Nyanjura’s rise from Makerere activist to Deputy Lord Mayor

Sunday June 21 2020

Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago (right) and

Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago (right) and his newly appointed deputy Doreen Nyanjura this week. PHOTO | ALEX ESAGALA  

By Elizabeth Kamurungi

Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago has not been very lucky with deputies during his time at City Hall. First it was Sulaiman Kidandala, now Sarah Kanyike.

By appointing Nyanjura, the bubbly counsellor for Makerere University, Lukwago hopes to open a new chapter.

When we sat down with Nyanjura to talk about her life at KCCA and politics in general on June 6, she was just settling in as minister for finance and administration. She had been handed the appointment by Lukwago, seen more as a consolation, having lost the race for speaker to Abubaker Kawalya.

She had had no clue that she could be elevated to the position of Deputy Lord Mayor within just weeks.

Since she burst onto activism and political scene back in 2009 while at Makerere University, it has been clear what her goal is “to see change in the leadership of this country”.

This has kept her going, rising step by step through the ranks. The activist turned politician is now, gradually, taking her place in the politics of higher places.

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She throws her whole weight behind everything she takes up, including this interview, thinking deeply about every question, perhaps to stay in line with what she has become known for. A polished politician and dedicated leader.

When news of her appointment as Deputy Lord Mayor broke on Thursday morning, many took to social media to congratulate ‘a consistent lady of integrity’.

Many first learnt of Nyanjura in 2009, as the girl who organised demonstrations at Makerere University and heavily invested in the formation of Forum for Democratic change (FDC) party structures at the university.

But her journey to fighting for change and justice dates way back to her days in primary school. As a young girl growing up in the outskirts of Fort Portal, with a father who is an ardent reader, Nyanjura was exposed to the struggles of those who came before us; Che Guevara, Nelson Mandela and the key Opposition figure in the land, Dr Kizza Besigye.

On a random day, while trotting the streets of Fort Portal, Nyanjura, then in Primary Five, met for the first time Dr Byesigye. With his poster hang on a tree, her curiosity swung into action.

“This was a new face, so I picked interest. Who is this man? I wanted to learn more about the person who was not being talked about a lot in my area.”

She went away with the poster. “I dint even know it was illegal,” she says. So the journey commenced; recording every incident and bit of news about her new-found idol in a small notebook, learning, perhaps subconsciously how to approach the intricate field of politics.

Throughout secondary school (Kyebambe Girls Secondary School and Masheruka Girls School), Nyanjura participated in demonstrations that sought to better the lives of the students or fight any form of injustice and abuse of power.

“If there is a demonstration, join,” she remembers her father’s advice which she believes birthed one of the country’s young and formidable activists.

She remembers when she led the Women in Command in 2016 when police had camped at Dr Besigye’s home. “We went, chased the police from his place and took charge.”

While at Makerere as vice guild president, Nyanjura sacrificed much of livelihood to propel the cause for her beloved party, FDC.

“I would give my upkeep to Makererians to go and demonstrate and return to my room and have a bun with black tea.”

This, along with the usual attendants of any demonstration in Uganda: running battles, teargas and nights in jail cells.

Even her sense of fashion has not been spared in this her chosen path.

“I cannot go out wearing hanging earrings, you never know what will happen.”
(Shows me a scar sustained during one of the battles)

In 2012, Nyanjura was arrested along With FDC activist Sam Mugumya for authoring a book, Is it a Fundamental Change? critical of the NRM. This landed her in the snares of Luzira Maximum prison for the first time.

This, however, has not deterred her pursuit to advocate the rights of the “downtrodden”.

“My passion has been facilitated by where I have grown up. I come from a family that does not entertain any form of injustice. The conditions have also shaped me to continue fighting. It pains me to see very many youth on the streets unemployed. It pains me to see very many children dying because our health facilities cannot just meet the minimum,” Nyanjura says.

Joining KCCA
In 2016, Nyanjura joined KCCA as councillor representing Makerere University. Early this year, she became a cabinet member at the Authority.

Her time at KCCA has been eventful. Representing the FDC in the hotly contested speaker race quite stands out. Her nomination was attributed to her loyalty to the party, something she agrees to.

She lost, by three votes, to Abubaker Kawalya, an independent candidate.

“The speaker race was vulgar and filled with a lot of blackmail. I think that was the most expensive election, there was a lot of money… currently we put all that behind us and we are all working for the good of Kampala.”

One of the notable features of Nyanjura’s leadership is her stance against corruption, something she believes leaders play a major role in its continued thriving in Uganda.

She credits a lot of her success to the mentorship she has got from the FDC party, which she calls home.

At the Authority, she has had her share of clashes.

“Most of the times, the technical wing oversteps their mandate… I’ll definitely come out and fight for my right to fight for the rights of the people from Kampala.”

As deputy mayor, she moves even closer to the frontline.

“I am aligned to the people’s cause, the down trodden, the people whose voice cannot be heard… those are the people that the Lord Mayor and I represent,” she says.

Reminiscing of the amendment of the Constitution to remove the age limit clause, she says: “that was the time all Ugandans were supposed to come out in unison and fight for change…but what happened, Ugandans were going about their usual business. That is an opportunity we lost.”

“As leaders we are going to continue doing our part of fighting for change in this country but Ugandans should understand their role to fight for themselves.”

We talk about the pressures that women in politics face. She has been through quite so often. Nyanjura believes society inhibits women from doing great things by dictating responsibility based on gender.

“Let us follow our passion and be inspired by women who came before us… We need to respect their input, we need to build from where they stopped,” Nyanjura says.

“We should start mentoring girls at a tender age. A girl should be taught that she can also be a president… You should tell a girl that you can be President Nyanjura.”
Will we see you on the ballot one day? I ask.
She is tickled.

“Right now my focus is on seeing change, my focus is on seeing we have a free Uganda. My focus is on seeing a new face (a different president).”

She speaks hesitantly of her plans for 2021, cautious not to divulge so much. “I will go back and contest in Makerere for now.”

She is quick to reinforce that her main aspiration is to see change in this country, especially the presidency, where as she puts it is where “everything starts and ends”.

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