|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks at the Entoto Civic Education Club, Entoto Secondary School
December 9, 1997, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much, and I am very, very pleased to be here with you all this afternoon. There are very many things in life I love, and probably what I love most of all is being with students. I have been a professor myself. I was a student for a very long time, because it took me a long time to get my doctorate degree because I had three children. My father was a professor, my sister was a teacher, and my youngest daughter actually came to Kenya to teach for a while. So she told me about all her wonderful experiences outside of Nairobi and I always envied her the experience. So I am very glad to be here with all of you, I am very interested in your club, because I know from my own experience that what you learn in a school where you are learning all the various elements of democracy are the kinds of things that stay with you forever.
Now I am not a normal American Secretary of State. First I am a woman, first woman, so that makes me not normal right off, as far as American history is concerned. Second, I wasnít born in the United States. I was born in Czechoslovakia, before the war. I call it "the war," the Second World War. And my family had to leave Czechoslovakia, the Fascists came into Czechoslovakia. I think it is an experience that you also had here. Some of your ancestors. And then I went back after the war. I spent the war in England, then I went back after the war and lived there for a while, and then the Communists took over, another experience I think we share. And when I went to school in the United States, I found that the kind of education that I was able to have there really gave me the opportunities to grow up to be a free individual.
I loved clubs. I have to tell you I started a club every time I went to school. They were international relations clubs, and I started them so that I could make myself president. And I was president of many clubs. I think when I now go back, even to be with close friends and relatives in the Czech Republic, for instance, when we talk about the differences that we lived through, and why they are different from me, I say that my experience of having grown up as an American, a free American, made a big difference.
And what does that mean? It means the ability to respect each otherís rights, thatís what human rights are about. It is the ability to understand that each individual has value, to develop a relationship with your government where the government is responsible to you, rather than you doing everything that the government tells you to do. It is a totally different relationship than the one that you all experienced in the previous regime.
And it is really through the ability of making those things work for yourselves that you learn most about democracy. So in looking at your structure, I am sure that the kinds of discussions that you have in those bottom panels, and how you relate to the committees, and the executive committee to the general assembly, those are all ways that democracies function. Where you get your power from the very largest group, and then you organize yourself in a way that you can be effective through an executive committee, and then that executive committee gives assignments for people to carry out, functions, on behalf of the whole. So it goes back to the general assembly.
So I am here mostly to listen to you, or to answer your questions about anything that you would like. But I just want to tell you how glad I am to be with you. I actually taught a course about Ethiopia, the other Ethiopia, and I had always felt that, knowing more about the people of Ethiopia was a great pleasure, and I always knew, and I can see it now, that Ethiopians are the most beautiful people in the world. And it is wonderful to see you all here, and to have a chat. I am easy, open, and happy to answer any question that you would like.
QUESTION: First of all, I would like to introduce myself to you. My name is Zerihun Alemayehu and I am a Grade 10 student. As well I am a member of the Civic Club. Miss Albright, I would express my great admiration and honor to you, being the first woman Secretary of State in the history of the United States of America. Next, I would like to ask you the following question. One of the main objectives of civic education is to produce responsible citizens. The United States has a long history of civic education. How do you see these objectives being fulfilled in the United States of America?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think -- First of all, thank you for congratulating me. I love my job, and I feel very honored as a non-born American to be able to represent America, and to be able to come here and be able to talk to all of you, and talk to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, and go on to the rest of Africa, talking about how much the American people feel, how important they feel Africa is to us.
Now, in terms of the civic education, our students learn a great deal about our own history and how Americans fought in order to have independence, and the difficulties that the Colonists had in gaining their independence and how they then learned about how the Constitution was written, and how the amendments were added. They also learn about some of the parts of America that were not always good. We had a Civil War, one of the worst, more Americans died in the American Civil War than any other war in which Americans have participated.
