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Amb. Verbist's speech as Belgium celebrated King’s Day

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Added 22nd November 2018 11:04 AM

Belgium might not be the biggest actor in Uganda in terms of sheer volume and financing, but our strength is our expertise

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Belgium might not be the biggest actor in Uganda in terms of sheer volume and financing, but our strength is our expertise

The Belgium Ambassador of Uganda and South Sudan, Hugo Verbist, celebrated the King’s Day on November 15, 2018. It was presided over by Uganda’s Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr Elioda Tumwesigye.

This is the Ambassador’s speech.

Honourable Guest of Honour, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr Elioda Tumwesigye, Honourable Attorney-General, Dear religious and cultural leaders, Dear Permanent Secretaries of the various Ministries, Dear UPDF-officials, Dear Colleague-Ambassadors and members of the diplomatic community, including the Ambassador of Uganda to Belgium, Amb. Mirjam Blaak, Dear representatives of the Civil Society and the media, Dear Human Rights Defenders, My dear Belgian community in Uganda, Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen, And as they say in Uganda: “all protocol observed”, even if the protocol is not observed, but by saying it, you are forgiven. Brace yourself for a speech in 7 famous or less famous quotes.

“Horum omnium fortissimo sunt Belgae”. This is a Latin quote, which is best translated as: “Of all the people, the Belgian are the bravest”. It is a quote from the famous Roman general, politician, writer and finally ‘self-declared emperor for life’, be it short lived, Julius Caesar, more than 2000 years ago.

Indeed, Caesar suffered his greatest military defeat at the hands of the Belgians. True, what he called Belgae and Belgica then is only remotely connected to what we call Belgium and Belgians now. And also true, to the sentence that Belgians are the bravest, Julius Caesar added: “…. because they are the farthest away from civilization”. So it was actually an insult packed into a compliment.

Nevertheless, Belgians have really proven to be the bravest… during the last World Cup. True, we only became third and lost against the French… but we were still the bravest. It is a bit like with fries: everybody calls them French fries, but the very best are Belgian fries, which are fried not once but twice. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Belgian King’s Day reception.

Which brings me to the second quote of the day: “Waar is da feestje? Hier is da feestje!”, a chant from Belgian football supporters: “Where is that party? Here is that party!”. Today, it is the Belgian King’s Day. Reason enough to celebrate of course, but the reception this year is also the official launch of the Belgian Week in Kampala, an annual event, now in its third edition. And it is truly a special edition this year – should we dare to call it a ‘golden’ edition? – because we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Belgian Embassy in Kampala, and these 20 years are embodied by two Ugandans who worked at the Embassy from its very beginning till now, Rosemary Sevume and Henry Wasswa. They will come on stage after the speeches.

Let me give you a quick overview of the various events we have in store this week: Dries Cloet and Bart Denys are two chefs from the Hotel School TerDuinen in Koksijde in Belgium, and they have prepared some of the food tonight hand in hand with the Chefs of Serena.

They were also the driving force behind the Belgian culinary week in the Serena restaurant all week long. Tomorrow is your last chance for a unique Belgian culinary experience at the restaurant. But tonight already, you will be able to enjoy traditional Belgian delicacies such as Belgian fries, Belgian waffles, or chocolate mousse. It will all slide much better into your mouth with a refreshing Leffe Blond or Leffe Brown, just two of the at least 1500 different kind of beers that Belgium has to offer.

In one week, we will end the Belgian week with a big bang, with the concert of the Belgian Indie-rock band the Intergalactic Lovers, featuring Ugandan musician Kas Kasozi. In between today and the concert, we will have a wide variety of events such a Kids Event Tales and Puppet Show, a competition to reward innovative projects of young Ugandans, and our Development Day which will be all about increasing the job opportunities for the Ugandan youth but also about studying in Belgium, with some prominent alumni sharing their experiences. You can find more info about our events on our facebook page, which I strongly recommend you to FOLLOW from now on. I promise you that it will make you a happier person.

With the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Embassy, we are indeed reaching a new milestone in our relationship. We opened our Embassy in November 1998 and if we look back now, the results are quite impressive: Uganda became one of the 14 development partner countries of Belgium worldwide, and actually the 5th most important one, with the emphasis on health and education and an ongoing programme of on average 16 million EUR (or 64 billion UGX a year). We have also further increased our investments in the country as well as the trade between our two countries, both ways.

True, Belgium might not be the biggest actor in Uganda in terms of sheer volume and financing, but our strength is our expertise. Or as an old Malinese saying goes (quote nr. 3), 'La petitesse du piment n'empêche pas qu'il soit piquant'. Or freely translated, 'Being small never stopped a pepper from seasoning a whole dish.’ This is why other countries or partners, such as Ireland in Karamoja and the European Union in the refugee settlements in West Nile, are working closely together with ENABEL to implement their skill development programmes there. Also in the health sector, similar forms of collaboration may be announced soon.

