I helped set up UCRA and helped hundreds of Ugandans. I never asked even a single one of them to pay me any money. The Baganda asylum seekers, I tried to help, but some of them were coming up with incredible stories. What could I do if some of these asylum seekers made statements at the immigration detention centres at Heathrow or Gatwick airports, claiming to be from Gulu or Kitgum, without any passports or documents at all? Remember, the UK had wisened up to asylum claims from Uganda, and would subject these claimants to a language and geographical test which many of them failed. The UK immigration service had then employed Ugandan and even British officers who could tell where a person comes from. They would ask them simple questions in Luo, which they would fail to answer. They would ask them very simple questions, like if they said they came from Palabek in Kitgum, which primary school they went to, and they had no clue.
I fought many cases for the Baganda people in their asylum claims. I helped most. All of them will remember the role I played.
I even tried to get Bazilio Okello to come to London to visit his daughter who was dying in a London hospital. My applications and appeals were refused by the British Immigration authorities because they had concluded the presence of Bazilio Okello in the UK was not conducive to the public good and they would not allow him to enter, travel or stay in the terrotory of the UK because he was a public danger.
We claimed legal aid, but we never charged even a single penny to any asylum seeker. I played a lot of roles, from being a legal advisor as well as a counsellor and strategist for the organisation. I was never on the pay role of UCRA. Of the original founders, it is only Damba Nambago who was paid a salary and later on my cousin Omara Awany.
If you check the accounts of UCRA, you will never see my name as having received even a penny in salary or emoluments. UCRA has been investigated so many times by the charity commission and the Inland Revenue. In none of these investigations do you see my name appearing.
The only mistake I made was to leave UCRA too early, when it was not ready to provide the sort of robust and strong leadership I and to some extent Omwony Ojwok provided.
When Omwony Ojwok, Damba Nambago, Steven Irumba and myself left, UCRA collapsed into internicide sectarian and factional fighting. I tried to come back once and chaired the most chaotic AGMs in my entire life.
There was chaos and pandemonium. You could not even hear any one speak. Because UCRA had an open membership, anyone could just collect Ugandans on the streets and bring them to the AGM. This is what the Baganda and Bagisu did. They did not even respect me as a founding member of the organisation. I think this meeting was in 1998.
Since then, I have never attended any meeting of UCRA and its downfall has very little to do with me personally. The inefficiency, corruption, infighting, tribal and sectarian fighting all had nothing to do with me because I was nolonger there, Omwony Ojwok had returned to Uganda, Damba Nambago had moved on to another organisation in Haringey and Steven Irumba had disassociated himself from the organisation.
The only fault I will admit is that we the founders made a mistake by leaving UCRA almost at the same. In me, they lost a strategic leader and their main contact to the funding world. The organisation then had no one who could talk credibly to stakeholders like local authorities, health authorities and government ministers and indeed funding agencies. I will admit to this fault, because when we left UCRA became rudderless and leaderless. No wonder it collapsed.
I am only responsible for not having provided sufficient strategic guidance to UCRA, but I am not responsible for its downfall. I left
UCRA in 1998 and I can not be blamed for what happened thereafter.
UCRA got funding from the Princess Diana Trust through my influence, behind the scenes. One of the Trustees of the Princess Diana Trust is a personal friend of mine who actually served as an Interim Director of my own organisation in Woolwich for almost one year. She oversaw the reconstruction of the organisation and is probably the best CEO my organisation had. And she is Ugandan, born of a musoga mother and a Pakistani father. She always wanted to support the HIV/AIDS programme among Ugandan refugees and asylum seekers in the UK because at the time nearly one Ugandan was dying per week from the killer disease. That is why UCRA got the funding.
I have never met Sarah Nansukusa myself who is one of the people running UCRA at the moment. I wish her luck if she has rescued UCRA. But I hope at some point, when they write a narrative about UCRA, they will remember Mary Dines, a communist who gave UCRA its first desk in a shared office in Islington and gave it its first £100 and introduced the organisation to the political world of the UK.
Mary Dines always had two huge posters in her in her cramped office in Islington, a picture of Pastor Martin-Niemöller, the German anti-fascist who made this historic and famous statement:
First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.
Then she had one of the radical the Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara:
“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
I hope people like Sarah understand the history of UCRA, that it is British communists who helped set it up. And UCRA played a very crucial role at a time of great suffering when Yoweri Museveni and his militia took over power and set on a course of terrorizing and murdering Ugandans.
I hope Sarah and her colleagues understand why British communists helped set up UCRA.
George O. Pacu-Otto
MEMBER OF UAH IN LONDON