Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown for USAID Uganda’s 60th Anniversary
U.S. Embassy Kampala | March 30, 2023 (As prepared for delivery at Sheraton Hotel Ballroom Kampala)
Dear friends and colleagues, I am thrilled to be here with you for this very special occasion!
Just 60 years, five months, and three weeks ago today, Uganda became an independent country.
Coincidentally, this occurred almost exactly one year after the United States Congress passed one of the most important laws governing our international affairs—the Foreign Assistance Act.
This Act would significantly shape the way the United States interacts with the rest of the world. Most notable, it included the mandate to create an agency to administer economic assistance around the world.
And so, the U.S. Agency for International Development was born! USAID was established on November 3 by President John F. Kennedy —less than a year before Uganda became independent.
And shortly thereafter, one of the very first countries where USAID began its work was the newly independent Uganda.
I find it pretty remarkable that all these events took place over the course of about a year —showing what’s possible when a great idea, a collaborative spirit, and political will align. And 60 years later, here we are, recognizing what we have accomplished, and more committed than ever to get the job done now so we can all enjoy a better future.
I say “getting the job done” because this is one unique aspect of USAID’s work. The U.S. Department of State –America’s foreign affairs ministry, is responsible for diplomatic relations between countries, managing government-to-government relations across the world that endure even under the worst circumstances. But when USAID, the U.S. government’s development agency, does its job well, and partners effectively with countries, USAID employees eventually work themselves out of the job. And that is a good thing!
I don’t know how many of us will still be on this earth 60 years from now, but I certainly don’t believe there will be a need to hold a 120th anniversary celebration like this when that day comes. Why? Because I trust that if Uganda successfully meets its Vision 2040 development goals, it will have rooted out corruption; embraced and harnessed the creativity and potential of its sizeable youth population; and overcome its need for development assistance, As a result, USAID’s work will have ended years earlier.
Until then, we will keep working toward that goal together. So, this evening, as we plan for the future, let us recognize some of the meaningful accomplishments we have achieved together over the past 60 years. Allow me to share just a couple of examples.
First, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the work that USAID and the entire U.S. government have done to promote the health of people in Uganda. The U.S. government is the largest supporter of healthcare here in Uganda, and we are able to measure how our support has saved thousands of lives. For instance, just through our support to the Joint Clinical Research Center during a seven-year period from 2003 to 2010, 100,000 Ugandans with HIV were enrolled to use life-saving antiretroviral drugs. More recently, there are the millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses donated, and our support for the Ebola response. We will continue this important partnership led through the Ministry of Health as we strengthen Uganda’s health care system across the board for the benefit of the Ugandan people.
Another example: A little over a decade ago, USAID began investing in early grade reading. Materials and teacher training reached 10,000 schools and ultimately supported 80 percent of Uganda’s government schools. Data from before the COVID-19 lockdown showed that students from schools that received this support were three times more likely to be able to read 60 or more words per minute — a key standard for literacy among children learning to read. While this is impressive, Uganda still faces many challenges in education, compounded by the long school closures during COVID-19 pandemic. Measuring the same P2 or 2nd grade students our programs were successfully supporting before the pandemic, we now see very low rates of literacy, with anywhere between about 65% to 90% of learners unable to read a single word, depending on where they live in the country and their native language. This is a clear sign that we still have work to do with these early grade readers. Focusing on building success in literacy will need to remain a critical aspect of our partnership going forward.
My final example: Recently I visited Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. I was amazed at the opportunity to spend quality time with Uganda’s famous mountain gorillas. (And, if you haven’t visited, I HIGHLY recommend you do!) You may know that tourism supports seven percent of Uganda’s economy, with the gorillas being the centerpiece that attracts tourists from all over the world. However, you may not be aware that USAID played a key role in helping establish Bwindi as a national park and in the socialization of the gorilla families. USAID also contributed to the establishment of what is now the Uganda Wildlife Education Center –I also highly recommend the behind the scenes and zookeeper for a day experiences – and these investments further bolstered tourism and conservation efforts across the whole region, all of which has helped attract hundreds of thousands of tourists. These efforts have meant the animals are well cared for, there are job opportunities for neighboring communities, and tourism revenues benefit the entire country.
Tourism, we all know, declined during the pandemic and just as it was starting to rebound, Ebola struck. Unfortunately, once again, tourists are wary about Uganda as a destination. I wish for an outcome where Ugandans and foreign visitors from all walks of life can explore the splendor and enjoy the hospitality of the Pearl of Africa, confident in their safety and security.
The few USAID achievements in Uganda I just mentioned, along with the many examples cited by Richard Nelson, are impressive. But what is really behind these successes?
One key component is local ownership. We believe that in working with other countries to contribute to their development, true and equal partnership is absolutely essential. USAID programs touch the work of nearly every government ministry. In fact, it is wonderful to see many ministers, permanent secretaries, and other government officials here tonight. In particular, we are grateful to former Prime Minister, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, who through his many different cabinet positions probably knows USAID better than anyone. He and so many of you have been wonderful partners over the years and your presence here underscores how effective and meaningful our partnership has been.
Another key component is support for civil society. A strong, free, and vibrant civil society is the cornerstone of all truly successful countries and governments. Societies thrive when people feel they are able to participate in the decision-making that impacts their lives—especially when they feel there are people advocating for them, as well as pathways for their own civic participation. Around the world, strong civil society is linked to economic prosperity, higher education attainment, healthier populations, and more resilient communities. This is why USAID has learned that in addition to establishing strong partnerships with host countries, it is crucial to help lift up, empower, and strengthen civil society organizations.
Yet another key point is to look at development through the lens of human rights. While some global actors have tried to limit or downplay the importance of human rights, we know that those famous lines from the Universal Declaration on Human Rights are true: All human beings are “born free and equal in dignity and rights … regardless of nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status.”
Real development can only happen when ALL people are equal in dignity and rights. This is not an easy task. You’ve seen my own country confront challenges to this key belief, yet we persevere. As we work to achieve the aspirations enshrined in our founding documents at home, knowing that that effort will lead us to more prosperity and better outcomes across many socio-economic indicators, the U.S. government also seeks through all its engagement to support development in a way that enhances human rights and human dignity abroad.
Friends, as I mentioned, I don’t anticipate USAID to be here 60 years from now. But I trust that 60 years from now the strong partnership between the Ugandan and the American people will be stronger than ever. As we work toward that day, let us continue to grow and deepen our meaningful and equal partnership.
Thank you for being here this evening, and congratulations on this special 60-year anniversary.