As Ugandans in the diaspora convene for their respective conventions this month, a lethal combination of money, egos and intrigue has torn them apart.
The ruling NRM government has been dragged into the wrangles with some of the groups claiming that it is funding one group at the expense of another.
Some of the groups due to hold meetings this month are: the Uganda Convention UK (UCUK) headed by a one Willy Mutenza; Ugandans in North America Association (UNAA) under the stewardship of Monday Atigo and a splinter group UNAA Causes under former UNAA board member, James Sserumaga.
Government threw a spanner in the works when it reportedly handed a token of $100,000 (Shs 350m) to Atigo’s UNAA.
UNAA Causes, the splinter group, has labelled the donation as selective arguing that the rival group is misusing the money.
“Ugandan Diaspora based organisations should seriously consider the plight of our relatives and friends based in Uganda before accepting government funding, taking away from the less privileged to subsidize a vacation for those in North America cannot be defended,” Serumaga, the chairman of UNAA Causes said in a statement.
Atigo, UNAA chairman, hit back questioning the timing of the allegations.
“The government of Uganda has been a great supporter of UNAA for more than 10 years, even when those in UNAA Causes were still leaders in UNAA. Ironically, the government sponsorship is now evil when they are no longer UNAA leaders. Why didn’t they stop the funding before they broke away?” he said.
While at one of their conventions in San Diego in 2014, UNAA members used Museveni’s presence to convince him into pledging a contribution of $100,000 (Shs350m) to their annual convention.
Before that, the government had been contributing $20,000 (Shs70, million) to UNAA annually until Museveni revised the figure upwards.
Speaking exclusively to the Nile Post, Philip Odida, the head of the Diaspora Affairs department in the ministry of Foreign Affairs, said there is no rationale followed by government in the funding of the activities of various groups in diaspora.
“The president made a prerogative to finance UNAA, it was a public pledge to them and all he is doing is fulfill the pledge,” Odida said.
The Nile Post is aware that UNAA boasts of a relationship with Parliament, as evidenced in a parliament guide distributed to different media houses recently.
According to the guide, the speaker of parliament, Rebecca Kadaga lavishes UNAA with praise confirming its parliament role to get in touch with the diaspora.
As a result, parliament usually sends more than 30 MPs to the UNAA convention annually. All MPs are sponsored using tax payers’ money. They fly first class and paid per diem.
UNAA Causes and Nordic convention on the other hand have less or no representation at all from parliament.
Chris Obore, the director of information at parliament, dismissed the accusations of selective parliament involvement.
“We have two Nordic activities in September and October. We are not interested in the diaspora split politics. Those who require parliament participation write to the Speaker. Parliament has a diaspora desk under my department,” Obore said.
How money wrecked UNAA
In 2014, five members of the UNAA board of trustees; Dr Sarah Matovu (Georgia), Dr Opiyo Oloya (Ontario), James Serumaga (Boston, Massachusetts), Alexander Zabasajja (New Jersey) and Dr Muniini K. Mulera (Ontario) resigned over accountability and transparency issues.
“Dear members of the Ugandan North American Association, We the undersigned members of Ugandan North American Association Board of Trustees (UNAABOT), after much deliberation, consideration and discussion about the current and future predicament of this noble organization, have decided, in good conscience, not to be part of the ongoing manipulation, fraud and corrupt lawlessness that now characterizes the leadership of the Association. It is our duty to inform you that effective 12:00 noon EST, Monday August 25, 2014, we have resigned our role as members of the UNAABOT,” their statement read.
As a result of the havoc in the UNAA, a splinter group, UNAA Causes was formed.
The new group laid their foundation on independence, rejecting government influence both politically and financially.
They started holding a different convention annually in bigger cities, with their niche being entertainment and fundraising for activities to help Ugandans back home.
In 2016, the UNAA Causes appointed former UNAA board member, Serumaga as their chairman.
The association will from August 31 to September 3 in Las Vegas, launch an entrepreneurship club with the aim of pooling resources for investment in Uganda. It will also launch a Clean Water fund, to collect money to provide clean water to Ugandans back home.
“Several of our people home cannot access any clean water to drink or cook, we are dying of diseases that are water borne. Despite having a far better life here in the USA, our loyalty is to our country and our brothers and sisters. We are happy to bring clean water to Uganda in partnership with Miss Uganda and any well-wishers,” Serumaga said ahead of their launch.
Other Diaspora meetings are expected in Denmark under the stewardship of Abu Matovu who is working closely with Kibedi Zaake, Uganda’s head of mission in Denmark.
Kibedi said government participates in their respective activities.
“The speaker of parliament will preside over Independence Day celebrations and convention. We already have four MPs from the parliamentary committee on trade and investment for September events,” he said.