By Samuel Lutwama
Confident, articulate, easy-going, passionate and deeply rooted in the Catholic faith, 42-year-old Florence Kiyingi blends her cultural values with current trends to epitomise the modern woman.
During an interview at Lisa Medical Centre in Mengo, she dons a floral dress with a matching black coat that reveals her trademark fashion sense. Inside her office, she peruses through pictures on her Samsung tablet.
A wooden cabinet stands on one side with photos of herself and her husband and a big plastic rosary between the two frames.
Kiyingi says fashion has always been a part of her.
“I am keen on what I wear and I think I inherited that trait from my mother. At her old age, she is still cautious about her looks and how she dresses,” Kiyingi says.
Yet she remains proud of her cultural identity as a Muganda woman, something that earned her two ministerial posts in the Buganda kingdom government — as the youth minister and later, tourism minister. During her tenure as the tourism minister, she championed the Buganda Annual Expo in order to boost the tourism sector in the kingdom.
She says her rise to these positions was not just a matter of luck, but her leadership skills and a constant effort to stand out from the crowd.
At table. The Kiyingis are blessed with five children. Kiyingi's husband, Deogratius is the Member of Parliament for Bukomansimbi County
As the fever of the 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections gains momentum, Kiyingi believes that she has gained enough political clout to vie for the Kampala Woman MP seat.
“I believe that I have what it takes to deliver in Kampala,” she says.
Born in 1972 to Charles Ssonko (RIP) and Perepetwa Najjuma in Kimanya, Masaka district, her childhood was quite eventful.
“Quite often, my mind is carried back to my childhood days. I lived with my parents and 12 siblings with whom I played and fought. We were a close-knit family,” Kiyingi recalls.
All was well until the liberation war of 1979 broke out and later, the social and political instabilities of the early 1980s. Despite the upheavals, her father, who served as Ssaza (county) chief and head of laity of Kimanya sub-parish church, tried to insulate his family from the ill winds of change that were blowing. It was, however, impossible for his family to remain unscathed by the turbulence of the time. In 1985, at the peak of the civil war, the children, who went to school in Kampala, were temporarily separated as the war raged on.
“We remained separated from some of our siblings for over eight months and there was no way we could communicate with each other. Our village had been cordoned off because of war,” she recalls.
Worst of all, she saw her father being assaulted by soldiers.
“My father was beaten by angry soldiers who thought he had money, but had hidden it. In the ensuing scuffle, he lost all his front teeth,” she painfully recalls.
Kiyingi is the eighth of 12 children, one of whom was the late Winnie Makumbi, the former chairperson of Rubaga division. She passed on in 2008. Kiyingi describes her family as academic.
Many of her siblings have grown to be people of influence in the community and the country. Some of them include Dr Grace Nambatya, the director of research at Natural Chemotherapeutics Laboratory in the Ministry of Health and Dr Vincent Sembatya, the quality assurance director at Makerere University.
Watching TV. Kiyingi believes in having a firm hand while raising children, arguing that the days of communal child-upbringing are long gone
Like her siblings, Kiyingi started her education under the tutelage of her mother.
“Our mother made sure she taught all of us the basics of early education before she let us join school,” she says.
Kiyingi attended Kimanya Blessed Primary School and later joined Trinity College Nabbingo for her secondary education. While at Nabbingo, she was the sanitary prefect. She later became the leader of commerce students in her course and an executive member of Nkoba zambogo, the Buganda students’ organisation at Makerere University. She went on to graduate with a bachelors in commerce from the same university.
While at Nabbingo, she made her maiden trip to London to attend the graduation of her sister Dr Grace Nambatya, who was being awarded a PhD in medicinal chemistry.
“My sister was the first African woman to be given that award and up to now, nobody else has received the same award,” Kiyingi says.
It is while in London that Kiyingi fell in love with the health services and decided that she would eventually make money through running health facilities.
Fulfilling a dream
After university, Kiyingi translated the idea that was birthed in Europe into reality by opening up a medical facility with the intent of providing primary healthcare. It worked. So far, she has 10 health facilities under the name Lisa Medical Centre, with a branch in Nairobi.
In the subsequent years, she has created the Nakiwala Kiyingi Foundation, where she continues to give back to society through helping orphans and offering subsidised medical care to the less-privileged.
Kiyingi with her two youngest children. She says family should be the most important aspect of anyone's life
Kiyingi met her husband Deogratius, the Member of Parliament for Bukomansimbi County, in her first year at university. They had a casual friendship which soon blossomed into love. They married in 1998. Fourteen years later, she says her marriage is fulfilling as well as enriching with trust as the winning formula.
“There comes a time when you have to learn to trust your spouse. One thing I have realised is that once trust is given, it cannot be abused,” she says.
The couple is blessed with three boys and two girls.
“All our children are well brought up,” she says with a chuckle, adding philosophically that an apple does not fall far from the tree.
“We give our children what was inculcated in us by our parents,” she adds.
Though she is mindful of her career in politics and in business, Kiyingi recognises the importance of family who, according to her, should take number one place in one’s life. However, she has had her share of challenges.
“While growing up, it was said it took a whole village to raise a child, but times have changed considerably, necessitating parents to take direct control of their children’s wellbeing and that is what we are doing,” she says.
Kiyingi in her home office. The office is detached from the main house as if to draw a line between family and office issues.
The Kiyingi nest
The family lives on Mutundwe Hill in a neighbourhood that overlooks the beautiful scenery of Kampala. The family has been here for more than a decade. Before moving here, they lived in Namasuba in a house that became too small them.
This one is a bungalow. Within the same compound is a storied building, which serves as a home office. The home sits on half-an-acre of land.
Just like her office at Lisa Medical Centre, it is well-furnished and shows her taste as well as her style. The office is detached from the main house as if to draw a line between family and office issues. It is in this office that she handles all her private work of steering her organisation forward.
At the main house, the spacious living room is modestly decorated and spotlessly clean despite having young children around. This is just one of the houses the couple owns.
Kiyingi is quick to give credit to her husband for the beautiful aspects of their home.
“My husband likes good things, just like me. He has designed and followed all the designs of our homes which, according to me, are impressive,” she says.
Omuntu W'abantu: Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi (Pt.1)
Omuntu W'abantu: Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi (Pt.2)
Omuntu W'abantu: Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi (Pt.3)