Why Atigo’s New Kisanja is Historic, Critical, and Problematic for UNAA

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By Samuel Muwanguzi 

In Summary: The biennial UNAA Poll was historic in more ways than one. It pulled more first ones than other elections before. It was a poll where “No Change” campaign machine for the incumbent Monday Atigo triumphed over the forces of “Change” of Daniel Kawuma. It gave incumbent Monday Atigo a new Kisanja (second term); the first to earn it in nearly 20 years.While the victory is a critical and opportune moment for him to accomplish his vision for UNAA, it is problematic; it poses problems for him and UNAA.  Failure to resolve the major questions confronting UNAA will neither be optional nor acceptable. Beyond the euphoria of victory, therefore, Mr. Monday Atigo’s election offers both opportunities and challenges at the same time. So, as Thomas Friedman once observed, “Change is hard. Change is hardest on those caught by surprise. Change is hardest on those who have difficulty changing too. But change is natural; change is not new; change is important. We simply must adapt and first survive then thrive.” Yes we can! For UNAA, change is not negotiable!

The re-elected UNAA President Monday Atigo

Miami, Florida—The biennial UNAA elections were historic in more ways than one. It pulled more first ones than other elections before. Incumbent UNAA President Monday Atigo fought off a stiff challenge from Dr. Daniel Kawuma   to reclaim his seat with  189 votes while his challenger got 166; separating the victor and the vanquished with a paltry margin of only 23 votes.  The total votes cast were 345; 56 online and 287 on-site. The victory decidedly gives Mr. Monday Atigo a second term; a new kisanja (dry banana leaves), a popular symbol representing a term extension in Uganda body politic. Out of the 87 verified online registered voters, 59 voted and one vote was invalidated, the Chair of the UNAA/EC Mr. Franco Wantsala told the anxious audience that awaited the final results at a packed banquet hall at the Intercontinental Hotel in Miami, “Florida last Sunday.

The defeated Dr. Daniel Kawuma 

Dr. Daniel Kawuma polled 49 of the online vote and Atigo trailed with 9 votes; a margin of 40 votes separated the two. From a total of 297 onsite votes cast,  Atigo received a whopping 180 votes, beating his challenger Dr. Daniel Kawuma who got a distant 117 votes; an unassailable margin of 63 votes. After tallying all the votes cast, the total votes for Atigo were 189 while Kawuma got 166. The margin was only 23 votes. The total number of online and onsite votes cast were 345.

Re-elected UNAA President Monday Atigo with delegates to the 29th convention in Miami, Florida.

The youthful Engineer John Julius Muwulya, the outgoing deputy speaker for the UNAA Council, was elected unopposed as the new Vice president, replacing John Semanda who had earlier fallen out of favor with the Atigo administration. Incumbent Peter Mukunya returned unopposed as secretary while  the youthful Arthur Nantamu was re-elected unopposed as treasurer. This was after the controversial Michael Kimbugwe was allegedly forced to stand down following a stormy meeting between the executive, the UNAA BoT and the Electoral Commission on Wednesday, two days before the convention opened last Friday.  He was allegedly accused of smuggling names on the voters’ register. Did he act alone? Quite unlikely. All but one council seat was unopposed.

New executive, President Monday Atigo, Vice President John Julius Muwulya, Secretary Peter Mukunya, and Treasurer Arthur Nantamu

What raised some eyebrows, however, was when the Chair of the UNAA/EC Mr. Franco Wantsala told the expectant gathering before he announced the election results that the UNAA/EC was not responsible for the results of the election because it was only charged with  organizing the poll and not accountable for the election outcomes. While this was partly true, was he trying to cover his bases? We cannot answer for him. Mr. Monday Atigo, 35, was declared president by the Chairman UNAA/EC Mr. Franco Wantsala and was sworn in by the Chairman of the UNAA Board of Trustees (BOT) Dr. Joseph Buwembo soon after the results were announced. The other elected officials; the vice president, secretary, treasurer, and the council members were all sworn-in as a group by the chair of the BOT. The Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament Ms. Rebecca Kadaga and several members of Parliament graced the well-attended event that climaxed the 29th UNAA convention, running under the theme “Economic Empowerment and Healthcare Transformation”.

