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Toasts of the President and Ambassador S. Edward Peal of Liberia at a Dinner for Ambassadors of the Organization of African Unity

March 23, 1970

Mr. Secretary of State and Mrs. Rogers, Ambassador Peal, Mrs. Peal, all of the distinguished Ambassadors, Members of the Cabinet, Members of the Senate and the House, and other distinguished guests on this occasion:

The Secretary of State has informed me that his check of the precedents indicates that this is the first time in the history of this room--the State Dining Room at the White House--that a state dinner has been given for the Ambassadors of the Organization of African Unity. And we are very happy to have you here for the first time on this occasion.

I suppose that in mentioning that, that the reasons might be appropriate to mention. I think of the fact that it was just 13 years ago tonight that I returned with Mrs. Nixon from my first trip to Africa. You will remember Congressman Diggs was with us on that trip. We had been to Ghana, and learned about the "high life" 1; and we also had been on that occasion to Liberia, and a brief stopover at Uganda and Ethiopia, as well as some stops in Northern Africa, and I remember we were in Libya, in Tunisia, and Morrocco.

But when I think of what has happened in those 13 years, I think particularly of what has happened in terms of new nations. There are 33 new nations in Africa over the past 13 years. Ghana was the first to have its independence at that period of time, and then others followed.

I think of the other things. I think of the fact that the Secretary of State, in his recent trip, was the first Secretary of State of the United States ever to pay a state visit to Africa. And I want to say that my remarks tonight can be somewhat limited because his official report and recommendations on that trip will be made in just a few days. And I will let that report speak for itself, except to say that I endorse it in advance, and I have great confidence in the Secretary of State on the basis of his oral report already.

Now what I am really trying to bring home by these vague references, to an extent-- fact that this is the first dinner in which all the African diplomats were honored in this room; the fact that 13 years ago an American Vice President returned from the first state visit by an American Vice President to Africa, and what has happened since then; the fact that the Secretary of State has returned, too, recently from a visit to Africa; and all these new countries have been born-this indicates the escalating manner in which Africa and the nations of Africa have come upon the American as well as the international scene in a very short period of time.

Now, in speaking to Ambassador Peal, whose country is a bit older than some of the others represented here, he was saying earlier that same of the new countries, because they were new, had problems. I can only say that older countries have Problems, too. I know. And perhaps the Problems become more complex as the countries get older.

Well, whatever the case may be, I want you to know that we in this Government, not only this administration but in the Senate and the House, Democrats and Republicans alike, as we welcome you tonight we welcome you for the people that you represent. We welcome you and have an understanding of the problems that you have, and we particularly think of your future and how we can be helpful to the extent that it does not interfere with your own decision in making that future one that will be better for you and the people of that great continent.

I have often been asked what I remember about the countries of Africa that I visited on three trips, the one in 1957 and then twice as a private citizen, in 1963 and then in 1967. Of course, I remember the 13 countries that I covered in those trips-I remember the Presidents and the Emperor and the other great dignitaries that I met, and the officials that I had the opportunity to talk with. And I remember, too, the tremendous promise of those lands that I could see, the resources that were there, some developed, some waiting to be developed.

But most of all, my memories are of the children that I saw. I can see them now in Morocco, in Tunisia, in Libya; I can see them in Uganda, Kenya, the Congo; and I can see them in the Ivory Coast, in Liberia, in Zambia, and in Ghana. And I think that tonight all of us realize that that is what our responsibilities are all about. We think of those children and our own children. We think of their future. We think of the kind of a world we presently live in, and we think of what we want the world to be for them. We think of the fact that in Africa they are children, for the most part, in new nations with great hope and great problems and also enormous opportunities--if they just had a chance.

That is what I think is the American experiment: hope, opportunity. But you have to give people a chance.

And we only hope that in our policy toward Africa--these new countries as well as the old ones, that we will be able to help you realize your hope, to extend to the greatest opportunity that is possible the ideas that you have for your future, but, above all, to see that your children realize that they have a chance, a chance for a better world, a more peaceful world, a world of progress, a world of opportunity for them and all of the other children of the world.

