By Peter Nyanzi
Ronnie Mayanja is an organizer of the Uganda Diaspora Network which brings together Ugandans living and working abroad. He spoke to Peter Nyanzi about their activities and the planned Gala event in Kampala this December.
What is the background/history of the Ugandan Diaspora Network?
The Ugandan Diaspora Network and Gala was formed out of the desire to bring together various Ugandans living and working abroad in an atmosphere where they could network when visiting home for the holidays. To date, we have held two successful annual galas and the one of December 30 will be our third.
What was the rationale for launching the initiative?
The event was born out of the desire to provide Ugandans with the opportunity to network at both social and economic levels with individuals and businesses that target the Diaspora market. Some companies travel to the Diaspora for annual conventions to try and sell real estate, prime land, medical and life insurance, property and many other items of possible interest to the Ugandan community abroad.
At the gala, we present these individuals with an opportunity to sell directly to interested buyers by showing these Ugandans visiting back home the services in real time via visits to actual sites and face to face meetings. The other motivation is that we all converge home for Christmas holidays and we wanted to create a forum that helps us meet and interact as members of the Diaspora.
What are some of the highlights of what has been achieved by the network in the last three years?
Well, we are networking with Ugandans abroad and many of our colleagues are building synergies. The gala is so far the largest gathering of the Ugandan Diaspora community in Uganda. We also enjoy the support of the Uganda Investment Authority and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Together with our Patron, Dr. Maggie Kigozi, we showcase Uganda’s success stories abroad with a Diaspora Award ceremony – some of our past recipients have included Kwatsi Alibaruho, NASA’s flight Director, and Justice Julia Sebutinde of the International Court of Justice.
To what extent has the government of Uganda been supportive to the Network since it was formed?
Ambassador James Mugume the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been quite supportive as has been Eng. Frank Sebbowa, the executive director of the Uganda Investment Authority. However, we are looking forward to more financial support from government to help us offset the costs associated with putting together such an event.
We all know that there are a lot more Ugandans in the Diaspora across the globe than the number in your membership, what needs to be done to mobilise them?
True, there is an estimated one million Ugandans who reside and work outside Uganda. This constituency needs special recognition given the role their remittances and contributions play in national development.
We need Parliament to actively engage with the Diaspora through representatives and departments within the Ministry of Finance and the President’s Office to supplement the role the Diaspora Desk plays at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In Kenya for example, Diaspora Affairs are handled within the Finance ministry. We need to see more done on the government side than just attending conferences or conventions abroad.
In what ways do members of the Diaspora Network see themselves participating in the development of their Motherland?
Ugandans living abroad continue to make positive contributions — through remittances, real estate development, and the introduction of new business ideas, concepts and intellectual capital acquired abroad.
Ugandans living and residing outside the country can also contribute to our politics. Having lived in free democratic nations, there is always a lot we can do to improve things back home given our financial and intellectual capital.
One of the pertinent issues currently under discussion is the dual citizenship legal framework. To what extent are Ugandans in the Diaspora comfortable with the provisions of this new law?
We commend the government efforts to accommodate the Diaspora needs and one particular effort was made through President Yoweri Museveni’s visit to the Uganda North American Association (UNAA) in Seattle, USA in 2004 where the Dual Citizenship Bill was adopted and later enacted by Parliament. However, the law in its current form does not work well and needs some modification.
Currently, there is a petition instituted by Joseph Kamara from Australia and seconded by myself, Stephen Twinoburyo from South Africa, and Johnson Mujungu from the UK.
Our petition is to urge the Government of Uganda to change the Citizenship and Immigration Control (amendments) Act 2009, which currently requires Ugandan citizens who desire dual citizenship from another country first to give written notice to the National Citizenship Board in Kampala. Failure to do so leads to the loss of Ugandan citizenship.
Under the Act, individuals must then re-apply to become Ugandans, the country of their heritage. Children born of Ugandan parents living abroad, who naturally acquire citizenship of foreign countries either by virtue of birth or parents dual citizenship, are not considered Ugandan. As such, these children are not eligible to apply for Ugandan citizenship until they are 18 years old.
These children – Ugandan by heritage – can only study or conduct business in Uganda on foreigners’ permits, and are thus treated as foreigners in the country they call home. An application fee of $400 (Shs 1m) per person is required to re-acquire Ugandan citizenship.
This needs to change.
What other issues do Ugandans in the Diaspora consider as hindrances to their participation in the development of their Motherland?
Politics back home is dear to many who believe that a level political playing field and term limits should be restored. Many Ugandans think there is also a need for more accountability in government and the procurement processes. The issue of human right abuses as captured in various news outlets needs to improve. Also, there is need for infrastructure in Uganda to expand to accommodate the growing population needs.
Let’s talk about the Diaspora Gala scheduled for Dec.30 in Kampala. What is the reasoning behind the event?
The 3rd annual Ugandan Diaspora Gala will be held at Kampala Serena Hotel’s Victoria ballroom on Monday Dec.30 starting from 6pm. This year, we expect a bigger Diaspora turn up and we shall also recognize some outstanding Ugandan achievers like Winnie Byanyima who this year was appointed Executive Director of Oxfam International; Mr. Patrick Masambu, the Deputy Director International Satellite agency, and Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, an accomplished Ugandan movie star in Hollywood, USA.
What will be some of the key highlights of the gala?
We shall be having comedy, fashion, music and of course the award ceremony.
In relation to the above, we shall also have a guest appearance of Homecoming Revolution Africa founder and CEO Angel Jones based in South Africa who will share her experience as founder of the largest Diaspora initiative on the continent.
Considering the achievements of the previous events, what are your key expectations?
We are hoping for more government recognition and support. We also want direct support from the donor agencies as partners in Uganda’s development.
Where do you see the Uganda Diaspora Network in the next few years?
In the three years we have been around, we have managed to shine the spotlight on Diaspora affairs. In the next few years, expect to see a Uganda Diaspora TV show and a Ugandan Diaspora Magazine highlighting Diaspora initiatives. We do all this and more because we consider ourselves as Ugandans with a passion and love for country.
(To learn more about our gala and the event, please visit our event website at www.ugandandiaspora.com)