The Ugandan North American Association (UNAA) is in a deep crisis that is the result of a collision between two irreconcilable forces.
One group, led by the current president and an old guard of advisors, seeks maintenance of the status quo. The other group, led by a majority of UNAA council members, seeks a drastic change in direction, based on constitutionalism, institutional governance, and accountability.
UNAA has been plagued by corruption, lack of accountability and persistent allegations that some individuals use the annual conventions to engage in personal financial gain at the expense of the association. In the run-up to last year’s UNAA Executive and Council elections held in Dallas, Texas, there was genuine hope for change in the governance of UNAA.
However, following those elections, the new president lost no time in aligning himself with an old guard that sought to maintain the status quo. He proceeded to ignore and undermine the institutions of the association, setting the stage for an implosion that he and his advisors appeared to have considered impossible.
The breaking point came in June when the president summarily hijacked the powers of the association’s elected treasurer by removing the latter’s access to the association’s bank accounts.
As a result of the president’s actions, the association to whose leadership he was elected with hope for youthful revitalisation became deeply and potentially irrevocably divided.
In protest, a forum called UNAA Causes was formed by a majority of the council members, together with other members of the association. UNAA Causes has organised a parallel meeting at a lower cost to delegates that will take place in San Diego, California from August 28 to 31, alongside the usual UNAA annual convention a block away.
Asked why they formed UNAA Causes, a spokesperson said: “It is because of the impunity that the current executive committee of UNAA has shown towards the constitution. They have ignored the UNAA Council in the authorisation of expenditures; they have ignored the rulings of the UNAA Board of Trustees; and they have joined forces with those who conduct business in a strong arm manner that disregards the opinions of others.”
All indications are that the UNAA Causes Festival will attract a very large number of Ugandans who are looking for a more affordable and enriching opportunity for networking, entertainment, participating in the rebranding of the association and contributing to humanitarian causes in Uganda, including raising funds for a Cancer Centre at Jinja Hospital.
They hope to achieve this by minimising costs, attracting high attendance by charging lower fees than what the delegate to the regular UNAA convention will pay, and offering a first class entertainment package.
According to their website (www.unacauses.org) UNAA Causes has signed contracts with popular entertainers, including Anne Kansiime, Eddy Kenzo, plus a Canada versus USA soccer game and a dinner cruise on California’s number one yacht. This entertainment will be combined with more serious business, including a general assembly that will discuss strategies for “saving UNAA.”
Will UNAA Causes save UNAA? If they can map out strategies for transforming UNAA into an all-year-round, transparently governed organisation that serves the interests of Ugandans in North America, they will have achieved a dream of many who have been frustrated by the unending wrangles of the association.
UNAA is worth saving. The current crisis is an opportunity for those who care about our collective interests to try, once again, to retrieve our association from the brink. That should be the main conversation piece at the UNAA Causes Festival and at the usual UNAA convention a block away.
Dr Mulera is based in Toronto, Canada. firstname.lastname@example.org