And so tonight I, of course, now propose a toast. I cannot to each head of state--that would take quite a time--and I cannot to each Ambassador or each Senator or each Cabinet officer, but I think that the Organization of African Unity, in which all of the hopes of this great continent are certainly represented, I think that we would all like to rise and raise our glasses to the Organization of African Unity, to the OAU.

1 A West African dance.

Note: The President spoke at 9:47 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. Ambassador S. Edward Peal, Dean of the African Ambassadors, responded as follows:

Mr. President, Mrs. Nixon, Mr. Secretary of State, Mrs. Rogers, and other distinguished Members of the Cabinet and officials of Government, distinguished Members of the Congress, Excellencies, my colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:

Permit me, Mr. President, first of all to thank you very sincerely for your warm remarks and for the hopes you have expressed for our continent and for the warm toast you have proffered to the health of the OAU, and in doing so, to our Presidents and chiefs of state and of government.

Having done us this honor of your kind invitation this evening and the gracious manner in which you, Mr. President and Mrs. Nixon, have received us, I want to say that tonight will long be remembered by me and all those for whom I have the privilege to speak as a rare and significant experience. Not the least among the compelling factors in this significance, Mr. President, is the glimpse you have afforded us of seeing the multiple function that the White House has come to serve in the national life of the people of this great country, the United States of America.

And let me say, too, that this historic residence now under the spell of such a distinguished family is proving to be not merely a continuing and treasured symbol of American faith and strength but also a window looking onto our troubled and changing world, which prays that it will never turn to this country and this capital in vain for understanding and leadership.

We Africans know that our once neglected continent, dark only in the sense of the ignorance of those who have only sought a passing acquaintance with our people and our culture, is now within the panoramic view of the White House.

As you have said, Mr. President, I think one of the things we are celebrating this evening is the return from Africa of the first visit there of an American Secretary of State when in the full authority of his office. This visit, Mr. President, let me say, did not take us all by surprise because we had privately counted on some such warmly generous initiative from you, sir, because you are no stranger to Africa, as you have said, and you had already shown your close and enduring concern for the welfare of our people and our continent and for continuing productive friendship between the American and African people.

You have been kind enough to hint to us in advance about the approval you have given to the report which the Secretary of State is submitting to you.

Well, sir, I think for me it is a little bit too early to speculate what is in that report or, indeed, to say what diplomatic triumph the Secretary and Mrs. Rogers brought back from their trip to Africa.

But this I am certain: They came back armed with an invaluable souvenir, the respect, the affection, and the high esteem of all of our people, especially those whom they were able to see for one reason or another.

And, sir, let me give an example: Secretary Rogers probably will recall that in the crowd in Monrovia that swarmed around his car were some of our tumbling dancers. This is one of our traditional ways of showing our affection and our approval to the presence of a distinguished personality among us.

After they left, I had the privilege later of talking to one of the dancers. And in referring to Secretary Rogers he said, "I saw his face when he got out of the car to wave to us. And I said to myself, 'Ah, there goes somebody to whom I can tell my troubles.' And when you see him again, tell him that he has earned the title among us and we will call him our 'Old Man'"

And may I explain to you, please, that this is a venerated title which is the only one that can be popularly bestowed in my country and most of the countries in Africa.

Mr. President, you have spoken about some of your hopes for our continent and of our future cooperation. Let me say that Africa has many things to be grateful to America for. We recognize the earnest altruism that has motivated the assistance, moral and material, extended to our people over many years and in a variety of contexts.

We will always remain mindful of the close, strong brotherly ties that link us to that large and creative segment of the American people. But, above all, Mr. President, we will continue to draw sustaining vigor and comfort from the words and deeds of those great Americans who have charted the course and enriched the vocabulary of freedom. And we will continue to say that so long as there is respect for human dignity, and so long as there is one man who cries out from the dwindling jungle of tyranny, so long, Mr. President, will the American example and pattern have a very relevant and shining example for the building of the African dream.

