“Sorry I am late,” Mariam Naigaga, the newly elected Namutumba District Woman representative in Paliament offered when she eventually showed up at our meeting venue. “It’s quite hectic at Parliament right now. We are trying to find our way around the corridors and make acquaintances before we can embark on serious business.”
Serious business, according to the youthful legislator, who comes to Parliament having trounced Florence Mutyabule, the incumbent who represented the tiny eastern district for five years, is to try and uplift her constituents from the raging poverty the district suffers.
“Let me tell you something about my district,” she says after settling down, her voice vibrating with passion.
“Namutumba was carved out of Iganga and is part of Busoga sub-region which comprises Bugiri, Buyende, Iganga, Jinja, Kaliro, Kamuli, Luuka Mayuge, Namayingo and Namutumba districts. As you might be aware, this is one of the poorest regions in the country. This makes Namutumba one of the poorest districts in the country.”
“How do you plan to raise them out of poverty?” I inquire.
She picks her words carefully.
“Through economic empowerment. When I declared my intention to stand, I was welcomed by youth and women,” she says. “I was welcomed because I lay my groundwork about five years ago.”
That groundwork involved traversing Busoga sub-region, training youth and women in financial literacy, management and book keeping in partnership with private sector foundation and International Labour Organisation.
“I was employed by Centenary Bank for 13 years. I rose through the ranks until I became the Iganga branch manager. That is how I met all those people who overwhelmingly supported me.”
The bank was one of the three selected countrywide to handle the Shs25 billion Youth Capital Venture Fund. The Fund was aimed at supporting growth of viable and sustainable Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) by the youth in the private sector.
Her role as bank branch manager also pushed her to search of poor youth with brilliant ideas in need of a shot in the arm.
“Many youth from Namutumba approached us with business ideas. The bank gave them the funds totaling about Shs200 million and right now, about 60 households in the district have been economically empowered after they received motocycles to ease transport,” she says. Many more have benefitted from the Fund. There are about 250,000 people in the district, according to the 2014 census.
One of the beneficiaries of the Youth Capital Venture Fund was Bugobi Townside Nursery and Primary School, which was transformed from a wooden structure into a modern one, complete with windows.
“Most of the schools are in poor shape. Last year’s Uneb results do not make for good reading. I think we were the third last or there about. Why? It is not because of poor teachers or pay or lack of structures but because the community members have decided to let things be. This is not the attitude that should define my district,” the mother of four says.
“People should not only wait for the inspector of schools when everything is going awfully wrong. If I managed to score a first grade in 1996 at Bugobi High School, when the structures were poorer, why not today?”
That single first grade record is yet to be broken. There are about 109 primary schools and 11 secondary schools in the whole district.
Apart from the poor education system in the district, the roads are in a sorry state.
“During my term in Parliament, I hope to lobby for the construction of the Namutumba-Butaleja bridge via Kisoro swamp and another connecting Namutumba to Pallisa via Namakoko swamp,” she says, with the seriousness of someone ready to serve her people.
With these structures in place, Naigaga believes businessmen and trader will sell their produce with ease.
“People from Namutamba are hard workers. They grow rice and gnuts among others on large scale. Unfortunately, most of their produce is wasted due to poor road network. If we cannot sell our products, then we cannot become economically empowered. And that is what I strive for.”
In regards to agriculture, Naigaga believes the district, among others, needs the right equipment for value addition. She cites an example of a milk processing plant when no family with cows can produce more than three litres of milk a day.
“That plant went to waste,” she says sadly. “Besides, we also need to go back to growing coffee because this used to be the main cash crop from the district. It will be a gradual process, but we need crops that will make us, more economically empowered.”
Plans for health
One of the things Namutamba will remember the former MP Mutyabule for, is the fight against malnutrition which hit the district in early 2010.
Mutyabule then said the problem was largely caused by “lack of knowledge by mothers” on how to prepare a balanced diet for the children.
As the children died, parents accused one another of bewitching each other’s children.
“I must commend her that good work. She managed to fight mulnutrition then, but that is not the only plague the district is facing. Jiggers are still a big problem and that needs to be fought through collective efforts of the community,” she says.
Also, for two years, the district has not had a practicing doctor and the health centers are not well equipped.
With three newly created sub-counties, there is need to bring health and other services closer to the community.
“A healthy educated and economically empowered Namutamba is all I strive for. I believe this is achievable especially that the Wealth Creation programme is still ongoing,” she says.