By Ronnie Mayanja — On Friday September 4th 2015, I set out on a road trip to experience first hand the UNAA Causes — Uganda Festival Convention that I believe has been the most advertised and publicized in UNAA history. Although I did not attend their San Diego fete last year my views resonated with some of the ideals for which the organization was formed, that resulted in the impasse on both the UNAA Council and UNAA Board of Trustees. I therefore wanted to attend as an observer and see what the group had to offer in terms of UNAA ideals.
However upon arrival I could tell that the organizers had left out a key element in their planning; The actual execution and coordination of the event had some gaps a sign perhaps that the group needed a defined leadership structure at the top. UNAA Causes is largely composed of die-hard UNAA Members opposed to impunity and the lack of accountability they see in this once vibrant organization.
Day 1 — Of course UNAA Causes must be commended for putting up a Convention in the heart of New York with no sponsorship but rather good will from many of the people who subscribe to their views/causes. With little or no money, the group managed to scoop the biggest names on Uganda’s entertainment scene and also registered more than 350 delegates, not counting the usual crowd that books the hotel and targets the boat cruise. Their hotel room quarter was also used up and come labor day you could not secure a room at the Marriott as they were sold out.
The event was off to a slow start. This forced the business forum to move to Sunday in part because up-to 8pm, the Marriott Downtown hotel was a hive of activity owing to the many international and local arrivals. The choice of new York was not bad but for some of us who rented cars the $60 dollar a day parking tab definitely did hurt our wallets.
The UNAA Causes had an able team that operated as a UNIT in some areas. At the registration desk they were represented by Mr. DC Kiyemba, an accountant from Denver, and Ms. Becky Wamala, a former secretary to the UNAA Council equally known for her frugality and fiscal discipline. These tried to keep the lines moving although from the onset it was clear that the group had committed a fundamental mistake in the failure to have a printed program. Many of those arriving and looking forward to the well advertised program could hardly follow what was next or where to go because the organizers opted for the social media and whatsapp for their program updates that delegates hardly checked. This was something that would haunt and later delay the opening ceremony. However the vendors were in place per the UNAA tradition and did set up in the foyer area of the hotel.
UNAA Causes team lined up a good team of DJs led by Caroli Mpoza, a former Chairman of the UNAA DC Convention and a resident of Maryland, he together with DJ Tony Blaze from Boston, Dj Kalemba from San Francisco and DJ Musa from LA, compensated for the Friday failures by ably spinning the wheels of steel that night as many danced away the opening night.
Day 2 — Saturday too was off to a late start but there were a number of activities planned that day. As promised the fleet of buses was on hand to ferry about 300 delegates to Randell Island where the group treated its guests to a BBQ lunch that was also served rather late and lacked the musical element to cheer revelers. Here you definitely saw the spirit of volunteerism when Mr. Benon Mukasa a UNAA elder together with Sembusi – a former UNAA Council representative from Canada, Dr. Daniel Kawuma – a former UNAA Council member from the Mid Atlantic and Gerald Awinchu ‘Omulangira Wengulu’ representing San Diego, worked overtime to ensure a successful BBQ event.
This was definitely a great networking opportunity and some vendors took advantage of the opportunity to share their company profiles. There was also a soccer match where the former UNAA President Francis Ssenoga, Justus Mirembe Chairman of the Ugandan Community in British Columbia, Canada and Mr. Nsubuga Haile a UNAA die-hard from Colorado, were seen burning some calories on the pitch. This to me personified the true spirit of UNAA.
To kick-off the evening, UNAA Causes could not have thought of a better MCee. Ms Nancy Mugga from the UK was a natural who changed the tempo in the room with her style and energy. It was not long before she called up the first entertainer of the night. However owing to some of the gaps in entertainment, UNAA Causes and UNAA at-large ought to start considering comedians as a way to ensure that revelers laugh off the stress during the labor day weekend, given how hard they work throughout the year. But Nancy did hold her ground and I would definitely love to see her back next year in that role!
Uganda’s diva Ms. Juliana Kanyomozi wowed her crowd and was definitely on point in-spite of her personal tragedy suffered earlier in the year. Julianna definitely gave her audience their money’s worth, treating them to hit after hit before getting whisked off by security through the back door as some of the revelers had started mobbing her as she left the stage. Soon after it was DJs Musa, Kalemba and most especially Mpoza that kept everyone on the dance floor.
Day 3 — The UNAA Causes final day came Sunday with a business meeting that was presided over by Dr. Maggie Kigozi – former Executive Director – Uganda Investment Authority. She shared her personal story as a woman entrepreneur, farmer, Pepsi Director and also cautioned those present to start planning for their retirement. She also shared the story of Uganda’s investment climate and areas of opportunity to invest in. She definitely managed to keep her audience glued and engaged with an extended Q&A that went on for about an hour. She was also the only business leader from Uganda since other government agencies invited opted to attend New Orleans. (A special thank-you note to Dr. Maggie for conducting a practical thought provoking business forum.
Later the program shifted to the UNAA Causes town-hall meet but this reporter had to excuse himself to escort Dr. Maggie Kogozi who had a flight to catch later that day. We shall await a full statement from from the UNAA Causes group on what the specifics of the discussion were and a way forward.
By about 4pm on Sunday as promised, UNAA Causes main event was now underway. The mega buses were ready to transport revelers to the pier where the Boat Cruise — Spirit of New York would set sail later that evening. Judging from the numbers this was a total sell out registering about 400 delegates including folks who drove in from Boston specifically to attend the sunset cruise on the Hudson river.
The food and entertainment too was on point and the group was also treated to the great sites and sounds that make New York one of the great wonders of our modern age. The Brooklyn Bridge, The New World Trade Center Building, United Nations and the Statue of Liberty were all in full view as many snapped some memorable Kodak moments along with friends and family.
The two entertainers who performed on the boat were Ms. Leila Kayondo and Dr. Jose Chameleon who promised a great show back at the hotel. The food and hospitality of the Boat crew cannot go unnoticed as they did a great job feeding everyone before allowing revelers time to dance the evening away.
Back to the hotel Dr. Daniel Kawuma then took to the podium thanking all those who came out to support UNAA Causes and apologized for the things that simply overwhelmed the organizing team but promised they would improve since this was only the second year of the Uganda Festival celebration.
The grand finale event of the evening came after the boat cruise when Uganda’s renown BET Award winner Eddie Kenzo took to the stage. He too did not disappoint giving it his all he kept his audience on the dance floor. His crowning performance was Sitya Loss and the Mcee of the evening was Ms. Flavia Tumusiime, a popular television host from Uganda who has also been featured on the Big Brother Africa show.
Ruth Wanyana later introduced Dr. Jose Chameleon to closeout the entertainment with a bang. Having many songs, Dr. Jose sampled many of his popular hits spanning the last decade as he was accompanied by some two dancers. The convention was then declared officially closed when DJ Mpoza took to the stage treating the revelers to some great musical sounds accompanied by Dj Tony Blaze.
Although the group nailed their entertainment in-spite of a few no shows, visa denials, limited funds there is need for proper execution and planning on the side of organizers next time. It’s always a great thing to advertise a great program but equally important for the organizers to be prepared to deliver on the promises they make especially if people are to keep coming. Next time UNAA Causes will need to hire an event coordinator to help with the last minute follow ups, a lesson for all future Convention planners, as many of the glitches could have been avoided if there was manpower on the ground prior to the event.
Another area of opportunity for the event planners is to balance entertainment with other key elements that used to define conventions. We did not see a Kojja or Ssenga session like has been the tradition at UNAA Conventions, being an election year a political forum to articulate diaspora interests would have been a good idea with the upcoming election. The presentation on stage was also lacking the group needs to invest in a better stage for the artists the next time. The event attracted former Ms. Uganda winners who could have been better utilized for their celebrity status. Also present was Uganda’s super model who won Africa’s next top model competition Stacy Aamiito. On a personal note, let me commend the UNAA Causes team, most especially their marketing crew for a job well done online — they sold the New York convention to us on social media!
Although it was my intention to attend part of the Business forum in New Orleans, I was not unable to be in two places at the same time having renewed my UNAA Membership, however I managed to get a first hand account from Mr. David Kabukuru, who flew in from New Orleans to New York on Sunday on what transpired in New Orleans. I was particularly disappointed by the EC when they insisted to follow through with elections process well knowing that there was no competition to speak of or a fully constituted UNAA Council campaign team. This was another missed opportunity for creating a caretaker UNAA administration that would champion reconciliation in UNAA and help bring the two UNAA’s together. It was therefore no surprise that Mr. Atigo although unopposed only managed to secure 55 votes of the total votes cast. Those who attended but never voted could have abstained after realizing that this was no longer a sustainable modus Operandi!
Equally disturbing for me was the numbers advertised in the voter register, in the past UNAA membership used to be comprised of more than 1000 active delegates during election time, today it has been reduced to about 150 delegates who decide the fate of an entire organization. It is clear that the split continues to hurt and divide us, if and whether this will be sustainable might be a story for another day. However some are now looking to 2017 as the only way to revive the UNAA we once knew and loved.
The Uganda government as always was well represented by a big government delegation that included the Vice President, The Speaker of Parliament, CEOs from government agencies and about 20 MPs. However this prompted some to ask if this continued presence at UNAA events should be interpreted as UNAA National becoming an offshoot of the NRM government especially owing to their continued silence during this long standing UNAA split and their financial support to UNAA.
Now that Mr. Brian Kwesiga’s reign as UNAA President is over we wait to see if Mr. Atigo will extend an olive branch to the UNAA Council of 8, the BOT members that resigned and the entire UNAA Causes group that has managed to put up 2 conventions at a fraction of the cost the main UNAA group does, yet some of their boats have been way more inferior and entertainment less comparable with higher registration fees. The UNAA – AGM am told was aborted due to lack of quorum and it was interesting to learn that the man who once wielded the most influence in UNAA history was also heckled by some of his closest associates as he tried he to make his case in New Orleans town hall. What became of Mr. Musoke’s lawsuit is something we never got to know, if and whether the judge ruled on this case.
It was also revealed just as I predicted in my last editorial that the next UNAA Convention would be coming to Boston since elections were now over. UNAA Causes will need to counter this move by naming a popular destination, in this case Los Angeles would help counter the Boston numbers. Truth be told some of us miss the old united UNAA and the friendships we made over the years!
Stay tuned for the complete gallery. Photos appear courtesy of Ronnie Mayanja, Benwa Events, George Musoke and UNAA New Orleans — AD Studios and Annette Kiyimba.