Why Uganda taxpayers should stop funding UNAA’s $100,000 annual convention

The UNAA 2019 in Chicago was amazing. Courtesy photo.


By James William Mugeni

United States of America—19, July 2020: Editor, the High Court in Uganda ruling that we in the diaspora should start voting raises eyebrows. The people in the diaspora know how it feels being in countries well governed and developed. However, despite Uganda having an increasing diaspora population, their impact is something yet to be felt at home. Would voting of the diaspora make a difference? I hardly think so. First, the registration of Ugandans in the diaspora has been very irregular.

For those in America the registration is done during the UNAA convention, and for the six days of the convention very few people can register. Besides, the convention is usually almost a one-sided show that government has heavily invested in as it turns out more of an NRM fete.

This will definitely be a one side show, call it a well-worked election rigging process of the Kampala government. The American diaspora community would need civic education as a mere taking a flight off; Uganda does not create an aura of admiration. There is extraordinarily little learning to go on of the expanse besides learning from the best practices.

The adage that you can take a man out of his village, but you cannot remove the village out of him, would not be true if the diaspora did not be it. Ugandan communities in the diaspora are as Ugandan. Over time, this is what government of Uganda comes to exploit.

Below is an extract from Dr. Daniel Kawuma, a celebrated pharmacist and one of those who have contested for the presidency of Uganda North American Association (UNAA). Daniel stands out as the current face or reforms or opposition for the influence of the Kampala regime in USA.

 And I quote him verbatim.

“It has been close to 10 years since the NRM government started donating $100,000 annually to the Ugandan North American Association. Though the $100k makes the most news, taxpayers are slapped with an even larger bill to fund allowances and travel expenses for the government delegation and Members of Parliament attending the UNAA festivities.

The Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Parliament who are regulars at these conventions receive allowances at a rate of $720 per day or (shs2, 667,650 and the Members of Parliament receive $520 per day or shs1, 926,640). The total bill to the taxpayers for both speakers is $1,440 (shs5, 335,310) per day, which adds up to $ 8,640 (shs 32,011,850) for the six days at the convention.

Allowances for the delegation of 75 Members of Parliament attending the UNAA Convention adds up to roughly $42,000 per day (shs155, 613,190) and a total of $249,600 (over shs924, 786,960) for the six days.

Due to the Covid-19 paralyzation of international travel, the government is going to save over shs200 billion that they normally spend on the foreign travel budget. These travel restrictions have also saved Ugandan taxpayers an additional $150 million that NRM government officials spend annually seeking medical treatment abroad.

These examples illustrate wasteful spending and the failure of the NRM government to prioritize the budget on improving the lives of the Ugandan people.

To feed their spending addiction, NRM has raised taxes on social media (OTT), mobile money among other areas besides cutting vital services. If there was ever a silver lining to the Covid-19 tragedy, it’s the revelation that Uganda can function without these foreign trips.

It’s hard to explain to Ugandans who face daily struggles and poor service delivery that over shs2 billion taxpayers’ money is being spent on a weekend party in the United States. There is a great need for these resources to improve our schools, hospitals, infrastructure, and agriculture, which is the bedrock of our national economy.

Ugandans in the diaspora face challenges, but we have a luxury of opportunities and resources abroad that our brothers and sisters back home do not have. UNAA doesn’t need taxpayer funds to pay for convention expenses.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), about 1.5 million Ugandans live in the diaspora, but UNAA even after 30 years of existence has less than 500 registered members.

Why should taxpayers sacrifice shs2 billion annually for this diaspora weekend party? The challenge for our next generation of leaders and policymakers is cutting out waste, fraud, and abuse to streamline the national budget. NRM will never make the sacrifices needed to tame their addiction. We have to make those tough decisions ourselves for the good of the Ugandan people.

Now, here was the theme of the 2020 UNAA convention that Covid-19 has brought to a standstill. It would be a fete for Ugandans in the diaspora and the Kampala regime in San Francisco.

“Please join us on September 4th, 2020, for an in-depth discussion on post Covid-19 investment opportunities in Uganda.”

The Trade and Investments Forum at the 32nd Annual Convention of the Ugandan North American Association on September 4—6, 2020.

Should Uganda ban the importation of certain products in order to protect local industries?

No country can function effectively as an island in this global world.  There is a fine balance between what any one entity can do by itself and what it needs from the rest of the world.  In essence, you as an individual should do what you do best (based on available resources) and work hard to ensure that you can do it better and more efficiently than I can.  At the same time, I will be working hard to ensure that I do other things better and more efficiently than you do.  Then we engage in (hopefully) equitable trade.

Now perhaps there are some positives to preventing foreigners from engaging in certain industries in your country (like in Tanzania), but the inevitable result is that your economy will lag behind others because you do not encourage foreigners to bring in new ideas.  At the same time, if you literally enact such measures in your country, other countries will do likewise to you. 

If I may put this in a more East African perspective, Uganda imports finished coffee and other products from Kenya.  Interestingly, much of this coffee is grown in Uganda but processed in Kenya.  So, it would seem to make sense to limit the importation of processed coffee to Uganda to promote (or protect) the processing of coffee in Uganda—until you consider that overall, Uganda exports more products to Kenya than it imports from Kenya.

In Tanzania, non-citizens are prohibited from owning property in the country.  As a result, a handful of mainly Indian Tanzanians have bought up almost all desirable property in Dar-es-Salaam.  Without outside competition, this has caused property rent in Dar to climb through the roof.  We all know there is a significant housing shortage in Uganda, but it is like nothing compared to that in Tanzania.

So, is it reasonable for the Uganda government to impose “reasonable” taxes on some imported products to protect domestic production?  This is a fine line.  Without the “reasonable” competition from imported products, local production will falter and the country will be left with inadequate and inferior products. 

In the same vein, should the country place “reasonable” limits on foreign workers?  In my opinion, a Chinese national should never be allowed to set up a stall in Mpigi to sell cell phones or matoke.  But I am in total support of a Chinese national setting up a factory to manufacture face masks in Mukono even if some upper-level management is done by other Chinese nationals—as long as this factory provides employment to a sizeable number of local Ugandans and contributes to the economy.”

Ugandans in the diaspora do not need courts to allow them to vote, Ugandans in the diaspora do not need constituencies formed in the diaspora. Ugandans in the diaspora need to own property in Uganda, it would be nice to see if we owned a diaspora village with schools, hospitals, water, and electricity.

If I were government of Uganda, like a father does to sons or daughters, I would hand the diaspora a chunk of land and challenge them to develop it into a modern city. The vote in the diaspora would then make meaning, otherwise I consider the diaspora vote an invalid vote.

Uganda would not be what it is today if the diaspora were picking from the best practices. It is rather disheartening that the potential to develop Uganda using the diaspora population is not well thought of.

Does the voting right bring out this? I highly doubt because convention after convention has yielded nothing. Every year there is a powerful theme under trade expo all you have is a tourist expo who end results are nowhere to be seen.

The author is a Medical Clinical Officer/Certified Public Manager


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