On November 2, Nancy Linda Kalembe suffered a massive setback at Kyambogo University cricket grounds. She was turned away by Justice Simon Byabakama, the Electoral Commission (EC) chairman, for failing to show evidence that she had paid the Shs20 million nomination fees. Aspiring presidential hopefuls are required to pay the non-refundable fee before appearing for the nomination exercise.
Kalembe says she does not want to get into the details of what went wrong on that day. She simply says she takes responsibility for that mishap. “When the hiccup happened, my mind went into automated mode. I put my emotions aside and started thinking of the next steps to take in order to rectify the problem,” she says.
So, after leaving the venue, Kalembe says she and her team went back home to find ways of sorting the issue at hand.
“Though I work with a team, I did not want to begin asking different members what went wrong or who failed to play their role somewhere. My focus then was solving the problem and doing the forensics afterwards,” Kalembe says.
She bounced back at the nomination grounds the following day (November 3), and this time, with proof showing she had paid the fees. She went through the verification exercise and this time, the EC chairman announced that all documents were satisfactory. He confirmed her as one of the duly nominated presidential candidates contesting for the highest office in the country during next year’s elections.
Kalembe says she had mixed emotions after her nomination. She was neither happy nor sad. Just numb. “Part of me wished that my parents were here to witness this,” she says.
Both parents are deceased. Above everything, she was grateful for having jumped the nomination hurdle. After leaving Kyambogo, Kalembe went back home, locked herself up in her bedroom, knelt down and thanked God for a smooth day and prayed for the journey ahead.
Kalembe is standing for president because she believes that circumstances can be changed mostly from the top.
“With limited power, you get confused and pushed against the wall. I guess it is the reason you find some Members of Parliament (MPs) making all sorts of promises before elections and doing the opposite while in office. They are being pressed hard by different circumstances,” she says.
The thought of becoming president for Kalembe started emerging at the age of 14 years and ever since then, she has been preparing for it. She is 40 years today. Part of the preparation process has included taking leadership classes, as well as researching about different leaders around the world.
“And during my research journey, I discovered that the ultimate leader is God, who is the Kings of Kings and Lord of Lords. Besides Him, I also attained full admiration for a man called Jose Mujica, who served as president of Uruguay from 2010 to 2015,” Kalembe says.
Mujica was termed by international media as the world’s poorest president. During his presidency, he was famously known for his down to earth persona, including accepting to stay in a farm house and donating 90 per cent of his salary to charity.
“I was humbled by his lifestyle and concluded that I wanted to be like him. I want to be a leader but also be myself rather than pretend to be someone I am not,” she says.
In fact, Kalembe says the people she emulates are those who are themselves, those that do not have different personalities for different times.
“You get real friends when you are yourself. I remember when I declared my intentions to stand for president, one of my team members said we needed to do a lot of aggressive social media campaigning and I told them there is really no need for such hype because I want my followers to grow organically,” she says, adding: “I do not want a superficial projection of what is not. I like being real because when you are yourself, you are not under any pressure to do anything extraordinary, you are just yourself and people get used to your personality.”
Kalembe believes in letting people like her for who she is. She notes that putting on a facade is an invitation for getting false or fake friends. “And if there are people who do not like you, it is still absolutely fine because everyone does have enemies, including those who hate others for no reason,” she notes.
Dealing with male dominance
Contrary to what some people think, Kalembe says she is not worried about being the only woman in this year’s presidential race. Rather, she is confident, thanks to her sports and family background. Kalembe has previously participated in athletics, net and volley ball, lawn tennis, swimming, among other sports.
“The only sports my mother warned me against was rugby because of its rough nature. She would say ‘let me not see you there’,” Kalembe says laughing.
Her family too primed her for this situation, Kalembe grew up with eight older brothers whom she learnt to relate and live with harmoniously. “Being in a space of only men is not, therefore, strange to me,” she says.
Besides, Kalembe says there have been other women who have also vied for the same seat (against men) in previous presidential elections. For instance, in the previous elections, Maureen Kyalya was the only female standing against seven male presidential candidates. Such women, Kalembe says, have paved way for other women like herself.
The mole conspiracy
Currently, there are unclaimed stories makings rounds saying Kalembe and some other presidential candidates are moles planted by the current government to lure women and youth to vote for them and in the end, split votes for Opposition candidates.
