The 31st UNAA Convention which took place in Chicago this year is now in the history books but what a spectacle of an event it was no matter how you look at it. For some it will go down as the biggest comeback in UNAA attendance with more than 1500 registered delegates while for others, the feedback we got the event will be remembered as one of the worst conventions and possibly the most disorganized, based on its execution and faulty programming.
For purposes of accountability to all our readers, we at Uganda Diaspora News shall endeavor to give a complete account of what was seen in Chicago (call it “the good, the bad and the ugly”) and the areas of opportunity that we think can help make UNAA great again. For starters, I commend the hotel choice and location as one that allowed Ugandans to do what they do best– play hard and party, in an open area punctuated with cozy upscale restaurants full of ambiance that set the mood for the three-day weekend.
Day One — This writer missed out on attending the traditional Business Forum but was told that it was filled with some good networking opportunities, especially to do business in Uganda. Mr. Moses Wilson, the coordinator of this meeting, later ably summarized, for those not there, some of the highlights and accomplishments of what had transpired at the full day event on Friday.
On Friday evening we were in time for the Miss Uganda North America Pageant and Bootcamp, the brainchild of the power couple, UNAA Communications Director Julius Kabuggu and his wife Tibba. Now in its third year, the program is commendable as it seeks to empower young diaspora women while keeping them rooted in their culture. but to some it has also come at a price to UNAA.
This year’s opening ceremony was not held, partly because the pageant carried on past midnight. Some registered members were also equally upset that they had to pay a separate fee ($20 regular and $40 VIP) to access the event that they felt should have been free having paid UNAA registration fees. For the incoming administration this will be a knotty issue they will need to address since there are those for and against this program which has now become a staple at UNAA Conventions. The program attracts separate sponsors and is paid for privately but within the overall UNAA Program. While the program adds color to the Convention there is a need to manage its time or spread it across the three-day weekend to avoid viewer fatigue.
As Friday faded into the night we were treated to some Deejay entertainment led by DJ Mposa, Benazo, Paddy and local Chicago DJs who did well trying to entertain revelers on day in the main ballroom though a dedicated smaller room with dance floor and cash bar would have sufficed.
Day Two — Saturday morning was another day with lots of missed opportunities. The Convention booklet did not provide the usual convention program to offer guidance to attendees on what was going to happen and where. This then derailed a lot programs, including the Annual General Meeting(AGM) that saw the UNAA BOT show up late, equally absent were the UNAA Executive and Council Members.
This lack of quorum led the organizers to postpone the AGM meeting to Sunday but it never took place, due to the long voting queues. Members were then left with lots of unanswered questions arising from litigation involving UNAA court cases, pending member petitions, financial mismanagement that the UNAA VP had alluded to in his dossier and the official communication of expelled members by the UNAA disciplinary committee.
It was equally disturbing to learn that the outgoing duly elected UNAA Treasurer was excluded from the entire operation, including access to the registration portal, as a member dismissed and forced to resign in Miami as the UNAA Director of Finance was instead brought back to handle the Finances, to the bewilderment of some members who did not know in what capacity this decision was made. This meant no financial reports were presented to members.
On-site registration saw more money collected for both the boat and the Sunday banquet, although some members complained of missing out on the grand finale dinner. The food was great but many who showed up late seemed surprised finding hotel staff wheeling off the food with no explanation yet many had not eaten.
Being an election year, we were treated to the first civil Presidential debate in UNAA’s history, as all candidates articulated their visions for UNAA. The Presidential debate offered some real surprises and in our view saw Patrick Ogwang carry the day with his charisma and ability to connect with his audience. Major Frank Musisi, who was returning to clean up UNAA, wasted no time by attacking the former UNAA President’s record while riding on VP John Julius Muluuya’s dossier accusing the UNAA President of financial impropriety, something which in my view sunk his campaign, given the timing of its delivery. Major Musisi further reminded his audience that Ms. Henrietta had been endorsed by President Atigo whose record his Vice President had shredded.
Madam Henrietta Wamala wasted no time in reminding her audience of the $55,000 dollar debt that past President Major Musisi left in Chicago 10 years ago, following his defeat as UNAA President. During the back and forth rebuttals each candidate denied accusations of foul play, as well as photos that surfaced showing one candidate meeting the President of the Republic Uganda as reported by social media as a fake photoshopped encounters and instead promised to restore UNAA’s past glory.
