Last year on April 27, Uganda lost a brave warrior for national liberation, Barbara Ann Allimadi. She was only 48 and had much more to offer to Uganda and the youth, especially young women.
The Allimadi family lost a dear, beautiful, intelligent, generous, and loving sister—full of wit and genius.
Barbara’s intellectual brilliance became obvious when she was about three years old. She had a favourite book that she’d read while seated on my laps, me being 10 years her senior.
When I turned the page one day, Barbara recited words—they didn’t match with the text. The pages had stuck together. Barbara was reciting words that should have been on a skipped page. When I opened a page randomly, she couldn’t read. She had memorised the entire book and all this time had pretended to read.
Her photographic memory, aptitude in math and physics, led her to a degree in Engineering in London, where our father, former prime minister E. Otema Allimadi was exiled for several years from Gen Yoweri Museveni’s regime. Our father eventually returned to Uganda, retired from politics, and lived out the rest of his life.
Barbara picked up the political baton and became an activist, fighting against human rights abuses and corruption. She worked closely with freedom fighter Kizza Besigye and the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).
Barbara was thrust into the limelight in 2012 when she witnessed the horrific sexual assault in broad daylight of FDC ‘Iron Lady’ Ingrid Turinawe. One of the male security officers trying to arrest Turinawe thrust his hand into her car and pulled her by the breast.
Barbara and a group of young women activist wanted to do something dramatic to highlight the desecration of female sanctity. The young ladies marched to police headquarters in Kampala and opened their shirts to bear their bras. They demanded the resignation of Gen Kale Kayihura, then Uganda’s national police chief. They were promptly arrested.
The protest drew international coverage. A video of the demonstration posted on YouTube has gone viral. As of April 30, it had been viewed 4.8 million times. Barbara’s heroics made many people braver. More young people stepped on the frontline. I was proud to call her my sister.
The Turinawe protest was Barbara’s baptism by fire. She’s crossed the rubicon. She endured many more arrests for leading protests against human rights abuses, against corruption, and the government’s violations including failure to make copies of the Constitution available to all Ugandans in the major languages.
When the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) was formed in 2019 under the leadership of retired General Mugisha Muntu, Barbara became the spokesperson for international and diaspora affairs.
We, her siblings always worried about Barbara’s welfare. My sister Doris, based in London, was especially worried and always called Barbara to persuade her to step back from the frontlines. Doris never tried to talk her out of her activism again when Barbara once asked:
“Then whose sister should we send to the frontline, whose sister should be killed in this struggle?”
She also became a mentor to scores of young women and young men. She had also planned to launch a foundation that would provide college scholarships to young people with stellar academic records, focusing on young girls initially.
The foundation has come to life. We, Barbara’s family and friends, have started the Barbara Allimadi Foundation in her honour. The foundation’s official launch is May 2, at a luncheon in Gulu City. Several dignitaries and cultural leaders have been invited. The keynote speaker will be Gen Muntu.