The Seventeenth meeting of the International Community of Abanyakigyezi (ICOB), which was held in East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA just over a week ago, offered us another opportunity to celebrate the successes of our organisation, to examine our weaknesses and challenges that hamper our shared hope of helping in the positive transformation of our community. The excellent attendance and the frank discussions in both formal and informal settings, reminded us that ICOB continues to be a united forum through which all Banyakigyezi and friends of Kigyezi meet and consolidate bonds that anchor us as a community with shared origins, history, traditions and interests.
No doubt our success has been, in part, due to our firm adherence to non-partisan conduct of our organisation’s affairs. This was very evident at the New Jersey meeting where, as if on cue, all participants seemed to have left their partisan identities at the airport and donned the uniting spirit of our ancestors and our common interests. This laser-like focus on maintaining an organisation that is free from partisan politics was especially on display in New Jersey when we elected our new leadership team. There was not even a whisper heard about the gender, religion or political affiliations of the candidates for vacant positions on the executive committee and the board of directors.
Our nomination process and the elections, which were presided over by Ambassador Mull Sebujja Katende, Uganda’s envoy to the USA, together with Ambassador Duncan Muhuumuza Laki (United Nations) and Prof Richard Ebil Ottoo, a former secretary general of Uganda’s Democratic Party, were free, fair and devoid of the ills that afflict some of the Diaspora community organisations. The following were elected to a three-year term as members of the executive committee:
Bridget Begin Nkojo (vice president), Carol Kemigisha (secretary), Leo Nkurunziza (treasurer) and Marie Claire Bagazonzya (Assistant Secretary). The new board of directors will be composed of Peter M. Bikangaga (Canada), Beatrice Hamujuni-Smith (UK), Ruth Kyamatuuku-Katarikaawe (USA), Grace Mugabiirwe Mutebile (Uganda), Sarah Sebikari-Rukunda (USA) and Emmanuel Tatwangire Turyamuhaki (UK).
We are a group of people who recognise that Kigyezi and her people have many important challenges and needs that transcend artificial and, frankly, meaningless cleavages. My recent visit to Kigyezi re-enforced my opinion that the region’s mass poverty, unemployment, exhausted soils, overpopulation, poor health and education services and alcoholism are at a crisis point. The very poor roads, which become treacherous cattle-paths during the rainy seasons, amplify the challenges of life, commerce and overall in Kigyezi. These are serious problems that afflict Catholics and Protestants, ruling party and Opposition supporters, and people of all ethnic backgrounds. This is why we call upon all Banyakigyezi to unite and demand their rights of citizenship, among them an urgent attention to the neglected roads that connect the headquarters of the region’s six districts and those that serve current tourist attractions. This is something that can only be fixed by the central government of Uganda, on whose high table sit influential men and women from Kigyezi.
For its part, ICOB has identified two core areas of focus, namely, (1) supporting technical and vocational education through the Kigezi Education Fund, and (2) promotion of the tourism industry in Uganda. The Kigezi Education Fund (KEF), whose sole source of funding is donations by members and friends of ICOB, has already funded four information and communication technology (ICT) centres (Kyamakanda, Kisoro, Nyarushanje, Kizinga) and an electrician training program at Nyakatare in Kanungu. We are now looking forward to our next education project in Kigyezi, for which Banyakigyezi and friends of Kigyezi generously donated funds during the gathering in New Jersey. Our ability to implement the plan will be expedited if those who share our goal but did not attend the meeting in New Jersey donate to the cause.
Of equal importance is our focus on promoting tourism as an important engine of development in Kigyezi and Uganda. We believe that Uganda’s tourism industry remains under-exploited. We see opportunities for a well-organized, well-legislated, well-monitored, multifaceted and diversified industry that is promoted by an excellent local and international marketing strategy that enables Uganda to effectively compete for tourist dollars.
My personal view is that the business of declaring Uganda the most beautiful country in the world will not attract tourists. Nearly every country rightly claims to be the most beautiful on Earth. God created a truly magnificent planet on which he placed humans to enjoy every nook and cranny. The international tourist has 195 countries to choose from. The tourist with an eye on East Africa has at least four countries to consider, with some offering pretty much the same as Uganda’s endowment.
Over the next 12 months, ICOB hopes to continue to build strong partnerships with key players at home and abroad to promote Uganda’s tourism industry. We see an opportunity for us to give back even as we enjoy the abundant beauty and story of our homeland.