Unaa Convention: Will Uganda's First Lady Speak?

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[Global: Africa]

Controversy over whether Uganda's First Lady will be a speaker has emerged barely two weeks before the start of an annual convention hosted by Ugandans living in north America.

There is pressure on Uganda’s ambassador to the United States and the conference’s organizers to resolve the dispute, according to people familiar with the matter. Some people familiar with recent developments say officials in Uganda are unhappy that the country’s First Lady, Janet Museveni, has been left in an indelicate position.

What's more, the conference is bound to attract U.S. media attention as a U.S. Senator is the slated keynote speaker.

Lt. Frank Musisi, the President of the Ugandan North American Association (UNAA), the group that organizes the annual gathering in various American cities, says the invitation to Uganda’s First Lady and minister of State for Karamoja region was made without his knowledge by an unauthorized individual.

The invitation came from Dr. Ben Omara Abe, a Ugandan who resides in Seattle, Wa., who is also a prominent and long-term UNAA member, through ambassador Prof. Perezi Kamunanwire.

Dr. Abe has said that he’s a founder of the Northern Forum, which meets as a panel as part of the conference, to discuss the war in northern Uganda each year; the conflict has lasted for more than 23 years and devastated the region and its populace. Dr. Abe says he’s organized the forum for the past 15 years and that there’s never been any objection about the guests that he invites or the initiative in planning the event.  

The forum is a part of the overall UNAA Convention which meets from September 4 to 6, in Chicago, IL. United States Senator Roland Burris (D-IL) is the keynote speaker.

Lt. Musisi, an American citizen of Ugandan descent, says Dr. Abe isn’t a member of the organizing committee and that ambassador Kamunanwire never should have forwarded the invitation to Mrs. Museveni after he found out it wasn’t official.

As things now stand, there are two panels slated on northern Uganda, which, ironically has been neglected for years. The officially-sanctioned forum is on September 4; complete with a panel of speakers and a moderator.

The panel that’s been put together by Dr. Abe is to meet on September 5, and is to include the First Lady.

Attempts at resolution have not moved far since the two camps are currently not openly communicating, one person familiar with the matter said.

In an interview, ambassador Kamunanwire said when he first received the invitation several weeks ago from Dr. Abe, something looked odd about the letterhead and that he contacted Noah Bukenya, who is the chairman of the organizing committee, for clarification. He says Bukenya checked with his colleagues and told him that the invitation was fine.

“I believed it was a bonafide invitation,” ambassador Kamanunwire says. He adds that it was much later when he realized there was a problem but that by then the First Lady had accepted the invitation. He says it would be best to accomodate all parties.

But Lt. Musisi disputes ambassador Kamunanwrire’s account. He says when Bukenya asked him about the invitation, he told him that it was unauthorized and that he had not made it.

Meanwhile, in an e-mail message to UNAA members last week, Dr. Abe, in part, wrote: “This year Uganda’s Minister of State for Karamoja and Member of Parliament for Ruhama, Hon. Janet Museveni, has accepted our invitation to address the Northern Uganda Forum.” Dr. Abe’s e-mail message adds, “The Hon Mrs. Janet Museveni who is also Uganda’s First Lady, had a long standing commitment to the development of Karamoja even before she became a minister for that region. As the forum organizer I have invited the Minister to articulate to Diaspora Ugandans what developments to expect for Karamoja and the greater Northern Uganda at large. Hon Mrs. Museveni has been at the forefront of the change and development in the area during and after the conflict in Northern Uganda and we are honored to host her this year.”

Lt. Musisi, formerly an active and now reserve member of the U.S. military, said after he found out about the unauthorized invitation he called Dr. Abe and told him that he had already planned a forum on northern Uganda. “He said ‘What do you know about northern Uganda?’ He told me he did not care and that he was going to organize his own forum,” Lt. Musisi says.

Dr. Abe disputes the account and counters that Lt. Musisi was belligerent and rude towards him.

