HE Yoweri Museveni - President of the Republic of Uganda,
Abdul Kalema Kimbugwe- Current UNAA President,
Benjamin Kulubya - UNAA Member.
1 on 1 with Abdul Kalema Kimbugwe, Ugandan North American Association (UNAA) President
"I call upon each talent in every one of us; the professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, politicians and all, to come forward with ideas and resources to make UNAA that formidable force to reckon with."
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First published: July 17, 2006
Many of us know him as a Mulangira (Prince from the Buganda royal family), Chairman of Ggwanga Mujje Boston, as well as the current President of the Ugandan North American Association (UNAA) which was established 18 years ago. But those are only slices of the cake. There is a lot more to Ugandan-born Abdul Kalema Kimbugwe of Boston, Massachusetts. Not only is he a handsome, dapper, youthful entrepreneur and leader, but he is also an activist - advocating for several social and political issues including the operationalization of Ugandan dual citizenship and voting rights for Diaspora Ugandans. He is also an avid community worker, husband and father.
Kimbugwe started his primary education in Uganda, namely at Nakasero Nursery School, Namilyango Junior Boys School, Namilyango College School and Makerere High School. He then later pursued higher education at Nakawa College of Business and later at University of Massachusetts in Boston, where he received a Bachelor of Science in Management. Kimbugwe has since lived in Boston, Massachusetts. It is in this American city where he was appointed Manager of Production and Retail for FedEx Kinko's in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Until recently he was also working as a manager for Digital Production and Desktop Publishing for Duplicate Management in Woburn, Massachusetts.
Kimbugwe is definitely giving back to the community. He is also the founder and current vice-president of a mosque in Waltham and president of the African Orphans Relief Fund, a non-profit organization that is partnered with the Global Evangelical Church in Waltham, Massachusetts. I caught up with Kimbugwe after his return from Uganda in June, and found out more about his role as the UNAA President, his days as a student and his royal lineage among many other things.
Abdul K. Kimbugwe UNAA President and Chairman Ggwanga Mujje-Boston.
Jane: Finally, we get a chance to get to know the real Abdul Kalema Kimbugwe. We all know that you are of a member of the Buganda royal family and also the current president of the UNAA. What else can you tell us?
Abdul: Well, I was born in Kampala in 1972 to Hajji and Mrs. Abubaker Kalema Kimbugwe then of Najjanankumbi, a suburb of Kampala – South Kyaddondo, Uganda. My heritage is of royal lineage stemming from the 14th Kabaka (King) of Buganda Ssekabaka Kateregga (RIP) resting at Buteregga.
I am the second child and oldest boy of a family of eleven siblings. Two of these have since departed from us. We grew up in a relatively modern, moderate Islamic family setting. Having become of age just before the war which saw President Amin out of office, I am the only child in the family who went to a boarding primary school at Namilyango Junior Boys Uganda Martyrs School in Mukono District while the rest of the family fled into a 9 year long exile in neighboring Kenya, Nairobi.
You are a man of many hats; you are the president of the Ugandan North American Association (UNAA). You are also the founder and current vice-president of a mosque in Waltham and president of the African Orphans Relief Fund plus Chairman of Ggwanga Mujje Boston. That is on top of working as a manager for FedEx Kinkos, in Harvard Square, Cambridge. Is your life as hectic as it sounds?
Taken recently in Uganda(L-R):
- Abdul K. Kimbugwe UNAA President and Chairman Ggwanga Mujje-Boston
- Hon. Daniel Muliika - Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Buganda
- Benjamin Kulubya - a UNAA Member
To an extent, yes it is as busy as it sounds. I however, manage to balance it all with the help of the experience I acquired as a student leader in school as well as an older sibling. I definitely accord appropriate time to my job because that is what pays my bills. But I also give my community enough time. I try to do as much voluntary work as may be required and I do it for the love of my community.
That love for the community is definitely commendable. It's clear with your Bachelors in Management Science and Information Systems, Diploma in Business Studies and your impressive background that you have great business skills. Did you have any positive mentors along the way?
The only individuals that will take credit for who I am are my father and then my mother who took me to my first day at school. The rest of my motivation has come from my perception of self-made successes such as Mr. James Mulwaana, Mr. Michael Dale and Mr. Bill Gates.
What is an entrepreneur to you?
The gentlemen I have just mentioned perfectly fit in the description of an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur thinks or dreams of a marketable idea, shares it with a few associates, acquires resources to research and implement it, and manages the operational aspect and marketing of that idea until he/she insanely becomes rich legally from this idea without committing political or social sins in the due process.
Very wise words. What is your philosophy in life?