That is why, Mr. President, we have always been glad to welcome and to look to the United States for understanding because we have often reached out to her for tangible support in our own struggle.

My country, as you correctly said, is an old one. And you know how often we have reached for your assistance. So it is true with my newer brothers, because the problems we share there, despite our age, are common. And we know that your tradition, hallowed and cherished by you, will always allow you to lend assistance and to respond to a genuine and sincere cause.

Now, Mr. President, forgive me, but some of us who have been here a little long were witness to your campaign. And I remember, and I am sure all of us here remember, that during this campaign when you were seeking the Presidency of this great Nation a young girl held out a phrase that so impressed you that it became the rallying cry for your administration: "Bring us together."

Let me say, sir, that that is one of the watchwords for us in Africa, just as it should be for every world statesman who cannot plead any more that he is ignorant of the calamity that awaits us all if we should remain apart.

I thank you on behalf of my colleagues for the kind words you have addressed to us and to our organization, the Organization of African Unity.

Let me say, sir, that this organization was created to protect our welfare and our security. But not only that; it was also created to insure that we would all have better growth and prosperity in peace. But I think above all our organization, the Organization of African Unity, was created to enable us, we in Africa, to make the maximum contribution to the peace and welfare and plenty of men.

That is why I think my colleagues would want me to promise you, the American people, that in Africa we do not seek the exclusion of anybody, of any men of good will. We are pledged to constructive and rational and conciliatory partnership.

We have aspired to share in the good things of this world on the same basis as anybody, and above all, when we clamor for justice to be done and done quickly in our continent, in some cases it is because we do not wish that any man would suffer a wrong or the denial of the right for one moment than it is longer.

And if there be any man in this country or anywhere else who would himself vexatiously be seeking a policy for Africa, all I want to say is that he should borrow a phrase from you: "Bring us together."

Now, I promised you, Mr. President, not to speak long. But I think sir, I would like to end and ask your forgiveness but I am guilty of gaining this reputation of telling a story about an elephant.

Please excuse me, but I am not too much obsessed with the day-to-day development of the political rule of this country; although I have been, as an observer and like many of my colleagues, and will always be interested in insuring the support, the sympathy, and understanding of the elephant. But, Mr. President, there is a tribe in my country that has always given godlike qualities to the elephant.

You remember the last story I told you last year and Secretary Rogers will remember the one I told him about the elephant at the National Art Gallery.

So here is my latest. Once upon a time there were three brothers sitting in a village outside of the forest in a "palaver" hut, each deeply immersed in his personal dilemma. The first brother, well-known for his prowess as a hunter, had wounded a leopard. And in keeping with our custom, it was his responsibility to remove this dangerous threat from the life of the village.

The second brother had to build a hut very quickly in order to receive his expected bride. The third brother had to clear several acres of land before the rains came and knew that it would be impossible to do this without some help.

And as in all of these fictional predicaments an elephant happened to stroll by, for the gods are always kind. Each of the brothers started to bombard him with pleas for advice and assistance.

The elephant let them exhaust themselves. And he lifted up his head and he called to them: "Please, be quiet and listen. All I am trying to do is get us all across the creek into the plains where we can, if we start and work together, we will quickly clear the forest. There will be no place for the leopard to hide and he will be trapped. And in doing this, we would fell ourselves so many trees that there would be enough logs to build a hut."

Well, sir, here is the moral of that story, as told by this tribe in Liberia: To heed the cry of one's brother is often-times the crucial key to one's own fulfillment.

In our forests of underdevelopment, and the cry is many, is loud, and is varied, but, sir, and thanks to you, we have seen a new friendship in this country for Africa and we are sure, sir, that under your guidance it will flourish.

So it is in this village that I would like to ask you, ladies and gentlemen, to join my colleagues and me in a warm and esteemed toast to the President of the United States wishing him all success in his many varied and onerous duties, to friendship between the American and African people, and to peace and good will to all men.

Mr. President.

Richard Nixon, Toasts of the President and Ambassador S. Edward Peal of Liberia at a Dinner for Ambassadors of the Organization of African Unity Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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