Remarks by USAID/Uganda Mission Director Richard L. Nelson on USAID 60th Anniversary.
U.S. Embassy Kampala | March 30, 2023 (As prepared for delivery at Sheraton Hotel Kampala)
Thank you all for being here tonight on this very special occasion to help us celebrate this important milestone for both the people of America and the people of Uganda. 60 years is a long time, and during those years we have accomplished a lot together. The U.S. government has committed a lot of time and resources to this development effort. In fact, just since I arrived in January 2020, USAID alone has invested nearly $1.5 billion. But dollar amounts are meaningless unless there is real impact behind the effort. And that is the objective tonight– to pause and reflect on the accomplishments of the past, their impact today, and at the same time consider the pathway to the future.
The United States Agency for International Development was established 61 years ago to implement U.S. government foreign assistance. Since then, USAID has grown to be the premier development agency in the world with programs in over 100 countries.
USAID has supported many countries that have successfully transitioned from low- to middle- or even high-income status. In fact, 14 of the top 15 trading partners with the U.S. right now are former recipients of U.S. government assistance. Seven of those are current or former recipients of assistance through USAID. That is always the goal-–to offer assistance to partner countries in hopes that our partnership can mature beyond assistance. And that is what we hope our partnership with Uganda is like — We want our partnership to be about policy and trade and less about assistance. I know that day will come as we continue to work together on Uganda’s development plan.
USAID’s experience in Uganda began within the first year following the formation of our Agency in 1961, and over the decades we have worked in every corner of the country on projects of every shape and color.
We have grown from humble beginnings when we first stepped foot in Uganda to become a workforce of nearly 200, with approximately 140 Ugandans, full of doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers, PhDs, accountants, business professionals, and more — all experts in their field working hand-in-hand with the government, the private sector, NGOs, and CSOs to build a program that is helping change the lives of Ugandans everywhere.
Outside of our own internal staff, we employ roughly 6,000 others in Uganda, the best in their fields, working for our implementing partners who are carrying out this work with expertise and skill.
With all of this effort over the years, there are memorials of our work everywhere. As I’ve driven around this beautiful country, I’ve seen a courthouse and police station we built in Kiryandongo, and a water catchment pond we constructed to prevent human-wildlife conflict on the edge of Lake Mburo National Park. I’ve met graduates from the Tororo Girls’ School that we constructed decades ago. I’ve trekked to see the gorillas in Bwindi that we helped to socialize back in the 90s. I’ve helped inaugurate schools, latrines, and teacher housing that we’ve built. I’ve opened the new laboratory facility at the Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital, and I handed over a new livestock market in Moroto to district officials just last month. And that’s just me.
USAID’s physical footprint is everywhere. But more important than the physical evidence of our partnership that you can see in the villages and cities of this country is the immense amount of work we’ve done that you can’t see—work that dwarfs the physical work we’ve done.
You see, just as the world has experienced a software revolution over the past 30 years, so USAID has undergone a software revolution of sorts. We’ve shifted our focus to soft development assistance from assistance that prioritized physical infrastructure. We focus now on training, skills development, policy formation and implementation, education, human rights protection, dispute resolution, strategic planning, and more.
Don’t get me wrong, we still build infrastructure here and there where it makes sense, but we’ve learned that if you want to see real lasting impact in society, you have to focus on the “software.” In our early years as an agency, when we were less mature about what real lasting development was, we focused more on infrastructure. But now we’ve developed a more scientific, data-driven, and sophisticated understanding of what brings about genuine growth and lasting change, we have shifted to the software side of the equation.
So, today when you drive around Uganda, let me tell you about the results we’ve achieved that are harder to see:
- You won’t see a plaque on the home of the widow Christine and her brother-in-law who live outside of Gulu who were able to resolve a land dispute through a USAID project that set up community dispute resolution mechanisms. They are now both able to grow enough to support their families.