The re-elected UNAA President Monday Atigo 

The victorious Monday Atigo, who campaigned as if his entire life depended on his re-election, could not hide his delight after he was declared winner.  “This election was a defining moment for me and I plan to move ahead with the hard work ahead of us which starts now,” he joyfully declared, adding, “I invite all those willing to work with me to come and we work together to move UNAA forward,” he delightfully confessed amid thunderous cheers from his supporters who filled the banquet hall. Declaring that “With God, everything is possible,” Monday Atigo extended an olive branch to his opponent Dr. Daniel Kawuma: “To Dr. Kawuma, you put up a good fight. I invite you to come and work with me to move UNAA forward,” the visibly jolly Atigo said.

Dr. Daniel Kawuma

Atigo thanked his campaign teams across the USA and assured that; “To those who voted for me and those who did not vote for me, I am your President. I will be a president for all Ugandans in the Diaspora.” He also took time off to congratulate the Miss UNAA and the run-up and thanked the association sponsors from Uganda, the government of Uganda, members of Parliament, all Ugandans who traveled to come and attend the convention, and the UNAA Envoy Zephania Seninde and his deputy Isaac Mukiisa Sebakige for ensuring that the 29th UNAA convention was a well-attended event. The 29th UNAA convention offered an opportunity for Ugandans to network and debate on trade and investment, technology, and governance, among other issues.

A cross section of UNAA delegates during the dinner at the 29th convention in Miami.

Voting for the new leaders of the Uganda North American Association (UNAA got underway across continental North America last Friday September 01, 2017.  The biennial exercise kicked-off with online voting on Friday and ended on Sunday, September 03, 2017.  On-site voting started and ended on Sunday, September 3, 2017, from 9:00  to 6:00PM after it was extended by an extra two hours. UNAA holds elections for office bearers including the president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and council representatives every two years to lead the largest and oldest Diaspora organization in North America. The race for the president, which drew the stiffest competition, pitted the incumbent Monday Atigo against former Council Member Dr. Daniel Kawuma. The presidential race, that was too close to call, lived up to its billing as the margin of victory showed.

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UNAA members in good standing; those whose membership was up-to date were faced with two diametrically opposed choices at the polls; to either endorse the tested leadership of incumbent Monday Atigo or debunk him and embrace the fresh ideas of the reformist and ebullient Daniel Kawuma, a former council member. At the end of the exercise last Sunday, the incumbent, Monday Atigo trumped his opponent. He narrowly won the election with a margin of 23 votes. The election results were announced a little after 11:00PM during a banquet at the end of the 29th Annual UNAA Convention and Trade Expo.

  
The re-elected UNAA President Monday Atigo

It was a “No Change” campaign machine for the incumbent Monday Atigo that triumphed over the forces of “Change” of Daniel Kawuma. Monday Atigo, who has been Ugandan North American Association (UNAA) President for the last two years (2015-2017), earned a hard-fought victory for a second term as president of the association. Atigo, 35, a resident of Dallas, Texas, campaigned on the ticket of maintaining the statusquo “to do more for the betterment of the association.” Dr. Daniel Kawuma, 36, a former UNAA Council Member and a resident of Maryland,  was  one of the leaders of the breakaway faction , the UNAA Causes which protested the controversial inclusion of Rahim Kabagambe in the council in 2013 after the then Board of Trustees had ruled that he had been irregularly nominated and elected.  Dr. Daniel Busuulwa Kawuma, a pharmacist by profession, made a U-turn and returned to UNAA as the ‘biblical prodigal son’ to “correct” the wrongs that have dogged the nearly three decade Diaspora organization.

