Monday February 13 2017

Uganda’s first female legislator recounts life in corridors of power

Former legislator Florence Alice Lubega. PHOTO

Former legislator Florence Alice Lubega. PHOTO BY HENRY LUBULWA 

By Henry Lubulwa

Near a sprawling swamp in the suburbs of Kisubi, 400 metres off the Entebbe-Kampala road towards Nakawuka road, is where 99-year-old Florence Alice Lubega is taking refuge.
Lubega, who will turn 100 years on November 5, was the first female legislator in the country.
A spring well nearby and dots of old palm trees welcome you to the home behind a black gate. Lubega lives in a bungalow set on an acre of land in the quiet environment next to Kawuku town. She lives with her daughter-in-law after her house on Jinja Road was taken over by moneylenders.
“The place seems rich in heritage,” says a colleague this reporter had travelled with after noticing regalia and several portraits of different historical sites and people pinned up on the walls inside the home.
On reaching Lubega’s room, we find the Lubega deep in prayer for an ill son.
Lubega was the first female Ugandan national to sit in the Legislative Council. She joined the Legislative Council in 1957, replacing Pumla Kisosonkole. She was also the first female Ugandan to join Parliament in the independent Uganda in May 1962.
Born on November 5, 1917, the daughter of former Buganda premier Samuel Wamala and Erina Nantongo went through Gayaza Girls’ School, Buloba Teachers’ College and was the first female to be admitted to Makerere College School before joining Oxford University.
“It was a wonderful experience for me to have been part of the best schools this country has. By then, moving to the best college in the country was so prestigious although it was the sole highest institution of learning we had. As a woman, many people thought it wasn’t the best option to join Makerere College but people came to adopt what was available for us all,” she says.

“I finished university in 1946 and later started working for different agencies within the country and those abroad. This is where I got the opportunity to be known and later start service as a legislator in the Ugandan National Assembly,” Lubega recollects.

Her love for culture and religion is untiring; being a daughter to the then katikkiro (Buganda prime minister) Samuel Wamala helped her get closer to understanding of the Ganda culture and how several issues revolved around the kingdom.

Prayerful
She holds a red Bible as she prays for all those who do good to her. “In fact, several people who visit her and bring gifts have always been told to read the bible (Luke 6:38) so as to keep the zeal to give. Her Sundays are always planned for her to go to Kisubi parish for prayers as one way to keep her busy and closer to the community,” says Ritah Ssetimba, one of her daughters.

In December 1939, after the death of the then Kabaka of Buganda Daudi Chwa, Lubega had an opportunity to live within the palace and took care of the princes and princesses and groomed them into better people. By then, Edward Muteesa II was crowned king of the Buganda at the age of 15, and reined under a council of regents.

“I took care of many of them at that moment since the king had died and they needed a caretaker. I was tasked to take charge and helped them, especially Muteesa who later became the King of Buganda,” she recounts.

“Such opportunities, after being well executed, helped me draw nearer to the people who had authority and they were milestones that helped me become a key member of the Legislative Council,” she faintly reminisces.
She was married to Saulo Lubega, a former treasurer in Buganda Kingdom. Lubega had replaced Woofunira Kulubya and Nelson Ssebugwawo in the position.

“In fact, he was the last treasurer in the kingdom before the monarchies were abolished a few years after independence,” she recalls.

Florence Lubega served as a teacher in Mityana Secondary School before being appointed to the Uganda Legislative Council, and later to the post-independence Parliament. She later served as a deputy minister in Charge of Labour, Planning and Community Development in Milton Obote’s government in 1966.

Fled to exile
She later fled to exile in the United Kingdom after the 1971 military coup that introduced the Idi Amin rule.
“I cannot forget meeting many of my friends who joined hands with the Ugandan forces then based in Tanzania to oust the terrible rule of Idi Amin. Our role was to solicit funds, which we ably did to overthrow the harsh ruler,” she boasted.

While abroad, she says, she was well known for organising charitable functions to help the needy access good clothing and basic care. On return to Uganda, she devoted life to Christianity and started a church in Namirembe.

“But by the end of 2014, we had to take her away from the area since she was growing older and couldn’t look after herself alone. We brought her here for specialised care, attention and better life. We only feel unhappy that Parliament cannot recognise the first female Member of Parliament still living,” says Florence Ssetimba, her daughter-in-law.
Another caretaker, Joyce Kikomeko, thanks God for a life full of tremendous achievements Lubega has had.
“She never falls sick except when she was given a wheel chair to move on due to old age,” she adds.

Asked what she feels government should do to recognise her contribution, Lubega says government should rescue her only house that was taken away from her.

“I now live with my daughter after leaving my property to be taken by a moneylender who never gave time for repayment of the money,” she laments.

Lubega has outlived her children and she has two brothers; Wamala Steven Ssempasa, who lives in the United Kingdom, and Paul Musoke Wamala, a former tourism operator who now lives in Luzira, a Kampala suburb.

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