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Remarks of Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for the American Corner in Lekki
AMERICAN CORNER LEKKI, LAGOS
13 MINUTE READ
January 24, 2024

MR STEVENS:  Thank you, Wale.  It is such an honor to work with you.  You’re a true pioneer in Nigeria’s technology space and a leader and someone we all love and admire.  Thank you.  And thank you for hosting us here and at the American Corner.  And thank you, Debola, for sharing your inspiring story.  And for all of our guests and friends from U.S. companies who are here, who are partners often with 21st Century and our alumna and leaders from Lagos state government, the minister, and many others.  It is such an honor to host Secretary Blinken today and to be here for the ribbon cutting of what will become the 26th American Space in Nigeria in 21 cities throughout the country.  (Applause.)

A network of spaces that brought together nearly 100,000 people last year and probably did more for diplomacy than anything I did in the last year.  David probably did a bit more – our charge d’affaires.  But that people-to-people diplomacy is the foundation, it’s the bedrock of a warm and strong relationship that our countries enjoy.  And this Corner today is one more step in the path that we’ve taken to help unleash Nigeria’s incredible talent.

So I know that Secretary Blinken has a longstanding commitment to that people-to-people diplomacy.  He’s shown it in his years as Deputy Secretary of State, at the National Security Council, and now as Secretary of State, and he is a true leader and we’re so grateful to have you here.  So thank you so much and please join me in welcoming Secretary Blinken.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, thank you so much.  Good morning, everyone.  First of all, Debola, I think we should have stopped right then and there.  You could have just dropped the microphone, and that would have been that.  But you were tremendous, and it just reinforces something that our consul general just said, and so many of you here who are alumna of the Mandela program, other programs, and that’s the incredible power of our exchange programs – something I believe in strongly.

Now, I wouldn’t have a choice because, as it happened, during the Obama administration my wife ran those programs, so even if I didn’t believe it, I’d have to.  But as it happened, I profoundly believe it, and I see it each and every day, and this is another incredibly powerful example.  And I want those of you who are alums of the program to know this:  We went back and looked, and Will knows this very well from his deep experience in these programs.  We’ve been doing it for about 80 years.  And I think maybe one of the greatest achievements was the Young African Leaders Program that President Obama started, the Mandelas.

But if you go back and look at the history of these exchange programs over 80 years, we found incredible young people in countries like Nigeria to come and participate at a young age, before they had necessarily embarked on their careers with a passion.  And as it turns out, over those 80 years, something like 60 – more than 60 participants went on to win Nobel Prizes, more than 600 went on to become prime ministers and presidents of their countries, thousands went on to become leaders in academia, in business, in culture, and they developed powerful connections amongst themselves and with the United States.

So for me, the power of these programs – exemplified by you, by all of you here today, and by what you just said, Will – probably that has more impact than just about anything we do.  So I’m grateful for this moment also to celebrate these programs.

Mr. Chairman, thank you.  Thank you for hosting the American Corner here at 21st Century Technologies.  Thank you for creating the digital infrastructure that is helping to empower people across Africa.  And thank you for the vision that you’ve had and that you’ve now put into practice.  It’s a very powerful thing.

And Mr. Minister, I am grateful to you for the partnership that we have between our countries but also for your extraordinary leadership and vision in making Nigeria a tech powerhouse.  I got a little bit of an example of that just a few minutes ago seeing some of the innovations taking place in this country.

Back in November of 2021, I had an opportunity to come to Nigeria and to talk about building a 21st century partnership, a 21st century partnership with Africa countries, and to move from those questions about what we can do for Africa to a different question, what can we do with Africa.  And I see this playing out in so many places now as we work together to meet shared challenges that no single one of us can effectively meet alone, and the bottom line, to actually deliver results to our people, because those of us who have spent some period of time in public office, that’s our responsibility.  That’s what we’ve been charged with.  A lot goes into that:  promoting accountable government, strengthening security and stability, and especially expanding opportunity, which I think is at the heart of everything.

Now, as we’re doing that, two things are evident.  One is the future really is with Africa.  It’s no secret to anyone that in the coming years one in four inhabitants of the planet will be from this continent, and so we would ignore Africa at our peril.  But we also see the incredible power of these partnerships in actually solving problems together.

And when we’re thinking about Africa, Nigeria has to be front and center.  It’s the largest country.  It’s the largest economy.  It’s the largest democracy.  It is a natural partner for the United States.  And as we’re looking at what we’re doing together – trying to address the climate crisis that’s affecting all of us in different ways, developing artificial intelligence for good, accelerating inclusive economic growth – all of that is strengthened powerfully by one thing, and that is the tens of thousands of Americans who are here in Nigeria working, studying, coming together with Nigerians around joint ventures, and the more than 500,000 Nigerian Americans who are such a powerful part of our own community.

This place, this American Corner in Lekki, will, I believe, reinforce that incredibly vibrant relationship between our countries and between our peoples.  You’ve heard it from Will:  Nigeria has more American Spaces than any other African country, 24 locations in 21 cities, 4,400 programs reaching 100,000 Nigerians every year, and now number 25.

