Ambassador Michael L. Retzer Farewell Address
Venue: Kempinski, Dar es Salaam
August 29, 2007
I am honored that you all have come to hear my last public address as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Republic of Tanzania. It has been a pleasure to serve here, and a privilege to advocate my country’s interests to a President of Tanzania who clearly loves his country, and is devoted to its people.
I want to provide you with some observations about several topics that face this nation. Any departing Ambassador has a unique opportunity to take stock not only of the bilateral relationship, but the challenges facing the nation he has been posted to. I have divided my concerns into five parts.
First, the serious health issues that face the people of Tanzania, and the support we are providing to President Kikwete to meet that challenge.
Second, the tremendous economic opportunities that President Kikwete is trying to develop in this great country… and of course…
Third, the concerns that President Kikwete has expressed, and that I share, about the corruption of public officials.
I would then like to talk about the importance of reconciliation in Zanzibar and finally about the relationship that exists between the United States of America and the United Republic of Tanzania.
I think I may have mentioned to many of you that I first came to Tanzania as a tourist in 1985. As some of you may recall, back then the roads were fairly rough and there were no consumer products on the shelves. Many people carried consumables like light bulbs around with them. When I returned again in 2005 to serve in this post, I said to myself “Wow, Tanzania has come a long way”! And it has.
Unfortunately the health problems facing this nation have not changed. Back in 1985 Tanzania knew it had a problem with Malaria, and was just beginning to realize that it had a problem with HIV/AIDS.
Today over 400 Tanzanians die everyday of HIV/AIDS. It’s like a 747 crashes every single day and everyone in it dies. Sadly one hundred thousand Tanzanians also die every year of malaria. In fact a child under the age of 5 dies every 10 minutes in this country.
Let me first applaud President Kikwete for his outstanding leadership on this issue. When he was still just a candidate for President he spoke passionately about HIV/AIDS and the need to follow the ABCs -- Abstinence, Be Faithful or use Condoms -- at an international HIV/AIDS day in Songea, and he did it again last year in Musoma.
He has also initiated and personally led the national HIV/AIDS testing program. This is real Presidential leadership. In support of his leadership, this year my country will invest over $200 million dollars in helping Tanzania combat HIV/AIDS and next year we will spend over $300 million.
But with a challenge of this magnitude, it is also a time for boldness. Lives depend on it. It is now time for the Health Ministry to adopt the newest technology in AIDS testing. It is not necessary to draw blood from the vein when a finger prick will do. My government also stands ready to help Tanzania train 1000 lay testers who will be able to help test all Tanzanians that want to know their HIV status. I am handing out to all of you two pieces of paper that show the differences between the two tests. One test, the current one takes 17 steps and requires more equipment and more blood. The new test takes 10 steps and I think even I could administer this test after a short bit of training. With free ART’s available to anyone who has HIV/AIDS everyone should be tested and know their status.
The U.S. Government through President Bush’s Malaria Initiative has also achieved major results in Zanzibar and on the Mainland. We have learned that malaria can be reduced and perhaps eliminated by using long lasting pesticide treated bed nets, residual spraying and Artemisinin-based medicine for treatment. These three things have brought us success wherever we have applied them. Although the 31 million dollars we are currently spending in Tanzania is not enough to protect the whole country, I strongly urge the Tanzanian government and the other donor states to join with us to stop malaria or, as our campaign says, Kataa Malaria.
Economic development or poverty reduction is President Kikwete’s top priority, and it is one of America’s as well. I am happy to report that the United States government is on the brink of signing a Millennium compact to help him advance this national priority. The Millennium compact grant that is currently being negotiated will likely bring over $650 million in new roads, water, and power projects during the next five years. This will be an extremely important stimulus to Tanzania’s economic development.
But equally important and badly needed is a careful review and overhaul of the laws and bureaucratic barriers that prevent business from easily and successfully setting up shop in Tanzania. The World Bank and recently Booz Allen consulting have done studies and made recommendations about how to make Tanzania a more welcoming business environment. In a recent survey Tanzania ranked 127 out of 175 countries in the category of “easy to start a business.” If it is difficult to start a business in Tanzania, Tanzania will have few businesses to drive its economic machine. Also one of the recommendations that all of these studies make is that judges should be paid enough so that they are not tempted by illicit sources of income but instead dispense justice in accordance with the law.
