This year’s annual Uganda North American Association (UNAA) Convention is due on Friday, August 29 to August 31, 2014 at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine in San Diego, California, USA. Sebidde Kiryowa talked to Brian Kwesiga, the President and CEO, UNAA, about preparations for the convention, challenges of running the association and how Ugandans are benefiting.
Question: What is the UNAA convention?
Answer: It is an annual gathering of Ugandans and friends in the Diaspora held every Labour Day weekend in different cities in North America. It has been called the premier Ugandan networking event in the world because it brings leading voices from North America.
We usually receive high level dignitaries from Uganda, the United States and Canada; from both government and the private sector. It is three days of the best Ugandan networking, business and education forums plus political governance debates.
You have over 50 trade show booths with world class Ugandan culture, produce, art crafts, cuisine and textiles and over 3,000 Ugandans from around the world celebrating Uganda and showcasing Uganda’s rich cultural heritage
Where and when and by whom was it started
The history of the Ugandan North American Association – UNAA; began in Atlanta, GA in 1988, when two sisters, Mrs. Becky Tumusuza Matovu and Mrs. Julie Tamusuza Simbwa, approached several leaders of the various local Ugandan communities and proposed a community-wide celebration during the American Thanksgiving holiday that happens to be celebrated in November of each year.
The community leaders embraced the idea and decided to expand the event to cover the whole weekend and invite other Ugandans from throughout North America. Although a formal organization was not officially registered until two years later in Dallas, Texas; this weekend in Atlanta, Georgia became the first of what was to eventually become the an annual convention. It is estimated that about 200 people attended that first gathering. Since Canada and the USA celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday on different dates; Labor Day weekend, which is shared by both countries was chosen.
Excited by what they had witnessed in Georgia, several Ugandans from Los Angeles committed to host a similar event the following year. However, this did not occur and members of the Ugandan community in Dallas, Texas, offered to host it the following year. The event in Dallas was organized as a formal convention right from the beginning and eventually attracted about 500 participants from throughout North America and the Diaspora. The theme of the convention was “Survival in North America” and featured forums aimed at helping Ugandans in North America survive and thrive in their adoptive new homes.
It was during this convention in Dallas in 1990 that the first formal constitution for a Ugandan organization in North America was first presented for debate and consideration. It was called the Ugandan American Community (UAC) and to provide some guidelines for subsequent operations, an interim constitution was adopted with a 9-member Board of Directors. UAC was later changed to UNAA.
What is the administrative structure of UNAA like?
UNAA’s constitution was overhauled in 2010 and provides for a two-tier organization consisting of:
a) Members, who are the supreme organ of the Association; b) Equal but separate leadership organs, namely, a UNAA Council, UNAA Board of Trustees and UNAA Executive Committee.
The UNAA President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is the head of the UNAA Executive Committee and an ex-officio member of the UNAA Council and UNAA Board of Trustees.
How are these leaders chosen and by whom?
The Executive Committee is comprised of a universally elected President, a universally elected Vice President, a universally elected Secretary, a universally elected Treasurer, and three appointed Directors of Development, Finance and Communications.
The UNAA Council Members (also known as ―Representatives) are elected by their respective regions. You then have the President of UNAA (ex officio, non-voting) and The Vice President of UNAA (ex officio, non-voting). The UNAA Council elects a Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Secretary by a simple majority.
The UNAA Board of Trustees is composed of seven members. All Trustees are nominated by the UNAA Executive Committee and confirmed with the advice and consent of the UNAA Council. At least two (2) of the Trustees come from Canada, and nominations of Trustees reflect every aspect of Ugandan demographics. The fully constituted Board of Trustees elects a Chairperson and a Secretary to the Board of Trustees.
When is this year’s convention taking place, and what is the theme?
It will take place from Friday, August 29 to August 31st 2014 at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine in San Diego, California.
Why did you choose San Diego city for the 26th Annual UNAA Convention?
San Diego, California, was chosen by the outgoing Executive Committee and a better choice could not have been chosen. Each Executive Committee chooses two host cities; my predecessor chose Dallas 2013 and San Diego 2014. The current Executive Committee will choose 2015 and 2016. There is no continually required method for choosing a host city though an emphasis is put giving cites and regions an opportunity. The elections for the Executive Committee and the Council are every two years.
