Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Deborah R. Malac on the Seventh Annual National Youth Festival

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Deborah R. Malac

 Seventh Annual National Youth Festival

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Good afternoon everyone!  I am absolutely delighted to be with you at the Seventh Annual National Youth Festival.  Your participation today demonstrates the positive role young people play in Uganda as leaders, innovators, educators, and citizens who care deeply about the future of their country.

I’d like to begin by commending the Open Space Center and its partners for organizing today’s event.  Your leadership has brought together hundreds of youth leaders to debate and help solve the many challenges Ugandans face.  The U.S. Embassy is proud to be a part of these activities again this year.

I was thrilled to hear that the Youth Festival expanded outside of Kampala for the first time with youth debates in the northern region.  We applaud your efforts and challenge you to expand even further so more young leaders can join the conversation.

The United States fully supports the youth of Uganda.  Youth are at the core of everything we do here.  We believe in your potential, your creativity, your energy.  The United States has and will continue to stand with you, and we will work with you as closely as possible to help build the kind of country you want to live in.

We know that there are many challenges.  Official policies supporting youth are well articulated on paper and show great promise.  However, their implementation is inadequate.  Unemployment remains high.  Corruption erodes confidence in government.  Uganda’s large and growing population strains the government’s ability to meet the needs of its citizens.

But these challenges bring great opportunities.  The United States views a stable, democratic, and accountable Uganda as a key partner.  We believe in the future of Uganda, and so should you.

Uganda’s greatest opportunity is its youth.  Ugandan youth continue to demonstrate that they are capable citizens, politically aware, with the potential to be positive forces for change in their communities.  The U.S. Government recognizes this; that is why we have consistently promoted youth engagement.

For example, the American people empowered the Rwenzori Youth Forum for Peace through USAID’s Supporting Access to Justice, Fostering Equity and Peace Activity, known as SAFE.  USAID’s Promoting Cross-Border Peace Building Through Youth Engagement Activity, known as Sululu, is facilitating cohesion between refugees and host communities in West Nile and Kiryandogo.

USAID’s Feed the Future Youth Leadership for Agriculture Activity is leveraging Uganda’s enormous potential in agriculture and proving to young people that farming can be both rewarding and prosperous.  There are careers in finance, marketing, and logistics that support agricultural production, add value to products, develop the economy, and create thousands of jobs.

We cannot forget the Young African Leaders Initiative, launched here in Uganda at this festival four years ago.  YALI has sent 99 young Ugandan leaders to the United States for training in civic leadership, public management, business and entrepreneurship.  YALI’s 12-week leadership course at its Regional Leadership Center in Kenya has graduated 238 Ugandans, with the majority being young women.

Uganda’s YALI participants have earned worldwide recognition. Simon Ojok is a beekeeper who lost his vision after an attack by the Lord’s Resistance Army.  Last month, Simon won an 88 million shillings ($25,000) prize to train youth in beekeeping.  Simon aims to raise employment rates for blind and partially-sighted individuals in rural Uganda.  He said recently, “I feel relieved that we will be able to demonstrate that anybody, blind or partially sighted, can participate in development.”

Young leaders like Simon—and all of you—inspire us to remain engaged in Uganda.  Our assistance here, and the ties that we have built together over the years, will continue and flourish.

Of course, the jobs, prosperity, and opportunities that you seek will not appear magically before you.  The changes you want to see in Uganda can only come about through your own dedication and commitment.

Consider that, at last year’s festival, Bobi Wine was the musical guest.  Today, he is a Member of Parliament.  Honorable Robert Kyagulanyi himself would tell you, no one gave him his fame or fortune.  His success did not happen overnight.  He had to work long and hard for it, fighting past countless setbacks and disappointments.

There’s absolutely no reason you cannot do the same.  Each one of you is smart, strong, and talented.  If you work together, help one another, and mentor fellow Ugandans, you will truly be unstoppable.

I could not be prouder of you all and the great work you’ve accomplished already.  You must not lose the hope and ambition that brought you here today.  I encourage you to take all that energy, drive, and ambition that comes with being young, and channel it into action.  You should know that you will always have a partner and friend in the United States.

I hope that you will act and take advantage of everything this festival has to offer.  You have before you a wealth of knowledge, information, ideas, and opportunities—but most importantly, each other—to help you create the Uganda that you want and deserve.

Thank you, and best wishes to you all!