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Ambassador Miller's Remarks At The Earth Day Tree Planting Ceremony

Thank you all for being here to celebrate Earth Day and the U.S. Embassy Gaborone joining the League of Green American Embassies. We are honoured by the presence of former President Khama this morning; one of Africa's great democratic leaders and one of the world's foremost champions of conservation.

This is another opportunity to offer congratulations to President Masisi and members of his administration as they carry forth from the Khama administration the baton of democracy, development, peace, stability in this remarkable country. Finally let me also congratulate the Batswana champions and competitors from the Commonwealth Games. They made us proud!  Pula! As you can see behind me, U.S. flags are at half-staff at official U.S. facilities around the world in honour of former First Lady Barbara Bush. A woman of strength, humour, and a graciousness that sadly today seems almost of another time. Thank you, Your Excellency, for reaching out personally to your friend, former President George W. Bush, to offer your condolences.

I am in my seventh year in Botswana.  I served at our embassy from 1995 – 98 as a junior officer and am now in my fourth year as U.S. ambassador.  Alas, my assignment in Botswana is coming to an end.  As I prepare to depart, I am reminded of one of my favourite philosophers, Piglet, from the Winnie the Pooh stories. 

Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude. Your Excellency, from the day I arrived as U.S. ambassador, you and the people of this country, no matter where I travelled, welcomed me with the utmost courtesy and kindness. Members of the U.S. Embassy community feel fortunate to serve as privileged guests in this extraordinarily beautiful country, one of Africa’s great democratic and development success stories, and call Botswana home for at least a while. Congratulations to you on 10 years of enlightened service to your people as president. The United States has great respect and admiration for your principled, courageous, and often lonely stands on human rights, good governance, and the rule of law. I am personally grateful for your example and partnership.    

One of my cherished memories of my time in Botswana will be flying with you as you piloted airplanes and helicopters to remote locations where I had my first spelunking and skydiving adventures.   

And, in keeping with today’s theme, I will never forget when we rushed to a watering hole near the Zimbabwe border to help pull out a cape buffalo stuck in the mud.  And were charged by a hippo who luckily got stuck in the mud, too! 

On the way to the rescue you stopped your motorcade when you saw a father and young son standing by the side of the road. Their car had gone into a ditch.  You personally helped push the car out. I think you joked about anything for two more BDP votes. It was an act of quite decency and modest personal leadership I’ll never forget.  

That type of leadership is evident in Botswana’s care for its natural resources. It’s reflected in the plaque that will keep our newly planted tree and flowers company through the years:

Today our community agrees to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our embassy and properties, in harmony with all our mission does to promote conservation, natural

resource management, and wildlife protection with our Batswana partners. The League of Green Embassies: it sounds like a superhero league, doesn’t it?  Well, the people who volunteered to lead our embassy’s green effort are superheroes.  Ladies and gentlemen, our U.S. Embassy Gaborone Green Team:

• William Abrams   

• Sepelun Kwape 

• Erik  Liederbach 

• Naomi Makgolo 

• Master Magate

• Richard Miles

• John Payne

• Tshepo Poloko

• Douglas Seremane

With this signing, the U.S. Embassy commits:

• to provide leadership at our Embassy by exemplifying and encouraging personal actions that will lead to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions;

• to increase the use of renewable energy and to begin taking action to reduce energy usage at our Embassy;  

• to expand Embassy recycling programmes;

• and to establish an energy conservation programme for our Embassy;

The Green Team is another example of our embassy’s commitment to conservation. The United States has worked with the Government of Botswana on conservation for decades:

Through our Regional Environmental Office and USAID, we work together to protect Botswana’s wildlife and the Okavango Delta, one of Africa’s most ecologically diverse and economically important ecosystems. We are proud to have supported the nomination for the Okavango Delta to become the 1000th UNESCO World Heritage Site. USAID has spent $23 million to improve water resource management, biodiversity, climate resilience, and livelihoods in the Okavango River Basin. USAID also supports Forest Conservation Botswana, an $8 million joint US/Botswana programme for local conservation NGOs.  

We work together to combat wildlife trafficking. Our embassy has a unique resource in this battle, a US Fish and Wildlife Service special agent, Ed Newcomer. Over the past year, Ed provided training to law enforcement agencies involved in wildlife crime investigations from Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia. In fact, Ed trained 40 officers from Botswana in 2017. He also provided important behind the scene support to secure the arrest and extradition from Zimbabwe to Botswana of one of the most prolific wildlife traffickers in the region wanted in Botswana for the illegal possession of rhino horns. Ed has the coolest job in the embassy. At the International Law Enforcement Academy, co-directed by both our governments, we work together to provide  technical assistance and training programmes to build capacity across Africa to combat poaching and wildlife trafficking. The Embassy is also working to support Botswana’s efforts to diversify its power generation capabilities through Power Africa, a multi-agency U.S. government initiative, devoting resources to solar power projects across Botswana.

As a symbol of our commitment to be a green embassy, and of our hopes for the continued growth and flowering of the United States-Botswana relationship, we are planting one of Southern Africa’s most beautiful indigenous trees, a Motsokaphala or African Wisteria   from the Botswana Department of Forestry and Range Resources Gaborone Nursery. Before we welcome our tree to its new home, I would like to invite two brave young members of our community to present former President Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama with a small token of our appreciation for his leadership in conservation and his friendship with the United States.

Thank you.  Pula!

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