to revive our sense of democratic purpose. And we must do so not only for the sake of those countries experiencing democratic regression, but those that have yet fully to experience the fruits of democracy.
“I have been paying particularly close attention to the situation in South Sudan, where it is imperative that President Kiir and former Vice President Machar work together to achieve a political solution that can avoid further bloodshed in the world’s newest sovereign state.
“I visited Juba in 2007, and I saw firsthand the hope and promise of a people ready to take their future into their own hands. We must ensure that the people of South Sudan have that opportunity.
“We must also not forget the girls who were kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram and are still yearning to return home to their families. They deserve a chance to go back to school and succeed at the goal they bravely set out to achieve: a better life for themselves and their children.
“Robert Kennedy said, ‘Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or seeks to strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.’
“Each time one of us speaks out, each time one of us stands up, each time one of us acts to improve the lots of other, it does, in fact, send forth a tiny ripple of hope. Robert Kennedy said that in Cape Town in 1966 to a group of young people that felt oppressed, who felt not in power to change their lives. In a short time thereafter, relatively speaking, they changed their lives. They had an extraordinary leader who encouraged them to stand up and speak out. Ultimately Kennedy was right, those tiny ripples of hope made a difference. We can make a difference. This Congress can make a difference. Each of you is making a difference. Thank you.”