Other positions contested included 3 Executive and several UNAA Council Membership positions. This debate was later cut short by the BOT Chair Mr. Agaba as it encroached on the evening boat cruise time. We should add that the BOT Chair did a commendable job balancing the debate and allowed all candidates equal time and a chance to rebut.
Saturday evening was the real icing on the cake as revelers prepared for the All White Boat Cruise on the Chicago Odyssey that was set to sail on Lake Michigan later that evening. However after waiting for about an hour for transportation at the hotel, members were again surprised when the wait was further extended at the actual pier, causing the Chicago Police to employ K-9 Units to prevent tempers from flaring.
At about 9:45pm the Odyssey was underway and it took the prowess of DJ Silverback and other invited entertainers to turn around the evening. Apart from the evening drizzle and the late departure, the food and ambience aboard this boat were memorable highlights of a cruise that ended around midnight.
Day Three — This was election day and the morning began with a church service. Later long voting queues snaked though the vendor area with some standing in line for up to 4 hours. The hybrid electronic/paper ballot system promised extended voting till 7pm. I later learnt that the paper ballots were never counted. I do, however, commend the security apparatus put in place to monitor the election process.
The election was later won by Ms. Henrietta Wamala Nairubi who got 241 votes of the total 756 registered voters. Apparently the failure of the other three opposition candidates to unite handed Ms. Henrietta Wamala the victory, as more than 515 members voted for alternative candidates but the split vote enabled her to cross the finishing line with only 10 votes more than the second runner-up. The Vice Presidential elect Lydia Natoolo (251 votes) and UNAA Secretary Lambert Etibot (290 votes) enjoyed some comfortable leads in their races as did the UNAA Treasurer-elect (280 votes).
However as a UNAA member since 2001 who has also served in various capacities including the UNAA board and has closely followed the politics of this organization, its about time we ended the political gerrymandering that allows incumbents to pick votes, choose constituencies and anoint preferred candidates by taking conventions to areas were they deem their biggest support base exists. We witnessed this in Dallas, New Orleans, Miami and now Chicago. The removal of an absentee ballot system is another reason why membership voting still has a long way to go and why some continue to suspect an invisible hand in all recent UNAA election results.
While we congratulate and wish the new Executive every success, we hope the new President will reach out to his opponents as a way to address all the misdeeds of the previous administration and thereby end speculation that her election will be a continuation of her predecessor’s policies. We can make UNAA great again if we all unite and work together for the good of this great organization. A Constitutional Review Commission is also long overdue or the return of the our pre-2010 UNAA Constitution that had worked well for over 20 years till it was abolished in Washington DC, always remember ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’
Other artists included Jose Chameleon, John Blaq, Lord Fred Ssebatta, Geo Steady, Karitas and more. UNAA might need to limit the number of entertainers to allow for those invited to get the adequate time to perform and deliver. Since this is an annual event, there is always the opportunity for others to come the following year, as a way to minimize expenses…just saying.
Uganda Diaspora Network was happy to have recommended and connected Mr. Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine to the Chicago organizing committee. Ntare’s keynote speech took us through his journey as a film actor/playwright/activist to the current hit-show on Showtime called the CHI. Other mentions included Daniel Kaluuya’s Get Out movie success, Tendo Nagenda’s move from Disney to head Netflix Film division and another Ugandan set to start shooting her own television series in Hollywood.
The government of Uganda was also ably represented with both the Government Chief Whip Hon. Ruth Nankabirwa heading the delegation, both Uganda’s ambassador to the United States H.E Mull Katende and the High Commissioner to Canada, Her Excellency Joy Acheng, both attended the 31st UNAA Convention.
In his remarks, the ambassador to Washington defended the government contribution of the $100,000 dollar UNAA Development fund meant to empower UNAA and the Diaspora local chapters across North America. Earlier in the week the Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament the Rt. Hon. Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga had also been part of the Business Forum held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Friday but had to travel due to other prior engagements. It was also announced that the next UNAA Convention would be held on Labor Day Weekend in San Francisco, California.