The self-professed Winnie Byanyima Protégée, Winnie Kiiza, is the typical portrait of a progressive politician. How did the ‘political novice’, the young and naïve Kiiza, who stumbled in Parliament in 2006, capture our hearts to become a progressive politician and Leader of the Opposition in Parliament? She seemed to have literally come from ‘nowhere’.
I walked into Kiiza’s office af ew days after she was appointed Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LoP) seeking an appointment to interview her in 2015. She was very friendly and welcoming. We had never met. I was hopeful that she would give me a day in the next week, but to my surprise, she gave me 30 minutes the next day.
I arrived in time and she was waiting for me. Our scheduled 30 minute interview turned into a two-hour uninterrupted discussion that greatly informed my doctoral research. In two hours, we had talked politics, women’s empowerment, sports and mentorship. I would end up watching Kiiza, with great interest and admiration, through the media.
It is this interview that helped me to understand that she had been around. Kiiza, had started her political career in the late 1990s, where she served as the Kasese District Local Government as a counsellor for two terms (1998-2005). She was elected to Parliament in 2006.
The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) politician insists that she is in the party by conviction. She credits Winnie Byanyima for her political participation, after an accidental meeting in 2000.
She was appointed the FDC chief whip in 2006 that enabled her to understand the party. In the second half of that term, she was appointed as the chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Government Assurances.
In her second term, the party appointed her as the Opposition Chief Whip in the first half, and chairperson of the Local Government’s Account’s Committee in the second half. Despite these roles, her choice as LoP seemed like a gamble, raising some eyebrows.
Yet now her exit as LoP has come with a bit of a heart-break for some people, who have expressed disappointment. She became the face of Opposition, beyond her FDC party. Articulate, assertive and fairly reasonable, Kiiza gave FDC positive visibility.
She appeared to have the support of her troops and did a good job to engage the powers that be, vocal and controversial when it mattered. She dressed in red, if there was need and to court, challenging the recent constitutional amendments.
We would never have known Kiiza as a progressive politician if she was not given an opportunity. More importantly, how did she succeed at holding her own space in a political culture that silences or coopts progressive politicians in the Opposition?
For Kiiza, she is totally unafraid of the media, which in turn has rewarded her with good publicity. She was friendly and free with the media to the extent that her faults if any, have been largely kept under the radar, outside of the public purview.
She in many ways, disarmed the media. She was rarely covered from a wrath point of view, which most women have had to contend with.
I am happy that one woman is giving way to another in the name of Betty Aol Ocan. The media in many cases, do not give women in leadership adequate visibility, leaving their stories largely uncaptured and unshared.
As such, many of the women who get to hold strategic positions of power, often show up as unknown novices and inexperienced. Who knew, that we would hate to see Kiiza go? Who knows, what Ocan is really capable of?
People can surprise you. Someone I interviewed once told me ‘never bulk people or compare them’. Kiiza has arguably done well, surprising many. Yet, letting her go, to give someone else a chance is a good thing.
The stage is now for Ocan, may she ‘own the ground she will walk on’, and craft her authentic path.
Kiiza is testament to the fact that most people have potential, they only need an outlet, to fly. The FDC party has brought to us incredible, relentless and inspiring women to watch over the years.
Knowing the democratic pitfalls of this country, these women deserve respect.
Well done Winnie Kiiza. I hope you find more walls to bring down.
Dr Maractho is the vice chairperson board of directors, Uganda Media Women’s Association.