Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | In-fighting is threatening to tear apart the Ugandans North American Association (UNAA).
The fights have intensified in the run-up to polls for new leadership later this year in Chicago USA. The fights revolve around the control of association’s bank accounts, suspension of some members and refusing others to run for leadership.
“Today, the organization is like a den of thieves – official accounts frozen, official websites were commandeered, suits and counter-suits, election rigging,” one member told URN. “You name it, we have it. It is like we are back in Uganda.”
The UNAA Electoral Commission on Tuesday, April 30 will finish accepting applications for leadership positions but some members are holding their breath unsure whether they would be accepted as candidates. UNAA is an important organisation that brings together diaspora Ugandans in America.
It promotes social, cultural and economic development of the Ugandan community in North America and beyond.
Ugandans in diaspora send money home in form of remittances, a crucial contribution to developing their home country.
Every year, members of parliament, ministers, journalists, opposition politicians and other Ugandans fly to the USA to attend the group’s annual general meeting.
However, amidst the pomp and merrymaking, each group seeks to control a piece of the association with government wanting to have those that identify with it in leadership while the opposition also wants those sympathetic with its struggle to control the association.
On the hand is a group led by Monday Atigo, the current association leader, and on the other Dr Daniel Kawuma who is aspiring to be president.
Dr Kawuma says that he had launched his campaigns in Boston and was submitting his application for the position of President of the association. “Some people are trying to frustrate my campaign but the job of the electoral commission is to decide who the candidates not the UNAA executive,” Kawuma said.
Dr Kawuma has been on suspension and some members in the current leadership didn’t want him to stand. But at the start of April, the UNAA council ruled that his suspension was illegal and his membership in the organisation be re-instated.
“The UNAA Council therefore at its special sitting of April 11, 2019, resolved that Dr Daniel Kawuma’s membership be reinstated/or he be allowed to renew his membership pending disposal of any petitions against his good standing or otherwise,” read an April 11, 2019 letter by Alex Ssemwanga, the UNAA council speaker.
The group led by Atigo is reluctant to do so, sparking the ire of some members.
In an April 15, 2019, letter Albert F. Bakasara Kazooba, the UNAA community leader for Tooro American Association, wrote that the association leaders [led by Atigo] were attempting to stop some people from running for presidency under the pretext that they sued the association.
“As a UNAA member and a community leader, I strongly object to such tactics. And despite what they may say or believe, the people who are engaging in these activities, are the ones who are undermining UNAA’s standing and credibility,” he wrote.
“We need to heal our community and you Mr Chairman [Atigo], can be one to take the first step regardless of which candidates you support, disqualifying Dr Kawuma would be a lowly and shady way of tipping the scales in the upcoming Chicago vote.”
The fights in UNAA have been on since September 2017 when a disputed election was won by Atigo. Dr Kawuma asked the UNAA board of trustees to investigate, and it found that up to 300 members who had voted had their membership questioned as they hadn’t paid membership fees or evidence of their payment could not be traced.
In February 2018, Kawuma organized an online poll which he won paving way for parallel leadership of the association. His leadership was overturned in June 2018 by a court in Massachusetts USA which ruled that Atigo was rightful UNAA leader.
Since then, Kawuma says, the Atigo group has worked to purge him and those seen to identify with him out of the association.
Another fight is on the control of the association’s finances. Every new member contributes $50 (180,000 shillings) as membership fee. Established members pay $20 (75000 shillings) for renewal annually. With membership running in thousands, the association corrects significant amount annually.
The government contributes $100,000 (375 million shillings) to the association to help run the association activities.
Different groups are fighting to control this money, with some going a mile further to change the signatures on the association accounts held at the Bank of America.
In one letter Arthur Nantamu, the association treasurer, who was the sole signatory to the UNAA accounts in the bank of America details how his signature was removed and two other members added without being notified, a case he says was pure fraud.
Peter Mukunya, UNAA secretary and Atigo, the president, effected the changes. The accounts are now frozen and there is court case ongoing to decide who should control the money.
These fights have infuriated new members, with one writing in the print media early this year:
“UNAA has totally been reduced [into] a fraud-laden organization that can’t organize its growing population both by birth and immigration.”
“I have been in America for 3 years now navigating through the murky waters on my own only to register my new membership to a confused group of people.”