December 4, 2021

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken at Launching of National Geographic Kids Africa

21 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Nairobi, Kenya

Karura Forest

ENVIRONMENT SECRETARY TOBIKO:  (In progress) but the government has a plan to rename it in honor of the late Wangari Maathai, Professor Wangari Maathai.  She’s the one who fought and went through difficult times – brutal times – to ensure that these asset is protected and conserved, so we owe it to her.

So once again, most welcome.  I know to immortalize our relationship, we will be soon planting jointly a tree, and it is now my pleasure to invite the vice president and general manager for Walt Disney to say a few words.  Thank you, Secretary.  Welcome, Christine.  (Applause.)

MS SERVICE:  Thank you, CS Tobiko.  On behalf of the Walt Disney Company, I would like to thank and congratulate Secretary Blinken, the U.S. State Department, Mission Director Mark Messick, USAID, and, of course, Dr. Paula Kahumbu and WildlifeDirect on the launch of this exciting initiative.  National Geographic Kids Africa is about a global company and local partners coming together with government to empower local storytellers, share African stories in Africa, and advance the SDGs, especially combating climate change.  These are vital goals for all of us, and it is an honor to collaborate with you to achieve the necessary, lasting, and meaningful change we seek.

It was, after all, Walt Disney himself who said, “Conservation isn’t just the business of a few people.  It’s a matter that concerns all of us.”  We at Disney and National Geographic believe that great stories have the power to transform the way in which we understand the world and our role in it.  We are excited to be working to support African filmmakers and conservationists in telling stories that matter so deeply to African communities, with the hope to inspire an insatiable curiosity about and a love for our planet while showcasing the leadership and expertise of conservationists and communities from across the continent.

Furthering knowledge and understanding of Africa and the world has been the core purpose of National Geographic for over 133 years.  We are committed to going deeper, pushing boundaries, investing in bold people and transformative ideas like the one we’re celebrating here today.

Now I’m honored to turn the podium to one of the world’s clearest voices on these issues, a woman whose vision is indispensable as we continue to develop this exciting project: National Geographic explorer of the year, CEO of WildlifeDirect, and tireless advocate for young people and wildlife in Africa, Dr. Paula Kahumbu.  (Applause.)

MS KAHUMBU:  Thank you so much for those kind words.  The production of the National Geographic Kids Africa is a historic moment for conservation, for young people, and for the continent of Africa.  For the first time, Africans will be at the heart of our own wildlife stories.  National Geographic Africa will be a TV show consisting of 26 22-minute episodes, targeted at children like these between the age of seven and twelve, and it’ll be available and on-air from mid of 2022.  The program is going to be produced entirely in Africa, by African storytellers; and with a commitment to showcase our stories of leadership, our expertise, our conservationists, and the communities from East Africa and across parts of Southern Africa and West Africa.

Secretary, I am so humbled, and my team is just so humbled, at WildlifeDirect to be partnering in this transformative initiative.  To ensure that the series is seen by our target audiences, we are going to be screening these episodes at conservation hubs and at schools across the region.  We plan to train teachers.  We’re going to produce complementary materials for them, and they’re going to be used in classrooms.  And we’re going to invite schools to participate in initiatives based on the examples that will be showcased in this series by our own conservation experts.

This partnership could not have come at a more crucial time.  We need public participation to stem the decline of our biodiversity and to curb the impact on people, their livelihoods, health, and the well-being here in Africa.  We’re being cautious in our optimism that this series could transform conservation just – not just here in Africa but even around the world, as children begin to recognize their own agency to effect positive change in their schools and in their communities.

The impact of this world-class series that features our own children as environmental stewards will inspire schools to undertake pledges to become nature-positive schools, and that means through their actions they will promote and enhance (inaudible).  This could be as simple as creating a protected area within their school compound.  They could be saving firewood in their kitchens, keeping the environment free of trash, creating pollinator gardens, doing soil restoration, regenerative agriculture, building birdboxes in their schools or animal boxes, and protecting corridors like hedges and fences along the school edges so that animals can continue to move freely between them.  The schools will be cleaner, shadier, and most importantly, the students will become the environmental stewards of that nature.

For this is much, much more than just a TV series.  It’s a unique collaboration that will deliver the largest wildlife outreach campaign ever attempted in East Africa.  This partnership with the United States Government and the Walt Disney Company allows us for the first time to take all these messages to a continent and a global scale, in a way that engages young people and empowers African conservation warriors.  This is possible only because of this unique partnership, and we sincerely thank the United States Government, Disney, the young conservationists, and local communities across the continent for this opportunity.

And it’s now my honor to introduce the Secretary of State for the United States of America, Antony Blinken, arriving almost straight from COP26 to Kenya.  Secretary Blinken, Karibu Kenya.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  What an absolutely magical place, and what a magical spot.  And thank you for the best reception I’ve ever gotten.  You’re wonderful.  Christine, Paula, thank you for being here.  Thank you for joining us, especially in this new venture.  And I share the excitement that I’ve heard from both of you.

