Celebrating the Spirit of Independence through Partnership

Celebrating the Spirit of Independence through Partnership

(Op-Ed by U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Natalie E. Brown published in the New Vision and Daily Monitor July 4, 2022)

A ceremony to honor new citizens was held at George Washingtons Mount Vernon on July 4, 2021. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) administered the Oath of Allegiance to Americas newest citizens during a special Independence Day naturalization
(Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

This week the United States celebrates 246 years of independence, and around the world, Americans gather to honor the values that bind us together as a nation and to focus on the ongoing work to “form a more perfect Union” as envisioned in our constitution.  This tradition is sacrosanct and just like during the past two years, we continue to celebrate even as we deal with the continuing complications brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.  In fact, here in Uganda, we are experiencing another wave of the deadly disease.  As Kampala residents and as responsible neighbors, the U.S. Mission in Uganda will continue to do all it can to help limit the spread of COVID and its impact so we can keep our families, friends, and neighbors safe.  One way I am doing this is by forgoing the Embassy’s traditional July 4th reception – at which I would normally welcome 800 friends, officials, and partners – in favor of smaller outdoor events with attendance capped to around 100 people, allowing ample space for social distancing and facilitating contact-tracing, if required.    

While this is not how I wanted to celebrate July 4th this year, it is important to acknowledge that Uganda and the United States are much better positioned to deal with this COVID wave than the previous ones.  That is no accident.  Over the past year, Uganda has received 47 million vaccine doses, including 18 million from the United States.  The United States has not just provided vaccine doses but has also worked hand-in-hand with Ugandan doctors, nurses, and public health experts to get vaccines in people’s arms across the country, to equip treatment facilities, and to train and outfit medical professionals.  U.S. support for Uganda’s public health surveillance system also means that COVID’s spread can be effectively monitored and countered, and vaccine coverage can be tracked in real time so that gaps can be closed.  Thanks to these joint efforts, Uganda is able to manage this wave without re-imposing severe restrictions on society while minimizing serious illness.

Our joint effort to address the COVID pandemic is yet another reminder of how the people of the United States and Uganda have stood together so many times to address rising problems and accomplish great things.  We see that in the progress we have made toward eliminating HIV as a public health threat in Uganda in the almost 20 years since the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (or PEPFAR) was launched.  We see that in the near elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV at birth.  We see that in the more than 50% decline in child mortality rates due to malaria since the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative was launched in 2006.  We see that in the impact of early U.S. support for the development of Uganda’s coffee sector, which has generated $800 million of revenue over the past 12 months and provides income for 1.7 million Ugandan households.  We see that impact in the faces of hundreds of thousands of adolescent girls and young women empowered to make healthy decisions about their future through the PEPFAR-funded D.R.E.A.M.S. program and in the drive and determination of the hundreds of emerging Ugandan businesswomen who have completed the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs.  During my recent travels I have also seen firsthand how U.S. assistance is helping communities in northern Uganda rebuild following the trauma and destruction inflicted by the LRA and how our joint efforts are helping to ease the suffering of more than 1.5 million refugees hosted in Uganda and lessen the burden on the communities hosting them.  

Most of all, we see the impact of our investment in the capacity of the Ugandan people and in the people-to-people ties between our two countries.  In May I was excited to swear in the first Peace Corps volunteers returning to Uganda since the COVID pandemic started: they join a family of 1,859 volunteers who have had the privilege of living with and working among Ugandan communities since the first volunteer came to Uganda in 1964.  Earlier this month, another cohort of 24 emerging leaders set off for the United States for the Mandela Washington Fellowship program, part of the United States’ investment in Uganda’s future through the Young African Leaders Initiative.     

Our partnership has always been strongest when it has been based on a shared commitment to transparency, community engagement, democratic principles, civil society leadership, and innovation among the American and Ugandan people.  Today we face a new set of challenges, from democratic backsliding globally to climate change and food insecurity exacerbated by Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian agricultural products.  As we approach Uganda’s 60th anniversary of independence, the United States renews it commitment to work hand-in-hand with all those dedicated to tackling these challenges and to building a healthy, prosperous, democratic, and secure Uganda.