Fish vendor turns youngest MP

Monday May 17 2021
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Hellen Auma Wandera, alias Mama Busia.

By Arthur Arnold Wadero

When President Museveni made his opening speech at the official retreat of the newly-elected National Resistance Movement (NRM) Members of Parliament (MPs) at the National Leadership Institute (NALI) Kyankwanzi, the name Mama Busia was brought to his attention.

 Colleagues gave her the name at the retreat because of her position as Busia Woman MP-elect. She had throughout her time at NALI distinguished herself as amiable person. 
 Today, the former little-known lady from Busia that used to trade fish at Banda market, will take oath as the Busia Woman MP at 2pm. She is also the youngest of the incoming legislators of the 11th Parliament.
 
Who is Maama Busia?
Born on December 12, 1997, Ms Hellen Auma Wandera is the fourth born in the family of seven children of Mr Dickson Richards Wandera and Ms Betty Nekesa Ofuro from Busia District.

 Ms Auma attended Busia Parents Primary School for her Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) before joining Great Obrem Memorial in Tororo District for her O-Level. She completed her A-Level at St Peter’s Secondary School, Naalya, where she took Literature, Economics, Divinity and sub math(LED/S). 
 In 2016, she enrolled at Kyambogo University, where she graduated with a Bachelors’ Degree in Arts and Social Science in 2019. 
 
Entrepreneurship
 “It was not really easy because all my siblings were relying on our father’s small salary as head master,” Ms Auma recounts.
 “We managed to attend school despite the hustle along the way of frequently being sent home for school fees,” she adds.

 Her mother, Ms Nekesa, who is the Buyuya Village chairperson, Masafu Town Council in Busia District, at the time only got income from fish vending, from which Ms Auma and her three sisters and three boys got additional finances.
“I had to plough people’s gardens to raise additional money to  contribute to school fees for myself,” Ms Auma says.
This also ushered her into entrepreneurship as she saved from her upkeep to raise her first capital of Shs5,000 while in Senior Two.

 “I began vending tomatoes in my Senior Two holidays which first got me a profit of Shs2,000. Out of that, I later got a small stall and started dealing in other items such as vegetables. I did this up to my Senior Four vacation and saved up to Shs300,000,” Ms Auma says.
 She later grew her business by exporting clothes and bags from Nairobi, Kenya. 

 “I went to Nairobi without the knowledge of my parents. I only called them after I had reached and notified them that I was on my way back. I didn’t want anyone to know about that idea because I knew my parents would stop me from going since I was still young,” Ms Auma recalls.
 With her mother covering her rent bills for an outlet in Busia, Ms Auma opened up a boutique. 
 “I would make good profit because clothes that side [Kenya] are fairly cheap and got me profits each time I brought them here [Uganda]. For instance, I would fetch a profit of Shs150,000 of an item that cost me Shs5,000,” Ms Auma said.
 
Challenges
“At first, I could not understand Kenyan currency and also the person that first helped thought I was loaded [rich] since mum is a well-known business woman, so he cheated me when converting Uganda shillings into Kenya currency,” Ms Auma recounts.
She, however, kept in the business throughout her A-Level and only dropped the trade when circumstances at campus could not permit.
 “When I joined university, I thought of transferring it [boutique] to Kampala but didn’t have the capacity of renting an outlet for my boutique and also pay accommodation in Banda,” Ms Auma says.

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 “So I left it with my sister who failed to manage it and it collapsed and I decided to let go,” she adds.
Ms Auma says she donated some clothes to St Stephens Church, the needy and some of her relatives.
 Asked if she was hurt by her downfall, the 23-year-old says: “I didn’t feel bad because if I had stuck with the boutique, I would not have ventured into something else. It would have blinded me. So I had to plan my next move.” .
 
Becoming a fish vendor at campus 
Considering that she was an evening-student, and was pressed with the need to source extra finances to meet her accommodation costs, Ms Auma resorted to vending fish at Banda Market, a place frequented by her campus friends.
 “I didn’t do any business in my first year till in second year when I started selling fish. This was, however, mum’s business because she would supply me with fish and I would sell. It was not really good at the business but it kept me busy because at campus, if you are not careful, you can easily slide into regrettable acts,” she says.
 Ms Auma would deep-fry the fish and sell to her classmates.

