In August, about two thousand people are expected to attend the annual convention of Ugandans living in the USA, Canada and Mexico. They're part of the UNAA – Uganda North America Association. The group meets every year to discuss culture and other topics. This year's conference will be held in Orlando, Florida. From Kampala, Voice of America English to Africa Service's Peterson Ssendi reports that Bulayimu Muwanga Kibirige is the chairman of the BMK business group, which has its headquarters in Kampala. BMK employs over 720 people and is a co-owner in many business ventures in East Africa, including health clubs, heavy machinery and real estate. It also sponsored a UNAA convention eight years ago in Kampala.
Kibirige says [At these meetings] "Ugandans from home and other parts of the world discuss politics [and] business, and every evening there is good entertainment. It has become very traditional and if you miss it, I think you will regret it. I always participate in business discussions… some people have stayed in America for more than 20 years and they don't know that [Uganda] has changed."
George Michael Mukula is National Vice Chairman of Uganda's ruling National Resistance Movement, or NRM-O, in charge of Uganda's Eastern Region. He's also the chairman of Uganda Airways, "I have attended a number of these UNAA Conventions…my wife and children do enjoy these conventions and I am looking forward to attending this (year's) convention."
Delegates also talk politics. Uganda's opposition is there to seek financial and political support. Meanwhile, Presidential press aid Tamale Mirundi says that the government sends representatives to the conventions to help counter what he says is "a negative political picture" of Uganda in the West spread by the opposition parties.
Among the scheduled topics are land reform, and the war in northern Uganda.
George Mike Mukula praises the UNAA Convention participants and organizers for infusing the organization with a spirit of unity, patriotism, and Pan-Africanism. He says the group has also proven its commitment to democracy, "The democratic process that this organization goes through [by changing ] leadership [yearly] … also shows the political maturity which has developed within the UNAA."
The annual meetings are also about business. The government wants expatriates to invest in the country. And many are already involved. Among them is Mulumba Stanley, a Ugandan based in Boston who opened an exporting business in Kampala – "Uga Rose Flowers, Ltd". Ugandans in the Diaspora also created the well-known firm Jakana Foods, as well as Akright Projects, a company that builds and sells affordable houses and property to Ugandans.
Mulindwa, a construction and civil engineer in Florida, is the co-owner of
Radio Simba in Kampala and a popular Kampala venue, Club Silk. Expatriate
Ugandans are also involved in running Gulu Independent Hospital in Gulu in
Northern Uganda, Mbarara Community Hospital in Western Uganda, and Paragon and
Victoria Hospitals in Kampala.
One topic on the conference agenda will be the progress of a proposed commercial bank that would offer easier lending terms for those promoting small-scale industries and farming.
Professor Maggie Kigozi is the executive director of the Ugandan Investment Authority, a frequent participant and presenter at UNAA Conventions, "A number of the Diasporas have already invested in schools here. We are looking for further private investment in education, and in [creating micro-finance institutions]. We also need workers for our companies. Many multi-nationals are now investing in Uganda. Ugandans are very well-educated but we do not have the experience whereas the people who have been working in America or in Canada have the experience that our investors need."
UNAA is a non-profit organization that accepts financial support from businesses, which supporters say do not influence the group's activities.
The UNAA's president, Lt. Frank Musisi, says in addition to discussions on education, immigration and family issues, the conference will host a job fair with many US businesses in attendance. In addition, he says the United States Agency for International Development has agreed to send a representative to discuss how Ugandan-run NGOs can help Uganda develop.