I think it is also informative to look at successful economies like the United States, or Korea or possibly even China to understand how economic growth can solve many problems. When a nation’s economy is growing at a healthy rate then it is easier for the government to educate your children, and care for the health of the sick and elderly.
A subject that is much in the news today, upon which I must comment, is corruption. I know this concern is shared by President Kikwete, who has underlined his resolve to address it. I think the concept of the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau is a good one, but only if it is a truly independent agency able to investigate corruption wherever it finds it. I would like to applaud the Tanzanian press and many of the newspapers in Dar es Salaam that are doing an excellent job of investigating corruption. In the U.S., we Americans can thank freedom of the press, protected by our constitution, for helping keep our government honest.
And we do have our problems with corruption in the U.S. Every nation has corruption. Certainly my country has investigated governors, senators and congressmen. Many have resigned and some have gone to jail. The PCCB and the public prosecutor have so far caught a few small fish -- but I would suggest to you that there are more than a few large fish, perhaps even sharks in this pond of corruption, and I would encourage the President to renew the vigor that he demonstrated as he began his term as President to tackle this corruption. It is time for the “sharks” of corruption to be caught and brought flopping to the scales of Justice.
Along this same line I would urge this government to avoid the use of brokers or agents when they make large government procurements. In this case I am talking about allegations in the press regarding companies like Richmond Development and BAE. When you are purchasing an oil pipeline, an airplane or $150 million worth of power generation equipment, you do not need a broker or an agent or a company that merely acts as middle-man. It is an invitation to corruption. Every legitimate business, whether it is General Electric, Pratt Whitney, Boeing, or any other major international manufacturer would be happy to talk with you directly.
And finally, I would echo a concern that I have heard from many of my Tanzanian colleagues in the private sector. There are risks attached when any political party – particularly the ruling party – owns businesses that do business with the government or need a government license or concession. This is a universal truth. Financing a political party is always hard work, I know because I have served as Treasurer of the Republican National Party in the U.S., but the appearance of a back door deal or special arrangement with a company, owned by a major party, much less the ruling political party, can ultimately hurt not only the party, but the very business climate that the party and its leadership are trying to strengthen.
I could not leave today without mentioning Zanzibar and the importance of seeing both CCM and CUF successfully conclude their discussions and hopefully negotiate a mutually satisfactory agreement. I mentioned some weeks ago that particularly in close elections, we in the United States have various ways that the two parties accommodate each other after those elections, including our own form of a national unity government. President Clinton, for example, appointed a distinguished Republican Senator, William Cohen, to a key ministerial post – our Department of Defense. The voters in the two parties on Zanzibar are evenly divided and have been for some time. Elections in the past have been violent and sometimes deadly. This situation will only be resolved by compromise and compassion. I think all of us commend President Kikwete for his commitment to resolving this impasse. I am hopeful that the process of Muafaka will reach a conclusion soon, and I strongly urge the leaders of both parties to make every effort at reaching a fair agreement that can be implemented as soon as possible.
And finally as I go I must say how much I have enjoyed my service as U.S. Ambassador to the United Republic of Tanzania. I must tell you that I have been very impressed by the open and respectful relationship that exists between our two countries. Obviously we do not always agree on every issue. In fact I find us occasionally voting on the opposite sides of issue at the UN, but I must say that even though we may occasionally disagree with each other we are never disagreeable to one another. An occasional disagreement also demonstrates that we each maintain the integrity of our voice and views, but always within the framework of mutual friendship and shared interest. At the end of the day, Tanzania remains an island of stability and peaceful democratic transition which I admire.
So let me conclude by saying the friendships I have made here I will remember for the rest of my life, and will hopefully be able to renew in the future. During the last several months both previous American ambassadors have been back to Tanzania for a visit, and I am certain that I will be no different.
So in closing let me simply say “Kwaherini!” Asanteni sana.