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Divided US Ugandans hold parallel meetings

After more than a year of wrangling, the Ugandan North American Association (UNAA) has finally split into two rival camps.

The 26-year-old UNAA is the oldest and largest association that unites all Ugandans living and working in North America. The bitter falling out started last year after the then 26-year-old Brian Kwesiga was elected UNAA president.

After his election, he was accused of mismanagement, creating cliques, disrespecting the association’s institutions like the executive committee and board of trustees and breach of the UNAA constitution.

Kwesiga was also accused of sacking the UNAA treasurer and closing the association bank accounts, charges he roundly denied. The association leadership failed to resolve the problem, prompting some aggrieved members to form a rival faction called UNAA Causes. The mainstream is new called “UNAA Proper’.

Some members of the UNAA board of trustees such as Dr Muniini Mulera crossed to UNAA Causes. UNAA Proper is led by Brian Kwesiga, whose tenure ends next year, while the leaders of the breakaway faction include Benon Kyeyune Mukasa, Daniel Kawuma, Edris Kironde, Francis Ssennoga, and Awichu Akwanya, among others.

Recently Dr Muniini Mulera wrote in his column in The Daily Monitor, that the falling out was triggered by a coup d’état led by the current UNAA president. He accused ‘UNAA Proper’ president and his supporters of mismanagement and utter lack of respect for the association’s constitution.

Mulera noted that the split may well become permanent. Reconciliation efforts have so far proved futile. For instance, on August 31, Ugandan US based elders tried to reconcile the rival groups without much success. The split became clear during the recently-concluded UNAA convention. Instead of the usual one mega convention, two parallel conventions were convened in San Diego, California. UNAA Proper held its convention at Hyatt hotel while UNAA Causes held its parallel event at the elegant Marriot La Jolla. The two even had separate boat rides on the Pacific Ocean.

Frank Musisi, a former UNAA president, recently wrote an email to Ugandans at Heart (UAH), an online discussion group of Ugandans in the diaspora, after attending both conventions. He said UNAA’s dysfunctional leadership, greed, nepotism, corruption, lack of transparency, accountability and hunger for money destroyed an organization that many respected.

“The UNAA convention used to be a time when people met and consulted, networked, enjoyed themselves, socialized in harmony, but these conventions were full of commotion and hatred. It is indeed a sad story in the affairs of UNAA, two conventions (UNAA Proper and UNAA Causes) with each claiming to be the right and no willingness for compromise,” he wrote.

He estimated that UNAA Proper had about 650-700 attendees while UNAA Causes] had about 350-400 attendees. He said due to the falling out, some American corporations that traditionally sponsored UNAA conventions like Money Gram withdrew their cash.

Enter Mbabazi

He noted a huge contrast in the two conventions. “The event at the Hyatt hotel [UNAA Proper] seemed like a Ugandan government-organized event; on the other hand, the one at the Marriott [UNAA Causes] seemed like it was run and organized by Ugandans. One felt very easy and very relaxed at the Marriott. At UNAA Proper, one felt like you have to be very careful like Big Brother is watching. At least that was my observation,” he wrote.

At UNAA Proper Convention, the then prime minister, Amama Mbabazi, was the chief guest. Other attendees included ministers, MPs, and Uganda’s ambassador to the USA, Oliver Wonekha. Mbabazi’s speech hinted at the conflicts. First, he said UNAA members coming back to Uganda should not pay visa fees. “I heard that when you come to Uganda with your children, each child is charged United States dollars 50.

This is not good for the patriotism we preach, no Ugandan should be taxed for coming home,” he said. He also promised to nudge President Museveni to increase government’s annual contribution to UNAA from the $20,000 which it has contributed for the last seven years.

“At this time one lady next to me wondered why the Uganda government would give us money when we are better off. Why not give it [money] to the hospitals in Uganda, the lady asked,” he wrote.

Aware of the split, Mbabazi called on the leadership of UNAA Causes and UNAA Proper to address their differences.

“I believe that the differences that are experienced within the association will be handled in a mature way. Listen to each other and be ready to tolerate and compromise,” Mbabazi advised. Quoting a wise saying, he said “tolerance is anger suppressed by reason and compromise is conviction forfeited for convenience,” adding that in all they do, they should place Uganda before their personal interests. Mbabazi, on behalf of his family, contributed $5,000 towards the UNAA education fund.

Way forward

Both Muniini Mulera and Musisi believe that dialogue is important to revive UNAA. Musisi said the two groups should start a healing process that can revive UNAA. He predicts that failure to do so might lead to a totally different group emerging to fill the gap.

UNAA, in his opinion, has two problems; one is structural, and two is leadership. He argues that UNAA president inherited a constitution that is very problematic and very hard to implement in case of disagreements. It created three branches with nothing to do. “Take for example a large UNAA council without anything to do. Approve a budget with no income and that is why people fight for conventions. Therefore, it [constitution] needs to be amended.” he noted.

ssekika@observer.ug

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