Dallas 2013 UNAA Convention, A Preview
Reported By: Samuel Muwanguzi
In Dallas, Texas, USA.
August 11, 2013
The countdown to the 2013 annual Ugandan North American Association (UNAA) convention is generating excitement and high expectations among the Ugandan community living in the United States as registration to attend the association’s 25th anniversary gains momentum, organizers told the New Vision in Dallas, Texas, USA. The 25th annual UNAA convention, to be held from August 30 to September 1, 2013 in Dallas, Texas, USA, will be celebrated under the theme “harnessing the power of the Diaspora.”
The chairman of the Dallas 2013 organizing committee (DOC), Mr. Brian Kwesiga told the New Vision in Dallas that this year’s convention also marks the silver jubilee of UNAA, the largest organization of Ugandans living in the Diaspora, founded in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1988. The convention will coincide with the USA labor day weekend. Dallas last hosted the UNAA Convention 23 years ago in 1990.
Ms Henrietta Nairuba Wamala, executive secretary & UNAA conventions chief of operations told the New Vision on the phone from her base in Chicago, Illinois that the excitement about the Dallas 2013 UNAA convention from the Ugandans in the Diaspora is understandable. “The first president of UNAA, when it was founded 25 years ago, was engineer David Mureeba, a resident of Dallas, Texas. So, for the silver jubilee to be hosted in Dallas where the first UNAA president resides is an iconic event of historical significance,” Ms Henrietta Nairuba Wamala said.
Mandated by the constitution to guide the planning of the convention in conjunction with the local organizing committee the UNAA Executive Secretary Ms. Henrietta Wamala said interest to attend the Dallas 2013 UNAA convention has not only been shown among the USA alone but also among the Ugandan Diaspora communities around the world.
Speaking from his office in St. Paul, Minnesota, the incumbent UNAA president, Francis Ssennoga, told the New Vision in a phone interview that Dallas, where UNAA was first registered before switching to Boston, Massachusetts, holds fond memories for both new and old members. “Dallas is dear to UNAA; our history is partly shaped by what happened there 25 years ago. Coming to Dallas is like coming back home, “he said. Mr. Francis Ssennoga said that the excitement about UNAA shows how a small idea initiated in a home has turned out to become a growing, strong, and dynamic association which has stood the test of time by reaching out to many Ugandans both in North America and elsewhere around the world.
The significance of the Dallas 2013 UNAA convention is also not lost among the political and business class back home in Uganda either. Speaking to the New Vision in an interview, chair of the DOC, Mr. Brian Kwesiga, also deputy speaker of UNAA, said that recognizing the significance of this year’s convention, enthusiasm from political leaders in Uganda and the business community to come and participate in activities marking UNAA’s silver jubilee celebrations is unprecedented. “Besides Ugandans living in the Diaspora, many political and business leaders in Uganda have confirmed coming to attend the 25th anniversary of UNAA in Dallas,” he said. Mr. Kwesiga said the Dallas 2013 UNAA convention is poised to break most attendance records in the organization’s history.
“By the end of June, we had ran out of rooms at the Omni Dallas hotel, the venue for the UNAA convention. Delegates had fully booked all the 1060 room nights yet we contracted the same number of hotel room nights as previous UNAA conventions,” Mr. Kwesiga said. Reservations for rooms at the Omni Dallas Hotel, venue for this years’ UNAA 25th anniversary convention, were $139 per night, excluding taxes and fees before they ran out. A state-of-the-art-five-star hotel, the Omni, in the center of the revitalized downtown Dallas, is connected via sky bridge to the Dallas Convention Center and close to restaurants, shops, tourist and entertainment spaces. Owned by Dallas City, the hotel comprises 1,001 guest rooms, 67 luxury suites, and three presidential suites.
