Remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Deborah R. Malac
United States Independence Day Celebration
July 5, 2017
U.S. Embassy, Kampala
- Right Honorable Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, Prime Minister of the Republic of Uganda;
- Honorable Minister of State for International Affairs Okello Oryem;
- Honorable Members of Parliament;
- Representatives and officials of the Government of Uganda;
- Distinguished guests, colleagues, and friends…
- All protocols observed.
Thank you, Colette, and thank you to the members of the United States Marine Corps for their continued dedication and service to our country. Before I begin my remarks, please join me in offering a round of applause for our musical guests tonight – the Wings of Dixie, one of the official bands of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe. We are honored by your presence here tonight on this very special occasion. Thank you for adding a special American flavor to our event this evening.
I would also like to extend my thanks to the sponsors of tonight’s celebration. We greatly appreciate your continued support that makes events like this a reality for so many to enjoy.
Finally, my thanks to the entire U.S. Embassy family, especially those who spent so many long hours planning and preparing for this party. I know this is often a thankless task, made all the more difficult by spending the holiday away from friends and family in America. But I hope you know how honored I am to serve with you every single day. Your talents and energy are boundless, and your dedication is producing life-changing results for countless Ugandans. For that, you should be immensely proud.
It gives me great pleasure to be here tonight to celebrate America’s birthday with so many friends and colleagues. No matter where I’ve served overseas, when we gather together on this occasion, it reminds me how great a privilege it is to serve our country. And to share it with all of you – representing so many of the people and organizations we are honored to call our partners – makes this celebration all the more special. We come together tonight to recognize a remarkable event.
Two hundred and forty-one years ago, the United States declared its independence, announcing the arrival of a nation the likes of which the world had not yet seen – one in which all citizens had the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It was a Revolution, and indeed revolutionary, to found a country and a government based not on the whims of a king or ethnicity or geography, but rather on a set of commonly-held ideas. The document signed on July 4, 1776 was a declaration of all that we hoped one day to achieve – and an admission that the great experiment that was to become America would be a constant work in progress.
Nearly two and a half centuries later, we still find ourselves in the midst of the experiment and experience that is American democracy. But I do not believe, however troubled these times may appear, that the ideas and ideals that the United States represents are today any less relevant or inspirational than when they were set forth 241 years ago. If anything, they burn even more brightly today, reminding us that we must always be vigilant in pursuit of those ideals.
I can say this because I have faith. Not blind faith, of course, but faith grounded in the knowledge that the United States and its democracy have faced countless tests throughout the years. And each time, we have not just endured, we have emerged stronger and ever closer to fully realizing those rights we consider self-evident.
The secret of this longevity is not the result of one person or one party, because a true democracy is far bigger than any single politician or political movement. It requires the collection of all voices, backgrounds, and beliefs – a system in which every individual can and does have a say in how government is run. It is noisy, contentious and messy, but it works.
I attribute our success to our institutions, those laws and structures that ensure we stay true to our ideals – what we call the “guardrails of democracy.” Our Founding Fathers had the wisdom all those years ago to put into place a system of government that would safeguard the rights of citizens against the difficulties and challenges to come. As a result, we have a Constitution that has stood the test of time and has been only lightly amended during the past 241 years.
The Constitution installs checks on the power of every arm of government – the Presidency, the Congress, and the courts – to ensure no one branch could gain total control over another. Likewise, each branch is equal to the others, providing balance between the competing priorities of the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. This separation of powers is the true genius of America’s institutions.
At the same time, we are a country of laws, and no one – no president, no lawmaker, no judge – is above them. Every person is accountable for his or her actions. And this is most especially true for our government, which is bound by the dictates of laws, not men. To paraphrase James Madison – known as the father of the U.S. Constitution – the rule of law depends not simply on government controlling the governed, but on government controlling itself.
America’s democratic institutions extend beyond government as well. Just as important as an independent judiciary or empowered Congress are a strong civil society and a free and unfettered media. Institutions such as these have served as additional guardrails through the years – holding officials accountable, exposing corruption, giving a voice to citizens, and defending the rights of all. With freedoms of expression and the press, our democracy has survived and remained true to its founding principles.
Our founders knew all such constraints were necessary because democratic government is inherently fragile, and the temptations of power are often too great for politicians to ignore. Thanks to such foresight and more than a little bit of providence, the United States and its institutions have now stood for 241 years – but not without change.
No government, not even America’s, is perfect. Our institutions may occasionally bend, but they do not break. Our faith in democracy may periodically falter, but it does not fail. The United States, its structures and its democracy, has persisted because we have adapted and evolved over the years, in an attempt to live up to our ideals. The transparency inherent in our government ensures that all our flaws and defects remain visible, so that every citizen can identify and correct them.
And that, I believe, is the true secret of American success. We remain, as we always have, a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Not just some people. All people. All faiths, all backgrounds, all beliefs – from all corners of the world. Ours is a country strengthened through the years by all who have arrived upon on our shores. We are richer and more prosperous for having welcomed those from near and afar to join our marvelously madcap experiment.
Our citizens, no matter their origins, are the true guardians of American democracy, and it is they who have kept our institutions – and our country – strong, vibrant, and a champion for the rights of all peoples. Even as some may despair we have lost our way at times in our history, it is our people who bring us back to ourselves when it matters.
This is a philosophy that guides our actions at home as well as overseas. Here in Uganda, we also want to see this country’s citizens have those same opportunities to determine their futures, to have a full say in how they develop and how they are governed. It’s why we invest so much in human capacity – to help build the kind of healthy, prosperous, and secure Uganda that every man, woman, and child deserves. With an educated and empowered society, Ugandans themselves can defend their human rights, spur economic growth, and ensure stability for generations to come.
But this is a future that can only be realized if every Ugandan – especially women and girls – have access to economic opportunity, health care, and education, as well as the institutions to guarantee them. The United States has supported this kind of inclusive development to ensure a bright and prosperous future for all, and we intend to keep funding programs that have improved the lives of millions.
The proof of our intentions is plain to see. If you have not seen it already, I commend to everyone our recently-released Report to the Ugandan People, which highlights the many ways U.S. assistance is developing Uganda’s potential. In this publication, you’ll read how mothers like Evelyn Natukunda in Kabale are delivering safe and healthy babies thanks to activities we support. How coffee farmers like Joshua Otinwingye in Nebbi are enjoying greater incomes. And how students like Mafabi Fizal in Mbale are gaining literacy skills.
In my travels across Uganda I see the difference our assistance is making in the lives of Ugandans – in places as diverse as Arua, Karamoja, and Kalangala. I see how we are improving health, building the capacity of local government, and educating the next generation of leaders. We are investing in the people of this country so they can build the necessary institutions to guarantee success and prosperity. And I am confident that by continuing to work together, for the benefit of all Ugandans, we will see a country where every citizen enjoys the rights of life, liberty, and happiness – in full pursuit.
Just as in our own experience, there will doubtless be setbacks and challenges along the way for Uganda. But with strong, vibrant institutions – backed by an equally empowered population – those so-called guardrails of democracy will be in place to keep Uganda on the right path, no matter how many twists and turns appear on the road ahead.
I thank you again for joining us this evening to celebrate America’s independence. We deeply cherish our partnership with Uganda, and look forward to many more productive years of collaboration and cooperation.
In closing, I ask you all to join me in a toast. Please raise your glasses to the continued health of His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, and to the lasting bonds of friendship between the United States of America and the Republic of Uganda. Long live the Pearl of Africa!