- You won’t see a USAID certificate on the doorways of the companies who have accessed $40 million in financing with our help just in the last eight months. You also won’t see physical evidence of the nearly $1 billion pipeline of investment deals our Strategic Investment Activity is actively pursuing. For example, through this activity, USAID supported Biyinzika (Be-EEN-zika) Enterprises Ltd — a poultry business — to unlock $1.65 million in capital to scale poultry feed and sale of day-old chicks and create jobs for 800 youth selling chickens or feed.
- There’s no sign with the USAID logo over the millions of homes and small businesses who now have access to electricity because of our work with the Government to establish connections, extend power distribution and establish electrification plans that cover all of rural Uganda. We have electrified healthcare facilities on remote islands in Lake Victoria, such as Bugana and Namatale Health Centers. These have since seen spikes in nighttime baby deliveries, which were not possible without the solar systems we provided.
- There’s no tarpaulin banner over the home of Dr. Steven Watiti, who has survived cancer, HIV, multi-drug resistant TB (5 times!) with support from PEPFAR, which he began receiving in 2004. And there are no similar banners hanging over the homes of the hundreds of thousands of other people whose deaths have been averted as a result of our commodities and health systems strengthening around HIV, malaria, TB, maternal and child health, and more.
- There’s no marker outside Ojwayo Village in Alero sub-county in Nwoya district declaring that is now open defecation free. Before our intervention, 73% of its members were defecating in the open. There are hundreds of other similar villages that are now open defecation free as a result of our work that likewise do not have a marker announcing that achievement as you enter the village.
- When you buy and eat iron rich beans or any of the other 30 enhanced crop varieties we have helped NARO develop and disseminate that improve yield and nutrition, you won’t see a little USAID logo stamped on them.
- You won’t see a banner on James Muhangi’s home. He is a proud coffee farmer and a member of the Rubanga Cooperative Society in Southwest Uganda who benefitted from USAID’s support on improving inputs and providing access to markets and finance that have helped him significantly boost his coffee productivity and earnings. And there are no banners on the millions of other farmers like James who have similarly benefited from our agricultural markets work.
- There’s no USAID T-shirt worn every day by 22-year-old Hilda Apio, who, with support from USAID’s DREAMS program turned four bags of soya beans and eight bags of sunflower seeds into university enrollment funds. She now inspires her peers as a DREAMS Ambassador to remain HIV-free and follow in her footsteps as she finishes her university degree. Hilda is one of the hundreds of thousands of young women who are now building their own businesses, helping their families eat more nutritiously, and are receiving the emotional support they need to be healthy and productive citizens — and you would walk right by them on the street without knowing that it was USAID that had provided this leg up.
- And, finally, you won’t see a plaque on the $1.3 billion in additional revenue that we helped the Uganda Revenue Authority collect in a transparent and equitable way over the past two years.
You would probably miss seeing all of these things as you drive around, but it is all there. Our work is transforming lives. It’s helping people be healthier, live longer, and have more money in their pockets.
We have done all of this together with local and national level government officials, with civil society, with the private sector, guided by local perspectives and priorities. And you know what else? None of this is in the form of loans. Uganda does not have a single loan with the United States. It does not owe the United States a single shilling.
And how will the people in this room benefit from these efforts? It’s often hard to measure the impact of this software/people oriented approach, but here’s what it looks like: fewer people are dying of disease and poor health, more children can read, more people will go to university, more farmers are feeding their families, businesses are hiring more people, the fiscal deficit is significantly smaller than it would be, there’s less gender-based violence, fewer children will be abused in school, more refugees have food to eat, and more people will understand their rights and are able to exercise them. All of this contributes heavily to the economy and social welfare of Uganda. It’s significant.
Again, let me circle back to why we do this. USAID is not an NGO. We’re not here to do development work for development’s sake. We’re here to advance and strengthen the enduring partnership between the United States and Uganda. We’re here to help Uganda achieve its ambitions set forth in the Vision 2040. We’re here to see the partnership between our two countries mature into one that’s based on trade and shared global policy priorities. So, while our cooperation is 60 years old, and USAID’s role in the partnership will not likely exist in another 60 years, the friendship between our two countries is just getting started.