Most previous UNAA conventions used a total of 1076 room nights by the end of the respective conventions either on September 1 or 2. But the rate at which delegates are registering, the Dallas convention may reach a total of 1500 room nights by the time it ends on September 1. For example, by the end of July, all the 1060 room nights at the Omni Dallas hotel and those reserved for the UNAA convention at the neighbouring Adolphus hotel had been fully booked by delegates, Mr. Brian Kwesiga said.
“The unprecedented level of interest we are witnessing in the Dallas 2013 convention bonds well for the future, financial stability, and credibility of the organization,” Mr. Kwesiga told the New Vision. Although the UNAA contracted another two overflow five-star hotels; the Adolphus hotel and the Hilton Anatole to provide accommodation to the increasing number of registering delegates, only the Hilton Anatole still has rooms left. Contracted rooms for UNAA at the Adolphus hotel, an historic, elegant splendour, and magnificent down-town Dallas hotel, grandeur of the past, where the Texas Lone-Star legend meets the modern 4-Diamond luxury, barely lasted a month. Room rates at the Adolphus hotel were $149 for convention delegates before tax.
The Hilton Anatole, located in the Dallas design district, just north of downtown, is an icon and a destination within itself. Given its proximity to many Dallas attractions including the Dallas Convention Center, the market center and the American Airlines Center, time and money spent at the Anatole is well worth the bargain. The remaining rooms at the Anatole are going for $149 before tax.
The UNAA Executive Secretary Ms. Henrietta Wamala told the New Vision that
at least between 1200 and 1500 delegates may register to attend the UNAA convention in Dallas. As of now, over 800 delegates have registered. The 2010 UNAA convention in Washington DC had a total of 800 registered delegates. Dallas 2013 may turn out as the highest attended conventions since then. Since the UNAA executive, council, and Board of Trustees (BOT) only offer policy guidelines to the local organizing committee, it is the DOC that developed mechanism that has created the interest and excitement in Dalais 2013 convention.
“We give credit to the local DOC which has done a tremendous job of increasing awareness and registration of delegates for the convention since anything done for UNAA is voluntary work,” Henrietta Nairuba Wamala said. The current registration fees for the Dallas 2013 convention are $270 for UNAA Members and $300 for Non-Members. Going by the increase in the numbers of registering delegates and placing the registration trend in context, “We are headed for one of the great conventions in UNAA’s history. With a couple of weeks left, we are currently head and shoulders in registration numbers with the great conventions held before Dallas 2013,” Mr. Brian Kwesiga says.
Delegates flying into Dallas for the UNAA convention will use either of the two airports; Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) international or Dallas Love Field (DAL) airports. DFW, home to American Airlines, is only 19 miles, a-20-minute-drive away from the Omni hotel. DAL, the nearest airport and headquarter of the low-cost South-West Airlines, is the nearest to the convention venue, only 6.5 miles, a 7-minute-drive to the Omni hotel.
As to why the 2013 UNAA convention in Dallas is generating a great deal of excitement and interest among Ugandans in the Diaspora, politicians across party lines in Uganda, the business community and artistes here and in Uganda, the UNAA president Francis Ssennoga said: “Wherever UNAA goes, a small Uganda is created; we have fun, we reunite with loved ones, interact with leaders in Uganda, share ideas and voice our concerns to those in power and stand assured that our voices are heard, understood, and communicated back home; an opportunity for us not to be left behind.”
For Ugandans in the Diaspora, the Dallas convention offers a rare opportunity for a reunion with family and friends living in far away states, making merry and new friends, networking, and strengthening our historical ties with our motherland Uganda, UNAA executive Secretary Henrietta Nairuba Wamala said.
The head of the entertainment committee for Dallas 2013, Ms Juliet Byandagara told the New Vision in Dallas that the mounting excitement and the ongoing rush to register and attend the UNAA silver jubilee celebration are neither accidental nor random. She explained that the line-up of entertainers from both Uganda and the Diaspora who are expected to perform at the UNAA silver jubilee celebrations is mouth-watering. They include Marthias Walukaga, a new thriller on the traditional kadongo kamu scene in Uganda, a grass root soul singer whose melodies parallel country music here in the USA. His performance will be complimented by Dr Phoebe Abe, a Ugandan born practitioner residing in the United Kingdom who performs music from Northern Uganda and Opio Tongweno who croons compositions from north- eastern Uganda.
