Jimmy Carter photo

Lagos, Nigeria Remarks at the National Arts Theatre.

April 01, 1978

DR. AKINYEMI. Your Excellency, President Jimmy Carter, Mrs. Carter, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:

It is a great honor for me to welcome you and Mrs. Carter this afternoon on behalf of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs.

All of us here this afternoon are privileged to be present at this significant occasion, when the President of the United States speaks to the Nigerian people. This occasion is an indication of the President's recognition of the need to talk not only to governments but also to peoples; to share his views not only with government officials but also with the general public. This occasion is also a recognition of the formidable role which informed and articulate public opinion plays in the formulation and development of a nation's foreign policy.

Commentators on the present foreign policy of the United States are quick to point out the constraints which are placed on the President in the development of policies towards other nations. This plurality of society is one of the things which Nigeria has in common with the United States.

In the case of Nigeria, this pluralism manifests itself in enormous pressures on our Government to pursue our foreign policy objectives as rapidly and vigorously as possible. This occasion is a recognition of the pluralism of Nigerian society.

Mr. President, the Nigerian public has noticed the new direction which you have given to the foreign policy of the United States, the sincerity of your crusade against violations of human rights throughout the world, and your commitment to the right of individual nations to self-determination. But at the same time, the Nigerian public has learned to measure policy pronouncements by results and not by expectations.

The Nigerian public believes that the United States has a duty to mankind to take positive policy initiatives in southern Africa. The Nigerian public hopes that your deep concern for human rights, Mr. President, will be translated into action aimed at destroying institutionalized violation of human rights in southern Africa.

As representatives of the Nigerian public privileged to be here this afternoon, we await your voice, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Director Akinyemi, Commissioner Garba, distinguished officials of the Government of Nigeria and of the United States, distinguished guests from other countries, and my friends, the Nigerian people:

I come from a great nation to visit a great nation. When my voice speaks words, they are not the words of a personal person but the words of a country.

It's no coincidence that I come here to this institute, where free and open discussions and debate contribute to the comprehension and understanding and the reaching of agreements that solve problems that have separated people one from another.

It is no coincidence that I come to Nigeria to talk about our bilateral relationships and the problems of Africa. And it is no coincidence that our Nation has now turned in an unprecedented way toward Africa—not to give you our services but to share with you a common future, combining our strengths and yours, correcting our weaknesses and correcting yours. And this departure from past aloofness by the United States is not just a personal commitment of my own, but I represent the deep feelings and the deep interest of all the people of my country.

I'm proud and deeply moved to be the first American President to make an official visit to your country. And I'm especially grateful for the warmth and the generosity of my reception by the Government and by the people of Nigeria.

I don't know who's doing the work, but many Nigerians are standing beside the roadway to make me and my family feel welcome, and I thank you for it.

During my first year as President of the United States, I've been pleased to work closely with General Obasanjo, learning from him and from other African leaders. Our cooperation has had a special meaning for me, since Africa has been so much in my thoughts during the past 15 months.

Our countries have much in common. Nigeria and the United States are vast and diverse nations seeking to use our great resources for the benefit of all our people. That's the way it is now; that's the way it will continue to be in the future.

Americans admire the energy, the wisdom, the hard work, the sense of optimism of the Nigerian people, for these are exactly the same qualities which we admire in my country.

The Nigerian Government has shown these qualities in your own national accomplishments and in your efforts for worldwide peace and economic progress-in the Organization for African Unity, in the United Nations, and in other councils where nations seek common ground so as to resolve differences and to work together.

We admire also the humane and the creative way which Nigeria has come through a divisive time in your own history. Through public debate and far-reaching planning, you are designing a democratic future for a new "One Nigeria," and we're grateful and excited about this prospect.

Our bonds of friendship go back many years. Nigerian students first came to the United States in the 19th century. Your first President, Nnamdi Azikiwe, studied in our country. In applying to Lincoln University, he wrote that he believed in education for service and service for humanity.

Tens of thousands of young Nigerians have followed him to America to prepare themselves for service here in their homeland. Many are present or future teachers, who will help you achieve your goal of universal primary education.

We in the United States are learning from you as well, for we are enriched by our ties and heritage in Africa, just as we hope to contribute to the realization of African hopes and African expectations.

Our nations and our continents are bound together by strong ties that we inherit from our histories. We also share three basic commitments to the future of Africa.

We share with you a commitment to majority rule and individual human rights. In order to meet the basic needs of the people, we share with you a commitment to economic growth and to human development. We share with you a commitment to an Africa that is at peace, free from colonialism, free from racism, free from military interference by outside nations, and free from the inevitable conflicts that can come when the integrity of national boundaries are not respected. We share these things with you as well.

These three common commitments shape our attitude toward your continent. You have been among the leaders of international efforts to bring the principles of majority rule and individual rights into reality in southern Africa.

During the past year, we've worked closely with your Government and the other frontline states in the quest to achieve these goals in Namibia and in Zimbabwe.

Our efforts have now reached a critical stage. On Namibia, there has been some progress, with the parties showing some degree of flexibility. It is important that accommodation be now reached. This past week, we and the other Western members of the United Nations Security Council have presented to the disputing parties our proposals for an internationally acceptable agreement based on free elections.

