She was the darling who fascinated the young and old, smiling quite infectiously, pumping her fist (Democratic Party’s symbol) and waving to the crowd that poured their hearts out. Clearly, one could read fatigue written in her body language, often times, and her voice taking to hoarseness.
But, there still stood out that streak of resilience and verve so unmistakable. And it all pointed to a woman full of spirit whom some have acclaimed as a firebrand. She has even been christened as the next big thing on our political stage, with heaps of praise, both sincere and dishonest, bordering on nauseating flattery.
But who exactly is, Brenda Nabukenya? Who is this sweet smiling, chocolate brown woman of medium height, especially outside the political melodrama?
Nabukenya the student and friend
A daughter of a Luwero-based businesswoman, Nabukenya could be one of the most private souls in our political arena. Hers is a book closed and shelved. Asked about her family in an interview with Full Woman, all she could share was, “from my mother’s side, we are two. The last born is a girl in Senior One. My stepfather is a professor at Makerere University.” Thus is how deep we could open this book, on family matters.
In fact, on the Parliament of Uganda website, all she reveals in her profile is her political party, gender, single marital status, date of birth and contacts. Her religion, special interests, work and education history, unlike for most members of Parliament on the same website, are tucked deep in her heart. All you learn is that she is single, female, belongs to Democratic Party, born on April 23, 1984. Profession: Nutritionist/Dietician.
Other Responsibilities: Member, Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, and Committee on Government Assurances.
Not even Western Youth MP, Gerald Karuhanga, with whom Nabukenya admittedly enjoys an amiable bond, could tell us anything of her personal life.
“Yes, I was guild president of Makerere around the time she was guild president at Kyambogo University, but I can comment on her as a politician. The social side, no!” Karuhanga said.
However, in an interview with another newspaper recently, asked which MP she thought handsome, Nabukenya answered; “Aaah, not me. For me, handsome is someone I can talk to. Maybe, I would say Gerald Karuhanga, because I know him from university. We were guild presidents at the same time. In this parliament, there is no one I can look at and say I’m dying.”
George William Mukula, a classmate at Makerere School of Law, where Nabukenya is pursuing her second degree, in law, says; “She is a humble down-to-earth woman who minds her business and is very quiet. She doesn’t just talk to people anyhow.”
One of her former lecturers when asked about his former student who is now making news, laughed, then said; “I don’t remember her contributing in class. I just hear she studies at Makerere and that is all. Other MPs like Ken Lukyamuzi (in second year too like Nabukenya) are active though.”
Not what you would expect of the Nabukenya we have seen speaking articulately and with passionate energy, on the campaign trail. But, definitely what you would expect of the person who, to whether she takes alcohol or drugs, answers; “No, I take red or white sparkling wine. I also like cocktails but I take them once in a while. I take alcohol moderately. I only drink when the occasion calls for it. I don’t smoke and I don’t want to.”
Nabukenya the guild president
At Kyambogo University, where she became the first female guild president in 2005, her footprints speak loud. Her classmates then don’t recall anything particularly spectacular about this single lady, unsure of when she will join the marriage institution.
Henry Mutebe, a former student at the university and now a lecturer, speaks of her with fondness; “I joined when her term in office was just ending. She was a great guild president; I haven’t seen a president who measures to her. She was a woman and a half.”
Nabukenya, her Kyambogo contemporaries say, walked around the university compound and left tongues wagging.
“She was principled and not the type of girl any boy just approaches and fools around with. She carried herself with high esteem and decency so much that she was popular among students and lecturers alike,” Mutebe recounts, adding, “She started a number of projects and her cabinet so far is the only one that carried forward balance from their budget to the next cabinet.”
However, a photojournalist who studied with the newly re-elected Luwero Woman MP at the university says; “There is nothing sweet or wo w about her that I remember. She just had attitude. You would go to the shop, greet her and she would just stare at you or simply ask what you want.
She was that reserved.” At Kyambogo, she worked at a bookshop as a sales person, before etching her name in the University’s archives as the first female guild president in 2005.
“It was unthinkable for the opposition and a woman at that to win the guild presidency at Kyambogo but she beat all odds,” says Nobert Mao, the Democratic Party president.
To Fred Mukasa Mbidde, her ascendency to the guild was her entry into politics; “One time we organised a workshop for Uganda Young Democrats (UYD) and she emerged as one of those who asked tough questions on politics. We identified her.” She was not shy about her ambitions.
“She told us she wanted to contest for the guild seat and we gave her all the support she needed and she made it, I think that was her launch pad into politics,” says Mbidde. Nabukenya recounts about the time, “Opposition candidates used to struggle with logistics for campaigns, but Uganda Young Democrats (UYD) supported me in every way. When I won the election, I never looked back.”
In fact, in 2005, she was elected to the UYD national executive committee, then a firebrand political movement, as secretary for welfare. This, for the bachelor of science in nutrition and dietetics graduate (albeit never practiced), was another step towards the national electoral politics.
To Nabukenya, politics won anchorage in her heart of hearts. It was love unstoppable. All she needed was a ladder.
Not many can successfully charge Nabukenya with speaking at the floor of Parliament and leaving listeners awed. She is not your Miria Matembe or Beti Kamya who speak and leave quotable quotes. Of an appearance Nabukenya made on a television talk show last week, a one Ronald Muhinda posted on Facebook; “Anybody watching Brenda Nabukenya on NTV Fourth Estate?”
An avalanche of comments rained on the post with Dun Birekyeraho stating; “I didn’t hear a single point from her”, and Eddie Bindhe; “I did watch the show. She is still a teenager. She emulates the WENDY lady of the WENDY SHOW. That is the latest sitting style for modern girls.
I was just disappointed by the way she answered all the questions.” This, by the way, is a woman whose contest got some of the country’s most influential leaders trekking to and camping in Luwero. President Museveni went to the point of making statements like, “What Nabukenya is doing is childish! We would have trained and mentored her, but she decided to join wrong elements like Mao and Besigye.”
What if the president was right?
Nobert Mao, her party boss, says of her, “She is charismatic but needs to realise that politics is a give and take, she needs to develop tolerance and appreciate that others can be right too. She needs to also cultivate humility because the world is full of ordinary people and there is no way to avoid them.”
In her own words, President Museveni’s remarks were not a bother and only a reflection of the two worlds they come from. “Of course, I am not childish. A person can be old but childish, and a young person can act mature. The problem is that Museveni cannot believe a young person can be in politics and not take a bribe or be bought off. He just can’t put himself in my shoes, so, I only sympathise with him.”
Asked if her fair looks are part of the winning equation, she said rather shyly, “There were other two ladies in the race who are nice looking, this election was based on issues, and it rose above pettiness. You see the people of Luwero feel they have got a raw deal from this government and need change and I stood for change.”
Childish or not, Nabukenya’s heart is in politics and it seems like this is only the beginning. “I have many plans and ambitions but I will contest again for the post of woman MP. I am still around but certainly planning bigger plans,” she says of her 10-year-plan. For now though, her star is rising, how far it shines and for how long, is a question only time can answer but for now, go baby, go!