The trend-setting Jackie Chandiru, Allan Ampaire aka Tonix, Emperor Orlando, and Kenzo from Uganda are also expected to light-up the UNAA 25th anniversary in Dallas later this month. Other musicians; Sera Lubowa and Feisal Issa aka Dizzo based here in Dallas Texas and Pssozi from Boston, Massachusetts, who perform different genres of music including Afro-Pop, Afro-Beat, Reggae, and Soul & Zouk are also expected to rock, swing, stir, and keep the convention delegates on their feet.
Among Gospel artistes to grace the occasion are Hawa A’Baale Musa & George Timothy Lubega aka Exodus. The Ugandan queen of comedy, Ann Kansiime, will jet in Dallas from her trip in London to unleash her rib-cracking comics. Ms Byandagara said that the 4 best Ugandan -US based DJ’S from the East, West, and Central USA; Asuman Musisi -DJ Core; Patrick Kawalya – DJ Padde; Davis Muhenda- DJ HD; and Peter Mugga- DJ PM will spin the music for revelers every single night of the convention.
The entertainment ensemble will shift from the convention venue to board a boat cruise over Lake Lewisville in the afternoon before the dinner-dance in the evening of Sunday September 1. No doubt, it will be big party time here, Ms Juliet Byandagara assured.
A more compelling magnetism to the Dallas 2013 convention is the much-anticipated election for the new UNAA executive and council. A veteran campaigner during the last four UNAA presidential elections, Rev. Joseph Kamugisha told the New Vision that UNAA elections are a replica of national campaigns and elections in Uganda with all its vitality and decadence. Elections for new UNAA leaders are held every two years. The first term for the incumbent Francis Ssennoga expires this September. He is, however, eligible to stand for only one more term.
Because UNAA elections are not only controversial but almost always reflect the national political constellations in Uganda, representatives from both government and the opposition political parties are jostling to fly to Dallas and lend support to candidates subscribing to their political parties. Since UNAA is composed of Ugandans living in North America; USA, Mexico, and Canada and number over 120,000 individuals, their political and economic influence in Uganda has increasingly become evident.
Together with other Ugandans living in the Diaspora, members of UNAA contribute to financial remittances to Uganda that hit a record $767m (sh1.99 trillion) in 2010. This financial year, remittances from Ugandans in the Diaspora are estimated to gross $1b, a timely shot in the Ugandan economy that will fill the gap left behind by the frozen foreign aid to Uganda by some donors. Given the rising profile and influence of Ugandans living in the Diaspora, only political novices in Uganda would sit back and not take notice and action to influence outcomes of UNAA elections.
Leading the political elite to grace the UNAA convention in Dallas is Uganda’s ambassador to the U.S. Ms. Olive Wonekha, according to the chairman of the DOC Brian Kwesiga. The charge d’Affaires at Uganda’s High Commission, Ottawa, Canada, and Ms Margaret Lucy Kyogire confirmed to join the fete. The Vice President, Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi and the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, who have over the years attended UNAA conventions in their individual’ capacities, are expected to be part of the action.
Mr. Brian Kwesiga explained that other representatives of government and political parties from Uganda whose attendance has been confirmed include the minister of health and chair of the NRM electoral commission, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, the minister of ICT, engineer John Nasasira, the minister of state for economic monitoring Henry Banyenzaki, the minister of state for works, engineer Byabagambi, and Prof. Elijah Mushemeza, deputy chair of the NRM electoral commission. Political leaders from opposition parties in Uganda coming to demonstrate their political solidarity with UNAA include Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu of FDC, Ms Beti Olive Kamya of UFA, Mr. Norbert Mao of DP, Mr. Olara Otunnu of UPC, Mr. Fred Mukasa Mbidde, member of the East Africa Legislative Assembly, and others. Not missing in action either will be the chief Executive officer of KCCA Mrs. Jennifer Musisi, Mr. Kwesiga said.
