Once upon a time in Busia town near the Uganda-Kenya border on June 6, 1984, was born a baby girl, Barbara Nekesa. This baby was born in the Samia community to Mary Hadudu, also mother to nine other girls, and Edward Wabudi, a local councillor and absentee polygamous father.
Light-skinned, medium height and cheerful, no one anticipated that this girl, would one day reach such political height as she has done today, not even herself.
Today, however, Nekesa, a mother of two with her husband, Charles Oundo, a foreign service officer, is the woman Member of Parliament for Busia and the State Minister for Karamoja working under the First Lady as her boss.
Becoming minister in her 20s
“The day I was announced the winner for the parliamentary seat I had contested for had been a long happy day, and many had called to congratulate me. Just as I was about to switch off my phone, I picked up just one more call, to find the other person on the other end requesting me to tune in to UBC radio,” she recounts.
“I obliged, only to hear the new ministers and state ministers’ being read out, and my name was among them! I was so overwhelmed by the news because it was something I never expected except by God’s grace.”
That was in 2011 when she became MP and later minister. Nekesa was only 27 years old, making it to the country’s list of the youngest female politicians, alongside others like Parliamentarians Proscovia Alengot, who became MP for Usuk at 19 last year, and Joy Kaliisa Arinaitwe, 26, (Buhweju).
How she came to earn a ministerial appointment, she says she can only speculate it was her confidence and aptitude that earned it. She however, also vehemently dismisses the baseless rumours that the appointing authority, the President, was attracted to her. She may not have appointed herself minister or consciously influenced her appointment, but this daughter of Busia always had political ambitions.
The journey to the political pedestal
Nekesa’s first stint in politics was in 1999 at Iganga Girls Secondary School when she served as deputy for the Uganda National Student’s Association. The stint was good while it lasted but when she lost her bid for chairperson of the Women League of the same association she was disheartened and decided it was enough with the politics. “I decided to concentrate on my studies and never to return to politics,” she recalls.
However, in 2008 while at Makerere University, her mother, who seemed to know her potential better, lured her back into politics, this time urging her to represent the women of Busia district in Parliament.
Indulging her mother, she went onto the campaign trail for the February 2011 elections, reluctantly. “I was, however, surprised when everyone seemed impressed by my first speech and that’s when I knew I stood a chance,” she recounts. And so it was that Nekesa was sworn in as the Busia Woman Member of Parliament at 27 years old, beating two other contestants to the seat. This breakthrough is what has currently culminated into her being minister in her late 20s, something she had never dreamed of, but is happy about.
Of her future political plans, Nekesa says, “I only believe in the present, what I have and what I see, so, I rarely talk of future plans. In fact, I have none because I believe everything is enabled by God’s grace.”
A silent Member of Parliament?
About the claims that she is one of the MPs that show up in parliament but do not really say much, she counters; “Silent? I don’t think so. I’m actually those annoyingly talkative people especially in the company of my agemates, but I just love to keep it reserved. I contribute regularly where need be, not on everything and anything that comes up, including things that I’m not familiar with,” she argues.
And I can testify to her talkativeness, but maybe she is simply uncomfortable talking in the company of her senior cronies? “Not at all. In fact, I look at our Parliament as a platform to mature my political life. It’s good to work with people who have been there, done that,” she says.
On most of her child encounters like girl fights, teenage love affairs, sneaking out at night for discos, Nekesa recalls having had a sense of high importance to keep away from such. “I always considered myself as underprivileged, so, I never allowed people to take advantage of me,” she says, explaining that she bullied and acted arrogant to keep her guard up.
She swears that her first boyfriend was at the university, whom she unfortunately later discovered had a girlfriend and children. At a time when she was feeling emotionally dejected, along came Oundo at a handover ceremony for Basamia Students Association at Makerere University in 2006.
In 2007, they had a simple introduction ceremony, were wedded in 2008 and had their first child in 2009. Today, they have two boys, aged 3 years and 10 months respectively.
Away from the politics
Nekesa’s day starts at exactly 4am; waking up, preparing the school-going son and preparing for the day’s depending on whether it will demand Parliament or field, and often ends at 9pm. She refers to herself as a reserved person who seizes every opportunity away from political duty to catch up at home with the boys. “I go out for social gatherings when it is necessary.
I was never the partying type anyway, so, I don’t think I miss anything,” she offers. She otherwise admits to it not being easy balancing her duties, but says she manages. “Being an Member of Parliament and minister is quite demanding but I provide time accordingly and respectively. I’m happy my husband is okay with it,” she reveals.
She holds her mother in high esteem for toiling to provide them with a good life and an education.