Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown on Launch of the USAID Civil Society Strengthening Activity | April 14, 2021

U.S. Embassy Kampala | April 14, 2021
(as prepared for delivery Serena Hotel, Kampala)

● Representatives of Civil Society from across Uganda;
● Representatives from the East-West Management Institute;
● Friends,
● All protocols observed.

Good morning. 

On behalf of the United States government, I am delighted to launch USAID’s Civil Society Strengthening Activity in Uganda.  

Globally, the United States government — and USAID in particular — has a rich and proud history of supporting civil society.  President Biden has emphasized this, making it clear that advancing human rights and democratic values, fighting corruption, and stemming the tide of democratic backsliding are top priorities for the United States.    

Successful democratic states recognize the need for civil society and its role in contributing to inclusive and sustainable development.  They also recognize that civil society is not opposed to the state, but instead fills critical gaps between the government and private citizens and organizations.  Civil society is a fundamental actor, serving as a critical interlocutor between the state and society, one that enhances the legitimacy of the public sector and helps link citizens with their government.  

A strong and vibrant civil society plays a vital role in advocating for new laws and policies; advancing the rights of women and marginalized persons; strengthening the health and education sectors; addressing poverty; protecting human rights; and promoting transparency and accountability.  

Uganda’s Vision 2040 and National Development Plan III set out a noteworthy course to attain sustainable growth that would transition Uganda to a prosperous, stable, accountable, and inclusive democracy.  These commendable strategies and plans underscore the need to build a peaceful, just, and inclusive society:  a society that provides equal access to justice; respect for human rights; legitimate political and electoral processes; widespread transparency and accountability; and protection of the interests of the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized.  

Achieving these laudable objectives will not be possible without the active participation of Uganda’s diverse and expansive civil society.  That is why the United States is concerned about the narrowing political and civic space here, and that is why the United States will continue to speak out against the targeting and harassment of civil society organizations that work for the benefit of the Ugandan people.

Measures to silence civil society take a variety of forms.  Recently in Uganda, we have witnessed the freezing of NGOs’ bank accounts; questionable “investigations” of NGOs that result in the indefinite suspension of their activities; nation-wide restrictions on access to social media platforms; the barring of journalists from covering political events; arbitrary arrests and abduction of human rights defenders; and intimidation of Ugandan citizens exercising their legally constituted rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.  

We also remain concerned about government regulations that require NGOs to disclose sources of funding and personal information about their employees and that impose onerous registration and reporting requirements.  These regulations enable the NGO Bureau and its local level structures to deny registration to any organization focused on topics deemed undesirable or prejudicial to the “dignity of the people of Uganda,” and provide the NGO Bureau broad powers to inspect NGO offices and records and to suspend their activities without due process.

Uganda has the potential to be an influential actor not only on the African continent, but also on the world stage.  To achieve this full potential, however, the Ugandan government must fully embrace democratic principles and work with civil society towards meeting the expectations of ordinary Ugandans.  Civil society is not the enemy, and arbitrary arrests and investigations are not solutions.  Despite tangible progress in certain sectors, Uganda’s development needs are significant and cannot be addressed without a vibrant civil society.

So, at this critical juncture, I am proud to launch USAID’s Civil Society Strengthening Activity in Uganda.  This activity is a five-year program implemented by East-West Management Institute, in partnership with Uganda’s Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, and Common Ground Consulting.  

Through this activity, USAID will strengthen the capacity of Ugandan civil society to contribute to local and national development outcomes across four thematic areas: 

(i) health; (ii) education, youth, and child development; (iii) agriculture; and (iv) democracy, rights, and governance.  

USAID’s Civil Society Strengthening Activity will work across these areas to support civil society organizations and their active engagement with the government to address the issues of concern I have mentioned today.  

It is critical for CSOs in Uganda to strengthen their capacity to advocate with a stronger and more unified voice; to engage in strategic planning at a national and local level; and to promote more inclusive policy dialogue and effective implementation of the rule of law.  To achieve this, USAID’s Civil Society Strengthening Activity will help Ugandans be more civically engaged and equip CSOs with the knowledge, skills, systems, and tools needed to fulfill their critical role in society.  It will work to create stronger bonds of mutual respect between CSOs and the government.  It will also promote an environment where civil society organizations can learn from each other, exchange experiences, and coordinate.  Additionally, the activity will strive for a greater culture of corporate social responsibility, local philanthropy, and social investment in Uganda through private sector engagement.  

As a part of this activity, I am especially proud to announce the Giving Rise to Ugandan Indigenous Direction and Experience (or…GUIDE) Program, where USAID will make a comprehensive investment in the leadership skills of 1,000 women and youth.  The contributions of women and youth in this effort are vital in tackling Uganda’s most urgent challenges and supporting the critical goals embodied under NDP III and Vision 2040.  The GUIDE Program will equip women and youth with the skills and confidence to become more civically engaged, participate in public life and decision-making processes, and be better prepared as leaders in Uganda’s future.

For nearly 60 years, the United States has worked directly with Uganda and its people to support development and strengthen the democratic principles and institutions needed to sustain social and economic growth.  Strengthening and supporting civil society is an indispensable element of the United States’ policy to defend and support democratic values in Uganda.  We remain committed to supporting CSOs with the skills and resources needed to achieve their goals for contributing to sustainable and equitable development in Uganda.

We look forward to a future of partnership and collaboration with CSOs and the Ugandan government for the betterment of Uganda and its people.  

Thank you.