When Ugandans go to the polls in 2016, more than 60 per cent of MPs will not make it back to the August House—that is if the statistics of the last two elections are anything to go by.
For one legislator, however, elections are not something to lose sleep about. He has been through eight competitive elections since 1989, emerging victorious in each one of them.
In fact, when the term of the current Parliament ends in 2016, he will be setting a new record of the longest-serving MP in the NRM regime. Meet Engineer John Nasasira, the MP for Kazo County in Kiruhura District. He has been representing the area since 1989.
When I meet Mr Nasasira at his Naguru home in Kampala, I pointed out to him that by 2016, he would have done 27 years as a legislator—and he quickly quips, “You mean I am a political dinosaur?”
Dinosaur or not, that will be a record. The only other person with such a feat is Dr Crispus Kiyonga, the defence minister and Bukonjo County West MP in Kasese District. Had she not lost the Constituent Assembly election in 1993, current Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga would also be part of this club.
Unity and growing up
So, how has Eng Nasasira managed where others seem to have slipped?
“Being a uniting leader has been one of my strongest points,” says the jovial politician. “If you have been to Kazo, you will know that it is a melting pot of sorts.
It is home to internal migrants from the districts of Kisoro, Kabale, Rukungiri, Bushenyi and Ibanda. As a politician, I have ensured that I serve each of these groups diligently without segregation.”
And the minister for ICT minister would know better about treating everyone equally. His own family migrated from present-day Buhweju District to Kazo although he was born in Ibanda District. They never had trouble settling in with the other migrant groups in the district that is more famed for cattle-keeping.
“We were the royals of Buhweju before Obote abolished kingdoms in 1966,” he says. “I am a prince without a kingdom.” His father, Esau and mother Julia, were settled farmers who also owned herds of cows. His mother, who had gotten born-again in 1943, emphasised Christian values and demanded her children follow them.
“One of those was no alcohol. When growing up I never saw alcohol in our house. It is me who introduced it as an adult,” he says with a chuckle.
The “commoner” Nasasira would then go to Kazo and Ibanda primary schools before joining Ntare School in Mbarara for his secondary education.
“Museveni had just left when I got to Ntare in 1967 but stories about him abounded. He was spoken of as a radical who never agreed with the establishment. He did not accept to be patronised by teachers. Later, we heard he became a socialist.”
Ntare was a hotbed for politics. Besides Museveni, it produced other leaders like Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame. Another person Nasasira would take note of is current Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi.
“Mbabazi found me in Ntare. He had just come from Butobere College. He was a quiet guy, not very vocal. I was instead closer to a cousin of his.” Whereas Ntare did not light the political fire under Nasasira’s belly, it taught him one thing; responsibility.
“The school had no fence. We would move in and out freely but we did not lose focus of our studies,” says the lanky minister, who now spots a moustache.
Off to Nairobi
Unlike most of his colleagues, Nasasira did not go to Makerere. Upon completion of his A-levels in 1972, he went to Nairobi University under an exchange programme of the East African Community.
“I went to Nairobi with Frank Katusiime, a renowned ICT expert. There, we were more known for rioting. But in 1975, I graduated with a civil engineering degree. Unlike Makerere where engineering took four years, in Nairobi it was three years.”
As the Amin regime ravaged Uganda and more citizens fled to exile, Nasasira instead decided to try his luck at home. He returned to Uganda and found a job with CA Liburd - consulting firm in the city.