But they also learn in terms of their civic education the importance of everybody participating in some form of their government. Now there is one thing about Americans that I am sorry about. And that is Americans have had freedom for over two hundred years; two hundred and twenty years. And many Americans now take some of their freedoms for granted. And so one of the responsibilities and privileges of a democracy is to vote. And all our students learn about the importance of voting, and the voting age was lowered to age 18 in order to get more young people into the system. They were eligible to fight when they were 18 and so it was important to also have them vote when they were eighteen. But what we are finding is that people sometimes take their liberties for granted. And so we are very sorry now that our voter turnouts are not as high as they should be.
We are also working on our civic education, to try to get people to understand the privileges and responsibility of citizenship. And I tell you this, one because there are sometimes people who think that we all go around and say that America is perfect and everybody else has to be like us. America is a wonderful country, but we are not perfect. And democracy is never finished. Democracy is always something in progress. Even for America, which is the oldest democracy, we have a great deal to learn ourselves, and we are very happy that you are part of the democratic system now.
QUESTION: I am Yonas from Grade11. And before I get to my question, I would like to tell you that I am glad to be here and ask you some questions. And my question is that as all of us know that the political and economic relations between the Government of the United States of America and the then-Dergue government was insignificant. We can say it was almost nothing. But nowadays the Government of the United States of America is providing a remarkable political and economic support for the current Government of Ethiopia. And I think that your visit to Ethiopia shows this fact. So, as an experienced diplomat, what are the basic interests of the United States of America behind this assistance?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, a very good question. Let me try my best to answer. First of all, our relations with the previous government were insignificant because we did not approve of the methods of the previous government. We were in fact very concerned about the authoritarian methods.
We are very impressed with the work of the current government of Prime Minister Meles, who has worked very hard in terms of bringing about economic reforms within Ethiopia, and also political reforms; working to establish a functioning, market democracy in Ethiopia. He is not able to do this without problems. He and I had a nice long meeting this morning, and we talked about the difficulties of completely being able to change a government after so many years, and the necessity of bringing everybody along, and trying to make sure that the economic reforms continue, and that there is a good human rights record, and that the political participation is high.
We also value Ethiopia for the role that it is playing in the region. The Horn is a very important and yet difficult area in terms of the stability of the region. Also, the role that Ethiopia can play now as one of the leading countries is as one looks at what is happening in the Great Lakes region. So from Americaís national interest Ethiopia is playing a very important role internally as well as externally.
Now every country -- once some adults in the United States asked me, "What is the theory of foreign policy?" And I said the theory of foreign policy is really fairly simple: it is the attempt by one government to influence the behavior of another on behalf of its national interest. That is true of your government, and of my government, and everybodyís. So, while the United States and the American people are the most generous people in the world, we do provide assistance to countries that we think are also helping our national interest. And our national interests are helped when countries are democratic, and they have market systems, and when they play a responsible role in the region -- that is, trying to make sure that regions remain stable, that borders are respected, that refugees are treated with respect. And we think that the Ethiopian government does in fact fulfill these kinds of responsibilities, which is why we have the size assistance program that we do.
QUESTION: First of all I would like to introduce myself, and my name is Martha, I am Grade 11. I would like to thank you for giving me this chance. I am very happy to have an opportunity to meet you. And my question revolves around the situation of African problems. Previously it was believed that the solution for Africanís problems could be found by developed countries. Nowadays it is believed that the solution for African problems must come from Africans themselves. What is your opinion?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think frankly that it is a little bit of both. First of all, I think that there is no way that any outside country can totally solve the problems of any country inside. Because it is only the people in a country that truly do understand what their needs are, and understand what the priorities are and how to approach the problem. For too long a period, and especially in Africa, other countries tried to solve your problems. They took you over, and they told you what to do and how to do it. And so I think, for the African continent more than others, it is important to have the sense that you can solve your problems yourselves.
On the other hand, many developing countries have some important lessons and experiences. Because other countries developed in a different setting, they had to change, they had to adapt, and therefore just the way your teachers help you, it is important I think to have a relationship of partnership where countries that have gone through a development process, or have a functioning democracy can offer advice.