On August 20, 2009, Lt. Musisi sent a letter to ambassador Kamunanwire. “Much as we would love to oblige her, I regret to inform you that it is now too late to make the necessary arrangements in the program to accommodate a person of her stature, in an orderly and timely fashion,” he wrote of the First Lady. He added that Unaa would be “glad to consider inviting her to next year’s convention, if she still wants to attend a UNAA convention.”

On Saturday, August 22, Lt. Musisi sent an e-mail message to Dr. Abe, which was also copied to ambassador Kamunanwire, under the heading “Clarification On Northern Uganda Forum At The 21st UNAA Annual Convention In Chicago, Illinois.”
"This urgent message to you all is designed to clear any confusion and misconceptions created by a message posted by Mr. Ben Abe of Seattle, Washington," read Lt. Musisi's e-mail message. "First, Mr. Ben Abe is not part of the organizing team for the 2009 Chicago Convention and his postings on the UNAA’s Northern Uganda forum during the Convention in Chicago, should be ignored. Second, UNAA is not responsible for any invitations sent out by Mr. Ben Abe to individuals/ officials/ dignitaries."

But Lt. Musisi was not to have the last word on the matter; not yet anyway.

"I acknowledge your letter of Thursday August 20, 2009, regarding the subject matter,” ambassador Kamunanwire countered, in a letter to Lt. Musisi, on August 23, 2009. “The purpose of this letter, however, is to inform you that the 1st Lady and the Minister of State for Karamoja, Hon. Janet K. Museveni will address the Northern Uganda Forum as per invitation from the Chairman of the Forum, Dr. Ben Abbey (sic)."

Lt. Musisi insists that there are ulterior motives behind ambassador Kamunanwire’s persistence. He says ambassador Kamunanwire knew all along that Dr. Abe’s invitation wasn’t authorized and even left him a voice mail message acknowledging that Dr. Abe should have followed the proper procedures for an official invitation. Lt. Musisi, who has been UNAA president and ceo since September, 2007, and is running for re-election believes there is a plan to undermine his candidacy.

In his e-mail message of Saturday, Lt. Musisi lists the moderator of the officially-sanctioned forum on northern Uganda as Irene Latigo, from Toronto, Canada. He lists the invited Uganda government officials as: Hon. David Wakikona Minister of State for Northern Uganda Rehabilitation; Mr. Pius Bigirimana, Permanent Secretary Office of the Prime Minister, Northern Uganda; Mrs. Flavia Waduwa, Under Secretary, Northern Uganda Pacification and Development; and, Hon. Musa Ecweru, Minister of State for Relief and Disaster Preparedness & Refugees.

Other speakers from Uganda listed are: Hon. Norbert Mao, Chairman LCV Gulu District; and,  Mr. Edwin Yakobo Komakech, RDC Amuru District.

Those listed as private citizens and NGOs include: Ben Keesy of Invisible of Children from San Diego, Ca.; Lucy Larom of CEGUN, San Diego, Ca.; and, Milton Allimadi, Publisher of The Black Star News, of New York.

Dr. Abe, in his message to Unaa’s members also lists his own speakers and panelists. In addition to Mrs. Museveni, they are: Dr. George Otto, Medical Practitioner in Toronto Canada and Entrepreneur; Mr. Opiyo Oloya, Educator and Newspaper Columnist of Toronto Canada; and, Ms. Rosette Serwanga, Humanitarian Worker and Past UNAA President.

Northern Uganda has been devastated as a consequence of warfare for the last 23 years between the national army under President Yoweri Museveni and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), under Joseph Kony.

In 1986, the Uganda government ordered practically the entire population of Acholi into squalid camps, ostensibly to protect civilians from the LRA. In 2005 a report by the World Heatlh Organization (WHO) said up to 1,000 excess deaths through hunger, dehydration and treatable diseases, occurred per week in the camps or 52,000 annually.

Editor's Note: Please see Dr. Abe's response at  http://www.blackstarnews.com/news/135/ARTICLE/5958/2009-08-25.html

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