Niamey, Niger, October 26, 2021
Bonsoir, as-salamu alaykum, et merci beaucoup, Director General Illiasou for your invitation today and for all you are doing to train this next generation. Ambassador of the United States to Niger, the IFTIC Administration, IFTIC students, and esteemed journalists here today: It is an honor to be here in Niamey.
Earlier today, I had the privilege of meeting with President Bazoum, along with a number of other senior government officials. I congratulated the President on achieving your first-ever democratic transfer of power from one president to the next. That should be a great, great source of national pride for all of you.
There’s something else that I believe should be a national source of pride – and that is all of you here in this room, as well as many of your classmates who are not here with us here today. When I asked that the journalists also be invited to today’s event – the alumni of this school – I was told that, in fact, alumni of this school are the vast majority of journalists here in Niamey. And that for me is astounding.
That means that IFTIC is already the lifeblood of Niger’s free press. Which, in turn, means you are the pillar of democracy. After all, a free and impartial press is at the heart of every democratic society. Journalists create forums for necessary discussion. They inform the public. They hold elected officials accountable. And they expose corruption and shine a light on injustice. They made it their mission to ensure that the public always knows the truth in a meaningful way that informs society around them.
So, as you learn the tools of the trade of journalism, from how to do research for a story to figuring out the right follow-up questions to ask, remember you are not just learning a profession. Ladies and gentlemen, you are learning how to serve your country, you are learning how to serve your democracy, and you are helping Niger live up to its highest aspirations and principles and values.
Today, defending democracy could not be more important. All around the world, democratic societies like yours and ours are under attack. Authoritarians and violent extremists are doing everything they can to undermine and destabilize democracies. There’s a reason these groups so often target journalists. They know that truth is one of the most powerful weapons in a country’s arsenal. And ladies and gentlemen, you hold those truths.
Democracy is also under threat from within. We all know far too well that you cannot simply declare that you have a democracy. You can’t just say that you have an open, free, and fair society. You must work on it. You must strive and do everything necessary to meet and bring your ideals each and every day before the people. That is true in the United States, and it’s also true here in Niger. We’re not perfect democracies, but we must strive to be better – more equal, more just, and more peaceful.
And as I look around this room and see all of you in your beautiful yellow, and I will tell you yellow is my favorite color – in fact, you will see pictures of me in yellow all the time. And had I known that you all were going to be in yellow tonight, I did bring one yellow jacket with me, and I would have worn it. But I see that you’re already strivers. I see that you are young; that you are the future of your country and that you’re eager to make your country better. And that gives me tremendous, tremendous hope for the future of Niger, but, more importantly, for the future of this continent.
I am particularly encouraged to see so many young women in the room. That is just amazing to me. And as young women in this society you have a critical role to play in your country. The fact of the matter is, getting women into positions of power – whether it’s at a newspaper, or it’s in your parliament, or it’s in your political system, or it’s in your school system – makes the world more peaceful. The fact that so many of you are studying to become journalists underscores the immense impact women can have in building a peaceful and a prosperous future for Niger.
More broadly, all of you – the students in this room – are Niger’s most valuable resource. You’ve heard it said many times before, but I will say it to you again: You are the future. You are the future of this country. And, I dare say, you are the future of the world. Your future is brimming with hope, it’s brimming with potential, and it’s brimming with the possibilities that you will offer to all of your people as you strive to be great journalists. I look forward to seeing one of you, if not all of you, on CNN one day, or on DS TV, or on Channel 24, or on BBC. You have that potential. This school is giving you the tools that you can use to have a better future, and I know that you will seize those tools.
President Biden sent me here to Niger to make sure that you all know that you have a partner in the United States. Our commitment to Niger dates back to the first days of independence of your country more than 61 years ago, and it will continue far into the future as all of you young people take on leadership roles. Together – Niger, the United States – we will work to defend our democracies and create a more peaceful, a more righteous, a more prosperous world for all.
And I want to take this moment to thank you, again, for having me here, to thank you for everything you’re doing for your own countries, and to tell you how proud it makes me to see all of you out here today. And I, again, look forward to some of your questions.
Thank you very much.