Uganda's Ambassador Refuses to Speak at MLK Day Event

Floyd Nelson | 1/17/2012, 10:54 a.m.

On a day marked with global celebrations for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.-- a man dedicated to diversity and inclusion, Uganda's ambassador to the United States, Perezi K. Kamunanwire, opted on King's birthday not to proceed as the keynote speaker at a United Negro College Fund (UNCF) prayer breakfast. Kamunanwire's decision came after being confronted with concerns over Uganda's criminalization of homosexuality which is reported to go as far as calling for the death penalty if a person is gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender.

"I would like to say to the Ungandan people that they need to embrace one another," UNCF President and CEO Michael L. Lomax said following the stand-in speech he gave near Washington, D.C. "Rather than have fear and hatred towards those that are different, find ways for all of them to live together as one people."

The withdrawal by Ambassador Kamunanwire came late last week after the UNCF sent him a letter expressing the organization's concern over Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill recently introduced in the Uganda's Parliament.

"There is still a lot of unfinished work to do. We live in a global environment. A lot of people don't have the freedom of opportunities. [Dr. King's] vision was broader than just us," Lomax said. "His work is still great and it's still to be done.

Kamunanwire and the Ungandan Embassy did not respond to repeated calls and emails for an official response to recent events.

According to the Embassy of the Republic of Uganda's website, Kamunanwire was educated at Columbia University in New York. As an educator and a scholar, he taught at City College of the City University of New York where he also directed programs in black studies and international relations. Starting in 2003, he served as an adjunct professor at the Center for Conflict Management and Organizational Research associated with Sophia University in Bulgaria.

UNCF is considered by many to be the nation's largest and most effective minority education organization. UNCF touts that it supports students' education and development through scholarships and other programs, strengthens its 38 member colleges and universities, and advocates for the importance of minority education. UNCF reports that its institutions and other historically black colleges and universities award 21 percent of African American baccalaureate degrees.

Also, UNCF administers more than 400 programs, including scholarship, internship and fellowship, mentoring, summer enrichment, and curriculum and faculty development programs. Currently, according to UNCF statements, the organization supports more than 60,000 students at over 900 colleges and universities across the country. The UNCF logo features the torch of leadership in education and its familiar motto, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste."