Joyce Mpanga’s lasting footprint on women leaders

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What you need to know:

Job well done. Her death triggered a string of praises for her role in elevating, mentoring and advocating for women’s rights.

Joyce Mpanga’s lasting footprint on women leaders

Job well done. Her death triggered a string of praises for her role in elevating, mentoring and advocating for women’s rights. 


The passing of the former State Minister for Education, Joyce Rovincer Mpanga that occurred on November 18, triggered a string of discussions with the majority of people in the public space praising her role in elevating women. Mpanga was an educationist, women rights activist and veteran politician.  Mpanga’s curriculum vitae is an enviable one and throughout her career, she has  achieved many miletones. She was the third woman in the East African region to obtain a university degree. She was also the first Ugandan woman to win a US Fulbright scholarship. As an educationist, Mpanga was the first female lecturer in the faculty of education at Makerere University.  In this feature, women leaders recount moments with Mpanga and how she touched their lives.

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Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva,

Writer, poet, actress, literary activist

I have known the Joyce Mpanga family right from childhood. In fact, she was my god-mother. When I read her book, it reminded me of a dignitary with unimaginable accomplishments. She was an academic icon with enviable traditional values, whose presence was felt wherever she went.

She was a strong believer and she supported her family. Mpanga as the first born, inspired all her sisters to achieve big things. I believe that we have to make sure that our spirits are in a place of centrality and authenticity before we touch the spirits of others. Make sure that our call is focused in the faith in God so that when we go and touch other people, our spirits are strong enough.

She was a successful career woman, who valued family. Today, women are involved in too many things and they hardly have time for family. Focus on your career, on your family and your community. Do not do too many things. Learn to prioritise. I think many of us keep saying yes to every task thrown at us. We want to save and please everyone and in the end, we lose ourselves. These are values I learnt from Mpanga and I hold them dear.

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Hellen Asamo,

State Minister for Gender in charge of PWDs

I met Mpanga in NGO circles. She was always willing to share knowledge. Her vision was to see every woman emancipated. She has been active all her life.

 She hardly rested. Two years ago, we were at an event somewhere and I asked ‘‘what does it mean to retire from Parliament?

“Participate in community activities. That way, you will serve and remain active,’’ she said. She has been a teacher all her life. She was very professional, focused and humble.

Cecelia Ogwal,

Woman MP Dikolo:

While Mpanga was not vocal and highly opinionated, she used her quiet persona to push for so many reforms to uplift the plight of women and influenced the politics of this country. As a young girl, she actively participated in the liberation struggle. Together with some visionary women, they established pan African women organisations and drove the affairs of the struggle.

She played a big role in liberating Ugandan women in a highly patriarchal society. I implore the ministry of Education to stand up to the call we are making today. This is the time to increase the budget on girl-child education. She was able to stand up and to fight for her family. We ought to walk in her footsteps.

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Janet Grace Akech Okori-Moe:

Woman Member of Parliament, Abim District

As a young legislator, I benefited a lot from the late Mpanga. She taught us ethics and etiquette.  She taught me how to behave as a Member of Parliament. She was cool headed. When you see some of us calm even in provocative situations, it is because of her mentorship. She has died at a time we needed her most. We needed her as our dictionary to orient us about harmonious living.

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Naome Kabasharira, Rushenyi County MP:

I had a chance to work and interact with her in Parliament. She was a founding member of UWOPA and at that time, we would meet regularly as women to learn and motivate each other. I must stay she mentored us. Mpanga together with senior Women MPs were very protective of us against old men.

“As you think about marriage, be very careful. When you are in politics, it is difficult to identify a man who will love you genuinely. Many are targeting your money.  And when you finally get the right man, find a way of balancing politics and family. They are both important,” she said to me.

She contested as a Constituent Assembly delegate from Mubende through a direct election.  She went through the constituency. Even when I went to contest against Mwesigwa Rukutana, the current clerk to Parliament, many people asked me, why I was contesting in a man’s position.

Mpanga has left a legacy of success both in a political space and at a family level. In remberance of her good deeds, as women, we need to mentor young women in politics.

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Jenipher Kacha Namuyangu,

State minister for Bunyoro Affairs:

When I joined Parliament as Youth Member of Parliament from 1994 to 1996, as one of the first youth MPs, I got an opportunity to work with great women like Mpanga. She was a diligent worker, soft-spoken and very principled.

At that time, we used to have a forum, where all women legislators would meet and discuss issues affecting women. And great women would mentor us.

She strongly advocated for gender equality. We learnt a lot from her journey. From a mere classroom teacher, she rose through the ranks until she scooped a ministerial position. As a minister, she wanted every girl-child to stay in school and achieve their full potential.

 It was during her tenure, that president Museveni gave a greenlight to a policy that offered additional points to girls to join university. And this affirmative action has seen many girls and women graduate from universities. 

As a legislator, Mpanga together with other women such as Miria Matembe, Dr Specioza Wandera Kazibwe, former vice president, Victoria Ssekitoleeko, former minister of Agriculture, took it upon themselves to mentor other women legislators and reminded us to fight for the rights of women.

That is why Uganda Women Parliamentary Association (UWOPA) was birthed.

As a young widow, she was able to educate all her children and they are all responsible citizens, building the nation in various capacities. She was transparent and one of the greatest leaders of our generation. As women, we need to emulate her and carry forward what she started.

Jacqueline Asiimwe,

Chief Executive Officer - Civsource Africa

One cannot be in the women’s movement and not have heard about our predecessors such as Joyce Mpanga and Rhodah Kalema. As a member of the women’s movement in Uganda, my first interaction with them was through learning about history as a movement. We learnt that these were the first women to participate in Uganda’s politics.

As grandmothers of the women movement, they have taught us values such as integrity, negotiation skills, speaking up, among others. They were an inspiration to us. By the time I joined the women’s movement as a young student lawyer in Makerere University, Mpanga was many years ahead of me, but I started to interact with her in spaces such as Uganda Women’s Network, Gayaza Old girls’ circles. I knew Mpanga through her daughter, Lydia Ssebuyira, who I found in Gayaza High School.

Three or so years ago, during a Women’s Day event on March 8, I decided to give gifts to women as a way to express gratitude to my elders., I bought Busuuti material along with other accompaniments for Rhoda Kalema and Joyce Mpanga. I went to Mpanga’s home and delivered my gift and commended her efforts in setting up a foundation for the women’s movement.

That is how we became friends. This is a person that I honour for her sacrifices and contribution but also a person whom I want to emulate. When Mpanga launched her book, her family invited me and asked me to interview her at her launch. For me, that was a remarkable moment.

In the most recent times, my organization, CivSource Africa, has held two events at which we have honoured women. And, of course, Mpanga was one of them and indeed she came to both events.

To me, she has been a pillar of strength, wisdom and a true friend. She was that grandmother who would do anything for her grandchildren. We had moved from her being my elder to becoming friends. Navigating life as a widow, political turmoil at the time and raising her children as she did, speaks of her resilience, fortitude and wisdom.