Namayanja prides in beating men at polls

Tuesday May 18 2021
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Ms Florence Namayanja in NUP party colours during campaigns before the 2021 general elections. PHOTO/ MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

By Irene Abalo Otto

Politics is a rough, dicey and turbulent game. In Uganda, the caps imposed by patriarchy render a woman’s election for a direct competitive seat a tall order. Many survive on affirmative slots. In a new series, Women Breaking Barriers, which starts today, Masaka City’s pioneer mayor-elect Florence Namayanja tells Daily Monitor reporter Irene Abalo Otto why she abandoned her MP seat and enjoys flooring men in elections.

Assertive, outspoken and congenial. To many, she is macho-like. Some critics even censure her as rude.
It is the disposition of Ms Florence Namayanja, the outgoing Bukoto East Member of Parliament for 10 years, who is rebounding to local government political leadership as Masaka City pioneer mayor.

At 61, Ms Namayanja, a mother of four, is also a grandmother. If family is salt of her life, then politics is the sugar.
It is, therefore, unsurprising that her sweet tongue has charmed the electorate wherever she has made a dig-in for direct elective political position.

Hers is a long journey that began at the lowest of political representation – village chairperson. In sum, she superintended Kanyanya-Komamboga Village of Kawempe Division in Kampala.

That turned out a political and leadership nursery bed from where Ms Namayanja’s electioneering dexterity sprang to life.
Soon, she threw her hat in the upper Local Council elections ring, and did not only win a seat to be on Kawempe Division Council in 1997, but she was also appointed the secretary for finance.

With money and executive power, all things are possible. And it was, in a way, for Ms Namayanja.

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Humble beginnings 
She used the pedestal of Local Council III leadership to catapult higher, racing up the different rungs of the leadership ladder and breaking a ceiling of her own to her surprise and inspiration of others.

In 2001, she was elected to represent Kawempe North in the Kampala City Council (KCC), the predecessor of Kampala Capital City Authority, on a ticket of the Democratic Party (DP), which is more alive in central than any part of Uganda.
Upon re-election in 2006, then Kampala Mayor Nasser Ntege Sebaggala, himself a DP stalwart, tapped Ms Namayanja to serve as his deputy - a big ask, and position, at City Hall.

Ms Namayanja seized the challenge – many would call it an opportunity - with both hands, serving until 2011.
City Hall is adjacent to Uganda’s Parliament and winking across the fence from the City Mayor’s parlour can fertilise tempting ideas. And that political spirit, it turned out, had attacked Ms Namayanja in her early years at KCC.

She understood that crossing the fence from the City Council headquarters to Parliament would take more than leg work - and she began to prepare in earnest.  

She had started her education journey at Kimaanya Primary School and in 1978, she was among the last group of students to take the East African Certificate of Education examinations under the aegis of the East African Community.

Ms Namayanja sat for the papers at Masaka Secondary School. In 1979, the year President Idi Amin was toppled, she joined Uganda College of Commerce, Nakawa, now transformed into Makerere University Business School (Mubs).

Then she leapt into the world of work, with National Water and Sewerage Corporation. From 1992 to 1994, Ms Namayanja was an administrator and a personal secretary to the then managing director, Eng Hillary Onek, the current Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees.

But commendation and workshop certificates are good verdict of an employee’s conduct and for family wall hanging, but do not illuminate the future of professional or political progress where threshold standards and qualifications apply.

Ms Namayanja, clearly nursing higher ambitions, saw her troubled water in the absence of A-level certificate.  
Under Uganda’s Constitution, a person can only be eligible for election as MP if they possess a minimum of Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE) certificate, obtained after passing High School examinations, or its equivalent.

Ms Namayanja sensed fate would consign her on the odd side of ineligibility.

Rather than surrender or supplicate, she sought to cure the academic deficiency by enrolling, in 2003, for A-level, which she passed.

Then she proceeded to study Bachelor of Industrial Psychology at Makerere University, majoring in human resource planning.

