Good afternoon everyone! I am absolutely delighted to be with you today to help kick off Uganda’s 6th annual National Youth Festival. It’s always exciting for me to take part in events like these and see first-hand the talents, ambitions, and innovations of Uganda’s youth. Your participation in this weekend’s activities demonstrate how young people can and should play a positive role in helping develop 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 helped bring hundreds of Ugandan youth leaders together to debate – and hopefully help solve – the many issues they and Ugandans everywhere face. The U.S. Embassy is proud to be your partner in these activities again this year. And we look forward to seeing this event grow and expand beyond Kampala in the coming years so even more young leaders can join in the conversation.
I want to make something clear for everyone right now, and it’s a message I really want you to believe, not just because it’s true, but because it sits at the core of everything the United States does here in Uganda: We fully support the youth of Uganda. 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 you build the kind of country you want to see.
President Obama said it perfectly earlier this month at the Young African Leaders Initiative Summit in Washington, when he observed that despite Africa’s many challenges, he saw a continent on the move. Like the President, I believe Africa is a place of unprecedented prosperity and opportunity. That vision exists thanks in large part to the potential of young Africans across the continent; it depends on Ugandans just like each and every one of you.
Certainly, there are many challenges to that vision here in Uganda. Unemployment, particularly among young people, remains stubbornly high. Corruption continues to undermine service delivery and erode confidence in government. Quality health care and education remain out of reach for thousands of people, especially for youth and women. Add to this the fact that Uganda has a large and growing youth population – among the largest and youngest in the world, a tsunami more than a tidal wave that will put further strain on the government to meet the needs of its citizens.
It can be difficult in the face of these figures to see how Uganda could reach the potential President Obama envisioned. But I have to tell you, the United States has not lost hope in the future of Uganda, and neither should you. Uganda is filled with unlimited potential, and I am certain its youth can and will achieve great things in the years ahead. And that’s why the United States is here, helping Ugandans across the country realize their dreams and potential.
Let me give you a few examples of just what this support looks like. Our Feed the Future Youth Leadership for Agriculture program is trying to leverage Uganda’s enormous potential in agriculture. In four districts, we are working with youth to demonstrate that a career in farming is both rewarding and prosperous – and doesn’t just mean spending time working in the field. Young people can develop careers in finance, marketing, logistics, and many other areas that support agricultural production – and help add value to products, develop the economy, and create jobs for thousands more young Ugandans.
The U.S. African Development Foundation has awarded young Ugandan entrepreneurs grants worth $300,000 to help them pursue initiatives in renewable energy. This investment will help drive private investment in energy alternatives in Uganda. At the same time, these companies can create renewable power sources that will help Uganda’s sustainable development.
In health, we are making significant investments in the lives of all Ugandans, particularly in efforts to eliminate the continuing problem of HIV, and its rising prevalence among younger Ugandans. In the past year, we have launched the DREAMS program – a $31 million initiative to reduce HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women. And we continue to provide assistance for counseling services, testing, and access to live-saving medicines that are keeping Ugandans healthier and living longer, productive lives.
The United States is also helping give voice to young Ugandans in politics and civil society. Our projects are building youth leadership skills, and encouraging the country’s political parties to focus on the particular needs of young people. And we cannot forget our signature program, launched here in Uganda at this very same festival three years ago – the Young African Leaders Initiative, or YALI – that has sent nearly 70 young leaders to the United States for intensive training in civic leadership, business and entrepreneurship, and public management.
Uganda’s participants in the YALI program have been so impressive, in fact, that they’ve earned worldwide recognition. I hope you saw earlier this month Uganda’s own Emmanuel Odama – a research scientist with the National Agriculture Research Organization in Arua – introduce President Obama at the YALI Summit. We’re so proud of Emmanuel, not just because of the honor he had to meet the President, but because he represented to the world just how talented and dedicated the youth of Uganda are.
It’s young leaders like Emmanuel – and you – who inspire us to remain engaged in Uganda. Our assistance here, and the ties that we have built together over the years, will continue, no matter what happens in our own elections later this year. That’s because all Americans believe in the importance of building strong partnerships with the people of Africa, and the youth of Uganda. It’s a relationship that we want to see continue and flourish.
But I must confess that I have a secret to share. The jobs, the prosperity, and the opportunities that you seek – none of them are going to appear magically before you. No one – not your government, the United States, or anyone else – are just going to hand them to you. You will have to work for them. You will have to make them and take them yourself, and that’s hard work for anyone. The changes you want to see in Uganda can only come about through your own dedication and commitment.
To prove my point, you only need to look as far as today’s special musical guest, Bobi Wine. You all know his story: the famous Ugandan artist who grew up in the ghettos of Kampala, a life seemingly limited by poverty. But as Bobi himself would tell you, no one gave him his fame or fortune. None of his success happened overnight. He had to work long and hard for it, fighting past countless setbacks and disappointments. And today, you know Bobi as a true Ugandan success story, a man giving back to his own community by teaching youth to develop the skills they need to not just to survive, but thrive.
Now, of course, not many of you are going to be the next Bobi Wine. But that doesn’t mean there are thousands of other opportunities for success available to you. And you should know that you don’t have to go about finding them alone, because you have allies you probably didn’t realize you had.
There are hundreds of young people here today. Look around; you will see leaders, innovators, idea-makers of all kinds. These are not your classmates and peers, they are you allies and partners. They are not your rivals for attention and resources, they are your confidants and collaborators. Young Ugandans, working together and taking an active role in the governance and development of their country, can achieve things once considered impossible.
There’s absolutely no reason you cannot do the same if you work together, help one another, and mentor those behind you. Each one of you is smart, strong, and talented. I know because I’ve seen this already. And together, you will truly be unstoppable and achieve great things.
You should know that you will always have a partner and friend in the United States. I could not be prouder of all of you and the great work that you’ve accomplished already. Your participation in today’s activities shows that you are thinking about your future and the future of Uganda. You cannot and should not lose the hope and ambition that brought you here today.
To transform Uganda into the country that you want it to be, you will need help, and the United States will be there to provide assistance where and where we can. But to become truly prosperous, healthy, and stable, Uganda needs the hard work of each and every one of you. And it needs leaders who are dedicated to providing the resources for quality education, adequate health care, transparent and effective government, and sustainable economic growth and jobs.
This is indeed a significant challenge. But I encourage you to take all that energy, drive, and ambition that comes with being young, and channel it into action – action that brings together the millions of young Ugandans into a coordinated effort. As the theme of today’s event rightly states, your moment to unlock the potential of Uganda is now. Don’t wait for it, don’t waste it, and don’t let it disappear.
I hope 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 you want and deserve.
Thank you, and best wishes to you all!