MP at 19: Alengot writes history

Left is Ms Alengot Oromait during her school days. The 19-year-old, yet to join university (R), could be the youngest MP in Africa. Courtesy Photos

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Friends, classmates and voters speak out on new Usuk County MP, who makes history as youngest legislator.

One of the country’s longest serving constituency representative, Sam Kuteesa (Mawogola), had been in active politics for 13 years by the time Uganda’s youngest MP-elect Proscovia Alengot Oromait was born in 1993.

Mr Kuteesa, the present foreign affairs minister-designate, joined Parliament in 1980, having been elected member for Nyabushozi on the Democratic Party ticket. In that election, he defeated President Museveni who had been in power for seven years by the time the new Usuk County MP was brought into this world. A few months ago Ms Oromait was sitting her A-Level exams. Now she is headed to Parliament to represent the people after controversially winning Wednesday’s by-election.

The 19-year-old becomes the youngest MP in the country’s history, taking up the seat on the ruling party ticket after it fell vacant following the death of her father.
“It is not the age that matters,” she said on Wednesday in an interview with NTV Uganda. “I knew I was going to win because I had the support of the people. So I was not worried.”

She was declared winner of the race by the Electoral Commission with 11,059 (54.2%) votes against her nearest challenger, independent and former MP Charles Oleny Ojok who returned 5,329 (26.1%). Forum for Democratic Change’s Charles Okure took 2,725 (13.3%) in the nine-horse race.

Opio Edekep, who managed Ms Alengot’s campaign, says the MP-elect is supposed to join Uganda Christian University Mukono this year but will now have to divide her time between the lecture room and the parliamentary chambers.

Despite her age, Ms Alengot is not a stranger to politics; her campaign manager says she was closely involved in her father’s campaign as well as the projects he had promised to initiate in the constituency, including lobbying for education and health infrastructure.

What she lacks in age she makes up for in public speaking, according to people close to her. She spent two years working at a radio station in Jinja, chaired the debate club in her high school and participated in the Chogm debate in 2007 at Serena Hotel in Kampala.
Not surprising, then, that she caught the eye during her father’s funeral.

“She represented the family very well,” Mr Edekep says. “She was composed while her brothers collapsed and failed to talk.” Jude Kamanya, one of her guardians, describes her as social, committed and honest. School friends say she was the anchor and brains behind the school’s weekly news bulletin, leader of the patriotism club, and inclined to feminism.

“She was a good leader and usually advised fellow students to study hard,” says Derrick Sserwada, who went to high school with her. “She loves the environment so much.”
Ms Alengot admits to getting a lot of support from NRM party officials, including Education minister Jessica Alupo, who has been rumoured to have her own eye on the seat in the 2016 election.

“Yes in anything you need people to back you up and yes they help me [sic],” Ms Alengot said yesterday. For now, however, her focus is on the tasks ahead. “My focus is to work on roads, fight cattle-rustling, elevate the education standard in the district,” she said, her lithe frame hardly filling the gomesi.

At 19, she becomes probably the youngest MP in Africa. Yesterday, a number of MPs described her win as an absurdity, although others welcomed her win as a positive indicator to youth politics.

“That shows people have realised the values [President] Museveni always preaches- he only says as long as one is capable of raising her hand to vote for NRM ideas, there is no need to have the intellectual ability to understand issues,” said FDC’s Ibrahim Ssemujju Others in the race were UPC’s Cecilia Anyakoit with 554 votes, Martin Anukur Okwakol also independent with 284 votes, DP’s Nicholas Oteger with 220, Bob Paul Akileng independent with 160, Loyola Ignatius Apuda independent with 59 and David Ariko tailing with seven votes.

Article 80 of the Constitution states that an MP must “be a Ugandan, a registered voter and has completed A level or its equivalent as established by law.” Ms Oromait reportedly registered as voter just ahead of the by-election.

Ms Alengot’s entry into politics following her father’s footsteps isn’t the first in Uganda. Other MPs like Martin Mugara (Ntoroko) and Robert Ssebunya (Kyaddondo North) occupied their respective seats following the demise of their parents.

In the Eighth Parliament, Ms Susan Lukyamuzi also represented the people of Rubaga North to save her father’s seat from falling into the hands of another when Mr Ken Lukyamuzi was blocked by the IGG from running for Parliament.

“For the NRM to merely attract a person on the basis of adding to numbers is unfortunate. By this time we expect NRM to have matured to bring people with sufficient material in Parliament,” said Mr Lukyamuzi yesterday.

Nonetheless, the NRM party was happy with this second win in at least eight by-elections because “the people of Usuk chose the person they trust to represent them,” according to Ms Justine Lumumba, the party’ chief whip.

“No leader is ever different from the community he or she represents. Her election shows that her community has a very small scope for selection and her win has broken the myth about youths and unemployment,” said Mr Ephraim Biraro (Buhweju). Parliamentarians essentially play the critical oversight role, write laws and represent their people.

“For a person to get a job there must be some exposure and knowledge of that job. That she sat S.6 this year and is yet to enter an institution of higher learning isn’t sufficient knowledge to get her a job anywhere,” said Barnabas Tinkasimire (NRM, Buyaga).

Mr Tinkasimire describes the NRM internal primaries which saw Ms Oromait win the official flag bearer as “an abortion of internal democracy in the whole party.”
“Let’s not close our eyes to reality, is it value addition for legislation or for the people in Usuk?” said Katwiremu Yorokamu (NRM, Sheema)