Ambassador Haslach: I’d like to begin by thanking our Nigerian hosts for their gracious hospitality and extend a “thank you” to those that have traveled to join us for this unprecedented gathering. I am pleased to be speaking with you today about the importance of forging partnerships that promote peace and development. All of us are committed to these two goals, and I believe that together we can find creative ways to help the Nigerian people move closer to achieving them.
I was fortunate enough to have served in Nigeria in the mid- nineties and I appreciate the chance to return and see the tremendous progress Nigeria has made--especially in the Niger Delta.
Yet it is evident that the region still faces significant challenges. And Nigeria’s challenges would test any nation’s government. But these are challenges that we simply must overcome. Here’s why: A stable, prosperous Nigeria can be a powerful force for stability and prosperity across Africa. It is home to 15 percent of Africans and has the continent’s largest Muslim population. Nigeria is our number one trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa, with $35 billion in annual trade between us. Nigeria is the top oil producer on the continent and a leader in the Economic Community of West African States. Bottom line: Nigeria’s success can create welcome waves from Cape Verde to Somalia, and Tunisia to South Africa.
The Niger Delta is particularly important. Despite the oil in the region and the significant amount of wealth that it creates, the Delta still struggles with criminal activity, widespread poverty, high levels of unemployment, weak healthcare systems, and inadequate infrastructure.
And yet, the Niger Delta of today is not the Niger Delta of 2009. The area is no longer experiencing the extreme levels of violence that plagued the Delta prior to the Amnesty program and economic activity has since increased. We can build on the progress of the Amnesty program by devising a coordinated strategy for regional development. Such a strategy must include the Nigerian government and capitalize on the strengths of Nigeria’s robust civil society and private sector partners to create local ownership for a more sustainable approach. As you know, businesses will invest only if there is a peaceful and stable environment, so creating and maintaining that has to be job one. We must work together to encourage a sustainable peace.
The Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, where I work, recently sent a team to assist our Embassy and Consulate in Nigeria. They had more than 80 meetings, with a wide range of stakeholders. The list included Nigerian and international officials plus local women, youth, religious, and business leaders, academics, and journalists. There were sessions in Abuja, Nassarawa, Benue, Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Ogun, and Rivers.
Each of these partners brings different perspectives. But they all bring something to the table and are eager to see a stable and prosperous Nigeria. The team heard from youth who are eager to put their education and training to good use in their communities but are wondering where they can make their contribution. Meanwhile there is great potential in agriculture and aquaculture that could benefit from the skills the youth bring. Additionally, by all working together with government and private companies, the parties involved are able to ensure a safe and clean environment in which to be productive. By leveraging each other’s strengths, these groups are able to have a compounded impact on stability and development.
By bringing together a variety of stakeholders, we can create the conditions for development and peacebuilding between different actors and serve as a mechanism for providing mutually acceptable solutions and win-win situations. The inclusive and participatory nature of this approach promotes a greater sense of ownership over its outcomes, and consequently strengthens its sustainability.
Any successful approach to development and stability in the Niger Delta must incorporate features that address the challenges of youth unemployment. Additionally, we must look beyond the Amnesty to ensure the gains experienced are sustained into the future and address the underlying issues that led to the rise of the militancy.
Finally, I encourage the government of Nigeria to reach out to its citizens to inform constituents about peace and development initiatives and progress. Open communication will increase trust and create opportunities to continue engaging all stakeholders in the region. By bringing together government, civil society and the private sector we can develop key strategies to overcome these challenges that will help the region fulfill its potential and secure lasting peace.
Will Nigeria continue to be an economic leader on the African continent? I think it’s fair to call that a no-brainer. And when Secretary Clinton made her extensive trip to Africa last summer, one journalist after another wrote about the great economic strides that the continent was making. The future, they agreed, features continued growth. It’s the new Land of Opportunity.
The working groups of the BNC have made great strides in advancing development and stability. Now we must work even harder—and smarter—to realize our dream of a Nigeria that will inspire countries across Africa, and the world.