Mama Nebanda: The man-woman mother of Butaleja
Posted Saturday, February 23 2013 at 02:16
Controversial. Largely unknown before the death of her daughter, Cerinah Nebanda, Ms Alice Namulwa has suddenly emerged to have a big say in Butaleja District politics.
In the recently-concluded Butaleja Woman Member of Parliament by-election, arrests were the name of the game. The police, through its deputy spokesperson Vincent Ssekate, warned that whoever caused chaos would be arrested and charged in courts of law.
As such, Forum for Democratic Change vice president in-charge of eastern region Salaam Musumba and two party activists, Francis Mwijukye and Sam Mugumya, were detained for what the police said were plans to disrupt the voting process. Mr Mwijukye and Mr Mugumya missed the voting day as a result, locked away in the cells of Tororo Police Station.
But Alice Namulwa, the mother of Florence Andiru Nebanda, who eventually won, was allowed to continue campaigning despite the police claiming that she beat up one of their own.
Namulwa was instrumental in ensuring that Ms Andiru, who polled 27,338 votes, reclaimed her deceased sister Cerinah Nebanda’s seat. Andiru’s closest challenger, independent candidate Betty Hamba, only managed 12,157 votes with the other three candidates doing much worse.
But how has Namulwa, who before her daughter Cerinah’s death on December 14, 2012 was virtually unknown to people beyond her circles, been able to cultivate an aura of invincibility in a space of only two months?
Namulwa’s current public image was almost entirely built after Cerinah’s death. Before then, even Bunyole County MP Emmanuel Dombo, who many saw as the political godfather to Cerinah, did not know Namulwa closely, despite coming from the same district.
“I only previously knew her as an enterprising person who owned a restaurant and fuel stations and was also close to Dorothy Hyuha (former Butaleja Woman MP),” Dombo says. What brought Dombo closer to the family was Cerinah’s challenge to Hyuha for the parliamentary seat.
Despite both being members of NRM, Hyuha and Dombo were always adversaries in Butaleja local politics and so Dombo would happily support Cerinah. But still he hadn’t been allowed enough time to understand Cerinah’s mother well until the 24-year old MP died. It was only then that Dombo was to discover that Namulwa is a “man-woman.”
When Cerinah died, her mother sharply criticised the government, which some claimed was responsible for the MPs’ death through poisoning. Namulwa sided with a group of parliamentarians, including Dombo, who hired a private pathologist, Dr Sylvestre Onzivua, to carry out a parallel autopsy in South Africa.
Namulwa’s standoff with government
Dr Onzivua was intercepted at Entebbe Airport, accused of conducting an unauthorized investigation, infuriating Namulwa even more.
In Namulwa’s eventual rejection of the police’s postmortem report that said that Cerinah had died of drug abuse, Namulwa would cite the arrest of the pathologist as a pointer to the possibility that the government had something to hide. She also accused Ndorwa West MP David Bahati of introducing her daughter to Adam Sulaiman Kalungi, who the police says was Nebanda’s boyfriend and supplied her with drugs.
At Cerinah’s burial, on December 24, 2012, Namulwa tore to pieces President Museveni’s condolence message delivered by Third Deputy Prime Minister Moses Ali. Ali left in haste as the crowd charged.
In a move that surprised some, Namulwa accepted and secretly met with President Museveni, whose government she had accused of killing her daughter. The details of that meeting are not known but after the meeting, another shock was meted to the Butaleja people, Florence Andiru, Cerinah’s elder sister, returned to the country and challenged to replace her sister.
Namulwa escorted Andiru to the NRM offices on nomination day and carried her daughter on her back, weaving NRM symbol for the cameras. To some, it looked like a turnaround from a stance the family had earlier taken towards the government, in particular against President Museveni, in the wake of Cerinah’s death.
Florence not only won the ruling party’s ticket but she and her mother happily received President Museveni on his trip to whip up support for the ruling party’s candidate in the closing stages of the campaigns.
Some used the family’s new found closeness to President Museveni against Florence during the campaigns, saying the family misled the public about the cause of Cerinah’s death.