But there is a big difference between advice, which is accepted willingly and orders which are given from the outside and followed because they have to be. And so I think it is a partnership that is good. One of the messages that I have -- and I just gave a speech at the Organization for African Unity about the importance of a new chapter in American-African relations in which we have much more of a dialogue. So that, I am coming here to listen to your interests and your problems, your desires so that I can understand better, and therefore the United States can understand better, and we can have a real partnership. So that it is not me telling you what to do, and you saying "Yes Maíam," and saying "I wish she hadnít said that." Instead, you saying, "Well, thatís interesting, maybe I have something to learn." Just as we talked about civic education.
QUESTION: Thank you Madam Chair for being here with us. My question is regarding womenís participation. As compared to men, womenís participation as functionaries is very low. Such concerned, how did you succeed in climbing up the ladder to become Secretary of State? And in your current position, have you faced some harassment, or faced some obstacles because of gender bias? And what do you recommend for other women, for increasing womenís participation as functionaries?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think clearly in every society in the world, womenís roles are not fully accepted. It is different in different countries, and there has become a greater recognition of the importance of women participating fully in societies. And there are several reasons for that. I think the most practical one is that it is very hard for societies to evolve to their full potential as more than half the population is told that they cannot participate equally.
Now, I have said often in the United States that it is not hard for women to find work. In fact, women work very hard, and in many societies women are the ones that carry the bulk of the work. I think that it is true in many African countries where women are the ones that raise the children and work in the fields, and do a great deal of work to sustain the society.
I have been very fortunate. I was raised by a family that thought women were fine. I do have a brother, but I am the oldest, and I have a sister. My father raised me to think that I could do whatever I wanted to do. I have three daughters, and so I feel very strongly that they should have the ability to do what they want to do.
How did I get where I got? There are a lot of people who wonder that. I worked very hard in a lot of different things. First of all, I really am proof of the fact, that I know all of your teachers are telling you, that education is very important. I had a good education, and I ultimately got a Ph.D. in an area of international relations. I developed good credentials. I also worked very hard at jobs that were not necessarily related to what I was doing, and I tried very hard to do a really good job. Even if it was some man asking me to make coffee. So I didnít have a chip on my shoulder, and I really did try to work at everything.
I worked very hard at politics. I was very interested in politics. The democratic party. I worked in that. And it is a year and four days from the time that President Clinton announced me and the rest of the foreign policy team as Secretary of State. And I have had a very interesting time, and I have to say so far that it has been an advantage to be a woman. The great part is representing the United States, and I think that anybody who represents the United States is received well, but I think that being a woman I have been able to have very good rapport with my counterparts. I have spent a lot of time doing something that I think is very important, and that is establishing relationships with ordinary people. I think that maybe, sorry guys, that it is probably easier for women to do that. And I think that it has been an advantage.
But, what is interesting, I have to tell you, there are very few women in the kinds of positions that I am in throughout the world. In New York this fall during the General Assembly, I decided it would be interesting to assemble all the women foreign ministers of the world. Now there are only ten but eight of us were in New York, and so we all had dinner and we exchanged stories, and the thing that I found was that there was a commonality to our experiences. Whether it was the Foreign Minister of Sierra Leone, who unfortunately was not the Foreign Minister because there had been a coup, or the Foreign Minister of Columbia, or the Foreign Minister of Sweden or Finland, or Liechtenstein, which is such a tiny country that the Foreign Minister had five jobs, we all had something in common. I think that all of you who go to school with -- we donít say girls -- with young woman, have the opportunity to share in your civic education, to develop a country in which you are all equal. And if you are all equal, you will have a stronger country.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, Mrs. Albright, we really appreciate your being here with us, sparing your precious time. My name is Semunesh, a teacher in this school. And my question is about street children. Nowadays, the problem of street children has become very serious, especially in developing countries. Therefore, what I wanted to ask you is what should be done to solve this problem so that these victims could be able to be responsible individuals to their respective countries? Thank you very much.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much for asking that and thank you for being a teacher. The issue of street children, I think, is one of the most difficult in the world and I know it is a term that is primarily applicable in Africa. But the truth is that it is true everywhere where there are children who are, for a variety of reasons, not allowed to be part of the system. Either they are abused by their parents and told to go out and work, or they are orphans, or they are children who for some reason or another are not able to be a part of the system. I have been particularly concerned, not only about street children, but child armies. And Iím going to be concerned with that when I go into Uganda. I was very troubled by the same phenomenon when I was in Liberia and saw that young boys are seduced into the army by being given some kind of drug and told that they would have a better life, and then terrify the entire population.
I can think, and this is my own view, is that it is the government and the state really do have a responsibility to try to bring all children into some kind of an educational system. Itís very tough on countries that do not have a good economic base, but ultimately the children are the future of a country, and if they are not part of being brought into a system, even for a short amount of time during the day, then they are constantly outside the system and then develop into the kinds of greater problems that any society has to deal with afterwards. I do think there must be some way to try to have children be in school for a while and participate in some kind of work for a while, help their families. I know itís very hard on families that donít have money to not use their children to work, or to beg or to do a variety of different things, but it has the problem go on forever if the children are not helped.
One of the reasons that I wanted to spend time with all of you and why I also am going to, as I travel around, reach out to young people, is that Africaís future is its youth, and your population growth is such that you have much larger percentages of young people than almost any other continent in the world. And therefore, we have to do everything to inspire the youth not just to come off the streets, but the youth that are here to be part of clubs such as you have organized and to do everything to understand that a country is only as rich as its children are educated.
QUESTION: Iím (Inaudible) and Iím teaching in this school. And Iím very happy that a lady teacher can touch the highest ladder as you, and I may one day. So, my question is about war in Africa. These civil wars and border conflicts, ethnic conflicts, coups díetat, now are becoming day to day activities in Africa nowadays. The international community and other countries are talking about peace and are seen running here and there to bring peace. On the other hand, they just give or sell weapons to aggravate the conflicts. Whatís your thoughts on this contradiction? Thank you very much.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, you have asked a very, very difficult question. I think that as a mother and teacher and human being, I would more than anything wish that people could settle their conflicts in some way other than with weapons. It is a tragedy, and itís a waste of money and obviously hundreds of thousands of people die needlessly. But as a person who has studied international relations my whole life, who is a pragmatic policy maker in addition to an idealistic policy maker, I think that I understand that countries need to defend themselves against neighbors who might wish to have a piece of their country, or who have invaded, or who are trying to subvert it. And unfortunately for that kind of a purpose weapons are needed.
What troubles me the most, and I would like to make this statement without pointing fingers at any one country in Africa, is that, in my travels to Africa, and Iíve been here several times -- this is my first trip as Secretary of State, but I have been here before as Ambassador to the U.N. I have felt that the tragedy of this continent has been that it was oppressed by outsiders for hundreds of years. It then was able to rid itself of colonialism and then different leaders came in different countries who might have begun originally with good will about what to do about their people, but then, for whatever reason, became more interested in their own power, and keeping their own power, than in sharing the wealth of countries with their own people.
Africaís a rich continent, and the riches of this continent should be available to the people and not to a few select leaders to build fancy places for themselves and to be corrupt. And so the civil wars, and many of the battles that take place throughout the continent of Africa are between leaders who wish to have power for themselves over the heads of the people. And the people are the ones who suffer. And I have seen it, I have been to Rwanda, I have been to Burundi, I have been to Angola, Iíve been to Liberia, I went to those four countries on one trip. I think it was the worst trip Iíve ever been on, because I saw more suffering on those trips than anything. And basically those were countries that had the capability of supporting their populations, but instead there were battles among the leaders.
So I think that the hope of everybody is that the kinds of things that you all are doing here, I hope these kinds of clubs take place in other countries where young people can learn about the importance of living peacefully and changing their governments by ballots rather than by bullets. That is the future.
MODERATOR: I would like to thank Mme. Secretary for sharing her very extensive time with us, and for taking part in this inauguration ceremony of Entoto Civic Education Club. And so on behalf of the members of the civic club, I would like to thank her for giving us answers to our questions, and thank you very much.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: And may I say, I would like to thank all of you for your questions and also for providing me with the opportunity to hear from very thoughtful people of all ages and both genders, and understanding how deeply you care about Ethiopia and how interested you are in other aspects of Africa and the world, and I will treasure this time with you and I appreciate very much the time you spent with me. Thank you.
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