These proposals provide the best hope for a fair and peaceful solution that will bring independence to Namibia in a manner consistent with Security Council Resolution 385. No group is favored at the expense of another. They protect the rights of all. They should be accepted without further delay.

The tragic assassination of Chief Kapuuo should not lead to an era of violence and recrimination, but to an internationally supervised choice by the people of Namibia to elect leadership that will unite their country in peace and not divide it in war.

On Rhodesia, or Zimbabwe, Great Britain and the United States have put forward a plan for the solution, based on three fundamental principles: first, fair and free elections; secondly, an irreversible transition to genuine majority rule and independence; and third, respect for the individual rights of all the citizens of an independent Zimbabwe.

This plan provides the best basis for agreement. It is widely supported within the international community and by the Presidents of the frontline nations who surround Zimbabwe itself. Its principles must be honored. Let there be no question of the commitment of the United States to these principles or our determination to pursue a just settlement which brings a cease-fire and an internationally recognized legal government.

The present challenge to our diplomacy and to yours is to help all the parties get together, based on the Anglo-American plan, and build on areas of agreement. Only a fair arrangement with broad support among the parties can endure.

The transition to independence of a new Zimbabwe must ensure an opportunity for all parties to compete in the democratic process on an equal footing. The past must lead irrevocably to majority rule and a future in which the rights of each citizen of Zimbabwe are protected, regardless of tribal or ethnic origin or race. That is our Nation's position. We will not depart from it.

The hour is late with regard both to Zimbabwe and to Namibia. The parties must choose. They can choose a path of agreement and be remembered as men of vision and courage who created new nations, born in peace, or they can insist on rigid postures that will produce new political complications, generating new conflicts, growing additional bloodshed, and delay the fulfillment of their hopes.

We in the United States remain committed, as do the people of Nigeria, to the path of genuine progress and fairness, for the sake of all the nations of the region and for the sake of international peace.

In the name of justice, we also believe that South African society should and can be transformed progressively and peacefully, with assured respect for the rights of all. We've made it clear to South Africa that the nature of our relations will depend on whether there is progress towards full participation for all her people, in every respect of the social and economic life of the nation, and an end to discrimination, an end to apartheid, based on race or ethnic origin. We stand firm in that message as well.

I grew up in a society struggling to find racial harmony through racial justice. Though our problems were different, I know that progress can best be found if the determination to see wrongs righted is matched by an understanding that the prisoners of injustice include the privileged as well as the powerless.

I believe we should therefore combine our determination to support the rights of the oppressed people in South Africa with a willingness to hold out our hands to the white minority if they decide to transform their society and to do away with apartheid and the crippling burdens of past injustices.

I also believe that progress can be made. As Andrew Young said here in Lagos last August, a belief in dreams for the future is not naive if we are ready to work to realize those dreams.

Our concern for human rights extends throughout this continent and throughout the world. Whatever the ideology or the power or the race of a government that abuses the rights of its people, we oppose those abuses.

We in America welcome the real progress in human rights that is being made in many countries, in Africa as well as in other regions.

Americans were particularly encouraged that the African group at the United Nations Human Rights Commission moved this year to consider the oppressive policies of two of its own member nations.

We are encouraged, too, by the movement towards democracy being made by many nations. Nigeria is an outstanding example. The free and fair elections that you held in the past year leave no doubt that your Government is determined to pursue its decision to establish civilian rule in 1979. This action will be an inspiration to all those in the world who love democracy and who love freedom. And we congratulate you on this.

Each country must, of course, adapt the instruments of democracy to fit its own particular needs, a process now being completed by your constituent assembly. The basic elements are participation by individuals in the decisions that affect their lives, respect for civil liberties through the rule of law, and thus, protection of the dignity of all men and women.

Wherever these fundamental principles exist, a government can accommodate to necessary change without breaking, and its people can demand such change without being broken.

These principles are necessary for democracy, and they sustain development as well. For in a democracy, the people themselves can best ensure that their government will promote their economic rights, as well as their political and civil liberties.

I believe, as I know you do as well, that every person also has a right to education, to health care, to nutrition, to shelter, to food, and to employment. These are the foundations on which men and women can build better lives.

This is our second great, common goal between the United States and Nigeria-human development made possible by fair and equitable economic progress.

My country is ready to do its fair share in support of African development, both because it's in our own interest and also because it's right. More and more, the economic well-being of Americans depends on the growth of the developing nations here in Africa and in other parts of the world. A good example is our relationship with Nigeria, which is marked by respect for each other's independence and a growing recognition of our interdependence.

Nigeria, for instance, is the United States second largest supplier of imported crude oil. The United States is the largest market for Nigeria's petroleum, and thus the largest source of the revenue which is so vital to Nigeria's dynamic, economic development program.

But the scope of our commerce is much broader than in petroleum alone. Our growing trade serves the interests of both countries. When we purchase Nigerian products, we contribute to Nigerian development. But unless we can also share our technology and share our productive capacity with you, our own economy slows down, American workers lose their jobs, and the resulting economic sluggishness means that we can buy less from you.

