Remarks by Mrs. Janet Museveni, First Lady of the Republic of Uganda

Mrs. Janet Museveni, First Lady of the Republic of Uganda

On the occasion of receiving the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger for President Yoweri Museveni

October 3, 1998, New York

It is a great privilege and honour for me to be here tonight to receive the prize on behalf of my husband, Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda.

Let me begin by thanking you for accepting to have me receive it in his stead. If he could, he would have been here tonight -perhaps not so much to bask in his glory but to explain what it means to him to tonig have the people of Uganda live better lives, because this has been the motive behind everything he plans and does for a long time now.

However, the burden of his office demands that he gives priority to matters of peace and resolution of conflict in the eastern Africa region at this moment; and as you know, without peace, we cannot win the war against hunger. That is why the President 'is not here in person tonight to receive this important Award.

it is, important to understand, first of all, where Uganda is coming from, in order to understand why there was hunger in the first place. Thirty years of instability, bad governance, and civil wars made Uganda one of the poorest countries in the world. And yet Uganda could easily be the bread basket of our region. So endowed was it by God that it was referred to as the "Pearl of Africa" by the great Winston Churchill. The present generation of leaders in Uganda have rejected the beggar syndrome which has crippled Africa for many generations, hunger being a part of it.

Therefore, twelve years ago, President Museveni, with the support of the National Resistance Movement, began the struggle to pull Uganda from the abyss where it had been dragged.

We began with rehabilitation and reconstruction of the physical infrastructure - the roads, the schools, the hospitals -and with the restructuring of the shattered economy. I need to acknowledge, here, the many friends in the international community who stood with us as we thought through and planned how to undertake such an enormous task. It made us feel that we do belong to the community of nations, and we appreciate it very much.

The strategy to put Uganda back on her feet again was., and is, a multi-layered one. We pride ourselves in the fact that we have, in a relatively short period, managed to turn the economy round, at least on the macro level, to the extent that ours is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa South of the Sahara today. I recall, ten years ago, my husband trying to explain the state of the economy and saying that, although the economy had actually grown, the growth could not be seen because it was still under the ground - our country was truly under the ground twelve years ago, hence the hunger. Now our economic growth can actually be seen and measured, and it is growing at a remarkable 7 per cent rate.

However, macro-economic growth alone cannot and, would not have brought Uganda to the level of development it is now headed for. The question of good governance and human rights bad to be tackled as we went along, simultaneously.

Our people had been abused, brutalised, and badly politicised, such that people were divided for decades along ethnic groupings and religious differences which were exploited by bad leaders. As we speak now, there is a new Constitution properly promulgated by the people; we have a democratically elected national Parliament and human rights are fully guaranteed and guarded by the Constitution. Then, of course, we have been pre-occupied with the issue of rehabilitating the minds and the thinking of the people themselves; a people that had lived under a state of instability and brutality, a people that had been plagued by HIV/AIDS, and had lost not only morals but also hope and focus. Through systematic teaching and training, the people of Uganda are beginning to regain their national pride and to focus on the way forward.

As you know, it is possible, up to a level, to improve the economy at the macro level, and still have the majority of the people not yet benefiting from such improvement.

Therefore one must address, simultaneously, the micro-economic level because in the long run it is the most reliable way of sustaining the growth of the economy. Uganda is still heavily reliant on agriculture, it is the backbone of our economy. More than 90 percent of our people still live in the rural areas, and depend on agriculture for their survival.

Therefore we have laid a multi-pronged strategy which we believe will lift every Ugandan household above the poverty level in a reasonably short period.

The challenge facing the President and the National Resistance Movement Government is now to eliminate poverty at the household level, especially in rural areas. Therefore a lot of emphasis has been put on Education.

Since last year, four children from every household can and do receive primary school education free of charge, through the policy of Universal Primary Education - this is the first prong of the strategy. We believe that education is a powerful tool in the empowerment of people.

Then the Government has decentralised decision making down to the district level, so that people can collect taxes and make decisions about how to utilised the taxes collected and also to identify the needs of their communities then find meaningful solutions themselves. More and more people are actively participating in making decisions concerning their lives, through the system of democratically elected peoples' councils, right from village level up to Parliament. This is the second prong in the strategy to develop and empower the majority of the population.

The central Government comes in to support the local authority by such measures as improving the feeder roads which connect communities with markets, schools and health facilities.

This process has encompassed and particularly targeted the women, and the girl child, because in Uganda, more than 80 percent of the agriculture is undertaken by women.

Through training for the development of better skills and better agricultural methods, and through micro lending and setting up of village banks, we believe that the rural women and men of Uganda will soon not only have sufficient food for their families but will have a surplus for the market to ensure a little more cash in the household and a better standard of living. We believe that this is the surest way of ensuring good nutrition for the children of Uganda, on a sustainable basis; it is the surest way of proving to the poor majority of Ugandans that they themselves have the means and the capacity to pull themselves above the poverty level, and begin to manage their own destinies better.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the President did not give me a written speech to read for him here tonight; therefore I have not talked to you as an economist or a technocrat; I have simply narrated what I have seen happening in Uganda in the last decade; I am personally involved in working with children and rural women, and I know that the work we are doing, the way we have taken, is the right one. This was my husband's dream, this was and is his vision, which he has struggled to make a reality in the last twelve years.

Of course, there have been set backs and problems that have slowed progress. Some areas are still extremely poor because of insecurity and insurgency; this is part of our legacy that is taking time to resolve. The struggle to be self-sufficient in food still continues; but in all, I want to assure you that Uganda is right on course, as far as development is concerned, because the leaders have acknowledged that development comes only when the majority of the people are empowered to sustain it.

I therefore thank you on behalf of the President, the government and the people of Uganda, for recognising what we are all striving to do together for the betterment of our motherland, by choosing to motivate us through bestowing upon the President this honour tonight.

I accept it on his behalf with great humility. I know that if he was here, he would wish to share this award, at least spiritually, with his fellow leaders in Africa and with all those who still labour in the fields to feed the yet underdeveloped societies of the World. I therefore salute them in the same spirit. Thank you.

Thank you.