Good evening. I’m delighted to see all of you at our Independence Day celebration. We’re glad you could be here.
I’d like to say a special welcome and thank you to our sponsors—American businesses in Uganda. Our sponsors include some of the biggest companies in the world in the financial, oil and gas, and engineering sectors. They have invested in Uganda’s future and its people, and they demonstrate the power of what our countries’ private sectors can do together.
We are very fortunate this evening once again to have visiting musical guests—the U.S. Air Forces Europe Band Touch ‘n Go. Thank you so much for joining us and making this day extra special.
Thank you as well to all members of the U.S. military present today, and to those who are guarding our embassy, for your distinguished service to our country. And finally, thank you to the U.S. Mission family.
Many of you worked extremely long hours to prepare for this celebration, and I greatly appreciate all of your efforts. More importantly, thank you for the work you do every day to support Ugandans in their drive to develop. Today we join together to celebrate the United States’ 242nd birthday.
For Americans, Independence Day is a day to remember the ideals that formed our country – democracy, equality, liberty, and the power of an individual to control his or her destiny. The Declaration of Independence that was signed 242 years ago helped chart the course of our country, and it began our experiment with democracy.
That experiment hasn’t been easy. We are a country that always strives to perfect our form of government. It’s not a perfect government – no government is perfect – but ours is a form of government that allows all citizens to have a voice in how to improve our democracy. These individual citizens, and their desire for a more just, equal, and fair America, are what makes our country great. Even as we experience times and events that seem destined to drive us apart – and there have been several such moments just in my lifetime – our fundamental belief in the foundational values and ideals of our democracy eventually becomes the glue that holds us together.
This year, in honor of America’s independence, we’ve chosen to highlight the Mississippi River and the influence that region has had on our country. The mighty Mississippi cuts through the heart of the United States and has been a vital part of America’s culture, history, and development.
The video screen you see highlights American pioneers from the Mississippi River region, stretching all the way from Minnesota in the north to Louisiana in the south. The individuals in the video reflect the diversity of our country, and they demonstrate the power of citizens making a positive difference throughout our country’s history.
Later this evening, our band Touch ‘n Go will be playing some famous songs from the Mississippi River region, which has had a major influence on the development of blues, rock ‘n roll, and other musical genres. Additionally, you may have noticed on your way in a series of posters highlighting famous cities along the Mississippi River. If not, take a look on your way out. And lastly, but perhaps most important, we are offering some delicious food reminiscent of cities along the Mississippi River – make sure you sample some!
In addition to celebrating our country and its independence, today is a chance to celebrate our partnership and friendship with Uganda. This event is always a great opportunity for us to bring together some of our best contacts – all of you – and to make those relationships even stronger.
All of us here today are dedicated to the common effort of creating a healthy, prosperous, secure, and democratic Uganda, and I’m proud of the work that we are doing together to help accomplish this goal. Our work is creating opportunities for young Ugandans throughout the country. Many people refer to Uganda’s huge and rapidly-expanding youth population as a major challenge. I certainly agree that it’s a challenge, but I prefer to think of Uganda’s youth as the country’s biggest opportunity. Uganda’s single greatest resource is its people.
If we can harness the potential of Uganda’s youth, there is no limit to what this country can achieve.
Travelling around the country, I am amazed at the entrepreneurial spirit of young Ugandans, and the work they are doing to generate economic growth. We are proud to support them, and I’m encouraged by the prospects of the U.S.-Uganda relationship boosting economic growth in both of our countries.
In April I led a trade mission to a Specialty Coffee Expo in Seattle. More than 20 Ugandan coffee entrepreneurs attended the event, and a couple even signed some deals with U.S. companies that will help develop the industry in Uganda and boost exports from the United States.
Another positive development in April was the Government of Uganda’s selection of the U.S.-led Albertine Graben Refinery Consortium to develop, finance, and operate Uganda’s refinery. Our hope is that the revenue generated from Uganda’s oil and gas resources will help grow the economy and provide jobs for Ugandan citizens of all skill levels.
And more recently – just a week ago – a U.S. delegation visited Uganda to sign a $107,000 training grant in support of U.S. company Varian’s successful $3.5 million bid to supply world-class equipment to the Uganda Cancer Institute to treat cancer patients. These recent initiatives are evidence that when the commercial ties between our two countries expand, we get stronger together. We want to see more of these initiatives, but to accomplish that, Uganda will have to work harder to establish the conditions that will better attract investment.
I’ve met with many U.S. companies over the past couple of years, and they have shared some common concerns with me. A major obstacle to U.S. companies investing in Uganda is corruption. The money that is lost to corruption every day in Uganda is money that could be used for building schools, improving healthcare, and growing the economy. Uganda is number 151 out of 180 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index of 2017.
U.S. companies expect a level playing field when it comes to business opportunities, but we hear too many stories of contracts being ignored and U.S. companies that are cheated. For Uganda to prosper, reducing corruption is the first step. Competition for investment dollars is fierce in Africa. If the rules of the road are unclear or are ignored, or if decisions are delayed in the hopes of “facilitation”, legitimate, world-class companies will go elsewhere taking their job-creating opportunities with them.
Finally, permit me to say a few words on an issue that is near and dear to my heart – the status of women. If Uganda truly wants to prosper, it has to be more supportive of its female population. In sports, you can’t win if you leave half your team off the field. The same goes for the economy. Uganda should do more to create opportunities for women and encourage them to contribute to the country’s growth. Uganda must also do more to counter the widespread problem of gender-based violence – surveys indicate that more than half of Ugandan women experience physical violence in their lifetimes. Women and men must be equal partners in building a prosperous Uganda.
In closing, let me reiterate our commitment to work in partnership with Ugandans to achieve the brighter future we all want to see for this country. We are here to support Ugandans and to help create opportunities so that all Ugandans can shape their future.
Thank you again to everyone for joining us in today’s celebration. I would now like to ask you all to join me in a toast. Please raise your glasses to the continued health of His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, and to the lasting bonds of friendship between the United States and Uganda. Thank you.
And now I would like to introduce this evening’s guest of honor, the Prime Minister Right Honorable Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda.