Sugra Visram, one of the first female MPs in Uganda is dead

Sugra (C) during her good days in Uganda. COURTESY PHOTO

What you need to know:

Sugra once said people would ask her why she would want to help a country (Uganda) that treated her so badly and she would answer that she was a Ugandan at heart.


Sugra Visram, one of the first woman MPs in the country has passed on. The wife of Haider Visram, a grandson of Allidina Visram, Sugra died on Monday. Sugra was one of the first female MPs co-opted into the Lukiiko by Kabaka Muteesa II and was elected to Parliament as Kabaka Yekka MP in 1962. She is remembered for having fought for the rights of women.

Early life
Sugra was born into an Ithnasheri family who later converted to Ismailism to facilitate her marriage to Haider Abdulrasool Allidina Visram. Sugra’s father, Mohamedali Jamal, had migrated from Pakistan to East Africa at the age of 12 and worked initially for Allidina, before setting out on his own in cotton and timber business.

Sugra’s mother, Kawkab Aha Mirza was of Iranian descent, born in Kampala, as was Sugra herself (at Nsambya Hospital, in 1923). She grew up in Kampala and completed her secondary education at the old Kampala Senior Secondary School. She mastered several languages and became fluent in Luganda, Kiswahili, English, Cutchi, Gujerati and Hindi.

Sugra met Haider at a drama class and married him in 1941 just two months after leaving school. The wedding ceremony was performed by Prince Aly Khan. She worked hard for the betterment of women through education and employment opportunities. She was the vice chair of both Uganda Council of Women and Muslim Women’s Association from the early 1940s.

Sugra was the only female who opposed any amendments that were being proposed to the penal code in the National Assembly. She also came up with a proposal in the election law in which she proposed that all candidates’ names should appear on the voting paper to allow the voters to make their choice.

Confident woman
She was also chairperson of the Kabaka Yekka women wing representing both Buganda and Uganda. Although a non-Christian, she was a founder member of Young Women’s Christian Association.

Satya V. Sood wrote in his book Victoria’s Tin Dragon, about her: “I remember Sugra as a vivacious, self-confident woman. She played tennis in a simple white sari but still managed to turn all heads. Quite simply, she was the most beautiful woman in Uganda.
In his condolence message the Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II described the late as a hard working lady.

He said Namubiru is fondly remembered in the Kingdom and Uganda in general as one of the first female members of the Independence National Assembly of 1962 to 1966 representing Kibuga Constituency today known as Mengo having been elected by the Buganda Great Lukiiko.
“During this period of sorrow and immeasurable sadness, we commend you and the entire Visram family into the hands of the Almighty God to console and guide you as you mourn the passing away of a great woman,” Kabaka said in his message.

In her own words

Towards independence, I was invited to a rally in support of the Kabaka’s party. As I spoke Luganda, people were very impressed and I became their MP. In 1966, Obote decided to change the Constitution. He called a parliamentary session and asked every MP to swear allegiance to his new Constitution. I walked out of the Parliament amid cheers from the Baganda and Asians alike.

At the expulsion we wanted to stay as Ugandan citizens. We were called to the airstrip for a verification exercise. Amin postured intimidatingly. When he noticed me he turned on his heels. “You,” he said, “I’ve been looking for you and your husband.” Then he just walked on. We decided to leave.