Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you, Mr. President, for those incredibly kind words and for gathering us all here for this special dinner. The warmth of your hospitality this evening mirrors that of the welcome that my wife and I have been so touched to receive throughout our stay in The Gambia, and we could hardly be more grateful to you, your government and the people of The Gambia for all the arrangements that have been made on our behalf.
I can only say, Ladies and Gentlemen, how sorry I am that it has taken us all these years to come and see you. I remember quite clearly The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh returning from their own visit to The Gambia in 1961, when I was just thirteen, and telling me how much they had enjoyed their time here. I remember seeing some of the photographs that my Father had somehow managed to take with his miniature Minox camera and thinking how marvellous it would be to visit myself one day. Little did I know that it would take me nearly fifty-seven years to get here! Having enjoyed our visit as we have, all I can say, however, is that it has been well worth the wait!
It has given us both particular pleasure to be able to celebrate the strength of the ties between our two countries and the many areas in which we work together closely in our shared interest. We have also been fortunate to meet so many people who are making a profound difference to this partnership, whether British or Gambian or, indeed, one of the countless people who have a home in both countries and are, in so many ways, a living bridge between us.
Last week, at St James’s Palace in London, my wife and I invited representatives of the British Gambian community – as well as the British Ghanaian and Nigerian communities – to join us for a Reception to celebrate the remarkable contribution that these communities make to life in the United Kingdom and to the relationship between our countries.
These people-to-people connections are, it seems to me, one of the greatest strengths of the Commonwealth, and are absolutely vital in a changing world where so many of the enormous challenges we face – of dangerously accelerating climate change, rapid urbanization, unsustainable population growth, youth unemployment alongside ocean acidification, threatened marine ecosystems and unsustainable fisheries – are ones that are common to us all.
I firmly believe that the Commonwealth offers us the best hope of coming together to address some of these challenges, and I was delighted, therefore, that earlier this year The Gambia, once again, took her place among the Commonwealth family of nations. Precisely because of everything that this country and her people have been through in recent years, The Gambia can play a vital role in defending our Commonwealth values of democracy, tolerance, human rights and the Rule of Law.
Knowing just how difficult The Gambia’s recent history has been, and how much pain and injustice the Gambian people have endured, I can only express my heartfelt admiration for the courage and determination you have all shown in turning your back on twenty-two years of autocratic rule and embracing a peaceful and democratic transition of power. In so doing, this country has offered an example to the World, and proof of the enduring power of our Commonwealth values.
This was just the beginning, of course, and I can only say, Mr. President, that the British people and, indeed, all of your fellow Commonwealth citizens, will continue to support the Government and people of The Gambia on the journey you are taking towards peace, stability and sustainable economic growth. We in the United Kingdom know, from our bitter experience of conflict on the island of Ireland – and of the wrongs that were done and the injustice that was perpetrated, on all sides – just how hard it can be to lay to rest the ghosts of the past. But it has to be done, if a future is to be built which does justice to the sacrifice of all those who came before, and to the aspirations of all those who come after.
I know you share this view, Mr. President, and that you are committed to building a better future for The Gambia – whether through the work of the Truth, Reconciliation & Reparations Commission to bring closure to those that suffered under the former regime; or through the efforts of the Constitutional Review to ensure that the principles of democracy, human rights and good governance are protected; or through bold reforms to provide the vital economic growth and job creation that your young population deserves.
As I said this morning at McCarthy Square, please know that the United Kingdom, and the other members of the Commonwealth, stand with all of you, as you build your country anew. The Gambia and her people have the most extraordinary potential and I have every confidence that over the years ahead we will see that potential realized in so many ways.
Once again, Mr. President, my wife and I would like to offer you, and the people of The Gambia, our heartfelt thanks for the wonderful welcome that has been afforded to us here. It has given us the greatest pleasure and pride to be able to join you in celebrating the ties between the United Kingdom and The Gambia, and between the members of our Commonwealth family, and I can assure you that we will take back with us a host of special memories.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Can I invite you to raise your glasses and join me in a toast to the enduring friendship between us, and to the President and people of The Gambia.