“I have heard the stories and choose to ignore them because some things do not deserve my attention. This is a race and I have about two months to go. I need to focus rather than respond to every allegation out there. I will let these stories be and let people speak,” she says resolutely.
Besides the claims, Kalembe is also grappling with other challenges, one of this being financial constraints as it is very expensive to embark on a presidential campaign. The nomination fee alone was a whopping Shs20 million. So, one wonders, how Kalembe is dealing with financial challenges on her campaign road.
The presidential candidate says she has friends from all walks of life, who are financially supportive of her candidacy.
“For example, I have a gentleman in my neighbourhood who has been giving me Shs5,000 every month from the time I announced that I was running in July. It seems a very little amount of money, but even such a small contribution means a lot to my campaign,” she says.
Kalembe says because she is not the incumbent, who already has resources to run a campaign, she is open to any kind of financial help.
“Someone recently asked me a question: “You mean you went into elections and do not have money? I believe in order to run for the highest office, one does not need a lot of money, so, if you can help me, please go right ahead. If you cannot, then, please pray for me,” she says.
Kalembe resigned from her previous job on July 1. This was after notifying EC about her intention to stand for elective office. Before, she was running a petroleum company with a colleague where they were mostly doing bulk importation and wholesale services.
Another challenge Kalembe says she faces being continuously called by people claiming to be senior government officials urging her to drop out of the race.
“They have told me I am really good but still too young to stand for such a position. Some have even told me to drop out and instead prepare for the future elections. Then, there are those who are telling me they can help me meet the President and I share my interests with him. But, I am not retreating or surrendering to their cause. I am continuing to run this race, no matter the lucrative offers that are thrown at my doorstep,” she says.
Although she has now passed the hurdle of attaining the required signatures that were needed for the nomination exercise, Kalembe says it was a very tough process getting them.
“I remember going to some districts and the Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) refusing to cooperate, claiming that by standing against the incumbent, I was committing treason,” she says.
Getting those signatures was a very demanding and messy process for Kalembe.
“And some of the stress was caused by some of the people I had brought onto my team to help me. Some of my team members were selling the already acquired signatures to other presidential candidates,” she says.
And because of this experience, Kalembe says she is constantly making changes in her team through dismissal and rehiring members. But despite everything, Kalembe is grateful for her family, including children, siblings, aunties and uncles who have been her strong pillars throughout the many ups and downs.
Kalembe got married in 2007, but the union ended in a divorce.
“The marriage did not go according to my fairy tale plan, which is living happily ever after. The divorce was a very painful process and it comes with stuff that you probably never see coming. But one thing I could not compromise on was my children. I told my ex-husband that he could take everything but my children,” she says.
The couple had two children now aged 11 and 10 years respectively. At the time of the split, Kalembe says some people told her she would never come out of such a dark and messy place.
“And I remember responding, watch me. Life has handed me lemons and I am going to make expensive lemonade. My personality is that when someone tells me I cannot make it, I find out why they are saying that and then, prove them wrong,” she says.
Kalembe got custody of her children and is raising them.
Today, she prefers to be called “a mother” rather than “a single mother”
“I do not understand why when it comes to women, there are attachments and labels. When a man is a single father, no one says anything. I am a mother, end of story. You do not have to elevate the title to single mother,” she says.
And if she becomes president, Kalembe says some of her priorities will include improving the livelihood of women because she knows where the shoe pinches most.
Some of her plans include developing talent centres for young girls so that they can nurture their talents, boost community businesses as well as advocating equal salaries regardless of one’s gender, among other plans.
Family and education background
Kalembe was born on September 15, 1980 to George Patrick Bageya and Aida Cissy Kubaaza. She comes from Iganga District and has 18 siblings. She completed Primary Seven at Buddo Junior School, then, sat Senior Four at St Mary’s College Namagunga and Senior Six at Mariam High School. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Population Studies from Makerere University in 2007. In 2003, Kalembe participated in Miss Uganda and although she did not win, she managed to make it to the top five. She is passionate about the film industry and has featured in productions such as Hand in Hand, a Ugandan soap opera created to promote vocational training and the field of craftsmanship in the country. Kalembe she is a former News Anchor at then Uganda Television (UTV) now known as Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC).