Ugandan Diaspora Editorial | September 2016 | UNAA Conventions – My Recap!

Posted September 15, 2016 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Editorial ~ 5,540 views


ronnie editor

Dear all,

Greetings and welcome back from what was an eventful labor day weekend. Uganda North America Association now in its 28th year of existence held its annual convention in Boston as did UNAA Causes in Los Angeles. On my part I succeeded in attending both events first on Friday during the UNAA business forum before catching a flight to Los Angeles Saturday evening.

The convention in Boston received lots of mixed reactions owing to the presence of the many Ugandan MPs and Ministers who attended the 3 day fete at the Park Plaza hotel. Though the convention enjoyed good numbers there was concern raised over protocol as to why UNAA invited the Speaker of Parliament and his Deputy to attend the same event at the same time albeit at the tax payers expense.

Equally disturbing for some was the cost of travel and per diem paid out to the VIPs and their support teams that came through to Boston. A local daily in Uganda had reported that business at Uganda’s Parliament had come to a stand still as the speaker and his deputy traveled to Boston to attend to the UNAA Convention at a cost the paper estimated to be around UGX 2 billion shillings. Although I have been one to appreciate the contribution of the Uganda government and Parliament especially the continued support and recognition of UNAA activities I see a clear and present danger as the government has clearly continued to exact influence over UNAA affairs.

We may recall that it was because of UNAA and the commitment of the leadership then that the dual citizenship law was enacted following the Seattle convention. In as much as I appreciate the contribution of government in embracing the Diaspora, there is growing concern that UNAA’s agenda is now dictated by Uganda’s political players. I personally recognized more than 15 MPs in Boston and some hardly participated in any of the major forums that characterized the convention but instead some were seen in the hotel lobby enjoying happy hour while others took to the shopping malls around the Boston theater district!

Of course the use of money to win support has also become prevalent as more people continue to question government funding of UNAA especially the terms and conditions of this support. It would have been interesting to know if any of the speeches at the conventions addressed the continued police brutality meted at the opposition politicians or if the failure to uphold the rule of law by our leaders ever came up for discussion as a way to create a level playing field for all political players back home.

I will however limit my observations to the events I attended and some of the things I saw at the just concluded labor day conventions. I applaud UNAA for continuing to hold a Business forum a concept UNAA adopted earlier on and that has now evolved under new leadership. It is a good forum that should continue to be a corner stone of UNAA activities especially as some Diaspora members prepare for their retirement. Mortgage financing, Diaspora Bonds, Diaspora Insurance, Real Estate Development and Mobile Money Transfers continue to be avenues and areas of opportunity for growth and investment. New ideas like a UNAA Sacco or Micro Credit lending schemes should now be adopted by UNAA to help the Diaspora facing credit related issues or those seeking low interest loans.

During the business forum I was happy to see Mr. Paul Cohen of P.H.G Consults a company that was part of the $1.5 million dollar marketing contract to help brand Uganda in North America make a presentation on how they planned to do it. But got surprised by the feedback he gave regarding my question on how they hoped to utilize the new movie “Queen of Katwe” in order to get the conversation started. Without providing specifics he said they would wait for the movie to come out of DVD before utilizing it. Another question put to him was how the PR firm had hoped to engage the Diaspora and institutions like UNAA to help encourage Diaspora Tourism but did not provide definitive solution. While in Los Angeles  and Hollywood  I had seen many billboards of the Queen of Katwe movie strategically located in city and on the main highway to LAX International airport.

Last year in October 2015 I was privileged to help coordinate the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) East Africa Diaspora Investment Conference under the theme – Expanding Horizons 2015 Workshop for Small Businesses From East Africans and the Ugandan community living in Boston at the invitation of Mr. Spinelli the Deputy Director – OPIC.  This one-day workshop provided a unique opportunity for participants to learn about U.S. government resources available for small businesses and how they can expand their business internationally.

However for many Ugandans who attended the Boston conference the challenge was how to access the million dollar financial credit schemes that OPIC offers. It was therefore refreshing to see Mr. Spinelli and the Massachusetts Government Delegation back in Boston this time engaged with a delegation from Uganda that included politicians and MPs that could be in a position to raise this minimum requirements to attract OPIC funding if they partnered with Ugandans that now hold US. Citizenship.

Although the Boston convention turn up was a good one, the organizers could have picked a better hotel in my view that could accommodate the numbers and the flamboyancy Ugandans like owing to the financial support UNAA Boston convention enjoyed from both the government and the high registration costs. I overheard a number of revelers complaining about their hotel rooms and the limited space in the common areas like the main bar and restaurants that they deemed too small to absorb the Ugandan crowd. Other complaints including the main ballroom set up and stage build up that handed those in the back a short end of stick!

However it was the rectangular arrangement the foyer of the hotel that seemed to have worked best for those with vendor tables as it allowed convention attendees to check out the various products and services on offer. The danger though was there were way too many vendors than the space could accommodate in my view this relegated some to far off spaces with little or no visibility. But I thought there was a wide variety of merchandise on offer, a sign perhaps that this was a Boston convention. It will be interesting to know how much UNAA made from the record sponsorship and vendor areas in terms of revenue. As we await the post convention reports on the revenue collection it is my hope that our leadership will display full accountability for all monies collected.

Some of the major highlights included breakout forums per the UNAA tradition. The Political forum was extremely heated and featured the Speaker of Parliament Hon. Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga on the one hand and Dr. Kizza Besigye, Former Presidential Flag Bearer and Martin Byakuleka a Member of the Diaspora league on the other. The Deputy Speaker Hon. Jacob Oulanyah was also present —  A video feed by NTV summarized what transpired at the Political forum that was dominated by heckling from audience members regarding the cost of travel and why so many MPs came to Boston and what if any was the cost benefit to the Ugandan tax payer!

Earlier on I had engaged the honorable Speaker during the Q&A for a reaction to our Constitutional Petition now before the constitutional court that seeks to interpret the dual Citizenship law. I had looked forward to engage the Directorate of Immigration on this topic as several of their Board members including their Chairman were among those that traveled to Boston.  They too did not seem to know when or what time their Immigration forum had been scheduled bt the convention organizers. (I had been approached by one of the board members Mrs. Musaazi for a slot but refered her to the leadership). Given how central immigration has now become to many of our Diaspora community I had hoped for a more public forum with part of the visiting legislators present. If and whether this forum ever took place and some of the resolutions that were made is a story we await. As more and more Ugandans acquire US Citizenship, there is a need to review the dual citizenship law and particularly as to how it relates to diaspora families and their children. UNAA missed an opportunity to help champion this cause for many of its membership with the Speaker of the house present.

The other missing ingredient of this convention was the annual general meeting or UNAA Town-hall that presents a forum for members to discuss UNAA Affairs. This too has become increasingly a watered down affair as little or no attention is accorded to the event and conflicting schedules made to deny the AGM quorum.  On Saturday afternoon the Besigye town-hall meet enjoyed a full house and was scheduled about the time the AGM was expected to happening forcing the organizers to push the annual general meeting to Sunday. I later learnt that this too did not happen owing to the Northern Uganda and the Women’s forum that were scheduled around the same time resulting in a lack of quorum per the UNAA Constitution.

UNAA Boston also enjoyed some comedian and ebonies performances an area some felt they scored however when it came to artists it looked like the crowd favorites were headed to the West Coast.

And so Saturday evening as I headed to the Los Angeles I set out to establish how UNAA Causes continues to survive with little or no government support, maintains lower registration costs, continues to attract better entertainers and hosts festivals in brand name hotels. I realized that theirs was a protest vote of sorts. The group also derived its strength in having a die-hard following that operates as a UNIT and is determined to carry on the spirit for which UNAA was founded.

Although the UNAA Causes leadership is yet to introduce their executive I will say that they did deliver and offered their revelers a great convention with a unique set of entertainers that included Diamond Platinumz, Isaiah Katumwa, Winnie Nwagi, David Lutalo and Fashion icon Stella Atal among others. In as far as the hotel, food and entertainment was concerned UNAA Causes nailed it. However for some revelers the absence of the well advertised business forum could have hurt the Uganda festival that I must add has proved to be a force to reckon with with a limited budget. I was also happy to see that the organizers in L.A allowed their attendees to decide where they wanted to go next for their next convention based on the crowd feedback when Las Vegas and Seattle were floated.

Overall we applaud the UNAA Boston and UNAA Causes for putting on these two conventions but as we head into another election year with contolled voter registers its paramount that UNAA refocuses on the very reasons why UNAA was established or why the impasse continues that divided the once vibrant institution. The increase in government support for UNAA should have resulted in lower registration costs but instead we have seen convention costs continue to rise each year. While some have profited from the split we await the new faces of Uganda North American Association to emerge as UNAA heads to Miami and UNAA Causes goes to Las Vegas!

A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other — Abraham Lincoln.

UNAA — United We Stand and Divided We Fall.

— Ronnie Mayanja
Ugandan Diaspora News | |
Ugandan Diaspora Network | Event website | |
US | +1-978-235-2459 | UG +256-773-212-007 | +256- 794-999-898 |
Skype | ronnie.mayanja | Twitter | @rmayanja

About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.

One Comment

    Esther Barbara Batindira Kibazze

    It is sad to hear that our cousin James Wamala has died in Sweden last night. James has been a resident of Sweden for over thirty years. You have joined the angels in Heaven and you’re in God’s hands now. Rest in peace our cousin-brother, cousin, father, and, uncle to the “Tabula family”.

You must be logged in to post a comment.