  
Mr. Franco Mukhwana Wantsala (UNAA/EC Chair)

What was so strange with this election, however, was that the UNAA/EC never displayed the voters’ register to the public on the UNAA Web site. For purposes of transparence, UNAA members expected the UNAA/EC TO have done so days to the election. It was never to be. Instead, the UNAA/EC held the voters’ register as a jealously kept secret—some kind of classified information—a sacred cow that was only privy to the executive and the commission.  Little wonder that Dr. Daniel Kawuma cried foul days before the election started. He claimed in a video message widely circulated on Wednesday last week that the voters’ register had been compromised. It was not clear whether the UNAA/EC and the BOT managed to clean the register of the hundreds of ghost voters that had been allegedly smuggled on the list before the polls opened last Friday.  When the EC finally and hastily released the voters’ register onsite last Friday, several voters’ names were missing. But that was not enough. There were two voters’ registers; one for the public and a completely different one for the electoral commission officials.  The voters’ register that was used by the EC officials during the voting exercise included more names of other voters which did not appear on the register displayed on Friday. There was even more drama as poll agents for Dr. Kawuma were not allowed to witness the counting and tallying of the votes. Does that not strike one as strange?

These oversights, either by default or commission, could have informed a decision by Dr. Daniel Kawuma and sections of his supporters to postpone the endorsement of the election results “until they conduct a thorough investigation.” It is not clear whether the outcome of the investigation may result in a petition of the results or not. Time will tell. 

Diners during the banquet at the UNAA convention in Miami.

That notwithstanding, by all accounts, this was an historic election in the three decades of UNAA’s existence. First, the use of social media during the campaigns was unprecedented. The candidates and their supporters doubled-up their hyper presence on all major social media platforms bombarding prospective voters with their campaign messages. The hotly-contested UNAA presidential election did, as expected, generate hyper excitement among supporters of the two presidential candidates; pitching and plunging for votes to secure victory in the most astounding manner. In some cases, the passion exuded by a few proxies even threatened to outmatch evangelical zeal.  While the two presidential candidates conducted themselves with dignity, some of their stand-ins, on a few forums, went really native. In future, candidates may wish to consider infusing bits of netiquette into their overzealous surrogates. Just a thought!

Newly re-elected incumbent Monday Atigo

Second, this was the first time in UNAA’s history that online voting took place. Despite some setbacks, the UNAA/EC managed to pull off the stint with limited disenfranchisement of eligible voters. Given the average success recorded with the first-ever online voting exercise, UNAA is on its way to becoming a bonafide citizen in the digital world where it has resided for decades but had remained an ‘undocumented’ digital immigrant.    Third, this was the first time in UNAA history that no presidential debate was held before the election. Hopefully, the UNAA/EC will in future insist that presidential debates are held to give the electorate the opportunity to assess the   extent to which candidate comprehend the issues, how they articulate them, and how they plan to implement their plans. Not too much to ask.

Cross section of delegates during the banquet at the UNAA convention in Miami.

Fourth, the victory of incumbent UNAA President Monday Atigo was historic; it was the first in nearly 20 years that a sitting president has won a second term. The last time an incumbent won a second term was in 1997 when Rev. Cannon Benjamin Lubega-Musoke won a second term that ended in 1999. He was the second UNAA president after Eng. David Mureeba, the first UNAA president, who also led the organization for two terms from 1988-1995. Eng. Mureeba was re-elected in 1993 to become the first UNAA president to get a second term. Monday Atigo is also the second former vice president to win a second term and apparently the first who previously served as a former secretary of the UNAA/EC, president and treasurer of the Ugandan American Association of Greater Dallas Fort Worth (UAA-DFW); an unequalled record in the leadership experience of Ugandan Diaspora organizations. You have to give it to him!

Dr. Daniel Kawuma

Fifth, it was the first time in UNAA history that a former leader of a breakaway faction made a U-turn, returned to the UNAA  fold (akin to the biblical prodigal son), got embraced, campaigned,  and nearly won the election to unseat the incumbent.  While victory eluded Dr. Kawuma, his steller performance; losing by only 23 votes to the incumbent was a loud and scathing commentary on the record of Atigo’s administration. He nearly rocked the boat!

