Something curious is unfolding in the United States of America that is as Ugandan as they come.
The Ugandan North American Association (UNAA), a group set up by Diaspora Ugandans in the United States to meet, greet, network, gain erudition and have fun (not necessarily in that order) is having its annual gathering in two weeks.
UNAA has ran annually for 27 years now. Yours truly flew in from London, England, and attended it in 1994 in Los Angeles. I attended it again in Washington, DC, in 2010. While all sorts of skulduggery and infighting have been par for the course, there is no denying that UNAA has repeatedly scored resounding success in bringing together Ugandans of all hues, often from different continents, in one place for three days and nights of fun and frolicking.
This year, however, is rather different. In a fortnight, UNAA is hosting its annual event in New Orleans, Louisiana, September 4-6. On exactly the same days it is hosting a similar event 1,300 miles away in New York City.
How has UNAA managed such a feat?
A couple of years ago, internecine squabbling over money and management issues among the UNAA executives escalated so badly that a section of them opted to break away and form their own group which they named UNAA Causes. The publicly acrimonious split was so close to UNAA 2014 that there was no time to try to reconcile the two sides or paper over their differences. So, the breakaway group found an alternative venue for their celebration in San Diego, only yards from the UNAA event. It was an embarrassing development which both sides did their best to gloss over.
So far so Ugandan.
This year UNAA and UNAA Causes have had plenty of time to work on cementing their differences and they are now counting down to September 4th to find out who has gotten the biggest numbers to their respective jamborees.
UNAA gatherings have in the past been nothing more than three days and nights of inebriated shenanigans. If you don’t have a head for quaffing mighty amounts of alcohol until the wee hours, are not terribly into gossiping till your mind is emptied, aren’t too interested in carrying your entire closet with you to impress onlookers with hourly outfit changes, and aren’t of sound limbs to dance until you are thrown off the dance floor by exhausted hotel staff, you might find UNAA gatherings a challenge.
Which perhaps might explain why UNAA has attempted to highlight their highbrow, but more low-key, business round table concept. They will need all the organization skills they can muster to make it a success if the miserably attended forums of yonder years is anything to go by.
On the other hand, UNAA Causes seems to have given up on the pretense that this event is anything other than a chance to get intoxicated and make merry. They have invited at least a dozen Ugandan entertainers for a three-day event. They, too, will need all their organization skills to ensure that attendees don’t stagger away complaining that their favorite artist didn’t get enough time to give them what they came for.
UNAA Causes is also charging less for its event than UNAA despite flying in a football team of entertainers and hosting everyone in very expensive New York City, and throwing in a boat cruise for good measure. How they have managed to do that is an interesting question since past events have been characterized by ugly wrangles over money. Does this event raise more money, after expenses, than the organizers have let on in the past? If so, what has happened to the sums left over?
When the dust settles, we shall no doubt hear about how the two events unfolded because we always do. Right now, one can only spare a thought for how anyone who hasn’t yet decided which event to attend will be persuaded.
It’s a divisive, unhealthy set of affairs but when have Ugandan events ever been any different?