What motivated you to go into politics?
I’m not a politician everyone knows that. I’m a humanitarian. I would have stood as a woman representative but when they brought in that post of Elderly MP, it became a cause to me. It became me. I said okay, I’m one of the people who have been lobbying through Parliament to see that they bring in the post of the elderly.
I said why should I let some else take up that position when I’m the one who has been working with the elderly and women since 2013? I have also been working with young adults. When I say young adults those are the ones who have fistula.
They are young but they are adults because they got pregnant. But even then, the elderly have been calling, saying ‘this is your post. We are behind you.’ That’s what pushed me to do this.
Their issues are many. They feel like they have been neglected for so many years. It’s not something that they just feel; I see it because I work with them and I have been abroad and I see how they treat the elderly.
Here a long time ago they used to treat them well. In the villages, they used to treat them well. The elderly had privileges. And we are not many, we are about five per cent in Uganda.
I interact with people of different ages, but the elderly have a problem that I have seen over and over again. In hospitals, the elderly don’t have a desk. When they visit the hospitals they are mixed with young people. They don’t have a ward for the elderly yet women have a ward, children have a ward, fistula people have a ward.
As an elder, when I go to the hospital and I find this young doctor and he tells me that get undressed, I feel ashamed. You are showing your body to your grandson or your son. I feel that we need specialists, I feel we need elder doctors to work with the elderly.
Let’s say you are elected, how do you want to solve that?
I would like to be the voice of the elderly and tell the powers that be what the elderly are saying. They don’t want to undress in front of their kids. They want a specialist, but they can’t get one. Another thing I have noticed, when they go to the hospital they have to line up and by the time they get to see the doctor they are tired. The lining up is hard for the elderly.
At times they don’t see the doctor and have to go back home and return the next day. That should change. I’m one of the elderly, I know how it feels. I know people look at me and say ‘Halima looks very young’ but inside my organs tell me how old I am. I’m going to be 61 in two months, I can’t jump off the bed the way I used to. I can’t do a lot of things which I can’t tell you because you are my son, too.
When they created the five slots for the elderly in Parliament critics said this is another waste of money since we already have a bloated Parliament. They say you guys are going to just earn salaries…
Of all positions they have created, this is the best they have ever created in Uganda. Because the elderly are very important. Without them, young ones wouldn’t be around. They are our mothers, they are our grandmothers, they are our fathers and grandfathers. They deserve to be respected. When an elder comes walking to the taxi park, an elder person is supposed to ask a particular person which taxi she or he is going to board. Instead of going from one stage to another.
I have known this because abroad they have such things. They know the elderly can’t fight, especially here during rush hour when people are fighting for taxis to go home. The elderly are shoved aside. Before I know it they are sleeping in the park. That shouldn’t happen. So if I’m elected those are things I will be lobbying for.
The elderly have pressing issues such as chronic diseases, they have mental problems, they have physical injuries, they have malnutrition, etcetera. But some of them die without being diagnosed. Some of them have cancer but they just say: “Oh she is old. That’s why she is like that.” So these are issues we have to look at. If I’m elected I will ensure that at least the elderly get an annual medical check-up.
The government under its Social Assistance Grant for Empowerment (Sage) programme say that it gives seniors who are 80 years and above Shs25, 0000. Do you think that money is enough?
It’s not enough, but it starts up projects because I met with the minister of Gender Sarah [Kanyike] and she told me that she met a woman in Kyenjojo District and that woman told her that out of the Shs25,0000 she has chicken and goats. She just started using it wisely. So if they give you Shs25, 000 you can use it wisely. But it’s not enough and that’s what I’m going to lobby for. The other thing is if I’m elected I want that age to be lowered to 60 years. By the time I’m 80 I can’t use that money. Sometimes I can’t even see. I can’t buy anything. It’s of no use to me.
Uganda’s population is mainly young. Do you get a feeling that young people don’t care for the elderly?
I don’t think they do, but I think someone has to raise a voice. These days they don’t really care and I feel someone has to take them back or to educate them about the elderly. I left the US to be here for my mother who died when she was 97. She has a sister who is 101, she has another sister who died at the age of 98, recently. I came back for the elderly. I was in the US. I went there at the age of 18 and by 23 I was working with the elderly.
When you look at our political structure, be it the President, Vice President, Speaker of Parliament, Prime Minister, they are manned by elderly people. The young people are saying those are enough. They represent the elderly so there is no need for these positions they have created in Parliament
That’s not fair.
Let me give this as an example, people with disability work in government but yet again they are represented in Parliament under the special interests umbrella. A person can’t work alone.
You want the President to be an MP? Now we have the minister of Gender where the elderly fall but the minister needs support in Parliament. Then the MP also needs support.
In Parliament, nobody specifically represents the elderly. There are people in Parliament who fall under the elderly bracket but they aren’t in Parliament to represent the specific needs of the elderly and I’m that voice.
Young people say the elderly had their time…
When they had their time they did other things and for me that’s why I’m saying I’m not going in as a politician. I’m going in as a humanitarian. It’s a cause to me. That the elderly should be looked after. People grab their land. Their children are grabbing their land but they have nobody to lean on. I’m going in there to lobby for them.
What is the process of voting since it is not universal adult suffrage?
The central region has 32 districts. Each district is apportioned five delegates and that makes them 160 delegates. Those will be the people to vote for us. But my concern now is we don’t know the delegates. We were just told about the campaigns.
We were told to create awareness. We don’t have the register and I don’t think this is fair. I don’t know what is in this. Do they have their people they have selected already? By now we should be knowing the people who are going to vote for us.
Do you get a feeling that your opponents have an idea of who these delegates are?
Yes. They went through their party primaries which I think gives them an idea who the delegates are while I’m an Independent who hasn’t gone through any primary.
What makes you stand out in this?
I have a lot of experience with the elderly. Not even a person with a PhD can beat me. If anybody else wins you just know something fishy has happened.