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Nambooze rides on her tongue to parliament

By Vision Reporter

Added 26th May 2010 03:00 AM

HER weary smile as results of the Mukono by-elections came in told the story. For years, she has fought for this day. Finally, ‘God’ delivered it to her. The results, the first from the populous Mukono Town Council, indicated that she was leading and sure to win. Even when ‘bad’ results fro

HER weary smile as results of the Mukono by-elections came in told the story. For years, she has fought for this day. Finally, ‘God’ delivered it to her. The results, the first from the populous Mukono Town Council, indicated that she was leading and sure to win. Even when ‘bad’ results fro

By Joshua Kato

HER weary smile as results of the Mukono by-elections came in told the story. For years, she has fought for this day. Finally, ‘God’ delivered it to her. The results, the first from the populous Mukono Town Council, indicated that she was leading and sure to win. Even when ‘bad’ results from Kyampisi and parts of Goma came in, her lead stayed. Bakaluba had gone.

Where it all started
Nambooze is the new MP for Mukono North constituency. This was the peak of a long struggle, in which the physically dismissible woman has fought with all kinds of forces to the top.

Two years ago at Kyenjojo Police station, unkempt Betty Nambooze looked extremely out of place. She admitted she had not bathed for three days! She had been driven to the station the previous night by security forces for her utterances on radio.

This was just one of her many run-ins with the law. The year before, in 2007, she had been arrested several times for the same thing. More than twice, she has been in prison with one of her toddlers. On one of these occasions; she went with her baby. She was arrested for trying to hold an illegal rally in Mukono. Holding her baby over her shoulder with her hand, Nambooze wore a tired smile but she still lifted up her right, fisted hand (DP sign) in a show of boldness. And she says, forever she will not fear prison because “this is the cost of fighting for this country.”

Talking is her skill
But as it turns out, she is not just talking for ‘this country’. Talking is her job and from it, she survives. She uses her tongue “effectively” among her opposition supporters, but she is considered worse than a “spitting cobra” among members of the ruling NRM party.

“Those who like her use her talking skills to send out messages. The targets of the messages are never amused,” says a close friend of Nambooze’s.She is described as being very ‘opportunistic’ with an ability to turn herself into a ‘hero’ of all situations.

Nambooze’s wide eyes strike you almost immediately. When she speaks her resonant voice compensates for a diminutive body figure. Nambooze is one of the most vocal DP leaders in this country. And when she was picked by the Kabaka of Buganda to head a civic team to ‘sensitise’ the country about land issues, she became one of the most vocal Mengo officials.

She had unlimited time on CBS radio and it is on her many programmes that she said things, that are now the subject of sedition cases. Her fans named her ‘Madam teacher’ for that.

In 2007, she created “a small Beirut” in Mukono town because of her running battles over different issues with the Police. Juma Seiko, an army officer, had chased several people from a piece of land that he bought in Mukono.

“At the time, they asked me under what jurisdiction I was intervening in that case, but now I have become the area MP,” she said after being declared the winner of the Tuesday by-election for Mukono north constituency which she contested for with Rev. Peter Bakaluba Mukasa of the NRM.

Nambooze is a self-made woman. The fifth of eight children, she grew up largely with her mother Justine Nakato in Mukono.

A humble background
It all started in 1980 when their father Peter Kayongo was arrested by UNLA soldiers and beaten to near death. From that moment, they became destitutes because there was nobody fending for them. Her young life was as chaotic as her demonstrations-riddled political life.

One of her acquaintances says they were not well off. “She one time vended banana leaves in markets,” says one of her colleagues in Mukono. Although she was intelligent in class, her efforts to get better education were frustrated by lack of money.

“She would have gone on and joined university but she joined Nakawa Postal and Telecommunications institute for a course and became a postal officer.

Nambooze also worked as a journalist, working for various publications including, Mirror, Citizen and later Bukedde. Her sojourn into journalism, which she has always said was because she liked “debate in the wider forum,” exposed her further to politics and society.