It is wonderful to be in Karura Forest today.  You know, you come here, and it really sparks our awe for the natural world.  And there’s always a moment when a place like this, just for a second, takes your breath away.   And it reminds us how critical it is to protect our planet for ourselves, but especially for future generations.  And that’s exactly one of the core goals of the partnership that we’re announcing today, to develop National Geographic Kids Africa.  As you’ve heard, it’s a lot of things – a TV series, a digital platform, and an outreach program – and I think we all hope that it will inspire and empower kids to help protect the world around them, just like the Friends of Karura Forest do here every day.

And this is a critically important time for our planet.  We’re already experiencing the devastating impacts of the climate crisis – for example, the more frequent droughts here in Kenya.  So what we do together now to respond to the crisis will have profound implications for life on Earth, for generations to come.  And that’s why addressing the climate crisis has been a top priority for President Biden from day one, and it’s why we’re grateful for Kenya’s global leadership on these issues, including that of Cabinet Secretary Tobiko, who is here today.  And I’m grateful for your partnership.

Ninety percent of Kenya’s electricity comes from renewable sources: hydropower, geothermal energy, wind, solar.  And Kenya is working hard to bring its already low carbon emissions down by a third as well as adapt to the changes that are sure to come, even if we succeed in keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  The United States is very proud to partner with Kenya in all of these efforts.  Since 2013, we’ve invested nearly $600 million in renewable energy projects here and helped attract an additional 1.8 billion in private investment.  Those investments include helping to fund Kenya’s second largest provider of wind power, the Kipeto Wind Farm, which I actually had a chance to visit virtually on an initial foray to Kenya a few months ago.

Projects like this show that we can help connect more homes and businesses to electricity while also doing right by our planet.  At the climate summit that we were just at in Glasgow, Kenya and the United States joined 32 other nations to launch a new initiative aimed at adapting agriculture to climate change – for example, by making crops more resilient to droughts, to floods, and rising temperatures.  And we’re standing together to support – with support for those affected by climate disasters.  This year, USAID has worked to help Kenyans most affected by the ongoing drought, from providing emergency food and water supplies to assisting people suffering from malnutrition.

The venture that we’re announcing today will be developed, as you’ve heard, by the United States Government and The Walt Disney Company to amplify African voices to inspire future generations to address climate change.  And I’m so excited that we’re partnered with Walt Disney, with National Geographic.  I have to say that as a kid, Walt Disney, National Geographic in different ways really brought the world to me, as you’ve done for so many generations of people.  And this venture is just the latest chapter in doing that.

Let me just highlight a few parts of the effort, some of which have been touched upon.  So in partnership with the Kenya-based conservation nongovernmental organization, WildlifeDirect, we will develop, indeed, a TV series and accompanying digital platform, produced entirely in Africa by local storytellers.  This series will showcase the continent’s incredible biodiversity and highlight regional conservationists and experts.  And it will feature young people in East Africa who are defending wildlife, cleaning up rivers, planting trees, leading other efforts to preserve the environment and their communities and beyond.  Additionally, WildlifeDirect will help lead community outreach and educational programs for children in East Africa, starting in Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda.

And finally, National Geographic Kids Africa will allow leaders from the region – from participants in the American Film Showcase for young – to the Young African Leaders Initiative – to take part in new academic, cultural, professional exchanges.  These programs are going to provide opportunities to learn about conservation, environmental advocacy, filmmaking, storytelling, and draw on the strengths of National Geographic, of Disney, and the State Department.

Our goal is to equip a rising generation of leaders to lead this fight, because we’ve seen what they can achieve.  That’s what Karura Forest is all about; that’s why it’s still standing.  You know – many of you know the story.  In 1998, developers had begun clearing trees to build on this land.  And a remarkable Kenyan activist, Wangarĩ Maathai, and the Green Belt Movement, organized a nonviolent campaign to save the forest.  Wangarĩ and her fellow activists were threatened and attacked.  They didn’t back down; their movement grew.  Finally, in 2002, the Kenyan Government and her organization established a partnership to restore the forest.

Wangarĩ was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2004.  And if you go back and look at her acceptance speech, it’s very powerful, and it explained in the most wonderful terms that her love for the environment was first inspired by a stream next to her childhood home.  She drank from the stream; she played in it.  She watched frog eggs shine like beads through the water.  Some decades later, the stream dried up – just one of many signs that drove her to become a brave environmental defender.  She said that her goal was, and I quote, “to give back to our children a world of beauty and wonder” – a world like the one that we see here all around us.

We know that there’s so many more people like Wangarĩ out there, including her daughter, Wanjira, who I think is here with us today.  Thank you for being here.

And we believe that National Geographic Kids Africa will be part of inspiring and empowering children, their families, and their communities.

So with that big build-up and prelude, I’m going to get an assist, I think, from Abbas – I hope – to see the National Geographic Kids Africa logo.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  All right, ready?  One, two, three.

(The logo was revealed.)

(Applause.)

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Based on the imminent cybersecurity threats, GAO recommends that HHS expedite implementation of GAO’s prior recommendations regarding cybersecurity weaknesses at its component agencies. HHS agreed with the recommendation. As of September 10, 2020, the U.S. had over 6.3 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and over 177,000 reported deaths, according to federal agencies. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions and turmoil. Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted as of September 2020 to provide appropriations to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of July 31, 2020, the federal government had obligated a total of $1.6 trillion and expended $1.5 trillion of the COVID-19 relief funds as reported by federal agencies on USAspending.gov. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report bimonthly on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 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