Impatient quitters never win. With patience, politeness and calm persistence, one will always lead to victory.
Talking about people who never quit, how has your presidency been so far? What difficulties have you met in the post? How do you plan on handling these difficulties so that they are not repeated for future presidents and so that future presidents can concentrate on newer challenges?
The fact that UNAA is a non-profit organization leaves it a broke entity. With the little source of income we receive at every Annual Convention, the operations of the organization are stifled, thus stunting its growth and yet efforts to fundraise from within the most able membership can also prove to be unreasonably close to impossible.
In addition to the meagre resources, we need to become more generous with our time and talents for the good of the community. When the leadership sounds a call for collective community causes, we all need to contribute in those areas where we are more able.
I have therefore, started fundraising strategies within the organization and set up committees that I hope my successors will fine-tune to facilitate the growth of our community. Friends and members of UNAA need to think of an annual subscription as well, to facilitate the day to day activities of their organization. I have also started a life insurance scheme that should reduce our abrupt search for funds in times of disaster.
How would you address those critics who would find your youth a stumbling block?
I think we now have to wake up and realize that the youth are here to take charge of their future and be part of the solution in finding mechanisms for the problems this world is facing. I also believe that the youth are in a better position for this task because of our dynamism, intelligence and vigilance, which typically characterizes youthfulness. As a youth who is still expecting a life time of dealing with the world's social, political and economic baggage from the present and past generations, and for the future of my children and grand children, I will be judged harshly by history if I looked on helplessly.
To address the above fears, I say that my age or appearance does not matter. What is important is the intelligence, charisma, determination and knowledge of our past, present and desired future. It is also important to note that leadership is not described by age but by how well and easily one can command the respect of his or her constituents to follow the leader's vision or direction.
Very well said. Talking about leadership, how was your meeting with Uganda's President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni regarding last year's conference? What issues were you able to discuss with him?
I failed to meet President Museveni last year due to an allegedly busy schedule, as said by his protocol officers despite a timely scheduled appointment. It was suggested that I attend and meet him within a partisan meeting he was to address that evening and I objected on principle that my constituents come from a mosaic of political patterns which makes my office/position apolitical. So, there was no meeting or issues discussed between myself and President Museveni last year.
I met him, however, at his office in the Parliamentary Buildings, Kampala in early June of 2006. It was a cordial meeting in which we discussed at length the implementation of Dual Nationality, Proxy Voting by Ugandans in the Diaspora, UNAA/Government Protocol, Northern Uganda, Land Law changes and their impacts to the Diasporans and a UNAA Professionals exchange program.
What's his opinion of UNAA and its role?
Given that he gladly attended the 2004 UNAA convention and that he has continued to support our demands in areas like Dual Citizenship, and also considering as well, his acceptance to meet UNAA leadership almost every year since 2003, I am confident that he regards the organization highly and he expects a lot from it in light of National Development. This couples with the fact that over $700 million of Uganda's economy come from "kyeyos", the majority of whom are UNAA members.
You met with the African Society President during the launch of the Discovery Channel's 'Uganda: The Presidential Tour' documentary. What did you think of the documentary?
Oh! That was a tremendous amount of work which wonderfully marketed Uganda in her true aspects and full glory. I only wish it had come years earlier than that and I hope many more such exhibits of our beauty are done in the future.
As a Ugandan living abroad and more importantly as the President of one of the biggest Ugandan associations abroad, how do you think we can individually brand the country and attract more tourists?
We all have interacted and made friends through school, work or somehow. Word of mouth and referring these acquired friends and family to literature on the world wide web or magazines can send the word around. I have also started a UNAA magazine to come out shortly that will help in this effort as well. The continued growth of the Annual Convention should also be focussed towards marketing Uganda's tourism industry. Most importantly however, we also have members that have studied and worked in the hospitality industry here in the Western World. They are more than willing to lend their expertise to Uganda if approached and I am targeting them.
How often do you go back to visit Uganda?
I am frankly embarrassed to say that I had last visited Uganda in 1998 until May of 2006. I have however resolved not to stay away from the home for more than 2 years. I hope to make an annual pilgrimage in order to be part of the fast growth in Uganda.
I shall not judge you harshly since I am in the same boat.
Some of the mandates of the UNAA are to promote and celebrate the rich diversity of Ugandan culture and heritage as well as to encourage business relationships and interaction. How is that achieved?
As you can see from the membership and leadership of UNAA, we are a composition of almost all tribes and religions from Uganda. We have always encouraged the different ethnicities to carry out 'special interest' conferences within the Annual UNAA convention to further their cultural aspirations. Last year UNAA donated $250 to each of the most well organized cultural organizations like Buganda and Kigezi.
