Illegal or not, every Ugandan in the diaspora matters – advisor

Recently appointed advisor on diaspora affairs, Mr Abby Kigozi Walusimbi. PHOTO/ COURTESY

What you need to know:

President Museveni recently appointed an advisor on diaspora affairs, Mr Abby Kigozi Walusimbi. Sunday Monitor’s Desire Mbabaali caught up with the envoy to discuss the role and status of Ugandans’ dealings with the outside world

What do you do as presidential advisor on diaspora affairs?
I am the non-partisan liaison between the President and the different Ugandan diaspora. All members of the diaspora can directly reach me with any issues that they want presented to the President in the shortest time possible. I also serve my country by using this platform to sell Uganda as the best investment and tourism destination to both the diaspora who want to return home and other interested parties.

What activities are you currently involved in?
I am working on re-stablishing the strong bond that once existed between the government and Ugandans in the Diaspora. We are helping the President realise the vision to have his bazukulu return to invest at home and also bring along their expertise picked from years in their respective countries for the benefit of our country.

In liaison with the different diaspora desks in the ministries and other government arms, we are working on crafting policies that will address the challenges our people in the diaspora face, and make it easy for them to return home without fear or favour.
Owing to my most recent official tour to the USA, which was sanctioned by the President, we worked hand in hand with Uganda’s ambassador to the US, Mr Mull Katende, who was very instrumental in ensuring the success of the business tour. 
I have since established and brought home both African Americans and other nationalities who are ready to contribute to Uganda’s economy through investing in different sectors. One of such people is renowned music icon Akon, who will be in the country in early April not as an entertainer but as a multi-million-dollar investor in the energy and mining sector. A number of other potential investors that visited the country after our return have already registered companies here and are preparing to start work [Ed. Note. Akon jetted into the country on Friday morning]. 

Where does your role fall vis a vis the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our embassies in different countries?
When I was appointed to this office, communication was sent to the different ministries and diplomatic missions by the President to create a stronger working relationship with them on issues of the Diaspora. Without these ministries and our missions in the different countries, my work can’t proceed. My role is to help reduce the bureaucratic processes the diaspora faces before their needs are tabled to the President, owing to the diverse, heavy workload the ministries and embassies have on their shoulders. 

Do we have a database of how many Ugandans are in which part of the world?
Not one that can be shared yet. This is partially due to the number of illegal migrants that are nowhere in the records of our missions abroad. However, I am working with all the different stakeholders in all government agencies to build a stronger digitally accessible diaspora database. To give you a glimpse of the data, however, unrefined, as of 2014 we had more than two million Ugandans living in the Diaspora.

There is a big problem of Ugandans who travel to the Gulf countries suffering abuse. What role does your office have in dealing with this issue?
It is unfortunate that this is happening because I believe every human deserves fair treatment, regardless of where they are from or what they are doing. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the ministry of Gender have tried their best to streamline these recruitments, and my office comes in as somewhat a neutral place where all our people in the Diaspora, legal or not, have a chance to reach out to a platform where their concerns will be quickly tabled before the President. 

Also, when I travel to these countries, I give an objective listening ear to the different individuals regardless of political affiliation, to share their challenges which I then share directly with the President and all stakeholders. We have a mandate to engage their employers and forge a better working relationship between our diaspora and their employers.

Many Ugandans leave the country and settle in other countries illegally. Where do these fall in terms of the diaspora you coordinate?
Illegal or not, every Ugandan matters to us as long as they are in the diaspora, and we have a directive to treat all as one unit. The challenges faced in the diaspora do not segregate between legal and illegal migrants, so when we get access to our people in that category, we craft ways to help them acquire legal status and access all the rights granted to fellow members in diaspora.
We also help our diaspora on issues to do with land acquisition, national identification documents, passports, among other needs placed on our table.

Quite often Ugandans in the diaspora, like those organised under the Ugandan North American Association, have had misunderstandings among themselves. How do you relate with some of these organisations?
My office being non-partisan and non-sectarian, is open to all parties in and out of the diaspora leadership. We handle each person as they come. We try our best not to delve on the negative energy amongst them but focus on how best we can serve all of them because they all have a common goal which is to unite Ugandans in the diaspora and give them a central voice. 

How are you working to ensure good working relationships among Ugandans in the diaspora?
My office is open to all Ugandans in the diaspora and we serve every individual or organised group in an objective manner. 

If we have to mediate between them and their employers or authorities back home, we are always happy to go to any level to ensure our people are in good terms. 
We have different departments in our office that are assigned to handle different issues raised by our members and this helps give each of them an equal opportunity to be heard.