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Toasts of the President and President Ahidjo

March 13, 1962

Ladies and gentlemen:

I want to express, on behalf of all of us, our great pleasure in having the President of the Cameroon visit us, and the members of his Cabinet. The President is the second youngest President in the world, and it "shocked" me to find out that the President of the Central African Republic is thirty years of age. The President here is 36-7 and feels that those older than that should step aside!

He has done an extraordinary job--and the members of his government. He represents a country which is divided between those who speak English and French. He tells me that he addresses his Minister of Justice, who sits here, through an interpreter. I have the same problem, very often, in--[laughter].

And to be able to take a country which has newly emerged, divided between English and French--he speaks French--to be able to bind it and give it a sense of community and a sense of the past, and most importantly a sense of the future, I think indicates a true test of leadership.

We have been very fortunate, I think, in recent months in having had visit us a number of men who have guided their countries through a period of independence and who are now attempting to build their countries as a stable and progressive, liberal and independent, sovereign state. So that I think we are really in a very extraordinary historical period, and we are meeting a whole series of men--this is particularly true of Africa--who in the last 5 years have become the fathers of their country, who will bear in times to come the same position of prestige and influence that our rounding fathers bear in our lives. So that this is a privileged period for us, and we are particularly happy to have our guest of honor here today.

I hope he will not mind my saying that in the last months at the United Nations, his country and the United States voted more frequently together than any other country on the continent of Africa. And I would like to think that that is because both of our countries wish to identify themselves with the cause of the great majority of people who wish to be free and independent.

This association, even though your tradition is different, even though you are separated from us by so many periods of space and distance and time, we do feel happy to be able to establish this close contact with this visit. And we are glad that you have brought the members of your administration-your foreign Minister--your Minister of Justice--the Minister who holds perhaps the most difficult task, that of economic development--and the other members of your Cabinet; therefore we wish you to know, Mr. President, that we look to Africa with the greatest interest, the greatest hope.

Africa, in a sense, is a newly discovered continent for the people of America, and we are attempting to learn, and to join in every possible way, to associate ourselves with the best in Africa. And in visiting here, we feel that this lunch typifies that desire. So I hope that everyone will join with me in drinking to the people of his country--and most particularly to the President of the Cameroon.

Note: The President proposed this toast at a luncheon in the State Dining Room at the White House.

In his response (through an interpreter) President Ahidjo expressed his happiness and pride in being received as a friend. "The entire people of Cameroon know," he added, "that it is to them that your friendship is directed. They also know that the way in which you have greeted us here bears witness to the great interest which you have for our country, for our people. Please, Mr. President, believe that our great gratitude for this is limitless. We do not intend to forget, ever, the help you have given us, not only now but also before our independence. At the moment we need friends."

President Ahidjo concluded by stating that he and the members of his Cabinet were happy "because we understand the interest that you bear not only to us but to the cause of the equality of all men in all places, to the cause of economic development for the countries which need it so badly--and above all, for the cause of peace and international understanding."

During his remarks President Kennedy referred to Jean-Faustin Betayne, Njoya Arouna, and Victor Kanga, Cameroon Ministers of foreign Affairs, Justice, and National Economy, respectively.

John F. Kennedy, Toasts of the President and President Ahidjo Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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