In the same arrangement of facilitating meetings, a number connections and networking sessions have emanated out of these conventions and as a result, business ventures have been born. Many Ugandan-owned businesses have had the opportunity to get exposure and markets at our trade symposium and exhibitions during the conventions.
Ok let us talk about the 2006 UNAA Convention in New York. What a great location... What took the organization so long to pick New York as a location or has it been done before in New York? Also what is the process of choosing a convention's location and why New York for 2006?
Edward Wanda: UNAA-NEW YORK 2006.
Thanks. We are happy with the response about the New York Convention to date. Registration numbers have been at record high every month since December 2005 and we think it is going to break the Boston 2003 record of attendance. I can only think of two reasons why New York has not been appointed host before: it is quite an expensive city as you may know. Another issue too is the fact that the Ugandan community there has not been bidding for the opportunity to host in the past years until Mr. Edward Wanda's ambitious team did.
Like we will be doing soon, the UNAA International board opens the bidding process for eligible cities that would like to host a UNAA convention in two years advance. We look at the size of the Ugandan population in that locality, the city's infrastructure and proximity, the frequency of the past conventions in that region of the country and the legitimacy of the local organising committee in terms of their being freely elected. In 2004 we deemed New York to have fulfilled more of these requirements than her competitors.
After a while don't these conventions become monotonous? What is done to kill the monotony and how will New York be different from other conventions? Are there any events that Ugandans in North America should be excited about this year? For those who may have never attended the UNAA convention, what can they expect?
Different cities have provided different experiences in the past. This has been done in the different activities like city tours, menus and programs. This time New York is not an exception from this uniqueness. We are giving you a tour of the "Big Apple" city, a sports time (never done before) that will future basket ball, very different Ugandan menu, board games, a modern day care center for the infants, all major religions' services, more vendors than before, a boat cruise and a variety of Ugandan Musicians based both in Uganda and the USA. It is also important to note that the attendance of these conventions is always rotating in the sense that 65% of the every year's conventioneers have not attended the previous year. This means that one is bound to meet friends, relatives or strangers they haven't seen in a long time.
Tell us about the organizers of this year's event. Who are the people/ the team behind this year's convention... what is their background and how will this contribute to the event?
The individuals on the Local Organizing Committee in New York are Ugandans and friends who have a commitment to enrich our community on a volunteer premise. It is a dedicated team of wonderful men and women mainly living and/or working in the New York area, led by Mr. Edward Wanda as their chairman.
I am not at liberty to discuss their backgrounds due to privacy limitations but I am confident that they are fairly and diligently executing their task. More information can be found at www.unaanewyork.com.
How about the business end of the convention? Do you get many promoters for the events? If so... what sort of businesses sponsor the event and how do they get in touch with you?
This is an area we are trying to build since we see a lot of potential in it. In the past, we have partnered with and still working with corporate entities like Pfizer, Western Union and Money Gram. We have also enjoyed business relations with Ugandan owned business from both Uganda and in the USA which include B.M.K. Group of companies and WBS (Wavah Broadcasting Service - TV Station is a venture from Spear Motors Group of Companies.)
We have contacted some of these companies on a personal connections basis and others have looked us up either through our websites or by word of mouth. I however request you all to use your connections to get these business relations for the future.
All this sounds like a lot of work. Is the Presidency a full time job? Does it hold a substantial salary?
Indeed it is quite a bit of work and it deserves a good salary. However, given that UNAA is a Non Profit and with little income, we come to serve cognisant of its limitations, among which are its inability to pay its officials. We are all volunteers and we serve to benefit from the love and appreciation of the community. This would have to change however, if we want to build the capacity of UNAA in the near future.
To pay my bills and finance some of UNAA's activities, I am a Manager at FedEx Kinko's Print services in Harvard Square, Cambridge MA and I do a bit of property development on the side. I resigned from my second job at Duplicate Management Inc. when I was elect UNAA president last September to dedicate more time to UNAA work.
When do you officially stop handling duties of the office? When do you handover power?
UNAA office bearers are elected every two years. That said, the next elections are due in September 2007 which will be in San Francisco, CA. When a new President is declared that Sunday night, I will immediately hand over the responsibility.
What advice do you have for the next applicants for the post of UNAA President?
A lot is expected of this office so they have to be ready to serve diligently and selflessly without anticipation for gains financially or materially. They need to be ready to give freely their time, wisdom, and resources to further the causes that we have set forth and need to be courageous enough to handle the numerous challenges, past, current and ahead of the organization. Main focus should be on ensuring unity, empowering and reconciliation not for only the UNAA, but Uganda at large.
