Ugandans in the US divided over $50,000 gov’t grant

Ugandans in USA

OUR REPORTER Rifts have emerged within the Uganda North America Association (UNAA) over the management of a $50,000 (Shs 180 million) grant from the Ugandan government. Over the past few weeks, some leaders in the association have been trading counter accusations with the association’s vice president, Lydia Natoolo accusing the incumbent president, Henrietta Nairuba Wamala of frustrating efforts to distribute the money, received a community grant from Kampala. This comes at a time when Ugandans living in North America are warming up to the elections of new leaders at the 33rd UNAA convention slated for September 3 to 6 in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. Nairuba Wamala, a resident of Chigaco, is seeking re-election while Natoolo from California wants to upgrade her status from vice president to become the association’s president. Natoolo issued a statement accusing Nairuba of frustrating all efforts to extend the grant to UNAA members. “This action was purely political, and intended to make me look bad. Every time I inched close to distributing money, a wrench would be thrown into those plans. From abruptly cancelled meetings to outright refusal by some leaders to forward me lists of those who applied for a grant,” said Natoolo. Natoolo claims that the list was not released because of fear that she would gain access to it and to mobilize members to mount a challenge against Henrietta Wamala. Former UNAA President Brian M. Kwesiga under whose leadership the Kampala increased the annual grant to UNAA $20,000 to $100,000 (Shs 360 million), acknowledged the misuse of funds remitted by the government by the top UNAA leadership. He said the only time UNAA has ever been audited in its 33 years of existence was in 2017 by a board of trustees he had appointed in 2015. “As Ugandans in the diaspora, we ought to be a guiding light when it comes to transparency and accountability on how the Ugandan tax payers’ hard-earned money is spent. It is rather unfortunate that this has not always been the case in UNAA’s long solid history” said Kwesiga. It has previously been reported that the former UNAA administration led by Monday Atigo misappropriated funds mounting to over half a million dollars in a statement by his then Vice President Julius Muwulya. In a speech at the UNAA convention in 2019, When Atigo was handing over Presidency to Nairuba whom he had endorsed, the Uganda’s ambassador to the US, Mull Katende revealed that UNAA had failed to pay its hotel bill and the UNAA leadership had approached the embassy for a financial bailout which was granted. As the campaigns heat up, supporters of both sides are hurling insults at each other on different forums with accusations and counter accusations. This divisive rhetoric in the UNAA campaigns is not new. “The way UNAA is set up, the custodians of the election are the ones who you are running against. They control how many people can vote,” said Dr. Daniel Kawuma, a former contender in the UNAA Presidency. Maj. Frank Musisi, a former UNAA president added that: “The electoral commission is corrupt and not independent; they manipulate the data base. For UNAA to have a credible election, you must have an outside nonprofit organization to organize and conduct the election. We will never get anything serious from it.” Katende is however defensive of Nairuba saying that the money was returned to the consolidated fund.  “On October 8, 2020, the embassy wrote to the UNAA President requesting for the list and details of eligible UNAA chapters or local organizations so that the embassy could transfer the remaining grant funds to beneficiaries accordingly. Several telephone reminders were also made to the UNAA executive. However, the embassy did not receive the formation list by the end of fiscal year 2020-2021,” Katende said in a statement. “Even with an additional discretionary two weeks, exceptionally granted at the request of the UNAA Vice President the required information was not received,” he added. He further asked the UNAA leadership to desist from dragging the name of the Embassy in UNAA’s internal wrangles. Efforts to reach the current UNAA President Henrietta Wamala and the current UNAA Executive Secretary Lambert Etibot for a comment remained futile as they did not pick calls or respond to any of our messages for several days. As the custodian of UNAA records, Etibot, a Nairuba ally, would have been the one to generate the list and information required by the Embassy.

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