A deepening conflict within the executive ranks and membership of the Uganda North American Association (UNAA) threatens to split one of the most vibrant, largest, and oldest associations of Ugandans abroad. The 26-year-old UNAA brings together native Ugandans living in North America and creates a platform for them to network, share experiences, culture and exploit other opportunities.
However, wrangling among top leaders has thrown the future of the association in jeopardy, with doubts hanging over its annual convention planned for August.
In a recent statement, UNAA's board of trustees (BOT) accused association President Brian Kwesiga of mismanagement, creating cliques and breach of the UNAA constitution, among other charges.
"As the board of trustees of UNAA, guided by the constitution and entrusted with the duty to oversee the good governance of the organisation in fulfilling its obligation to members, we urgently bring to your attention the imminent destruction of UNAA as a cultural organisation that unites Ugandans in the Diaspora and Ugandans in the homeland.
The current crisis was brought by a series of detrimental, short-sighted and selfish decisions amounting to the ultimate betrayal by the UNAA executive presided over by UNAA president Brian Kwesiga," says the BOT statement posted on the internet on June 10. But statements from some UNAA leaders and President Kwesiga emailed to The Observer on Monday paint a more optimistic picture of the association's state of affairs.
In the June 10 statement, the BOT further says: "The man whom you entrusted with overwhelming popular mandate in Dallas to lead and unite the organisation for the next two years, has overseen the organisation descend into a hotbed of intrigues, malicious and vicious attacks, and misinformation. As trustees, we have arrived at this conclusion, not out of vindictiveness or malice. Rather, we have seen up close the disintegration of the association over the last several months, and are keen to [enlist] your help to stop the divisive issues starting with the latest incident."
The board claims that on May 24, 2014, UNAA Treasurer Jude Sempungu wrote an urgent email informing them that UNAA President Kwesiga had presented a document to the Bank of America on May 21, 2014, "Which froze out from the account both the elected treasurer and elected secretary as co-signatories to the account.
The immediate effect of the action taken by Mr Kwesiga ensured that he, Brian Kwesiga, was now the sole and only signatory to the UNAA accounts."
The board of trustees comprises Dr Muniini Mulera (chair), Dr Opiyo Oloya, Dr Sarah Matovu and James Serumaga, among others. Besides the banking crisis, the board also said: "First, in September 2013, petitions were brought before the BOT alleging that Mr Rahim Kabagambe was improperly nominated to the UNAA Council as male youth representative for Canada.
After a thorough investigation, the BOT ruled that indeed Kabagambe's nominations were improper and, consequently, he was never elected. On September 24, 2013, in a public letter to members, Kwesiga dismissed this decision, and chided the BOT: "Always remain conscious to the fact that you are unelected officials whose role in this matter is to interpret the UNAA Constitution as it is and not as you think it should be."
Kwesiga encouraged Kabagambe to stay on the UNAA Council. The board now speaks of an impasse within the council, with eight elected members refusing to participate in the body's deliberations. It says that any decisions made by the UNAA Council that included Kabagambe as a voting "member" are null and void - as are those taken without the requisite quorum of 2/3 of the legitimately elected members of the council.
The BOT also claims that some members of the organisation have been illegally removed from online membership of UNAALIST, the official network of members of the association.
"To date, neither explanation nor apologies have been tendered to those who were summarily removed. UNAALIST, it now seems is the exclusive reserve of those who agree with Mr Kwesiga," the board says.
"In short, Mr Kwesiga is responsible for the current crisis and imminent collapse of UNAA as a cultural organisation that unites Ugandans and friends of Uganda."
The board demanded that Kwesiga immediately restores the powers and responsibilities of the UNAA treasurer to Sempungu. It also wants Rahim Kabagambe to immediately stop attending UNAA Council meetings.
"If the above corrective actions are not taken by the UNAA President, the chairman of UNAABOT is authorised to write with full explanations to all known UNAA sponsors, including the government of Uganda, individuals and institutional providers to alert them that all financial transactions committed to by the president outside his constitutional mandate are non-binding on UNAA as an organisation. The said sponsors, individuals and institutional providers, therefore, enter into business transaction with Mr Kwesiga at their sole risks," they say.
However, in a rebuttal on Monday, Kwesiga dwelt on his administration's milestones and future outlook. Kwesiga's two-year term of office ends in 2015.
"While we respect the positions we take, I firmly believe we should never let these differences in opinion divert us from the mission of a more united and vibrant UNAA. Indeed the executive team has continued to function as an effective unit from day one. In sharp contrast, some members of the UNAA Council made the conscious decision to abandon their legislative duty by not meeting with any of the other UNAA Council members they disagreed with," he wrote.
He also denied accusations that he's trying to sink UNAA: "We, on the executive committee, believe that any disagreements we may have should never cloud or be allowed to become an obstacle to our commitment to meet and exceed the needs of UNAA's membership and the friends of UNAA; so committed are we to this objective, that we took decisive, swift and transparent action to protect UNAA's finances after the treasurer breached his fiduciary duty of diligently, conscientiously and selfishly exercising his obligations to UNAA," he wrote.
He added: "We understand our actions will come across as contentious but we also know we are expected to deliver exceptional results and not explanations and mediocre excuses. We therefore chose to act in good faith, to protect UNAA's membership and will do so in a totally accountable and transparent manner. Not a single dollar will ever go missing or get misappropriated on our watch."
In a joint statement, Monday, several UNAA leaders also defended Kwesiga. They included Engineers Nicholas K Wakou, (Speaker of the UNAA Council) and Moses R Wilson (member, UNAA BOT), Rosette Serwanga, (member of the UNAA BOT), Eng David K Mureeba (UNAA's very first president (1990-1995) and Moses Ocen Nekyon, (ex-vice president of UNAA).
"The fact is that UNAA is undergoing yet another metamorphosis of a sort it has undergone many times before and will, as always, emerge bigger, better and stronger," the leaders said. "UNAA's membership remains solidly behind its elected and completely functional Executive Committee, as evidenced by the record registrations for the 26th Annual UNAA Convention at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla Hotel, August 29th - August 31st 2014."
The leaders described the BOT statement as "pure political posturing in response to the significant gains and advances UNAA's new executive team have registered and its continued commitment for a full audit of UNAA's finances over the last several 5 - 7 years as a start".