“Some of the issues in politics need you to be knowledgeable to wisely handle [them]. People will say all sorts of things and come to you with a lot of issues,” Ms Namayanja said, recalling with satisfaction her 2007 graduation.

Now eminently qualified and gifted in vote-canvassing, Ms Namayanja left Kampala and sprinted west to her Masaka home district to run for Bukoto East MP, which she won in 2011 and again in 2016 on Democratic Party ticket.
Finally, her early 2000s ambition to cross the City Hall fence to the August House had turned a reality.

She served two terms as legislator, but a clever politician knows beforehand when they have overstayed their welcome by the electorate in a position.

Ms Namayanja could be characterised as a foreseer in that perspective. She did two things for political self-preservation. First, she abandoned the MP seat to tussle it out for the inaugural Masaka City Mayor post and she trounced eight men.

Second, like a chameleon, she decamped from DP’s legendary green uniform that had given her visibility and power and re-emerged in the campaign field purpose-fitted in the blazing red of National Unity Platform (NUP) party, whose wave swept the votes in central Uganda, including at presidential polls.

The date with NUP exposed Ms Namayanja to another face, an ugly one, of politics – an occupation she assumed she had mastered.

Ugly face of politics
The state’s reaction to NUP’s birth and its presidential flag bearer Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, alias Bobi Wine, was brutal. Hundreds of the party supporters were arrested and brutalised, mainly in Buganda, and dozens remain on remand or in incarceration at undisclosed places.  

“Politics has been militarised and monetised. There was a lot of intimidation and disappearances by police [before, during and after the January elections]. There was use of excessive force and even stopping us from campaigning. These were major challenges. Some, we were not able to overcome. It takes a lot of courage for one to campaign under such circumstances,” Ms Namayanja says even though she won.

Defeating men in the mayoral race was a sweet double victory for her, tough as it was. She had turned a patriarchal society on its head at the ballot, giving her self-assurance that electoral victory is possible to secure beyond the tailored affirmative seats.

In Uganda, by law, 30 per cent of elective positions are ring fenced for women which, according to the framers of the country’s constitution, is to cure decades of marginalisation of the gender and uproot entrenched patriarchy.

“If we get more women in direct seats, the voice, participation and representation of women will increase. We still need to do a lot because there are those who are on affirmative action who are not coming out to compete for the direct seats. It takes all of us, the women organisations and the women in parliament, to motivate and train other women and give them space to lead,” she says.

It is another day’s story whether the sexagenarian will retire, at 65, when her impending five-year term as the first female Mayor in Uganda lapses.

Hobbies
A die-hard fan of Afrigo Band, Ms Namayanja loves socialising and country music serenades her as do tunes from artiste Juliana Kanyomozi, among other Ugandan talents.
She does not consider a downward swing from an MP, a national leader, to city mayor, a local leader, a downgrade. Rather, it is an opportunity to directly serve the people, she argues.

“I had served at local government and I knew that when you serve at that level (mayor), you are directly providing services to the community. That has always been my dream,” says Ms Namayanja.

She adds: “It is not a downgrade because being a mayor, you are the political head of the city. For me I do not look at it as a downgrade. I look at it as an achievement. In the city, you control the budget, you set your own priorities for service delivery. So, I cannot say it is a downgrade.”

Ms Namayanja believes that her 24 years of experience in politics have provided her a body armour against insults and condemnations and enriched her ability to effectively deliver service in an infant city.

Masaka for her is more than a place; it irrigates her soul and defines her being. In any case, Ms Namayanja grew up and studied there, sucking up all the great and ugly of the place.

Key career moment
Under Uganda’s Constitution, a person can only be eligible for election as MP if they possess a minimum of Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE) certificate, obtained after passing High School examinations, or its equivalent.
Ms Namayanja sensed fate would consign her on the odd side of ineligibility.

Rather than surrender or supplicate, she sought to cure the academic deficiency by enrolling, in 2003, for A-level, which she passed. Then she proceeded to study Bachelor of Industrial Psychology at Makerere University, majoring in human resource planning.

editorial@ug.nationmedia.com

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