From Henry Gombya in Denver, Colorado
Ugandans in the Diaspora have been praised for the way they have helped Uganda develop due to the remittances they send to the country. This was said by the country’s Vice President Mr Edward Ssekandi while opening the 23rd convention of the Uganda North American Association. Mr Ssekandi who was until the elections last February the country’s Speaker of Parliament said the remittances Ugandans in the Diaspora send to their families now form a formidable part of Uganda’s foreign exchange deposits.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the four-day convention being held at the Sheraton Downtown Denver Hotel, Mr Ssekandi praised the contributions made by Ugandans in the Diaspora who are often derided as ‘Nkuba Kyeyo’ (cleaners). These contributions now take third place in foreign exchange earnings byUganda. The same sentiments had earlier in the day been made by Uganda’s first lady Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga who told a Uganda Trade and Investment Forum that kicked off the convention, that she was proud of the contributions Ugandans abroad were making to the country’s development.
Once again the Ugandan government has sent a very strong delegation to the convention. Among the many government officials here are the Minister of State for Foreign and International Affairs Henry Oryem Okello MP, the Ugandan Ambassador to the United States Prof Kamunanwire, several members of parliament from Northern Uganda and a strong presence of the Ugandan embassy in Washington.
Unlike in past conventions that I have attended, the turn up this year has gone remarkably low. Just about 200 people attended the opening reception last evening. Most seats in the auditorium which welcomed the Vice President were empty but things warmed up when music from various performers was started with the audience taking part in challenging each other as to who was the best Kiganda dancer.
During the US/Uganda Trade Investment Forum Friday, Paul Cohen, President of Partner Concepts said Uganda was one of the best countries in the world for a tourist destination. He said that what the country lacks was making it known to American tourists what it has to offer. Cohen said other East African countries like Kenya,Tanzania and Rwanda were benefitting from marketing their countries for American tourists. He said it was important that Ugandans started a website that would offer Americans tourist packages that would include details of how they could get to Uganda, what they could see and how they could get around the country.
Speaker Kadaga used the business forum to again thank Ugandans in the Diaspora for their contributions to the country’s development. She urged them to find time to visit the country and engage in business with the community. Oryem Okello vehemently disagreed with a suggestion from The London Evening Post that tourists wouldn’t like to go to a country where peaceful demonstrations were being violently silenced by the police who spray paint onto the demonstrators. The Minister later offered to take this writer to Uganda to find out for himself how things have considerably changed in the country.
At the Northern Uganda Forum attended by the Vice President, Mr Oryem Okello and Speaker Rebecca Kadaga among other Ugandan officials, Mr Obwang from the Ugandan embassy in Washington said Uganda had received $100 million dollars from foreign donors to help rehabilitate northern Uganda. He said among the many things that this money has helped with was the reconstruction of 562 classrooms, 206 health workers houses, the building of 390 boreholes and the building of several houses for county chiefs.
The NRM government, Obwang said, had targeted reconstructing Northern Uganda as one of its core objectives. He added that the government was grateful for the £100million it had received from the British Department of International Development for helping in the reconstruction ofNorthern Uganda. The official was also happy to note that while in the past people were talking about how to end the war in Northern Uganda, today most were talking about how to reconstruct the region since the war had now finally come to an end and people were no longer afraid of the guerrilla Lord’s Resistance Army that had made the area nearly ungovernable in the last decade.
But while the area was now safe for the people, one MP, Richard Odong said the biggest problem was now HIV/AIDS that has affected at least 60 per cent of the population. Minister Oryem Okello who comes from the area and is the son of the former Ugandan army general Tito Okello Lutwa who overthrew the Obote regime, said another problem for the people in the region was what he called ‘the dependency system’ where most of the people are always looking forward to kickbacks from the well-off. Mr Okello said there were plenty of opportunities to do business in Northern Uganda especially after the independence of South Sudan that meant that the new African country will for sometime depend on doing business with its nearest neighbours.
But these assumptions were destroyed by the Gulu MP Christopher Achire who rose up and said that there was no proof in Northern Uganda of what the money given to the area had done. “It is not easy to see what the money that has been mentioned in this forum has done in Northern Uganda,” he said. After he spoke, no further delegates were allowed to pose questions.The convention ends on Monday. Among those to entertain the delegates this weekend will be Ugandan pop star Bobi Wine who arrived here Friday evening.
All in all, one could comfortably argue that once again, this year’s UNAA convention has shown that the Museveni government has tightly controlled the procedures here with not much opposition entertained. For example, those who wanted to pose questions at the Northern Uganda Forum were denied the opportunity when the organizers said it was time for lunch.