Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown at Launch of Nnaabagereka Syliva Autobiography

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown at Launch of Nnaabagereka Syliva Autobiography

U.S. Embassy Kampala | March 23, 2023 (As prepared for delivery at Sheraton Hotel Kampala)

It is a pleasure to be here today for the launch of the Nnaabagereka’s autobiography.  Last week, I had the pleasure of reading to students at St. Mugagga Nkozi Primary School in Mpigi District on Drop Everything and Read Day.  DEAR day has been one of the highlights of my time in Uganda.  I have always loved to read, and it’s been a privilege to share my joy of reading with the students.  Reading expanded my horizons – it was a childhood atlas that led to my diplomatic career – reading introduced what is possible, which is so very important for girls or children of color who often are not surrounded by examples that look like them.

In recent days, I’ve returned to Isabel Wilkerson’s book The Warmth of Other Suns, which tells the story of the migration of Black Americans from our country’s southern states to other parts of the United States throughout the 20th century.  The stories relate experiences similar to those of my grandparents and it’s a way to connect to the past.  Next to my bed is also Howard French’s Born in Blackness, which recenters Africa and Africans in the history of the world.  And of course, there’s The Nnaabagereka, which if you follow us on social media, you saw me reading on Drop Everything and Read Day.  Having an advance copy both made me popular and attracted some criticism from those who don’t yet have the book.

nabagereka book launchThis afternoon, we gather to celebrate the launch of the Nnaabagereka’s autobiography, which, like the books I’ve just mentioned, provides its readers an opportunity to hear, feel, and experience a story through the eyes of someone familiar, someone like them.  It’s a link to the past while looking toward the future.

The Nnaabagereka’s story is one that spans decades of experiences across the world, from having been born in England, schooled and raised in Uganda, and educated in universities in the United States.  Her story provides insight into her unique perspective: holding on to and cherishing the beautiful history, traditions, and culture of the Buganda people, while working across the country and across kingdoms with her fellow Ugandans, and introducing ideas and new beneficial opportunities from her experiences outside of the country.

In 2005, at the U.S. Library of Congress, the Nnaabagereka shared with her audience that education has always been part of the Buganda people’s traditions, albeit less formal and structured.  She noted that “traditional education was limited in scope, and since there was no writing, learning by rote was encouraged and there was little room for criticism, inquiries, innovations, discovery or documentation…there was no gender equality.”  And yet, African education was still valuable.

Today, the Queen has a foundation that honors traditional values and culture in parallel with contemporary efforts to support children, youth, and women, and to foster an environment of equity and inclusivity.  These are efforts that align very closely with those of the United States.  Our engagement in Uganda for the past 60 years has been in partnership with Ugandans, working to improve access to healthcare, strengthen the education system, broaden opportunities for employment, provide technical training, and provide skills for women, especially to pursue economic independence.  In fact, just this morning I was here at the Sheraton with Ugandan women discussing how to support businesses owned and led by women and to encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs.

In her book, the Nnaabagereka addresses head on the challenges she has personally faced throughout her life and demonstrates that while they may have been difficult, they were not insurmountable.  And she has taken that same approach with challenges faced by the Buganda people today, particularly for women and girls.  I have encountered many impressive, successful women during my time in Uganda, yet I take note of the tremendous obstacles facing girls and women, whether that is in access to education or staying in school, access to appropriate health care, access to knowledge about normal changes in their own bodies, access to capital for their businesses, not to mention gender based violence.  Additionally, for many girls and young women, traditional practices impede their opportunities to pursue their own dreams at their own pace. Societal pressure may force women to marry early, leave school before they have completed, bear and take care of successive children instead of finding meaningful work that sets them and their families up for success.  The Nnaabaregera confronts this issue in her book, where she discusses both the challenges confronted and her persistence and courage in doing things own timeline.  For the many women around the world faced with this dilemma of honoring tradition while embracing social and economic progress, the Nnaabaregera provides a much needed example.

We value, as does the Queen, the beautiful, rich, and unique cultures here in Uganda.  In fact, we have an Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation whose purpose is to help countries and communities preserve their culture for generations, and we have funded a number of projects throughout Uganda with this program.  The United States, despite our relatively young age as a nation, has a rich history and experience of its own, which has been enhanced by the diversity of its citizenry and their experiences and opinions.

The Nnaabagereka, as you know, spent time learning about the United States and the American people while she was living, studying, and working there, and we are proud that through her personal experience, some of which she shares in her book, she acts as a bridge between our two countries.  She, like so many Ugandans who have traveled to the U.S. and possibly participated in our exchange programs, have a unique perspective on our shared values and on areas where we differ.  This is, after all, in the spirit of obuntubulamu, the promotion of well-being, togetherness, and unity.  Looking for common ground, common values, and seeking a peaceful co-existence.

I am delighted that you chose to share your story.  You have inspired so many people within Uganda and outside.  I wish you every success as you launch your book today and as you continue the good work you are doing for your community, your country, and the world.