In September 2019, Ms Henrietta Nairuba Wamala beat the competition stiff from three other contestants to emerge President of the Ugandans in North America Association (UNAA), the oldest and largest Ugandan diaspora group and arguably most prominent.
Ms Wamala an always active member of the association since 2005, having served as the Association’s Executive Secretary (2009-13) campaigned on the ticket of Unity, welfare, and accountability within an association that has been marred by infighting, breakaways, and massive embezzlement from her immediate predecessor.
One year in office, Ms Wamala has achieved on several fronts. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Association will for the first tim in its history, render annual the convention only possible virtually in September this year.
However, Ms Wamala has reportedly achieved a lot in terms of accountability and unity despite the pandemic which has given her agenda a completely new shape, with constant engagements of members and the search for more members.
“My Vision for UNAA is to ensure that we grow membership and transform the organization into a service-driven non-profit entity for its members; a vision that requires all hands on deck through community engagement, growing sponsorships, rebuilding professional, social and economic relationships,” Ms Wamala.
“Through community engagement, I have been able to reach out to various Ugandan communities, as well as identifying new ones that had not previously engaged with UNAA for one reason or another and are now working with us to achieve our mission and objectives,” she adds.
For the Association that receives annual funding of Shs360 million ($10,000) from the Ugandan government, one would think the job is already cut out. It should be however noted that the association’s problems have started and ended with the said funding as far as the history of the money and the association is concerned.
But according to Ms Wamala, the problems of the association go beyond the said money which is normally shared between Foreign Affairs ($50000) and Ugandan Communities in North America ($50000).
“It is a known fact that every two years during UNAA campaigns we have heated exchanges among candidates and of late Ugandan politics has been injected in the association where some candidates will identify with certain parties and accuse opponents as affiliates to other parties in Uganda,” she says.
She claims people with political interests in the association tend to work with different sources and media to discredit the works of the association’s executive.
“This kind of politicking has been a major problem that casts a shadow over the association especially from those that join the leadership with an agenda to elevate their political platforms outside the association rather than deliver to the members.”
“The association can stand on its own by working on a manageable annual budget and increasing its membership and also membership fees. This is an issue that should be tabled to members at an Annual General Meeting for discussion so that they decide if the government should stop supporting the organization with the $50000.”
Ms Wamala says that when her executive took over the office in September, they found an organization that had gone through years of fighting with a tarnished reputation.
“Unfortunately, as we continue rebranding and revitalizing the organization, some saboteurs are working hard to make sure that we fail at our efforts, hence the negative malicious stories being published in the media.”
“My administration promised to be as accountable, accessible, and transparent to its members and that is exactly what we have done.”
Among some highlights that have shaped Ms Wamala’s one-year reign so far include the restoration of the association’s registration status with the state by making sure that all taxes were filed and are up to date.
“During March 3rd to March 23, 2020, I made a trip to Uganda and was able to rebuild and even create new partnerships for UNAA as I had promised in my quest for the presidency, some of these we embarked on were long term partnerships with counterparts that would benefit the entity such as Kiira Motors, Equity Bank, Opportunity Bank, PostBank, Pearl Marina, Sessaco, Horyal Investments, etc. “
“I was also able to meet with the American Embassy in Uganda and clear some misconceptions that were tainted by adversaries of the association to the Embassy and also restore the organization’s image. As I have promised members, we also promised the embassy to be transparent on who we send to them for interviews.”
Ms Wamala also said she has met with the Speaker of Parliament, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) officials, the Prime Minister, and officials from NIRA and tabled issues that matter to the Ugandans in diaspora such as access to services from MOFA through the Embassies and Missions, right to Vote.
“Today we are proud Ugandans in diaspora have been allowed to vote, the specifics of how that will happen to remain to be seen. The various entities mentioned agreed to work with the embassies and bring services closer to the communities but unfortunately, Covid19 struck and those plans had to be halted.”
However, even with COVID-19 being the negative force, Ms Wamala has channeled the association’s resources to engage members and support those that have been affected by the pandemic.
“We were able to sensitize communities about COVID-19 and also worked with the Embassy on receiving and distributing the remaining CDF funds to communities to help them during the pandemic.”
At least each community has been facilitated with available resources to support its members.
“As you can tell, even when the world came to stop with the COVID19 pandemic, we have continued to serve our members and are accepting the new normal of doing business. We never stopped serving our members. We set up a Covid-19 Committee constituting of UNAA leaders from across all our Organs; the Executive, Council, Board of Trustees, and Committees. The purpose of the COVID-19 committee is to coordinate the association’s response to the Covid-19 crisis in our communities.”
“Communication will be sent out to community leaders on association’s efforts to help COVID-19 affected families and if there is a need, they can put in a request through our official platforms then we will suggest a care package with essentials to the families.”
With all the achievements, one thing surely remains a headache for Ms. Wamala and team, will there be a physical convention in light of the COVID pandemic?
“We will make a final decision on this in due course. However, with the climbing COVID-19 numbers around the country, it is hard to determine if we can still hold a physical convention in San Francisco this year even with all the safety measures that we have been working on. Our second option is to hold a virtual event and still be able to achieve the association’s mission and objectives to its members,” she says.