Remarks by Ambassador Natalie E. Brown at the Installation of the Alumni Council
August 10, 2023 (as prepared)
Good evening and welcome! I am delighted to have you all here to inaugurate the interim U.S. Exchange Alumni Council, which will provide leadership to the newly established U.S. Exchanges Alumni Network – Uganda and, importantly, establish norms and procedures to build the foundation for future Alumni Councils.
The U.S. Mission is proud of our decades-long partnership with the Ugandan people. Whether through the Mission’s multi-sector capacity building programs or exchange programs like the ones in which you all participated, we are working with Ugandans to advance the skills and expertise needed for the country and its communities to prosper.
For much of our 60-year partnership with Uganda, our most popular – and competitive – programs have been our exchange opportunities. The list of these programs is long and has grown over the years. The Fulbright program brought the first Ugandan exchange grantee to the United States even before independence. Over the past 60 years Ugandans from many sectors have participated in the International Visitor Leadership Program, a program whose global alumni include more than 200 current and former heads of state, 1,500 cabinet-level ministers, and many other distinguished world leaders in government and the private sector. In fact, my first job out of college was working on IVLP programs!
The exchange portfolio has since expanded to include more recent programs like the Young African Leaders Initiative Regional Leadership Centers (YALI RLC), the Mandela Washington Fellowship Program, the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship, the Pan-African Youth Leadership Program, the Community Solutions Program, the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs, the Study of the U.S. Institutes (SUSI), sports envoy programs and many others.
These exchange programs have supported many outstanding leaders that Ugandans would recognize as transformative figures. People like the late Makerere Vice Chancellor Senteza Kajubi human rights defender Margaret Sekaggya, Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, and bark cloth artist Fred Mutebi.
The United States doesn’t claim to make the average citizen into outstanding leaders; our strength is in identifying the talent that already exists in Uganda and providing opportunities that these individuals may otherwise not have encountered to achieve their dreams.
We make a concerted effort to recruit a diverse slate of applicants from across the country to include all religious groups, genders, socio-economic backgrounds, ethnic groups, tribes, physical abilities, and yes, sexual orientation. I think we do a pretty good job. And I also think we could do better. That is where you all come in. We rely on you to help us spread the word far and wide and make it clear to people that our programs are open for all who meet the criteria.
As many of you know, my time in Uganda is coming to an end. It is bittersweet to think about leaving the Pearl of Africa. I have faced many challenges since my arrival nearly three years ago. I arrived in the midst of COVID-19 and quarantines, just ahead elections, whose run up was marred by the indiscriminate killing of 54 people. There were lockdowns, the shutdown of the internet, and the blockage of some social media sites. And just as things started to open back up, there was the outbreak of the Sudan strain of the Ebola virus. And, most recently, passage of the hateful and harmful Anti-homosexuality Act.
During these challenging times, it has been young Ugandans whose hopes, dreams, perseverance, and incredible talent have lifted me up. I have been deeply inspired by many of the Ugandans I have met who are working to improve their communities and the country, and it has been a delight when there were chances to work with you for example at a vaccination drive at KCCA, in sharing Drop Everything and Read Day with students at Mulago School of the Deaf, or promoting the conservation of Uganda’s incredible biodiversity at the Uganda Wildlife Education Center. These experiences complement the work the U.S. Mission does in partnership with the Ugandan people across the country, whether it’s ensuring access to quality healthcare, building the capacity of the tourism sector, equipping entrepreneurs with the tools they need to grow their businesses, or providing local language books to improve the literacy of young Ugandans. I am incredibly proud of the U.S. Mission teams supporting these efforts; it is so reassuring to see more and more young Ugandans assume leadership roles in these activities and rewarding to see the positive difference from our collaborations.
The timing of tonight’s event could not be better as recently many alumni gathered in Washington, DC. Addressing the Mandela Washington Fellowship Summit, Secretary Blinken told attendees, “All of you are driving progress on some of the most pressing issues of our time, issues that face not just Africans but Americans – people all across our planet – how to advance food security, how to prevent conflict, how to combat climate change, how to slow the spread of disease, and so many more fundamental issues that, as human beings, we have to find ways to tackle together.”
And there are many examples of alumni taking on these tough problems. I want to acknowledge one of them tonight: Mandela Washington Fellowship alumna Jamila Mayanja CEO of Smart Girls Uganda. Jamila is making groundbreaking strides in her community in Gayaza where she is a social entrepreneur and educator providing technical skills training – and inspiration – to young women. She just returned from Washington where she received the prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowship Leadership Impact Award, the winner from among hundreds of nominees, and I was delighted so join her yesterday at Nabisunsa Secondary School to offer some tips to the next generation of leaders. Congratulations Jamila!
We also recognize our many alumni from outside of Kampala some of whom are impacting the most marginalized areas of the country. We have a few from up-country here tonight and I appreciate them coming to join us! If I were to name all the alumni meaningfully contributing to their communities, we would be here all night! You’ll have to just trust me on that.
The success of the new Alumni Network will depend on how much the broader alumni community is willing to support it. We hope that you and other alumni will share your ideas with the leadership team so that the network supports the growing alumni community and your individual and collective efforts to improve this country.
I congratulate you on the establishment of the U.S. Exchanges Alumni Network and your installation as the very first Alumni Council. I trust that you will deliver on this huge task ahead of you to lay a strong foundation for the alumni network. There are many able leaders among us, but for the length of their term, these 11 deserve all your support and ideas. So, throw all your weight behind this team and let us build a strong alumni community.
As I reflect on my time in Uganda, I am so honored to have stood beside you in your professional journeys, to see this network grow and support each other as we all work to advance our shared goal of a healthy, prosperous, democratic, and secure Uganda.
Now, I’d like to propose a toast as we mark the start of what should be an exciting and fruitful journey for all alumni. [raise glasses]
And now it is time to officially unveil the new U.S. Exchange Alumni Network logo.