We know that there are so many other Nigerians like each and every one of you who want to make connections, who want to acquire skills, who may want to spend time in the United States studying, working, engaging with people.  And there are many ways to do that, but these American Spaces are a big part of it.

What it means is even more opportunity – more opportunity for Nigerians of any age, any community, to learn a bit more about the United States, to practice English, to participate in professional development programs, training, to get advice on studying in the United States – all to our mutual benefit.

Now, it’s particularly exciting here because we are sharing the space with one of the continent’s most innovative incubators, part of an American commitment to help drive digital transformation across Africa, something that the minister is working on every day.  And this takes a village.  It takes a village of government, of the private sector, of entrepreneurs to build the infrastructure, to promote and support a regulatory environment, to invest in skills – maybe the most essential thing of all, particularly for women and for young people.

And I want to underscore the absolute imperative of bringing women fully into this venture and this adventure.  Here’s what we know:  If women around the world were participating equally in the workforce, equally to men, you would add $28 trillion to the global economy, $28 trillion.  Think of all the things we could do, we could resource, if we have fully empowered women in our global economy.

Now, what I’m seeing and what I’m feeling is that there is growing and significant American interest here in working in Nigeria, in investing in Nigeria, partnering with Nigerians.  And we see many American companies, some of them present here, who are already working to help meet President Tinubu’s goal of one million digital jobs.  The world’s largest subsea cable is on its way.  It will reach Lagos next month.  And as I’ve looked at the numbers, more than a quarter of American venture capital coming to Africa is coming to Nigeria.

So there is a – more than a profound interest.  There is incredible activity already going on.  Now, there are challenges that still need to – need to be met to make sure that this is the most inviting business environment possible, and we talked about some of them, including last night meeting with federal government leadership, including the ability to repatriate capital, including the ongoing challenge of rooting out corruption.

But here, every single day, this Corner is going to strengthen partnerships between the United States and Nigeria, and I believe it’s going to fuel further tech innovation, indeed fuel the tech revolution.

As I got a chance to see some of the remarkable work that some of your entrepreneurs have done, one thing is abundantly clear to me, and I see this around the world:  No one place, no one people, have a monopoly on good ideas or innovation.  It happens everywhere.  And especially in this century, the true wealth of a nation, the true strength of society, will be in its ability to allow its human resources to flourish.  Yes, big military matters, geography matters, the size of your population matters, the abundance of natural resources matters, but human resources matter most of all.  And countries that succeed in unleashing their human resources, no matter whether they have an abundance or not in those other measures of strength of wealth, they are going to do very, very well.  And that starts with empowering young people.

Here, courses on everything from learning how to code to how to write a business plan will be offered.  And by the way, I should probably sign up for the coding course.  (Laughter.)  Video recording, podcast studios, access to robotics equipment, 3D printing.  This understanding of innovation and understanding that innovation is amplified by connection that you all represent, is central to so much of what we’re doing.  We have something we recently established with all of the countries bordering on the Atlantic, the Partnership for Atlantic Cooperation, three dozen coastal Atlantic countries, including the United States, including Nigeria, working together to promote a stable, sustainable, prosperous Atlantic region.

Our own mission in Nigeria is working with our Congress to launch the Nigerian Marine and Blue Economy, a hackathon, because one of the things I found very powerful as well is when you put young minds and technology together, they can find solutions and solve problems in ways that some of us who may be a little bit older and more set in our ways and maybe not quite so adept with technology simply can’t do.

We’ll bring together the government, the private sector, students to develop solutions to economic and environmental challenges, like addressing plastic pollution or using ocean currents to create energy.  Imagine that.

One of the many ways that innovation’s relationship to learning are facilitated here, as we’re doing that, that is going to be vital to tackling all of these shared challenges.  And also you talked about, Mr. Chairman, bumps in the road giving us energy to move forward.  Yes, there are tremendous challenges.  We’re very conscious of them every single day.  But there are also profound opportunities, and unleashing imagination, unleashing innovation, unleashing partnership, that’s the way to seize them.

So I mentioned I had a chance to meet with a few very impressive young Nigerian entrepreneurs a moment ago.  One of them was helping businesses harness AI to automate operations, using virtual reality to help students learn when studies are hindered by a natural disaster or something else that keeps them out of their physical classrooms.  And there again, the ingenuity, the dynamism is extraordinary.  And that is, I think, fundamentally the spirit that unites our democracies, that unites the United States and Nigeria.

So as we’re here together in this space, as we’re here together in this innovation hub, I can’t even imagine what people will create, what they will build here together.  And in a way, that’s the whole point.  Whatever it is, whatever it is that we can’t see today but you will all help us see tomorrow and realize tomorrow – that’s what will make the most powerful difference in our world.  Through centers like this we look forward to ambition continuing to grow alongside our relationship.  And as it does, as my boss likes to say, there is nothing – nothing – we can’t accomplish if we set our minds to it and we do it together.  So thank you very, very much.  (Applause.)

Now, one of the best parts of this job occasionally – and I’ll invite the consul general, I’ll invite you, Mr. Chairman, Debola, please come back up and join us – is to occasionally get to cut a ribbon, so that’s what we’re going to do.

(The ribbon was cut.)

(Applause.)