As the pair were growing up in the early 2000s, their home district Soroti, in the Teso sub-region, was swamped by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), consigning many of their contemporaries and relatives to abject poverty, homelessness, forced marriages and the like.
In May, sporting blue dresses – the colour of their Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party – Anna Adeke Ebaju (30) and Joan Acom Alobo (31), captured the imagination of many when they took oath to represent their native Soroti District and Soroti City respectively in Parliament.
The bond between the two youthful female leaders was demonstrated during the swearing in ceremony, which normally comes with a lot of ballyhoo and ululation, when Adeke was listed13th and Alobo 15th, with Acrobert Moses Kiiza, the Bughendera County Member of Parliament (MP), separating the two.
Adeke perhaps needs no introduction. She has literally grown in front of our eyes having kick-started her political career when she won the Makerere University guild presidency in 2013, before plunging onto the national scene when she somehow won the National Female Youth MP slot in 2016.
“From the time I was 12 years, I started following politics,” Adeke explains her roots in politics. “I grew up in a political family. My father, Johnson Ebaju, loved politics and this drew me to politics. For most of my infant years, I was following politics and I had a dream of representing my people.”
Whereas Adeke has, by and large, had a more straightforward political career, Alobo’s political journey has been far from comfortable with many setbacks, which could have easily upended her propitious political career.
In 2011, Alobo aged 21, had already joined the ranks of FDC on whose ticket she stood for the Soroti District Youth Councillor, a position she admits she had no chance of winning.
The winner of the position is typically determined via a college system, not the universal adult suffrage – a process she says grossly favours candidates of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM).
“The process is rigged in favour of the NRM,” she says of the college’s system. “You might not even know that delegates are being elected. Everything is done in secrecy, but I think I was just announcing myself to the people at that time. I was thinking about future elections. I was looking ahead. That was the target.”
Following her defeat, she dusted herself up and returned to Makerere University where she was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning, but still had time to engage in her calling: politics.
“I moved around campus campaigning for FDC candidates,” she says, “At that time I knew Anna [Adeke] but we never met to talk.”
In 2016, Alobo decided to go for the jugular: Soroti Woman MP. Once again there was a stumbling block: Angelline Asio Osegge, the incumbent, who too belonged to the FDC wasn’t in the mood of retirement. A party primary was the solution.
“It wasn’t really a primary because they were saying that incumbents can’t go through a primary, so I lost again, but still I campaigned for honourable Osegge in Soroti since we all belonged to the FDC and she won. The good thing was people were now familiar with my face. I moved a lot; I got introduced to the community.”
While Alobo was counting what she had lost and gained in the 2016 election, Adeke had sought the pragmatic side that saw her stand as an Independent candidate, consequently forging an alliance that managed to defeat an NRM candidate for the National Youth MP slot.
“It’s true I masqueraded as an Independent,” Adeke, who now has a Master degree in Laws, says.
“That’s the only way I was going to win, but even then, NRM people printed my posters in FDC colours and distributed them. But because I knew many of the people who were voting from Makerere, I was able to win.”
For Alobo, with the campaign period over, she had to face the realities of life: looking for a job and getting married.
“I got a job at National Water and Sewerage Cooperation in Soroti. That’s where I have been working from June 2016 to July last year,” she says. “In 2016, I got married and I have twins now.”
With Osegge falling out of FDC leadership, having sided with Gen Mugisha Muntu, the former FDC, president who left the party having been defeated by Patrick Obio Amuriat, it seemed there was an opening for Alobo to represent Soroti District come 2021 on an FDC ticket.
In retrospect, this would have meant that she would have faced off with Adeke in the FDC primaries. The two are passionate about representing the district that they say has given them so much and deserves competent leadership.
“I was interested in standing as Soroti Woman MP but I had spoken to my sister [Adeke] and she told me she was interested in the same position,” Alobo, who comes from Arapai village, says.
Though she was born in Soroti, Adeke has been raised in Kampala metropolitan where she went to schools such as Our Lady of Good Counsel in Gayaza for her O-Level and later St Mary’s Kitende for her A-Level, but the dream has always been to represent her home district.
“I represented the youth of eastern Uganda, but my interest was always to represent the people of Soroti so I used the youth thing as a springboard to representing the people of Soroti. I want to speak for the voiceless. So this is the position I have always wanted,” Adeke says.
With Adeke clearly interested in the seat, Alobo thought of giving up her dream, once again thinking of her limitations.
“I was thinking that I should concentrate on my marriage and children and, of course, I was thinking that competing in an entire district would need a lot of resources which I didn’t have. So I was almost giving up,” Alobo says.
This deadlock was settled when Parliament announced the operationalisation of cities Arua, Gulu, Jinja, Mbarara, Fort Portal, Mbale, Masaka and Soroti last year.
This meant Soroti, just like other cities, were to be split to get new constituencies which included Soroti City Woman MP, which gave Alobo a chance to stand in the city while Adeke pursued her dream of representing the district.
“I just want to thank God because once the city was confirmed, though I didn’t have money, I started moving around. I remember we went on a radio talk show and of the 15 callers, 13 were saying: ‘Alobo you are ours, we are going to vote for you,” Alobo reminiscences the reception she received during the exasperating campaigns punctuated by Covid-19.
With FDC sweeping most of the elective positions in Soroti, Alobo and Adeke were key cogs in this rather well-oiled machinery but they still think being women, they have been subjected to all kinds of invectives.
“The misogyny, the chauvinism you experience during and after campaigns are unbelievable,” Adeke says. “Some people think you shouldn’t contest just because you are a woman. Some just hate you because you are a woman.”
“I was told by some people to go and stand on Katakwi where my husband hails from,” Alobo explains the misogyny she experienced. “That I didn’t belong to Soroti, where I was born, anymore since I’m married to a man from Katakwi.”
Having managed to make it to Parliament, the hard work has just started: making their presence felt such that they aren’t just a statistic.
“We know that due to failure of government to provide basic social services, our people now look to MPs to fill the gap,” Adeke, who is passionate about human rights, says. “Since government can’t provide an ambulance, an MP has to do that; since government can’t give quality education to children, an MP has to give out school fees.”
The challenge they have is that the five years they have run out quickly, but Alobo is hopeful.
“I hope that FDC will take over government very soon and we shall be able to implement our agenda such that the people see the difference,” Alobo says.
While Alobo is a novice in Parliament, this is the second term for Adeke and she expected to make a mark in the crowded Parliament, but that’s not her worry at the moment.
“I’m privileged to be here. Representing an area that has been ravaged by war and advancing people’s rights is what I love most,” Adeke says.