Portrait of Uganda’s 2nd madam Speaker

New Speaker of Parliament  Anita Annet Among. Photo | File

What you need to know:

  • For the 10 years, Mr Ssekandi was Speaker, Ms Rebecca Kadaga—the Kamuli Woman MP—deputised him. When Mr Ssekandi was appointed vice president in 2011, Ms Kadaga had clinched parliamentary speakership. She too served for 10 years with Omoro County’s Jacob Oulanyah acting as a sidekick.

Ms Anita Annet Among’s ambition has always been to be the Speaker of Parliament, but she had to play a waiting game.

Six months after she was overwhelmingly voted Deputy Speaker following a landslide win over Yusuf Nsibambi (Mawokota South) and Muhammad Nsereko (Kampala Central), Ms Among made clear her ultimate goal.

“I can assure you that I am here for 10 years as Deputy Speaker and 10 as Speaker,” the Bukedea Woman Member of Parliament said.

This was a trajectory that Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi followed albeit he served for five years as Deputy Speaker before becoming Speaker in 2001.

For the 10 years, Mr Ssekandi was Speaker, Ms Rebecca Kadaga—the Kamuli Woman MP—deputised him. When Mr Ssekandi was appointed vice president in 2011, Ms Kadaga had clinched parliamentary speakership. She too served for 10 years with Omoro County’s Jacob Oulanyah acting as a sidekick.

Ms Kadaga wanted to break with the NRM convention in getting a third term. She was, however, soundly beaten at the ballot (310 to 197) by Oulanyah. Nearly 11 months into his speakership, Oulanyah lost his battle to cancer. This meant that while his remains lay in a cold room at the University of Washington Medical Centre in Seattle yesterday, Ms Among was being confirmed as his replacement following an electoral event at Kololo Independence Grounds. Article 82(4) of the Constitution—which provides that “no business shall be transacted in Parliament other than an election to the office of Speaker at any time that office is vacant”—forced the awkward poll. Just a few days back, Ms Among was inconsolable while eulogising Oulanyah. After composing herself, she said thus: “Parliament will never be the same without you. I will dearly miss you, the light moments, the unique moments we jointly chaired the proceedings of the House—setting precedents that had never been and all that you were to me and the Parliament of Uganda.”

A go-getter?

That Ms Among wiped the tears away and went for the jugular did not come as a shock to many. She has in many circles come to be seen as the very embodiment of a go-getter.

During the seven years she has been in Parliament, the 48-year-old trained accountant-cum-lawyer has managed to forge a personal relationship with President Museveni. This has been on show with the President visiting her constituency to launch a science laboratory at Bukedea Comprehensive School, which was christened Yoweri Museveni.

The President also launched the construction of Bukedea teaching hospital and opened a new radio station in the same district.

While Ms Among is now seen as the archetypal ‘Yellow Girl’, she was until at least 2016 a member of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). She in fact ascended to the position of deputy treasurer in-charge of fundraising from 2006 to 2015.

While holding the position, it became apparent that her money purse was bottomless. This prompted several questions about her source of income.

Regardless, Ms Among was so powerful that a decade ago Proscovia Salaamu Musumba—one of the founder members of the FDC—lost at her hand during primaries for the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala).

Bukedea Woman MP Anita Annet Among, Ruhinda North MP Thomas Tayebwa, and Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake,  interact ahead of a special sitting of the 11th Parliament to elect Speaker and Deputy Speaker at Kololo in Kampala yesterday. PHOTOS / DAVID LUBOWA

The victory sparked off a storm after allegations sprung up that Ms Among had bribed delegates using money she had received from Hassan Basajjabalaba.

Mr Basajjabalaba was at the time the chairperson of the NRM’s Entrepreneurs’  League.

Although the FDC’s constitution is clear that one of the ways through which one ceases being a party member is by standing as an independent, this didn’t seem to apply to Ms Among.

 When Ms Among arrived in Parliament as an independent, the FDC appointed her as vice-chairperson of the committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase).

Maj Gen (rtd) Mugisha Muntu, then the FDC president, was blamed for this anomaly.

“It’s him who rewarded her that position because they were close and she had given him money during the 2012 FDC presidential elections,” a party member told Saturday Monitor.

NRM mole in FDC?

At first, Ms Among took exception to being called an NRM mole. By 2017, though, she had effectively turned into Mr Museveni’s broker within the Opposition ranks.

 Earlier, in November of 2016, when the UPDF raided Omusinga Charles Wesley Mumbere’s palace and left a trail of destruction, political leaders in Kasese District who identified as FDC members were left angry.

When Mr Museveni moved to make relations thaw out in 2007, Ms Among played a telling role. She persuaded all FDC MPs to meet Museveni—first at his farm at Kisozi in Gomba District.

