First Ladies who shunned the Limelight

By Vision Reporter

To mark 50 years of Uganda's independence, New Vision will until October 9, 2012 be publishing highlights of events and pro ling personalities that have shaped the history of this country

To mark 50 years of Uganda’s independence, New Vision will until October 9, 2012 be publishing highlights of events and pro ling personalities that have shaped the history of this country.

Today, ANGELA NDAGANO brings you the story of the forgotten First Ladies of Uganda Some live in the shadows of their husbands; a few tend to outshine them, but generally, First Ladies are simply known as the wives of presidents. If they are professionals, they will pursue a career and often champion a good social cause. Often they will just bask in the presidential privileges. 

Many times though, presidents’ wives are seen rather than heard and because they live in such obscurity, we forget them as soon as their husbands leave power. And if their husbands were such patronising chauvinists, we never get to know the women in president’s lives. Here are some such women.

Hannah Lule
She was among the fi rst nine female students at King’s College Budo when it was made a mixed school. Yusuf Kironde Lule was a science a master at the same school. The two fell madly in love, but it was a union, that was unacceptable. 

There was the age difference and then there was the difference in religion. Hannah’s family was determined to send her abroad to stop the union but the young teacher had a plan in mind. He organised for her transport and hid her at his relative’s home. The two eventually got married.

But unlike other fi rst ladies, Hannah never got an opportunity to take her seat in state house. According to her son Wasswa Lule, as efforts were being made for her to go to state house, her husband Kironde Lule was deposed after 68 days as head of state. The couple was among the many Ugandans who had fl ed after Idi Amin’s ascendance to power in January 1971.

When Amin was toppled, Lule, still in exile, was named Uganda’s President at Moshi Conference in April 1979 in Tanzania. Earlier, he had served as Principal of Makerere College (now Makerere University) from 1964-1970, making him the first Ugandan to head it. 

He was also assistant secretary general of the Commonwealth Secretariat. In all those years, Hannah was by his side in the various parts of the world he served in. She was also an active member of the Uganda Council of Women, a women’s movement comprising women NGOs in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

According to Wasswa she took interest in women issues when her husband became education minister. More so, when Lule became the first chairman of the NRM, she had to play hostess to different kinds of people and sometimes she had to do it late in the night. 

It’s no surprise that when she passed away in 2011, Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, described her as a perfect hostess who would greet anyone with a warm smile.

Damalie Kisosonkole
Lady Damalie Kisosonkole was the wife of the late Kabaka Edward Mutesa. Damalie was wellknown during her time. 

However, for the benefit of the current generation, we bring you part of her story. She was Uganda’s fi rst First Lady when Mutesa served as President of Uganda between 1962 and 1966. Damalie was also a sister of Sarah Kisosonkole, the mother to Kabaka Ronald Mwenda Mutebi. The story of how she came to double as Mutebi’s aunt and stepmother is an interesting one.

In his book, Desecration of my Kingdom, Mutesa says the two had fi rst known each other at King’s College Budo, where they were both studying, Damalie’s younger sister Sarah was also at Budo at the time. It is said the young prince had fallen head over heels in love with Sarah and the two reportedly got engaged soon after. However, the two broke it off after a misunderstanding and as an act of revenge the Kabaka decided to marry Damalie.

To prepare for her role as Nabagereka, Damalie fl ew to England for a special course at Sherbone, where she was groomed in etiquette and conduct befi tting a queen. On Saturday, November 19, 1948, the couple was wed at Namirembe Diocese. But, there was little to bind the married couple as Mutesa’s heart was with Sarah.

It was not long before the Kabaka made Sarah his wife, Kabejja and later she would become the Namasole (Queen Mother) the traditionally powerful and infl uential position in Buganda. Mutesa named her son Prince Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II successor.

Although the stand-off between Lady Damalie and the Kabaka was an open secret, Damalie kept a dignifi ed silence and she continued to attend formal functions with the Kabaka. It is said, Damalie’s dignifi ed conduct and her standoff with the Kabaka inspired many women who were gradually beginning to fi nd their feet in politics at a time when the women’s emancipation movement was just gaining momentum.

Lady Damalie lived a solitary life until she passed away in 2010. As the country bid her farewell, President Yoweri Museveni described her as a committed mother who raised her children well even in challenging circumstances. Museveni also commended Damalie for her efforts to fi ght against polio, championing girl child education and mobilising women for development programmes. He noted that Lady Damalie played a great role in mobilising mothers to immunise their children against polio.

Esther Okello Lutwa
During the short reign of Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa’s military junta, the majority of Ugandans hardly remember seeing the First Lady in public. But Tito, who ruled Uganda between July 29 1985 and January 26, 1986 had two wives. Although he had a senior wife Yasinta Akuni Lutwa, his junior wife, Esther Dyee Okello, was more known in the political circles. She is the one he lived with in exile after Idi Amin’s coup of 1971.

In her book, My Life’s Journey, First Lady Janet Museveni describes Esther as a kind and caring woman, who liked the Museveni family and was always ready to help babysit in her absence. However, during his time as president, Tito rarely appeared with his wife in public.

Esther who is the mother of Okello Oryem, the state minister for foreign affairs, died in March 2002, following a tragic road accident at Kitgum Matidi. She was travelling to Namokora, their ancestral home to attend her husband’s last funeral rights. Yasinta Akuni Lutwa, the fi rst wife, also died in 2003 at Kitgum Hospital after a long battle with coronary heart disease.

The Amins
Idi Amin Dada had many wives, but it is Kay Adroa and Malyamu Amin, who stood out. On Thursday, last week, we brought you Amin’s fi ve fi rst ladies including, Sarah Kyolaba, Madina and Nora Amin. Malyamu was the first wife, while Kay was the second. There were later divorced over the radio.

First Ladies who shunned the Limelight