Abdul with wife Mariam at a 70's dance in Boston.
Behind every successful man, there is a strong woman. What is your wife's involvement in your projects?
True! I have read about and seen marriages that have failed because one spouse is too busy to hold it together. I thank my wife for allowing me and for giving a supporting hand in all the community engagements I am involved. She has always given me the guidance and an understanding shoulder in times of despair, as well as a pat on the back when I have excelled in my work. Sometimes I get carried away with the many activities and travels but when she has reminded me of how much time they have taken me away from the family, I have created time and made it up to her. Without her, I would be a lesser man and I thank God for her as a gift. I also thank her for the gift of our son Ashraf.
Abdul and Son at traditional lunch in Kawempe (Mariam's Home)
Son Ashraf with his new computer.
Most of us Ugandans have an immigrant story. What is your immigrant story? Tell us what you would like to share with us in terms of how you came to the United States, your college days at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, and the roads you took from when you arrived in the United States up to the point you decided to run for UNAA President.
In many ways my life has been blessed and of less pain than many of my contemporaries. I easily got admitted to the University of Massachusetts – Boston, which was facilitated by the acquisition of a student visa to the United States. I attended my first class the day after my arrival in the country and I didn't stop until I finished in 2003. Like many immigrant students, I worked two jobs (about 80-90 hours a week) and went to school full time leaving about 1 to 2 hours of rest every day. It is still a wonder how I did this crazy schedule and yet I still managed to make the Dean's List in more than four semesters.
After the loss of Moses Mutebi Kimbugwe, my 24 year old young brother in 2001, I dedicated my free time on the weekends to community work. This saw me work as a volunteer wedding planner of most Ugandan weddings and other functions in the Boston area. In 2003, I was called upon to design and manage the program for the 2003 UNAA Convention in Boston and that is when I began to fall in love with UNAA. I volunteered myself to run for the treasury and I was elected unopposed. In 2005 at the UNAA Convention in Minnesota, I ran for president and on merit, I was elected President of this magnificent organization.
A lot of UGPulse readers are Ugandans living abroad. They are mostly living in North America and Western Europe but they come from all corners of the globe. What message do you have for them?
Wherever they are, they need to unite and create opportunities for themselves in organized entities. We need them now more than ever because the destiny and hope of Uganda rests in their hands. We are all looked upon to solve Uganda's political and economic woes therefore, our expertise and resources are awaited back home. Uganda is still a virgin land and yet pregnant with opportunities. She is also fragile and in need of us.
Let's talk about the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Do you think Uganda is prepared for that?
If Uganda held the OAU summit 31 years ago under President Idi Amin with less facilities than we have today, then I think she is ready now for CHGM. The economic stimulant caused by this meeting is good for the country and less politics should be used to implement it. Instead, political arguments should be saved for the meeting agenda within the deliberations.
On a personal note... what are your favourite books?
Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiongo, Composing a Life by Mary Catherine Bateson and The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois.
What about your favourite musicians?
Philly Bongole Lutaaya (RIP), Elly Wamala (RIP), Maxi Priest, and UB40.
And what will be next for Abdul Kalema Kimbugwe? What is your next road? Where do you think Ugandans will continue hearing your name? What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?
My first name translates into servant and I intend to live up to its meaning. I will continue to serve my people at any opportunity they call me to. I believe I have achieved the American dream and it's almost that time to share it with my fellow Ugandans whom we have almost abandoned at home. I think I would rather be heard of next serving selflessly my country at any level that I am needed. It might be in either a private or public capacity.
My legacy, if there is one, would rather be that I played my part to better my people/country and that I provided opportunities to those less privileged.
Thank you Abdul for the interview!
It was my pleasure.
This years Uganda North America's Association (UNAA) Annual Convention will be held in New York City On from September 1st - 4th 2006. The key note speaker is Ali Mazrui. Let us break the attendance record this year!
For more information and to register, please go to:
Abdul with son Ashraf in Kampala - Nagulu at the family home.
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First published: July 17, 2006
Jane won the Miss Africanada beauty pageant 2000 in Toronto where she was also named one of the new voices of Africa after reciting one of her poems. In 2004, she was published in T-Dot Griots-An Anthology of Toronto's Black storytellers and in February 2005, her art piece Namyenya was featured as the poster piece for the Human Rights through Art-Black History Month Exhibit.
She is the recipient of numerous awards for her poetry, art and playwriting and is becoming a household name in Toronto circles. Please visit her website at www.nteyafas.com.