The making of political activist Doreen Nyanjura

Doreen Nyanjura. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa.

What you need to know:

Rocking the boat. When Doreen Nyanjura first came onto the scene, while at Makerere University, it was assumed her political activism was a temporary passion; a phase on her way to other things. However, she has stuck to her fight for what she calls justice and freedom in society, writes Amos Ngwomoya.

Doreen Nyanjura has been arrested several times for her political activism. Her name towers over her fellow youth activists because of her resilience and commitment to a free society. She says she has always been politically active from when she joined Senior One at Kyebambe Girls’ Secondary School in Fort-Portal, in 2003. The seed was planted by her father, Samson Muhenda, who was the then deputy head teacher at Nyakasura Secondary School who told her never to drag her feet whenever her colleagues stood to fight against injustice.

“My father warned me that if I remained behind yet my colleagues were fighting for a genuine cause, they would instead turn against me for betraying them. This statement was like a trigger to my activism against injustice. I have never looked back,” she says.
Armed with her father’s advice, she teamed with her colleagues just a few days after she had reported at school and staged a successful protest against certain prefects. The prefects, Nyanjura says, had allegedly frustrated their demands for better meals something that plunged the school in untold chaos.

The 29-year old graduate of Tourism from Makerere University is the third born of her seven siblings but she entirely spent her childhood with her father. Her parents separated when she and her siblings were still young.
However, their father, whom she describes as a disciplinarian, taught them basic domestic skills such as cooking, washing and ironing among others to mould them into responsible citizens with an admirable life skills.

“My father and I were so close that he found it natural to easily talk to me about also issues such as menstruation that would have embarrassed other fathers. We were only allowed to visit out mother during the holidays,” Nyanjura recounts.
While her father insisted on discipline and respect the only instance where she felt compelled to rebel was when religion was involved. Nyanjura, who has never received the sacrament of confirmation, believes that her dislike of the church was triggered by the heinous acts done by some religious leaders whom she claims do unjust acts in society yet they are supposed to be exemplary as per the teachings of the holy book.

Defending Besigye
During the 2001 Presidential elections when Dr Kiiza Besigye first dared president Museveni in a contest, Nyanjura wasshocked by the fact that most people were heaping praises on only Museveni while branding Dr Besigye a rebel.
“Everybody was talking about Museveni and they rarely talked about Dr Besigye. This was an unjust act because he had been isolated. I started picking interest in him and innocently told my father to vote for him. It was wrong for people to crucify him before reading his manifesto,” she relates.

She decided to get a special notebook and started documenting every development about Besigye. She also bought a small radio to specifically listen to news about Besigye.
“I would go to the library and cut photos of Besigye from newspapers and put them in my album, just to keep the memories of a man whose manifesto was anchored on rule of law, truth and justice,” she says.
She desired to see all presidential hopefuls campaign freely without being subjected to ridicule and bullying.

When she Joined Masheruka Girls School in Bushenyi, she started a bold fight against bad leadership and injustice which made her a celebrity of sorts. She claims she defied her teachers who threatened and ordered her to back off FDC. Nyanjura believes her defiance against the teachers helped her win the position of chairperson of the School Council.
The high school leadership, she says, gave her mileage. “By this time, I had done a lot of reading about Besigye and the ideals he stood for. His love for a better Uganda inspired me so much and in him, I saw a new Uganda with systems that equally benefits every Ugandan,” she says.

University politics
After joining Makerere University in 2009, her first task was to understand the political dynamics and how rooted FDC was. But to her disappointment, the party did not have structures that would form a formidable force against any kind of injustice that could erupt at the country’s oldest institution of learning. One of her uphill task was to build structures.
“Instead of looking for Besigye, I started mobilisation from hostels, lecture rooms, colleges, and other public places on campus to market the party, and emphasizing the need to overhaul the country’s entire management,” Nyanjura relates.

Demonstrations against poor administration became her daily cup of tea. She would at times use her upkeep money to fund FDC activities within university. When she was appointed vice guild president, she became notable among other students’ leaders because of her zeal and unflinching support towards changing livelihoods of not only university students but also Ugandans at large.
Her activism attracted her to FDC mobilisers such as Sam Mugumya, Francis Mwijukye and Anne Mugisha, who later oiled her links to the Opposition bigwigs such as Besigye. However, Nyanjura’s activism worried her parents who cautioned her to concentrate on finishing her degree first.

The rough times
In 2012, Nyanjura stared death in the eyes when she encountered a brutal arrest by gun-wielding and well-built men as she and her colleague, Ibrahim Bagaya Kisubi, prepared to launch a book which they had co-authored.
Titled, “Is It a Fundamental Change?” the book chronicles the undoing of the NRM regime, laced with stinging imagery and prose against President Museveni’s political establishment. The two coauthors were harangued in the Law Development Centre (LDC) Court in the absence of their lawyers, sent to Luzira on remand for several days before they could be released on bail. But the harrowing tales from the correctional facility, she says, strengthened her demand for justice and rule of law.

“As a new inmate, I was forced to wear a uniform stained by menstrual blood by another female inmate. All this experience taught me that there is no easy walk to freedom. The more I was mistreated, the more I pondered on how to keep up the spirit of the struggle,” she recalls.
But she recalls the emotional moment when her parents visited her in prison. “My father asked me to first finish studies so that I could resume my activism work. I took his advice,” she states.
Unlike most students who give up politics after graduation, Nyanjura determined to go on. She reveals that she turned down an opportunity at the National Social Security, because she did not want to compromise her struggle for freedom. She chose to work temporary gigs at Parliament, doing research for some Opposition MPs, something she says, was a good start for her.

The breakthrough
Nyanjura’s political activism led her to City Hall in 2016 as female councillor representing Makerere University after a landside win. At City Hall, she has since teamed up with other young vibrant councillors to demand for better services and improving the livelihoods of city dwellers.

Asked about her relationship with Besigye, Nyanjura says that she is attached to the opposition icon for what he stands for. “I admire his traits and character. My relationship with him is united by the struggle, which we all think that will emancipate this country from the pangs of political slavery,” she says.
Unlike other politicians, she says Besigye is not easily excited, has no time for intrigue and is impatient with injustice.

She draws her inspiration from Dr Besigye, the late Winnie Mandela, Che Guevara, Thomas Sankara, Steve Biko and other global revolutionaries. She challenges the youth to keep the hope alive and join the struggle for a better Uganda. Nyanjura is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Public Policy.