Independence Day Message Resonates Abroad

Posted by Lisa Heilbronn
July 4, 2008
July 4th Celebrations in Uganda

Fourth of July Photo GalleryAbout the Author: Lisa Heilbronn is the Public Affairs Officer at U.S. Embassy Kampala.

Kampala's 2008 Independence Day Celebration was unusual in several respects this year. First of all, the reception and ceremony were held on the embassy compound in the main courtyard in front of the Mission rather than at the Ambassador's residence. Despite initial doubts, the end result was very welcoming, and the crowd seemed to enjoy the event as much as the traditional garden reception. The ceremony highlighted the strong U.S.-Ugandan partnership by featuring the Ugandan national anthem sung by a choir of local employees in traditional costumes, and the our national anthem sung by an African-American currently living in Uganda.

Ambassador Browning was represented by Charge' d'Affaires Andrew Chritton, and President Museveni's speech was delivered by the Minister of Works and Transport, the Honorable John M. Nasasira. The Charge's remarks touched on the American's commitment to Africa as represented by the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The biggest crowd reaction came when he mentioned the current presidential campaign in the United States and remarked that the rule of law in the United States will remain strong and the rights of citizens will be respected, no matter what the outcome may be.

The highlight of the evening was the presence of visiting U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and his wife Grace. The Senator, a former astronaut, based his remarks on his changing perceptions of the earth while orbiting the earth in the space shuttle in 1986. He said that during his first day orbiting the earth, he looked for for landmarks, such as Florida's Cape Canaveral and the Horn of Africa. By the second day, he focused on continents, but by the third day, he saw home -- the earth. His comments that from the perspective of an orbiting shuttle one can see that there are no national divisions, no ethnic or religious divisions, produced a strong reaction from the crowd.

Another element that resonated was the diversity of the crowd. Now in my second year in Uganda, I ran across contacts from the Muslim community, university professors, doctors, journalists, and businessmen. All political parties were present, and the crowd represented Ugandans of every ethnicity. All were enjoying themselves, and the party was just winding down as I came to my office to write this.



New Mexico, USA
July 5, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Hi Lisa, I can't think of a starker contrast between what you describe above, and what is going on in Zimbabwe at the moment.

I was wondering if you could provide a sense of what the locals there in Kampala think of the situation.


District Of Columbia, USA
July 7, 2008

DipNote Blogger Lisa Heilbronn writes:

@ Eric in New Mexico -- Uganda is different from Zimbabwe and some other former British colonies in one key respect – it never developed the sort of large scale commercial farms owned by white settlers and their descendants that dominated Zimbabwe, Kenya and South Africa, for example. Uganda’s farming remained largely small scale (except for tea and sugar cane plantations, more likely owned by the Asian population than Europeans). Local farmers who farm on customary lands as tenants of Ugandan owners grow cash crops like coffee, tobacco, and cotton, but do so in small quantities on family farms.

Second, the National Resistance Movement has not been as heavy-handed as Mugabe’s party in its dominance of local politics following their winning of control of the government in 1986. Its policies, particularly in the first ten years of its tenure in power, were more inclusive and aimed to heal the wounds left by the Amin and Obote regimes in the first twenty years of Ugandan independence. Here again, it was an armed struggle for independence from a colonial power but rather a struggle against native governments who followed a peaceful transition of power in the 1960s. Uganda has been experiencing several years of steady economic growth at a rate of about 6% per year, so despite many lasting social problems including HIV/AIDS, Uganda can be seen as an African success story.

That said, I think that a percentage of the Ugandan population is following events in Zimbabwe with interest. President Museveni of Uganda is currently in his third term as President, and there is speculation that he will run for a fourth term. The specter of presidency for life is certainly in the back of people’s minds.

New Mexico, USA
July 7, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Thanks for your response, Lisa. Given the large number of social and political meltdowns that have occured on the African continent resulting in millions of lives lost over the years, it is not suprising that the past rears its ugly head in the back of people's minds, creating uncertainty.

Every nation has its own dynamics propelling the direction towards and/or away from chaos.

But if the AU as a fairly young orginization can foster peaceful transition of power within its membership, then it has at least addressed one of the hardest issues that Africa faces. As well, it must deal effectively with those that seek to perpetuate social and political strife.

I'm not confident that a peaceful solution will be achieved in Zimbabwe. It hasn't been peaceful so far. Kinetic intervention may very well be needed.

But I think the recent troubles in Kenya and their resolution have given hope that a nation can pull itself back from the brink of social disaster.

Takes time and a lot of diplomacy to change mindsets, and history is the stark motivator to achive a more hopeful alternative to those that cling to poltical power, too fearful to trust their people or to pass the torch when the people's will demands.

It is not appropriate for the ego of one to destroy the lives of many.

Question is will the collective political will of like minded nations have the guts to do something concrete about retiring ethical infants from the political arena when they endanger populations?


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