US first lady Jill Biden told an enthused crowd of Namibian leaders on Thursday that the futures of the US and Africa are “intertwined,” saying that African voices and leadership are critical to solving the world’s most pressing challenges.
Addressing a luncheon in her honor that featured colorful singing, dancing and drumming, Biden said that when she and President Joe Biden were discussing her five-day visit to the continent, he told her how much Namibia’s struggle against apartheid inspired him to speak out when he was a US senator.
Namibia was once under the rule of South Africa, where the government operated under a now-abolished system of white minority 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 said she decided to visit Namibia after getting to know Geingos when the Namibian first lady accompanied her husband, President Hage Geingob, to Washington for a summit President Biden hosted last year for leaders from Africa.
“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 UN 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.
African leaders often feel that they are given short shrift by the world’s bigger economies.
Biden also praised Namibia’s progress in slowing the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, with US funding and assistance through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The program, widely known as PEPFAR, was founded in 2003 by President George W. Bush and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
“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 US has invested over $100 billion in the global response to HIV/AIDS through PEPFAR, the largest commitment by any nation to address a single disease. More than 25 million lives have been saved worldwide, according to the US State Department.
Later Thursday, Biden was visiting Hope Initiative Southern Africa, a nongovernmental organization that works to end poverty and hunger in marginalized communities in the region. Some of its programs, including ones to prevent new HIV infections and gender-based violence, are funded by PEPFAR, and the first lady was set to meet 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 work against injustice together, we can be the arms of welcome, the hands of kindness. We can stand shoulder to shoulder and lift each other if we fall.”
Biden and her granddaughter Naomi Biden will visit Kenya after their stay in Namibia. 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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