To meet expectations of these political heavyweights from Uganda, elections for the UNAA executive and the 21 council members will take place on Sunday, September 1. While members of the UNAA executive and council serve for a 2 year term, members of the Board of Trustees (BOT) are nominated by the executive and confirmed by the council to serve for 3 years, Ms. Henrietta Nairuba Wamala explained. She said that a total of 413 members had been registered to vote by August 02, the deadline for registering members to take part in the elections. Results will be announced at a dinner during the closing ceremony on Sunday evening. Thereafter, transnite entertainment will roll off until Monday morning.
Politics aside, the Dallas convention will offer an opportune moment for “Ugandans in the Diaspora to make our impact felt, build friendships and form business partnerships and lasting investments with fellow Ugandans coming here to explore business and investment opportunities,” said the UNAA president Francis Ssennoga. Indeed, a strong delegation representing the business community in Uganda is expected to attend the UNAA convention in Dallas and participate in the trade and investment forum on Friday. The forum will showcase the immense trade and business opportunities available both in Uganda and in the US.
Dallas, located in Texas, the oil country of America, offers strategic economic opportunities to UNAA delegates to benchmark developments in the oil sector in Uganda by exchanging ideas with experienced experts in the oil industry in Texas. The convention also holds a high potential of exploring avenues to collaborate and form partnerships with Dallas oil businesses for mutual benefit and to transfer the much-needed specialized petroleum skills and services to Uganda.
Historically associated with its Cowboy culture, Dallas city, home to the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush, whose residence is 15 miles from the convention venue, is host to an array of tourist attractions to behold. Rev. Joseph Kamugisha, who studied and has lived here since the late 1990s says that one of the outstanding historical landmarks attracting many Ugandans in the Diaspora to come to Dallas and visit is JFK Memorial, where President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot, almost 50 years ago, on November 22, 1963.
As well as Parklands hospital, the largest in the USA, where President Kennedy was pronounced dead, and in close proximity to the UNAA convention venue, is a gigantic and irresistible Dallas structure capturing the interest of prospective UNAA delegates. Another attraction in Dallas is the newly opened state-of-the-art Library and Museum for President George Bush at the nearby Southern Methodist University, Dallas, the Alma mater of Former First Lady Laura W. Bush. “Besides other sites, that presidential library and museum is a place most students around the country want to visit,” Rita Nanyonga, a Ugandan Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech University told the New Vision on the phone.
The Vice-Chairperson and chair of the convention organizing committee programs and forums committee, Ms Aisha Musoke Ogwang told the New Vision that the Mayor of Dallas city will launch the 25th UNAA convention by providing a key to symbolize the opening of the city to the delegates. While the convention officially opens on Friday August 30th, delegates start arriving on Thursday August 29. On the same day, the latest initiative adopted by the Dallas convention, the higher education forum, a roundtable initiative bringing together representatives from higher institutions of learning from both the USA and Uganda will be held in the morning. Ms Aisha Musoke Ogwang said that during the higher education initiative, educationists from Uganda and the USA will hold discussions on how to build partnerships between Ugandan Universities and USA Universities. One major agenda of the initiative aims at addressing reforms in the education system in Uganda to enable citizens develop functional skills to exploit the country’s resources for development, the chair of the higher education initiative, Dr. Lillian Nuwagaba Butungi said. .
A total of 15 forums will be held during the convention including one focusing on technology, a health forum, Ssenga and Kojja Forum, fitness and wellness forum, Northern Uganda forum, political forum, entertainment, traditional music, and dance forum, Ms Aisha Musoke Ogwang said.