How Uganda Government "Hijacked" UNAA

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[Global: Reporter's Notebook]

The Uganda North American Association (UNAA) Annual Convention was held in Chicago, Illinois from September 4 - 6. Henry Gombya, renowned international journalist, reports from Chicago for The Black Star News.

The recently concluded convention of the Uganda North American Association (UNAA) will go down in members’ memory as the most closely watched by the Ugandan authorities.

Reliable information from within the UNAA leadership say at least 200 "delegates" from Uganda attended the conference with voting rights to elect the new UNAA leadership.

The same sources say that this time there were more government ministers and senior government officials than at any other convention before. Janet Museveni, wife of the Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni and Minister for Karamoja led these.

This writer could not find anybody who remembers the last time Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations gracing the convention; Dr.  Ruhakana Rugunda was there this time. “We have been hijacked,” one delegate lamented.

Jean Matovu, a founder UNAA member said: “I think the Ugandan government was misled in believing that UNAA is a powerful association that can influence policy makers in the United States. We in UNAA do not and have never boasted to have that kind of influence.” She explains that the formation of UNAA was meant to bring together Ugandans living in the Diaspora to give them a platform to meet those they have not seen for long and to have a chance once every year to meet and have fun. But what happened at the Chicago Marriott Hotel last weekend goes a long way in making one understand how the leadership of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) plans to contest the next general elections in 2011.

Many delegates questioned said the usual atmosphere of the convention had been greatly eroded by political influence from Uganda. One delegate said he usually speaks his mind at these Conventions but was no longer confident. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the delegate who was accompanied by his wife said:

"This time I have had to be very careful as I have been told there are government agents all over the place. I need to be able to go and return from Uganda."
A month before the Convention started, Flex Kabuye, one of the three presidential contestants, flooded delegates' emails with information about his business capabilities. 

As UNAA does not assist members in starting businesses, one wondered why all his emails kept mentioning this. In the Convention hall, every seat was covered in his campaign flyers that were all professionally made and printed.

One evening, he held court in a suite filled with drinks of every type and free food for whoever happened to make it there. The eventual winner, Moses Wilson, a self-employed US civil engineer almost used similar tactics but in a more diplomatic way. With the kind of money they spent trying to get a vote, what financial reward are they expecting to get?

Ugandan Member of Parliament Betty Kamya was disgusted: “It is appalling that while our people are suffering from abject poverty, the Uganda Government can chose to spend billions of shillings of tax-payers money to try and influence the outcome of an association away from home.”

When one looks at the age of some of the 200 delegates shipped from Uganda, one cannot fail to raise a question as to how some of them who were in their early 20s could have afforded a return ticket from Uganda, let alone be handed a visa to come to the USA. While some hard-working UNAA members said they saved for a year for their hotel and food costs, many delegates openly boasted about how some well-wishers had paid for their air tickets and accommodation at the Marriott that stood at $130 a night.

Many had arrived at the hotel a week in advance. Stalls placed right outside the entrance to the Convention hall, selling all kinds of paraphernalia, made it difficult for many attendees to have an interest in what was going on inside. One could also question the legitimacy of the results of an election influenced mainly by delegates purposely brought in by one political party, the NRM, holding the reins of power in Uganda.

Was this what the majority of members wished to happen to their association? During a time when some delegates were busy haggling about the price of t-shirts, music CDs, roasted grasshoppers, and so forth, they missed a very serious accusation made against the Uganda government and the Western world.

Speaking on a debate about events taking place in the northern part of Uganda, Lucy Larom, a 74-year old activist from San Diego, California, who is co-founder of the Committee to End Genocide In Uganda Now (CEGUN) dismissed earlier claims made on the same platform by a junior minister in Ms.  Museveni’s ministry that all was well in Northern Uganda and that the government had allocated more that $600 million to continue developments in the area.

In a shaky but impassioned voice, Ms. Larom said she was "ashamed" that the rest of the world had chosen to keep silent about the truth in Northern Uganda where "massive deaths" were taking place.

She said deaths there were three times as much as those taking place in Darfur, southern Sudan. “This is genocide and we must fight to stop it,” she said.
She accused the Uganda government of failing in its policy to protect those people of Uganda:  “The political decisions by the Ugandan authorities to create human camps in Northern Uganda where people are treated as prisoners on arrival in these camps is wrong. We have heard of horrible accounts of squalor and imprisonment on arrival by government officials. Half a million people still remain in these camps and the conditions are so bad that occupants die more from suicide in an attempt to escape from these horrid conditions."

Larom's words were echoed by Black Star News Publisher Milton Allimadi who placed the blame for what was happening in the northern part of the country squarely on the shoulders of the NRM government, which he said could not escape with assigning all blame to the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

Please see Allimadi's presentation

He said the Uganda government had intentionally allowed Acholi civilians to live in squalid camps where the outcome was "assured death" for the last 23 years. In addition to the LRA, the problem was also caused by "the Ugandan government and the Ugandan military." It was quite clear from the expression of astonishment on the faces of the Ugandan government delegation that this was something they had not expected to hear at the Convention.

As most of the delegates had left Uganda for political reasons, it was indeed a pity that they were not in the hall to give support to what was being said.

In an earlier interview, Mr. Wilson told this writer that if elected he would take UNAA back to its "original ideas." He said he would use his experience in running a business employing 60 people to reorganize the association. 

With accusations already flying that he will be a government partisan, since he is cousin to Mr. John Naggenda, President Yoweri Museveni’s special adviser on the media, it would be nice to see how far he will go to respect his campaign promises.

Next year's UNAA Convention is in Washington.

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