Who (what kind of person) is expected to attend the 26th Annual UNAA Convention?
Everybody interested in Uganda and the Ugandan Diaspora is welcome.
Why should I attend the UNAA convention?
We do not invite anyone per se; the UNAA Annual Convention is open to anyone who pays the registration fees. It is an opportunity to travel, do some sight-seeing, meet new acquaintances and re connect with old ones
For those Ugandans who will come, we have programs as the Emerging Leaders Scholarship Program., Professionals Interest Networks (PINs), Miss UNAA Pageant, a cultural fashion show, Saturday Luncheon, Saturday evening dinner & dance, a boat cruise, Sunday night dinner gala, Friday Juma Prayers, Saturday and Sunday Church Services and sightseeing and entertainment.
The forums to be held include the trade & investment forum, a career fair and others in technology, education, health, immigration, personal finance, ssenga & kojja, northern Uganda, politics, breaking barriers and the Annual General Meeting (AGM).
What criterion was used to pick the individuals who are going to talk at the convention?
The programs, sponsorship and speakers committees nominate the speakers in consultation with the UNAA Executive Committee. The criterion used includes the theme of the convention, whether they are a sponsor or not and what they intend to speak about.
Ugandans artistes are apparently a big part of the convention. How do you choose who is coming to perform?
The Entertainment Committee nominates the artistes in consultation with the UNAA Executive Committee. The criterion used includes the theme of the convention, their popularity within the Ugandan Diaspora, cost, etc.
What does it take for Ugandans in the diaspora to attend the convention
It takes registering online through their website or by calling 1 855 USE UNAA or 1 855 873 8622. It costs
$210 (sh535,920) for UNAA members to register and $240 (612,480) for non UNAA Members.
For more information of the UNAA Convention as a first time delegate; please visit their website
What does it take for a Ugandan back home in Uganda to attend the convention?
You can register online or call us. If you are in Uganda; call the UNAA Presidential Envoy in Uganda; Mr. Kizza Seninde for more details.
1) Let us know who you are by registering for the UNAA convention. Visit our website and under the Convention menu click on the option to “Register Now”.
2) When you get to the payment screen please select the “Send Check” option. This sends an email to the UNAA Treasurer with all your important registration and payment amount information.
3) Wire the total amount due shown in step 2 above (excluding transfer fees) by Western Union or MoneyGram to:
Jude Ssempungu (Treasurer)
Uganda North American Association (UNAA)
6257 N McCormick Rd #118, Chicago, Il 60659
Tel: +1 773 817 1212
4) Send an email to the Treasurer at Treasurer@unaa.org containing your money wire transfer details (from Western Union or MoneyGram) and any other relevant personal identification information.
5) When the Treasurer receives your money he will complete your registration process in the back end and have a receipt and the visa letter sent to you by email.
If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate reaching out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
How do I attend the convention from Uganda?
Once one has registered for the UNAA Convention; they receive a receipt and an invitation letter. They will need the invitation letter, and hotel reservation to schedule an appointment with the US Embassy.
How many people do you expect to attend this convention on average?
We expect about 800 – 1200 to be formally registered for the programs, and perhaps as many as 3,000 to stay around the hotel and neighboring hotels to meet old acquaintances. It is alike an annual Ugandan Reunion.
How has the UNAA convention impacted the Ugandan society overtime?
The dual citizenship law was implemented primarily because of UNAA initiating that conversation with the Ugandan Government and contributing to the debate about the merits and demerits of such.
Business entities that have advertised with UNAA have received customers as well as employees. In fact up to now UNAA members get a discount when they stay at Hotel Africana, thanks to a great working relationship with the BMK Group of Companies.
Various business entities have been started because of the forums like the Trade & Investment including one owned by Ugandan Americans who started a business and own several buildings in Downtown Kampala.
UNAA has partnered with other entities that are already doing great works in Uganda; for example the UNAA President Mr. Brian Kwesiga, UNAA Vice President Mr. Monday Atigo and the UNAA Director of Development Mrs. Irene Kasujja attended the fundraising dinner organized by Gwanga Mujje Boston Chapter on Saturday, April 5th 2014 and UNAA contributed to the Mobile Van Clinic Initiative that aims to buy and ship a mobile van clinic to Buganda in collaboration with the Kabaka Foundation.