 “Mum would supply me with fish of about Shs200,000. So I had to make ensure that I make a profit of at least Shs100,000,” she says.
 This would cover extra rent costs in addition to the Shs200,000 her parents gave as hostel fees.
 “By then, the house I was renting cost Shs350,000 per month which also served as a family house, where my relatives would stay each time they came to Kampala because we had no house in Kampala,” Ms Auma recounts.
 In her final year, Ms Auma quit fish vending prior to her graduation in 2019 and returned to her home district.
 
Joining politics
 “When I returned, I realised that Busia being a conduit of business products into and outside the country, deserves better. In addition, our district is bordered by Lake Victoria and also has gold but still lags behind and this hurt me,” Ms Auma says.
 “So as a true daughter of Busia District, I decided to contest as Woman Member of Parliament to make things better for my people,” she adds.
 The decision to contest as a legislator is also said to have been an alleged divine connection.
 “When I was in Senior Four, I had a dream in which God directed me to be a leader. The same returned in Senior Six and while at Campus. So I decided to chase this dream,” she says.
 Ms Auma shared her vision with her parents who rejected the idea, adding that they could not finance her campaigns. 
Being young, Ms Auma says most people thought this was only a joke. She, however, insisted until her parents blessed her new journey. 

Ms Auma says she hired boda bodas and went door-to-door to meet her potential voters.
 Some wrote her off as one who even lacked administrative skills of the smallest community competent, especially during the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party primaries.
 “Because I was not married, most of my opponents used that against me but I won with a big margin,” Ms Auma says.
She trounced seven competitors to earn support of NRM, with the closest contender, Ms Sharon Nabwire, beaten with 3,000 vote-margin.
“After I was declared winner, she [Nabwire] said it was a mistake and demanded for recount for I which I still won,” Ms Auma says. 

Ms Auma recalls the days she had to feed her campaign agents and support staff with bread and water.
 Campaign posters to bolster her candidature neither came easy. She would get posters on credit from Nasser Road in Kampala from a childhood friend, Mr John Bosco Wesoga.
 “He would make me posters and I would only pay for them in installments each time I managed to get money,” Ms Auma reveals.
Having been a lady of great resolve and one that dared the ‘old guard’ for the Woman MP seat of Busia District, Ms Auma earned her popularity, something she credits for her victory in the January 14 General Election.
 
 Catches Museveni’s eye 
 Having worked her way up the social ladder, Ms Auma’s humility and agility coupled with her outgoing character made her a darling to many at NALI in Kyankwanzi District.
 “Because I am a social worker, who relates with many, I interacted with almost everyone at Kyankwanzi. So many knew me by face but a few knew my name. So it until one MP decided to call me ‘Mama Busia’ because he discovered that I was the Woman MP-elect of Busia District,” Ms Auma reveals.

 It is to this end that NRM Secretary General in her opening remarks introduced her to President Museveni, also party National chairperson, as he officially opened the retreat of the first-time party lawmakers.
 When asked whether she is engaged, she insists that her focus is on bettering the lives of her people.
“Although, there are many trying almost everywhere but I am not into marriage right now. I have to build my improve family status,” she says.

NRM primaries
Ms Hellen Auma Wandera was declared the winner of the NRM primaries in Busia District following a vote recount.
The first results showed that Ms Sharon Nabwire had secured 30,747, followed by Ms Fiona Nakku with 28,480 votes and, Ms Auma with 27,000. 
The other contenders included Ms Nina Nekesa, who had 8,906, Ms Esther Busingye Wafula with 5,084, Ms Grace Nyakecho 4,089, Teddy Auma with 2,670 and Ms Lilian Taaka, who polled 2,299 votes.  
 
However, according to the recount, Ms Auma had 18,182 votes followed by Ms Fiona Nakku who polled 16,223 while Ms Nabwire, who had been declared winner, got 15,444, almost half of votes assigned to her in the first count.  

Another young MP
Proscovia Alengot Oromait was born January 1, 1993.
She served as the elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Usuk County, Katakwi District from 2011 to 2016. 
At age 19, she was the youngest MP in Uganda, and on the African continent.

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