Financial encouragement to developing nations is therefore in our interest, because a world of prosperous, developing economies is a world in which America's economy can prosper.

We are increasing our bilateral development assistance to Africa, and on my return to Washington, I will recommend to the Congress that the United States contribute $125 million to the second replenishment of the African Development Fund.

I'm happy to announce, also, that just before leaving Washington, I authorized our Corps of Engineers to offer to participate, as requested by you, in the comprehensive development of the Niger River System.

We are giving new priority to cooperating in international efforts to improve health around the world. We would like to study with you how we can best work with Nigeria and other nations of Africa to deal with the killing and the crippling diseases that still afflict this continent.

Three days ago I spoke in Caracas, Venezuela, about our commitment to international economic growth and equity. All of us can gain if we act fairly toward one another.

Nigeria acted on this principle in helping to negotiate the Lome Convention and the birth of the Economic Community of West African States.

All nations can act on this principle by making world trade increasingly free and fair. Private investment can help, under arrangements benefiting both the investors and also the host countries like your own. And sharing technology can make a crucial difference. We are especially pleased that Nigeria is sending so many of your young people to the United States for training in the middle-level technical skills.

There must be fair international agreements on such issues as stabilizing commodity prices, the creation of a Common Fund, and relieving the debt burden of the poorest nations.

Every government has the obligation to promote economic justice within its own nation, as well as among nations. American development assistance will go increasingly to those areas where it can make the greatest contribution to the economic rights of the poor.

Progress towards economic development requires the pursuit of our third goal as well—again which we share with you—a peaceful Africa, free of military intervention, for economic progress is best pursued in times of peace.

Africans themselves can best find peaceful answers to African disputes through the Organization of African Unity and, when needed, with the help of the United Nations.

We support your efforts to strengthen the peacemaking role of the Organization of African Unity, and we share Nigeria's belief in the practical contributions the United Nations can make.

U.N. peacekeeping forces are already, today, playing a crucial role in the Middle East. They can help bring independence and majority rule, in peace, to Namibia and to Zimbabwe.

The military intervention of outside powers or their proxies in such disputes too often makes local conflicts even more complicated and dangerous and opens the door to a new form of domination or colonialism. We oppose such intervention by outside military forces. We must not allow great power rivalries to destroy our hopes for an Africa at peace.

This is one reason we applaud the leading role of Nigeria in seeking to find peaceful solutions to such tragedies as the recent struggle between Ethiopia and Somalia in the Horn of Africa.

We are concerned that foreign troops are already planning for military action inside Ethiopia against the Eritreans, which will result in greatly increased bloodshed among those unfortunate peoples. Although I will remain careful to see that our friends are not put at a disadvantage, I am working to curb our own role as a supplier of arms, and we urge others to show similar restraint.

We prefer to seek good relations with African and other nations through the works of peace, not war. America's contribution will be to life and development and not to death or destruction.

Plainly, military restraint by outsiders can best be brought about if all nations, including those who buy weapons, actively seek that constraint. We would welcome and support voluntary regional agreements among African leaders to reduce the purchase of weapons as a major step towards peace and away from the economic deprivation of the poor, when badly needed money that could give them a better life goes to purchase weapons to take lives.

I've talked about many subjects this afternoon, very briefly, but in one way or another, I've been talking about change in the world that we all share. Sometimes we grow impatient or cynical about that change, thinking that it's too slow, that it may not come at all.

I know something about social change. In my own lifetime, I've seen the region of my birth, the southern part of the United States, changed from a place of poverty and despair and racial division to a land of bright promise and opportunity and increasing racial harmony.

I've seen the towering wall between the races taken down, piece by piece, until the whites and the blacks of my country could reach across it to each other.

I know that our own society is different from any other, and I know that we still have much to do in the United States. But nothing can shake my faith that in every part of the world, peaceful change can come and bless the lives of human beings. Nothing can make me doubt that this continent will win its struggle for freedom—freedom from racism and the denial of human rights, freedom from want and suffering, and freedom from the destruction of war and foreign intervention.

Nigeria is a great and influential nation, a regional and an international leader. We stand by you in your work. We know that Africans will always take the lead in shaping the destiny of your own people. And we know that this continent will enjoy the liberation that can come to those who put racial division and injustice behind them.

I believe that this day is coming for Africa. And on that day, blacks and whites alike will be able to say, in the words of a great man from my own State, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Free at last, free at last, great God Almighty, we are free at last."

Thank you very much.

DR. AKINYEMI. Mr. President, Your Excellencies, the biggest honor which we in this country confer on people whom we respect is not to ignore them. In the next coming days, weeks, and months, every word you've uttered here this evening is going to be analyzed, is going to be dissected. And, Mr. President, we'll keep you informed of it.

Thank you very much.

Note: Bolaji Akinyemi, director general of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, spoke at 3:45 p.m. In his opening remarks, the President referred to Joseph Nanyen Garba, Commissioner for External Affairs.

Jimmy Carter, Lagos, Nigeria Remarks at the National Arts Theatre. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244835

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