UNAA has also partnered with Twegaite to help fundraise for a Cancer Unit to be built at Jinja Hospital. We began this partnership at the UNAA Dallas 2013 Convention and look forward to expanding it at the UNAA San Diego 2014 convention.
UNAA has previously donated almost $5,000 to Citizen Parents Primary School under President Moses R. Wilson’s tenure. The student body of this school is about 800 with almost 30% being HIV positive and over half being orphans. All the children in the school either come from the local slum area in Makindye Hill, are orphans with absolutely nowhere else to go, or are abandoned/run away kids rescued from the streets of major cities such as Kampala, Gulu and Lira
Many more organizations have come to learn of Uganda and have set up projects in Uganda primarily because UNAA shone a light of the areas within the country that needed special attention. We are very proud of the work the organization has done
What projects has UNAA initiated or been involved with in the tenure of your leadership?
For the first time in UNAA’s 26 year history, we have been releasing quarterly financial reports. We are going to continue ushering in a new era of transparency without fear or favor.
Community Outreach Initiative
A program for the UNAA Executive Committee to visit different UNAA communities around North America, so far San Diego, California; Los Angeles, California and Boston, Massachusetts have been visited.
Emerging Leaders Scholarship Program
The Ugandan North American Association provides scholarships of $1,000 annually to Ugandan college students in North America showing leadership potential and demonstrating financial need while attending an accredited higher-level educational institution. The scholarship will be awarded on the basis of character, as determined by evaluated essays that are submitted. Scholarships are intended for future leaders across a wide spectrum of fields of study.
Professional Interest Networks (PINs)
Professional Interest Networks (PINs) are platforms to network with Ugandan professionals; promote collaboration among members and support the development of resources in work settings. PINs are designed to provide support, share ideas and raise awareness among issues of common interest
The UNAA PINs are affinity groups and platforms for members of UNAA meant to share ideas, concerns, explore opportunities, strengthen the inclusive nature of our workplaces, and enhance cultural competence in our client interaction. These are forums for networking and professional development for members to share best practices, learn new skills, and anticipate trends to ensure that your knowledge, skills and thinking are relevant and up-to-date.
What are some of the challenges you have faced?
The primary challenges that we have faced are people who have preconceived notions of what UNAA is; for example when you mention to people to join UNAA, I am always amused when people say that they do not want to be involved in politics.
Then there are those who think of UNAA as just a one weekend party where nothing of substance gets achieved. This is why we have stated the Community Outreach Initiative (COI) to go and various communities in North America and we hope interviews like these show that there is more to UNAA than the entertainment and political forum. It is, however, understandable that it is the political forum and the entertainment that get all the media attention.
Perhaps the other challenge has been this culture of entitlement in UNAA. There are people who feel that perhaps their contributions to the organization have not been adequately recognized. My challenge is recognizing those roles without undermining the authority of the constitution and the principle of fairness.
We must work together to change this culture of entitlement where some individuals feel that perhaps because of the role they played earlier on, that they are above the UNAA constitution. Look at Uganda today and you will see the dire effects of what happens when you put individuals above the organization. UNAA Constitution is supreme to any one individual or groups of individuals irrespective of who they are.
How have you handled these?
We have reached out to several people who did not support our candidacies and we shall continue to reach out to even more. We shall also continue to firmly stand in support of both the letter and spirit of the UNAA constitution believing that the UNAA members are the supreme organ of the Association.
There is a saying that the only constant in life is change. We are presiding over the youngest and most ethnically diverse leadership team in UNAA’s history. As an increasing younger, more diverse and more educated Ugandan American generation comes of age and gets more involved in their communities; a new dawn has arrived in UNAA.
What plans does UNAA have for the future?
We are going to be implementing the initiatives that have already been announced like the Community Outreach Initiative (COI), Emerging Leaders Scholarship & Mentorship Program, as well as the Professional Interest Networks (PINs)
We are doing to continue advocating for the ability of the diaspora to vote in Ugandan elections, we are going to start a business directory of Ugandan American businesses, and we shall soon be announcing the Strategic Community Partners Enterprise Initiative (SCOPE)
For UNAA convention and hotel information visit our website
UNAA is much more than just a one weekend party - Kwesiga