Uganda North America Association is glaringly scandalous

Author: Moses Khisa. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Why on earth would a government of a poor country like Uganda send money to its diaspora community when that money is much needed back home? 

The Uganda North American Association (UNAA) held its convention in the USA city of Cincinnati, Ohio, last weekend. 
In online news outlets and social media chatter, the immediate announcement was that an NRM candidate had defeated a NUP one. This, of course, is scandalous but not the worst.

There is more to which I will return in a moment.
UNAA is the oldest Uganda diaspora association. When I first arrived in the United States, now 11 years ago, I had heard great things about UNAA. I looked forward to being an active member. 

There were many credible and high-profile compatriots active in the association. But from the grapevine were stories of shenanigans and malfeasance. I chose to stay away, at least in the meantime. Things only got worse.  To date, I have never attended a UNAA convention although a few years ago I participated in several teleconferences as a member of a committee.  

The decay, duplicity and deceit that characterises the rulership in Uganda appears to have uncanny parallels in a diaspora association called UNAA. For starters, why should an association meant to unify and mobilise diaspora citizens be reduced to the shabby and shallow partisan politics of the ruling party back home up against its opponents? 

Bringing party lines and biases into UNAA is not just unnecessary, unhealthy and counterproductive, it also patently undermines the very idea of building a united diaspora community.  A diaspora association has two core aims. First, to promote and preserve homeland cultural values, ethos and customs among members of the diaspora especially the younger generations. 

Second, to advocate and mobilise for and on behalf of the social needs and development aspirations of the homeland through promoting trade and investment, tourism, non-profit projects, diplomacy, etc. 

The latter is especially worthwhile in North America where the United States has for more than half a century maintained its superpower status in economic, diplomatic and military realms. Global commercial and diplomatic matters tend to be determined in New York City while Washington DC is the world’s defacto administrative capital and economic decision making centre where the Bretton Woods institutions (IMF and World Bank) are headquartered. 

Given the relevance and salience of New York and DC, not to mention Silicon Valley (the concentration of the world’s tech innovations and bases), there are very good reasons to have a strong and well-organised diaspora presence in North America. If for no other reason, this alone should make UNAA an excellent and worthwhile platform.  But the ideal UNAA is one thing, the actual one that exists today is quite another. The latter is afflicted by endemic internal scandals including, of all things, rigging elections for president and other executive members!  Quite instructively, what is supposed to be a strictly volunteer and onerous job as UNAA president or executive member becomes fiercely competed and fought for such that bribery and fiddling with the vote have to play roles in who gets elected. This is because of at least two reasons. 

First and apparently, there is money to control. The bulk of the money available to UNAA, I understand, comes from the government of Uganda. Second, there are senseless partisan fights such that a win or loss is at least symbolically seen as significant for domestic politics back home in Uganda. 

Every year, the government of Uganda remits $100,000 to UNAA. Part of this money goes to member-groups, which are largely ‘tribal’ or ethnic, if we can eschew the former derogatory term.  When I served as Vice President and later President of the North America Masaba Cultural Association (NAMCA), the second oldest Ugandan diaspora association, my conscience wrestled with having to apply for a ‘UNAA grant’ that came from funds secured from Uganda. I expressed my disquiet but was always in the minority on this.  Why on earth would a government of a poor country like Uganda send money to its diaspora community when that money is much needed back home? 

You can build a school classroom block with $100,000 to serve the many young Ugandans otherwise studying under trees. Better, that money, over a five-year period, is good enough to get us a new and fully functional maternity ward somewhere in deep rural Uganda where women die in labour in part because they can’t access hospital facilities and care. 

But as would be expected, the Ugandan government has to extend its obnoxious patronage abroad and pay for a supposed positive presence by having a leadership of a diaspora association that is in its pockets and to mollify the membership at large. 

Obviously, this hardly works because save for a small and fringe group passing as UNAA and especially the leadership, the vast majority of Ugandans in North America are either indifferent and silent or are stridently opposed to Mr Museveni’s rule.

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