British ambassador Graham Zebedee's speech at The Queen's Birthday Party
British Embassy Kinshasa celebrated The Queen's 90th Birthday on Thursday (16 June 2016).
Honourable Senators and Deputies Dear fellow Ambassadors Distinguished Guests Fellow British citizens
Welcome to my home. Thank you very much for coming.
It is wonderful to see so many friends here tonight, despite the European football Championships being on. It is wonderful also to see all of the great staff of this embassy, many of whom made this evening possible. Many thanks to you, and to our sponsors. You might be wondering why tonight has more of a special character than a regular national day. Well, we will be celebrating several things tonight. First, the 90th birthday of Her Majesty the Queen, who has reigned longer than any other Queen in the world. She is exactly twice the age of another Head of State, and the United Kingdom wishes President Kabila a very happy 45th birthday. We may even find some time to celebrate a certain British playwright who died exactly 400 years ago… And at the same time we are celebrating the greatness of the Congo.
Over the last year I have been fortunate enough to see the grandeur of this country directly. I have visited the waterfalls which could power Africa, watched the mighty Congo River push aside the Atlantic Ocean, looked into the world’s most active volcano, seen the world’s richest seams of copper, and welcomed “the Leopards”, Africa’s best footballers, to this embassy.
But this speech concentrates on celebrating one more thing, which is the unbreakable links between Britain and Congo. You can see these links in the fantastic contribution made by the Congolese diaspora to my country; in the ever-growing number of Congolese sportsmen, musicians, students and many others going to and from the United Kingdom; and even in the British flag so elegantly worn in the dress of many people in Kinshasa.
It is perhaps less well-known that this is a partnership with a long history – this year also marks 100 years since the death of the Brit-Irishman Roger Casement, whose report in 1904 on the terrible exploitation of the Congolese people helped to end these abuses.
The Congolese have been on a long journey toward securing their rights and freedoms since that time. And, since Independence, there has been perhaps no more important milestone on that journey than the adoption of the Constitution of the DRC.
I find this document very powerful. It sets out superbly the values and the hopes of the Congolese people, and the UK is supporting its implementation in the following ways:
First, the Constitution guarantees the right to life. And so we are ensuring that MONUSCO can support the Government to bring peace to the East, so that the terrible massacres of Beni and elsewhere are not repeated. And we are funding humanitarian assistance for those unavoidably displaced in all parts of the country, whilst helping them return home.
The Constitution demands free primary education for all. And so we, with the United States, are going to ensure to a quality education for 2 million Congolese children.
It sets out the right to drinking water, to which we are going to facilitate access for nearly 4 million Congolese. It also guarantees the right to healthcare, so we are providing primary healthcare to 9 million Congolese, and are helping to reduce the risk posed by malaria for 13 million.
The Constitution declares that sexual violence must be eliminated, and we have supported the DRC’s good progress in this area, helping to see justice for these crimes, treating victims and reducing the stigma of abuse.
It says the environment should be protected. So we are playing a leading role in supporting the sustainable management of Congo’s forests which are such a vital resource for the planet.
And to help make all this work truly sustainable, we are helping DRC to build its own capacity to govern effectively, fight corruption, raise more tax revenue and spend it according to the priorities established by the Parliament.
The Constitution also guarantees all political rights. We encourage the government to respond positively to the deep concerns recently expressed by the UN Secretary General in this area. And naturally we also strongly support the UN Security Council’s unanimous view that Presidential and legislative elections in line with the Constitution are vital for the stability of this country.
To realise all this, we are proud to work with thousands of Congolese, in every province, who put the interests of their nation above any other. To you I say – the United Kingdom will never stop supporting your efforts and are proud to be your second-largest development partner.
Last, but certainly not least, the Constitution sets out the right and duty to work. And we have programmes which are making the markets for maize, coffee, mobile money, micro-solar generation, river transport and others work for everyone. And we are supporting reforms to the business environment, which when the political future of this country is more certain, will attract vital investment.
But ultimately it is companies which create jobs, not governments. And although Britain is the world’s 5th largest economy and a huge investor in Africa, for many years too few British companies have been participating in the development of the Congo. I want to announce two initiatives tonight to change that.
The first is that the British Embassy is very proud to support the launch, this very evening, of a British-Congolese Business Group (www.bcbg-drc.com) to help and encourage British companies to work here.
The second is the creation, for the first time, of a Trade Envoy for the DRC by Prime Minister David Cameron. And I am very pleased to say that the Envoy himself, Richard Benyon MP, is here with us tonight at the end of his first visit to this country. Richard, you are very welcome here.
Some people still wonder why the United Kingdom is so committed to partnership with the Congo. I say to them - because a strong Congo, with dignity for every Congolese, is in the interests not just of the Congolese people and the whole of Africa, but also of Britain and Europe.
Talking of Britain and Europe, I will say a word about “Brexit”. In exactly one week the British people will decide whether to stay in the European Union or leave. My personal view on the question is that…everyone has a right to their own personal view. And this is the essential point – ultimately it is the people who are sovereign, it is they who have power over the politicians, and it is they who ultimately decide the greatness of their nations.
I will end where I began, with the greatness of nations. We wondered about which of the many people who make Great Britain great we could show to you here tonight.
We considered David Beckham but felt he might be too expensive.
We considered James Bond but given his background we were not sure he would get a visa.
So who better than William Shakespeare, the playwright studied by over half the world’s children, including millions here in Congo?
And now I should finish, because I can see that the wonderful actors of the Institut National des Arts, in partnership with those of the National Theatre, are getting ready.
So I invite you to come with me now to 11th century Scotland. The story so far is as follows. A man called Macbeth receives a prophecy from some witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition, he murders the real King and takes the throne. He is then wracked with paranoia, committing more crimes to protect himself. We join Macbeth in his castle for the very last scene of the play, where his rival, Macduff, has laid siege to his castle to attempt to kill him.
But before that, it just remains for me to say three things:
- Long live Queen Elizabeth II
- Long live the partnership between the Congolese and British peoples
- And finally, Shakespeare Lives! Thank you.