 

You may ask yourself: why on earth do we put so much emphasis on education? It is Nelson Mandela who once said (quote nr. 4): “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.” I can only agree.

Education, including vocational education, empowers people. It helps young people to find their place in society, to provide an income for themselves. It gives them the opportunity to give their children a better future, with more opportunities than they had themselves. It gives them a sense of belonging, and most importantly, it gives them hope. Hope for a better tomorrow.

Human capital is indeed the most valuable capital that a country can have, much more than oil, much more than gold. A growing population could therefore be very beneficial for a country, but it is the current speed of the population growth in Uganda that could be a challenge. According to estimates, by 2040, the population of Uganda will have doubled to over 80 million people. Based on current population projections, the total population in schools could double from 10 million back in 2010 to 20 million by 2025.

Between the start and the end of this King’s Day reception today, the Ugandan population will have grown with another 500 babies, which means 500 more than the number of people who have passed away within the same lapse of time. Any progress made economically or in service delivery risks to be made undone with such a fast-paced growth. And as long as 30% of the children in Uganda are stunted, as a recent study of the World Bank showed, one cannot say all is under control.

Also from the perspective of women’s rights, women should not have children by chance but by choice. Which brings me to my 5th quote, short but powerful quote: “She decides”. The percentage of teenage pregnancies in Uganda, forcing the girls to stop their education, is still staggering. This is linked to the problem of “gender based violence” which needs to be urgently addressed, not only for the benefit of the women but to the benefit of the society as a whole. Indeed, another World Bank study has estimated that ending child marriage today in Uganda could generate up to 2,7 billion USD in annual benefits by 2030.

Women’s rights, freedom of expression, freedom of press are just some of the fundamental human rights which need to be respected for the betterment of society.

To use a quote which has sometimes been attributed to Voltaire (quote nr. 6): “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Respect for human rights and for the rule of law, and openness and willingness for dialogue are principles which will bring Uganda, and the world as a whole, a long way.

Fostering consensus and acting for peace. That is what Belgium is known for. And that is what Belgium will also stand for as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council 2019-2020. We surely hope, during our tenure in the Security Council, to continue to benefit from the strong partnership with Uganda and from its expertise in mediating in volatile situations in the region, be it in Burundi, DRC, Somalia or South Sudan. But not only the region is on fire.

The entire world is going through a difficult time, a time when extremism, populism, nationalism, lack of solidarity and fear for the unknown is rampant. Today, it is Belgium’s King’s day, and Belgians are known for their lack of patriotism. This is wrong, we should be proud of our country, as far as we don’t confuse patriotism with nationalism.

As President Macron of France said last week during the commemorations of the end of World War I (last quite of the evening): “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism: nationalism is a betrayal of it. In saying “our interests first and who cares about the rest”, you wipe out what is most valuable about a nation (…): its moral values.”

Uganda’s response towards refugees is in stark contrast with this wave of selfishness engulfing many countries. Let’s not forget how heartwarmingly unique Uganda’s welcoming approach towards refugees is, and to foreigners in general.

My speech wouldn’t be complete without some words of thank for all those who made this evening, and the entire Belgian week, possible. Thank you for our 4 golden sponsors: thank you Brussels Airlines, Brasserie Le Chateau and Quality Hill Boutique Mall, MTN and the Bank of Africa. Thank you furthermore to our silver sponsors DAS, Nile Safari Lodge, Roofings, SafeBoda, Zetes, Stanbic Bank, Bolloré Transport and Logistics, Nature Lodges, the hotel school Ter Duinen in Koksijde and Serena Hotel as our host. Thank you to our bronze sponsors Chemiphar, KK Security, Pearl Assist and Radiocity 97FM.

Last but not least, I would like to thank my wife and partner for her support and apologize to her for all the sacrifices asked, I hope to make up for it one day, as well as my entire Embassy team for their tireless efforts during the last few weeks. It is truly the most committed, inspired, optimistic, dedicated and frankly workaholic Embassy team I have ever worked with. Thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me finish with a riddle. What is Belgian, blue and very very small? Indeed, a smurf. The Smurfs are not here with us tonight but, just like last year, I would like to warn you that you might see one, two or more of them tonight dancing in front of your eyes after 3 or 4 Leffes. For some it is Blue Smurfs, for others it is pink elephants they will see, it is up to you to find out.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I know raise a toast to the health of the President of Uganda, H.E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.

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