Joining politics
One of her first political achievements was as a member of a group called Abendowooza, she helped bring change in Mukono, when she influenced the election of current Mayor Johnson Muyanja Ssenyonga, who was largely seen as more progressive than then leaders.

She first joined active politics as a youth leader in 1996 and professed to be an NRM sympathiser but was not a serious politician until 1999 when she became a law enforcement officer in Mukono Town Council.

This job made her so many enemies, including a one Hannington Kanyike who caused her first arrest.

It was alleged that Nambooze had asked for a bribe of sh100,000 from Kanyike to allow him construct a house in the town council.

Talking about it after her release from prison two years ago, Nambooze said Kanyike was influenced by area MP Rev. Peter Bakaluba Mukasa because, “I was stopping his anti-people schemes.” Bakaluba has on several occasions denied this.

Her prison ordeal went on until 2005, when she was released. In prison, she wrote several books, among which is “The Innocent Prisoner” in which she writes about her child, who was then just months old.

In 2001, Namboze professed to have left NRM and became sympathetic to Colonel Kizza Besigye’s Reform Agenda.

One of the achievements in politics is the ability to identify opportunities and grab them to her advantage. Whenever a political demonstration has taken place in Kampala, she has literally made sure a bit of it is transferred to her town, Mukono largely for political gains.

Take the example of Buganda Kingdom. During the heavily heated Federo debates, Nambooze was one of the personalities picked by the establishment to go out and “teach the real Federo to Buganda.”

In one of the Federo debates on radio, she called President Yoweri Museveni Lugondamajja, a Luganda adage meaning somebody who humbles himself when he has just arrived, but changes later.

It is statements like these that have endeared her to most youth in the opposition. Nambooze was one of the best Luganda radio talk show debaters, and a regular at that, whose abilities on radio can only be matched by Tamale Mirundi, a Presidential Assistant on Media Affairs.

During the 2006 elections, she stood for the Mukono North Constituency seat, but lost to Peter Bakaluba Mukasa. Nambooze was not done, because she is never easily done. She went to court and overturned the elections.

Bakaluba, however, appealed the court decision. Once this appeal was disposed of in her favour Nambooze graced the campaign trail again and won.

The opposition, that was divided over whether to put up a joint candidate against the NRM in 2011 came together for her cause. In one of the meetings, FDC President Kizza Besigye described her as a person who ‘sticks to her guns,’ a fair description to say the least.

Her love life
Because of her straight talking and ‘no valves closed’ character, some had hinted that perhaps she would never find a husband to settle down with in this patriarchal society. They were very wrong.

About eight years ago, Nambooze was swept off her feet by Henry Nsubuga Bakireke, a relatively quiet man. Friends of the couple say:

“He has to run fast in order to catch up with the speed of his wife.” They have three children. According to the couple’s friends, Nsubuga and Nambooze had earlier been friends during their childhood days.

However, they ‘got lost’ from each other. Nsubuga married someone else and got children, while Nambooze also had a relationship and had a child. However, they met years later and fell in love.

Nambooze was free at the time since she had long separated with her first husband, but Nsubuga was not. Nsubuga’s wife refused to let go. She even threatened court action if Nambooze did not leave her man alone.

The issues were, however, settled out of court. In the meantime, Nsubuga became an employee of the district and their love blossomed. Being in and out of prison is no cake for a husband. Nambooze says her strength lies in “a very supportive husband.”

Nsubuga has indeed stood by his woman. During her first imprisonment, he drove almost daily to Luzira prison to take food for the baby. Second time round, he was driving around looking for Nambooze, who was in Kyenjojo.

When Nambooze was taken to Kyenjojo he complained.“They have been pushing her through several Police stations. That is inhuman,” he said. However, he soon realised that her frequent visit to prison cells was one of the many prices they would pay in the quest for political triumph.

Nambooze rides on her tongue to parliament

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