Tumwijukye defies husband, age to win Sheema LC5 seat

Ms Jemimah Tumwijukye, the new Sheema District chairperson, during the interview . PHOTO/ IRENE ABALO otto

What you need to know:

  • Eloquent and well-built, the politician and school proprietor talks with such energy and says she is a peace lover and a fighter for the poor person’s rights.

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 this second instalment of our new series, Women Breaking Barriers, Sheema District chairperson-elect Jemimah Tumwijukye, 68, tells Daily Monitor reporter Irene Abalo Otto that women are their own enemy.

Ms Jemimah Tumwijukye, aka Fresh Jjaja, of Sheema District always introduces herself as “68 years young.”
It is perhaps to denote her vibrant lifestyle as an active politician, a farmer, grandmother and church laity in Sheema, western Uganda. She is the Sheema District chairperson-elect.

“People say, you are old. Yes, I am old. But am I going to produce for you children in the district? The young people at the district need old people to guide them,” Ms Tumwijukye jokingly tells Daily Monitor.

She adds: “My first challenge was my family. My husband openly de-campaigned me on television and radio, saying he did not want me to contest. But I had to continue slowly and change his mind. I have never talked to him about it again but he is happy that I won. You know men. You say, ‘let us buy this land.’ He will say ‘no’ and the next day he is the one taking people to see that land.”

Ms Tumwijukye does not focus on negative energy to water down her dream. She has been a politician since 1985, first in Bushenyi District before it was splintered into five other districts of Rubirizi, Mitooma, Buhweju and Sheema. She served as the deputy speaker in the interim Sheema District council that was carved out in 2010.

“Women should not say I am a woman. When the kitchen is going to fall, you are still waiting for the man. I want women to know that they have all it takes to do more than just caring for the family. We have to work with women to change their mindset,” Ms Tumwijukye says with a cackle.

Key attributes
Eloquent and well-built, the politician and school proprietor talks with such energy and says she is a peace lover and a fighter for the poor person’s rights.  She believes that every step she makes is a milestone for women since the community stereotypes women and a thinking that women cannot lead in male-dominated positions.

Her ability to mobilise and move crowds saw her through to the local government leadership as a councillor in the 1990s. She had not studied much but upon joining the council, she decided in 2013 to return to class and study a certificate, immediately enrolling at Ankole Western University for a diploma in guidance and counselling.

“I was deterred, but not barred. I had to rise up. I was preparing myself. I even got a first-class [diploma]; it is on record. I was in my mind waiting to contest and campaign against the chairman who was de-campaigning me not to be the speaker. I wanted to stand with him on the chair. Unfortunately, he lost the 2011 elections and never returned to that position,” reveals Ms Tumwijukye.

Training and mentorship from women organisations such as Centre for Women in Governance (CEWIGO) gave Ms Tumwijukye the network and social support she needed to build her confidence and climb the leadership ladder. She recently joined other women advocacy organisations such as Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE).

Currently, she is one among four women elected in Uganda to lead districts, pending swearing-in.
Ms Tumwijukye recalls the 2021 election campaigns as the worst for her since it was during the coronavirus period and together with her campaign team, they had to go door to door, selling her manifesto and convincing people to vote for her.

Sheema District has 714 cells. She moved to almost all cells in the district while supporting herself on a crutch. She was involved a road accident earlier in 2020. But this did not stop her plans of becoming the district chairperson.

“I have this saying that the rope, which hangs a woman is a woman herself. You do not have to give up. For five years, I have been in the field laying my strategies and preparing myself financially. I stood with three men and I won,” Ms Tumwijukye says.

Long political journey
Ms Tumwijukye’s journey to becoming the district chairperson under the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party ticket has been a long one.

In 1972, she finished her Senior Four education at Kigezi High School and got a job with East African Posts and Telecommunications. She says getting a job then was easy even for Senior Four leavers who would be trained on the job.

Her career in telecommunications was interrupted in 1984 as Uganda struggled for political liberation. She went back to her village in Bushenyi in 1985 and offered to serve her people as the Local Council (LC) I chairperson.

Her passion for leadership continued to grow as she learnt the art of public speaking and mobilisation. She was later elected to LCII council in 1998 and joined the district council to represent the women of Kagango Sub-county in 2001.
She served two terms and was the secretary for production, a position that gave her experience in managing public resources.

In 2010, Ms Tumwijukye served as the secretary for production, but did not contest for any elective position in 2011 and 2016. She says she was preparing for a bigger position since during the previous positions, the chairperson of the council had de-campaigned her from getting into higher offices. She felt belittled, but vowed to compete against the same leader who was always pulling her down.

Back to class
Returning to class even when she was a mother of seven and a grandmother was a big decision for her to make. She wanted to have the academic qualification and gain more knowledge to help her lead effectively. This led her to enrol for a certificate and a diploma in consecutive years.

The knowledge she gained in guidance and counselling is not only helping the people she serves but the school, Kihunda Secondary School, a day and boarding Ordinary and Advanced Level school in Sheema, which she owns.
Ms Tumwijukye says as long as she lives, she will serve her people. To her, age should never be a deterrence for anyone to fulfil their dreams.

“I wanted the people of Sheema to hear my message. I went to local people, the women and the youth, the youth loved me very much. I knew I was going to make it,” she says with a sigh of relief.
She is excited about her new position as the first female political head of Sheema District. 

Key career moments
Ms Tumwijukye was born in 1953 in Nyabushabi, Kyanamira Sub- county in Kabale District.  She attended Nyabushabi Primary School and Kigezi High School after which she joined  Buwarasa Primary Teachers’ College in Mbale before enrolling  for a  diploma in guidance and counselling at Ankole Western University in Sheema in 2014.

She  once served as the lady councillor for Kagango Sub-county and Kabwohe/Itendero Town council in Bushenyi district council from 2001-2010. She also served as deputy speaker during the same period.  When Sheema was carved out of Bushenyi in 2010,  she  became a member of Sheema District council up to 2011. But she did not contest for any elective position in 2011 and 2016.

She says she was preparing for a bigger position since during the previous positions, the chairperson of the council had de-campaigned her.