“I am a peace lover and being that Winnie [Kiiza, the Leader of Opposition in Parliament] is my friend, it was easy for me to convince her to meet the President. I did it in the interest of peace and security of our country,” Ms Among later told The Observer newspaper.

“They didn’t get even a single coin from [Museveni]; Winnie [Kiiza] is not worth that. What if the President also knows that I myself am worth more than Shs 1b; how much can he give Winnie?”

Ms Among was an accountant and bank manager with Centenary Bank before she joined politics. She officially became an NRM member in 2020.

If she had struggled to win the 2016 parliamentary elections, in 2021 she was among the handful of candidates who were elected unopposed to join the 11th Parliament. Still, there were allegations that she used money to coax would-be challengers in the Bukedea Woman MP race to stand down. Others were reportedly blocked outright.

Acting as a bridge

When Ms Among decided to stand as Deputy Speaker, she claimed she was best placed for the position because she would bridge the gap between the NRM and the Opposition. 

“My manifesto is very clear that I’m going to improve on good governance,” Among told this writer, adding, “If you look at the image of Parliament, it has kind of deteriorated. We need to build the image of Parliament and then the other thing we need to have equal opportunities for everybody since we are in a multiparty system. Having come from the Opposition I will act as a bridge between the government and the Opposition. We need to stop fighting in Parliament.”

Still, Ms Among’s campaigns were shrouded in controversy with allegations that she doled out money to win the NRM primaries—in which she was facing a number of opponents, including Thomas Tayebwa, her new deputy.

While Ms Among denied allegations, the optics became bad when it came to light that NRM MPs headed to Kyankwanzi for their annual retreat on a bus that had boxes of alcohol with her picture emblazoned on them.

The noise around Ms Among allegedly paying off bribes became louder after the elections that returned Oulanyah and herself victorious.

The FDC’s Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda—who contested for the speakership and only got 15 votes—openly accused Ms Among of bribing voters.

“Many of these MPs are my friends. It’s not that they don’t like me, but it’s politics gone bad. I saw people say ‘people power our power.’ They should have said ‘people money our money.’ You can say Ssemujju is very bad and that Kadaga has taken on Museveni, but Anita Among of the NRM, what was the justification for voting for her?” Ssemujju wondered.

Six months after she was sworn as the Deputy Speaker, Ms Among found herself involved in another scandal revolving around money.

 National Unity Platform’s Moses Bigirwa was arrested in Ms Among’s neighbourhood where he had allegedly gone to pick up Shs100m.

He had reportedly negotiated with the then Deputy Speaker in exchange for putting a seal to defamatory information against her on social media. The prosecutors said the information in question was labeled: Museveni to remove Deputy Speaker Among over corruption, Among in trouble over intelligence.

Cracking the whip

The information Mr Bigirwa had, the prosecutors further alleged, included bribes from Roko Construction; bribes from Kingdom Property; and deals using ISO to con.

It didn’t come as a surprise when Ms Among supported Mr Muhammad  Nsereko’s move to bring a law that he said would curb cyber-harassment by prescribing hefty fines, lengthy jail terms, a ban from holding public office, and loss of office for convicted offenders.

Recently, Ms Among presided over a parliamentary session in which Francis Zaake, the Mityana Municipality legislator, was censured for firing a tweet she deemed to be offensive. 

Not that Ms Among has forgotten her money purse. At the end of February, she was at it again, giving out Shs15m to the wives of jailed MPs Allan Ssewanyana (Makindye Division West) and Mr Muhammad Ssegirinya (Kawempe Division North), and the mother of the latter, Ms Justine Nakajumba.

The two embattled MPs —who belong to NUP— were charged last year in September with murder, but Ms Among and Peter Mugema (Iganga Municipality MP)gave their families the money to cover immediate basic needs. 

In January, Among footed part of the hospital bills of Robert Mukebezi, the traffic police officer who was shot by a yet-to-be-named UPDF soldier, resulting in an amputation of his leg.

While Oulanyah was bedridden, Ms Among has presided over several sittings of Parliament in which many Bills have been passed. These include the critical  East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP)—which will facilitate the implementation of the oil pipeline in Uganda, domesticating an existing treaty between Uganda and Tanzania before the EACOP Company can embark on the pipeline construction and many within the NRM have been impressed with her performance.

  “Anita Among whom many regarded as a political novice without much legislative experience has managed to steer that House and hold it together for the last 10 months moreover doing it as her maiden task. That is the highlight for me,” said Agriculture minister Frank Tumwebaze.

Last December, her nemesis, Mr Ssemujju provided a surprise ringing endorsement.

He said thus while also taking a swipe at Ms Kadaga: “I want to thank you, Madam Speaker, but I also would like to thank you, if you will allow me, for consistently keeping time. There was a time in this Parliament when we were made to wait for the presiding officer for two hours. I want to thank you for not making us wait.”

Ms Among will not wait to hit the ground running. Her first major assignment will be honouring Oulanyah in the August House next week.

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