BY ROBERT F. GODEC
Two hundred and thirty eight years ago on July 4th 1776, our Founding Fathers proclaimed13 colonies in America to be free. They did so in an extraordinary document, our Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, proclaims the truth that all men are created equal. It speaks with eloquence of the unalienable rights we all share, among them “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
The Declaration of Independence marked the beginning of the American Revolution. It was also the beginning of a movement that is still transforming the world. It was the beginning of a long march toward freedom for people everywhere. While we are not there yet – the work still goes on – we have made great progress. Today, we honor our Declaration of Independence, the brave men who signed it, and the countless men and women who have fought courageously to defend it and the ideals in it. In doing so, we remember not just Americans, but all who have sacrificed for freedom. For the principles enshrined in the Declaration are universal. They are the hope of every man, woman, and child who dreams of a better future.
America is strong because we hold true to the shared beliefs and principles set out in the Declaration, and in our Constitution. But America is successful because of our diversity. We are a nation of many traditions, cultures, religions, and languages. We come from many places, hold many opinions, and value different approaches. We disagree with one another – a lot. Our system works because it allows every person and every interest a voice – and because it forges compromise out of those interests and voices. We have come to understand that the only way to resolve different opinions is through open debate and discussion. We have seen that compromise works.
Now don’t get me wrong. Compromise is a challenge. And over two and a half centuries Americans have learned its value the hard way, through struggle and sometimes bloodshed. Nearly 20 years ago, a young community organiser in Chicago reflected that the Declaration of Independence still echoes the hardships and injustices endured by generations of Americans. But that community organiser, Barack Obama – now our President – went on to conclude that, “so long as the questions are still being asked, what binds us together might somehow, ultimately, prevail.” Compromise begins with listening. As Americans have learned to listen to other voices, we have learned to embrace diversity and to work to ensure that everyone has a voice in our political process and our national conversation. That process has made America stronger, more democratic, and more prosperous. From many peoples and many beliefs, a great nation was forged.
Last December, Kenya celebrated 50 years of independence. It was a moment for all Kenyans to be proud. As many of you know, this is my second opportunity to serve in Kenya – my first was 15 years ago – and I have seen firsthand the remarkable progress your great nation has made. Over the past two years, as I have travelled across Kenya, I have seen the commitment of the Kenyan people to freedom and to the principles so eloquently set out in your own 2010 Constitution.
Democracy. Human rights. Justice. Rule of law. I have also seen the challenges Kenya faces. Creating jobs. Building infrastructure. Deepening democracy through devolution. And, strengthening security. Like the United States, Kenya will find answers through its diversity. As Kenya strives to meet its challenges, now is the moment for its leaders and citizens to come together. Now is the time to compromise, reject violence, and find a way forward as one nation. I urge Kenyans to unite to address the many challenges facing the country, and to embrace political tolerance and an open discussion of issues.
As you do so, the United States will stand with Kenya. We have been partners since Kenya won independence. Our partnership is unchanged and unwavering. We can see that all around us. It is in our excellent government-to-government relations. We work together to strengthen security, improve health care, educate children, assist farmers, and build prosperity. Annually, the American people contribute up to Sh85 billion in development assistance. And, President Obama has invited President Kenyatta to join him in August at the first US-African Leaders Summit.