Sixth and perhaps more importantly, as the process of voting, counting of votes, and declaration of election result unfolded, the UNAA-EC came under more scrutiny than ever before; it was on the spot and on notice around the clock. The election was a litmus test for the UNAA/EC and the individual commissioners to either uphold or stain their respective integrity. UNAA members and all observers expected a credible election process devoid of any manipulation.  While the jury is still out there to determine whether the polls were free and fair; the voting and counting of votes met the acceptable standards, the verdict suggesting whether UNAA/EC passed the integrity test and should bask in glowing tribute is still on hold. Only time will tell. 

Dr. Joseph Buwembo, Chair of the UNAA/BOT 

It is still not clear whether the UNAA Board of Trustees (BoT) and the Executive redeemed themselves to savor in the kudos should events in the coming days endorse the exercise. For now, though, the UNAA/EC should keep the champagne on ice. Unlike its predecessor, the UNAA/EC is yet to cast a vote of no confidence in its own relevance. It appears, then, that unlike its predecessor, the UNAA/EC did learn something and has not forgotten everything yet. And, there is still hope that to the impasse of 2013, UNAA will not rapidly return.   So, let’s keep our fingers crossed. Let the victor and the vanquished put UNAA’s future first and everything else second.

Dr. Peter Simbi, UNAA/EC secretary

Mr. Monday Atigo’s victory has come at a critical moment for UNAA and Atigo himself. He now has the opportunity to accomplish his vision for UNAA. He promised a lot on the campaign trail; all aimed at the betterment of the association and its membership. He must now deliver. Mr. President, you have the political capital. Use it while it lasts. If you found UNAA in a crisis two years ago, fix it. If you messed it during your first term, carry your cross and clean up your mess during your new kisanja.  If your new kisanja has generated a crisis or finds itself in one, do not waste it. Turn it into a victory. Paul Romer, the Stanford economist, so perceptively warned: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. 

The time for lofty rhetoric is over. “Work begins now,” Atigo said as a marching order on the night of his victory. It is critical that he makes good on his pledge.  In the next two years, before his new kisanja (second term) expires, he should prove to his critics and cynics alike that he did not fluke his way to the top but got the job on merit. This new Kisanja places Mr. Atigo at the cusp of delivering on his promises; leave behind a transformed and modern UNAA responsive and relevant to its members.

Dr. Abu Senkayi, one of the founders of UNAA who's vision of a united, progressive, and accountable association should be enhanced.

To compound the historic moment of his election, President Atigo’s new Kisanja marks a transition from one era to another; from one generation to another. Now that UNAA founding fathers (mothers inclusive); Dr. Abu Senkayi, Dr. Matovu, Engineer Mureeba, Rev. Cannon Benjamin Lubega-Musoke, and others take their well-deserved back seats, history confers upon

Mr. Atigo an opportunity to lead and steer this organization through this period of generational transition to scale the highest of heights. As residents of the United States, let’s learn some lessons from the history of this great nation. Presidents George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, among others, left behind a country without airplanes, nuclear sub-marines, drones, Internet, etc. Today, those new technologies are part of the American culture and psyche.

Dr. Mr. David Irakiza Vice chair person UNAA/EC

 They left a country founded on core values that endure today. UNAA should emulate the example. Under the steady hand of Atigo, UNAA should evolve from its first generation of existence and transition into a modern and innovative association that impacts its members and its compatriots back in the homeland, Uganda. If the International Community of the Banyakigezi (ICOB), Buganda Bumu, and Twegaite International can renovate and equip technical institutes in Uganda, donate mobile clinics and raise etafaali to construct the Masengere Plaza, and build a modern cancer ward at Jinja Hospital respectively, why should UNAA not even do more and better? Why should UNAA only receive without giving? It is time UNAA used its enormous human and intellectual capital to collectively give back to Uganda from where we have taken too much already. At this critical moment in time, a historical opportunity has presented itself to President Atigo to lead UNAA into the next era; confidently usher the first of the next 30 years of this Diaspora organization to greater heights.

This is the time to become the Abraham Lincoln of UNAA and emancipate UNAA members, not from slavery but from mindsets of perennial recipients into communitarians with a culture of community service. At 30, UNAA should wean itself of holding out a bowl for the annual cash hand out from the government of Uganda. Instead, UNAA should lead in returning the blessing to those who enabled us to be where we are today. A paradigm shift is but inevitable and inescapable. The founders of UNAA had the foresight to start an organization whose values we all cherish. While it is incumbent on the next generation of UNAA leaders to consolidate those values, innovative ways  to respond to contemporary and future needs  must be a given. We should not take thirty steps in thirty years only to remain stagnant.    President Kennedy envisaged a future in which America would land on the moon. It did.   It is now time to lead UNAA to take the first practical and baby steps to the moon! Mr. President, this is an opportune moment for you to   seize and harness, as you loudly declared in your victory speech, for the benefit of UNAA. Your call!

 But Mr. Atigo’s victory is also problematic; it has come with inherent problems for him.  He has to address and resolve existing hot-button issues and emerging problems confronting UNAA.  While some of the problems are systemic (inherited), others are self-made. Either way, failure to resolve the major questions will neither be optional nor acceptable. So, beyond the euphoria that greeted his election victory, on the leadership front, Mr. Atigo must come to terms with several of the outstanding questions in the short and long term. The honeymoon is over.  First, his 23-vote margin of victory over his opponent was too narrow to assume he enjoys overwhelming support of UNAA membership. He must be circumspect and magnanimous at the same time. It’s what leaders do.

The two protagonists Dr. Daniel Kawuma and President Monday Atigo soon after the results were announced. There is no deal yet between the two. But the two partly hold the key to the unity in UNAA. 

In practical terms, this means that UNAA is as divided as it was after the 2013 elections. Immediate and concerted efforts will be needed on his part to win over dissenting voices in the association that voted for his challenger Dr. Kawuma. This is his first call; an opportunity and problem at the same time. The manner in which he handles this major question will define his legacy. Playing a zerosome game will not cut it. His major ally in reconciling UNAA is his former opponent Dr. Kawuma who returned to the fold and even actively participated in the UNAA harmonization process. Campaigns are over and the time to lead is now. Your call, Mr. President!

 

Second, Mr. Atigo  will have to move fast to assure sections of UNAA members that while they may not be better off or worse off today than they were in 2015, a more responsive, relevant, and progressive UNAA awaits them.  A more relevant UNAA may have to review the structure of the high registration fees for the annual UNAA conventions which have remained unchanged and as unrealistic as they are obscene. This, even in the wake of the increased annual Uganda government financial support to UNAA from $20,000 to the controversial $50, 0000 since 2015 when Atigo was first elected. Many UNAA members still say they are not feeling the impact of the much touted cash donation on UNAA and in their lives. The structure of the registration fees, the organization and attendance of the annual UNAA conventions have either remained stagnant or worsened; an indictment of the statusquo as either lacking in imagination or creativity. This is a systemic problem requiring more imagination and innovative reforms.

Re-elected UNAA Secretary Peter Mukunya needs to do more to change UNAA

Third, a split in Mr. Atigo’s previous executive that pitted him and the secretary Peter Mukunya on one side against his vice president and treasurer on one side has not helped matters either. In his new executive, the cast has not changed much. Apart from the entry of the seemingly compliant vice president Julius Muwulya, chances are that the antagonism will persist unless a new cordial and professional relationship is developed with the re-elected and uncompromising treasurer Arthur Nantamu. Clearly, the UNAA membership would wish to have the new executive     singing from the same script and not firing salvos into friendly trenches. The public bickering that came to define the working methods of the previous executive exposed it as a divided house that stood on sifting sand. A fresh start is a matter deserving exigent pursuit. As Thomas Friedman observed, “Change is hard. Change is hardest on those caught by surprise. Change is hardest on those who have difficulty changing too. But change is natural; change is not new; change is important. We simply must adapt and first survive then thrive.” Yes we can! For UNAA, change is not negotiable!

