The Great Hall of the Christopher Wren Building was filled to capacity as students from the College of William and Mary and community members gathered to hear a speech on sustainability delivered by Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba.
Dean of Arts and Sciences Carl Strikwerda, who introduced Bongo, said that the president’s visit was particularly timely for the College.
The College began its Africana Studies department in 2009, and formed the Committee on Sustainability in 2008 to promote environmentally friendly development and research on campus.
Bongo began his speech by saying that, while the City of Williamsburg and the Gabonese capital of Libreville are approximately 6,000 miles apart, they are linked through their commitments to a sustainable future.
“I wish to address, specifically, the students, because I know to speak to them is to speak to the leaders of tomorrow,” Bongo said. “As future leaders at a school whose motto is the Tribe, you, too, must apply your energy and your intellect to finding answers to the collective challenges that vex the world. By that I mean the collective problem related to climate change. Africa is prepared to work with you.”
According to Bongo, preserving ecological resources is a strategic necessity and could translate into future economic benefits.
“In 2002, my father set aside more than 11 percent of our country to create 13 national parks,” he said. “Gabon, which is the size of Colorado, is part of the greater Congo Basin, the second-largest carbon sink in the world. Yes, we are a small country, but we are at the heart of the debate on climate change.”
Bongo said that the survival of Africa’s environment also had a significant impact on the United States. Nearly 80 percent of Gabon, which is located in central west Africa, is covered by rainforests.
“Rainforests like the ones found in Gabon now cover less than 6 percent of Earth’s land surface, but they produce 40 percent of Earth’s oxygen,” he said. “So, we are joined together, you and I, in an epic campaign for the future. It will be won with ideas, innovation, but mostly cooperation.”
Ultimately, the challenges of global climate change will be solved by the next generation, Bongo said.
“This is the challenge that my generation is passing on to you,” he said. “But I hope that before we hand over the reins of responsibility, we can begin the process. That process starts with a vision, with mutual understanding, with exchange of ideas and mostly with commitment — commitment to peace and sustainable development.”