Former UNAA Vice President John Semanda claimed to have been sidelined.

Finally, with a renewed mandate, Mr. Atigo’s administration should seize the opportunity to address, head-on, allegations of gross financial mismanagement and incompetence. Granted, the allegations might have been part of the inherent burden of incumbency that came to haunt him but left his support base unshakable, the new administration should not bury its head in the sand imagining that all is well as the proverbial ostrich. While the veracity of financial impropriety could not be readily verified, they served to stalk the flames of lack of fiscal accountability and incompetence that dogged Mr. Atigo’s leadership during his first term in office. These were compounded by a rift that developed between the president and the secretary on one side and their former ally, the youthful treasurer, Arthur Nantamu whose public statements cast a dark shadow over the Atigo leadership style and fiscal discipline.

Problematic as this sounds, Mr. Atigo could take the initiative by recommending and supporting a forensic audit into the financial activities of his first term as the UNAA president to vindicate himself. A favorable finding from a forensic audit, which is more of a financial investigation than a mere audit of books of accounts, is the most lethal weapon that Mr. Atigo can deploy to silence his fiercest detractors. Mr. Atigo could use such favorable findings as an endorsement to launch any future political career either here or in Uganda should he wish. This is some strategic political advice offered gratis!

The re-elected UNAA Treasurer Arthur Nantamu, a spoiler?

Ahead of the elections, when he was pushed to the wall, Mr. Atigo’s executive adopted a fire-fighting mode; went on a jet-setting circuit to visit most of the states and cities with high concentrations of Ugandans to explain what the administration had done for UNAA. Mr. Atigo also released several videos justifying the questionable financial transactions. It was the appropriate and knee-jack response he had to make at the time. Now that he is re-elected, he has to do things differently.

Although the EADM reached out to Mr. Monday Atigo seeking his responses to allegations of poor financial accountability and never responded as he had variously promised, the questions still linger.  That said, the re-elected Monday Atigo, rejuvenated and bolstered by his personable personality and ability to interact with all people from diverse cultural backgrounds and demographics, gives him the potential to transcend and overcome the obstacles ahead of his new kisanja, (his second term) in office. If his acceptance speech is anything to go by, UNAA has every reason to remain cautiously optimistic. Both time and history are on his side.

Newly elected Vice President John Julius Muwulya to host next UNAA convention in Seattle, Washington, 2018.

Next years’ UNAA Convention will be held in Seartle, Washington State, the home turf for the new vice president John Julius Muwulya, a subtle reward for his loyalty to the incumbent president and a full delivery of the Washington state vote to ensure that Monday Atigo won. In the greater scheme of things, as the host of the 2018 UNAA convention, the ground appears to be prepared for the youthful Eng. Julius Muwulya to launch his bid for the presidency in 2019 UNAA elections. While it may be too early to read into this strategic political plot, the lines for a hotly contested presidential elections among the youthful members of the new executive; Julius Muwulya, Peter Mukunya, and Arthur Nantamu are already drawn. Unless, of course, the incumbent Monday Atigo seeks another kisanja, a third term and, or, a new candidate emerges. For now, though, work for the new executive is clearly cut out; improving its accountability record, making UNAA more relevant to its members, and continuing its efforts to re-unite the oldest Diaspora organization in continental North America. It’s a redemptive kisanja of sorts!

President Monday Atigo, Vice President John Julius Muwulya, Secretary Peter Mukunya, and Treasurer Arthur Nantamu

Congratulations to you Mr. President, the new executive, council members, the Board of Trustees, and most especially, the UNAA/EC for conducting a historic and relatively credible election under the circumstances. Salutations also go to Dr. Kawuma and his supporters for putting up a spirited fight that may go a long way in helping to grow a democratic culture within UNAA and its membership. Long live UNAA!

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