Kawuma: Leading with influence will get you to the top

Ms Fazira Kawuma, Deputy Mayor of Jinja City. PHOTO | ABUBAKER KIRUNDA

What you need to know:

  • Ms Kawuma’s journey as a visually-impaired leader stipulates her resilience, dedication, and transformative impact in empowering marginalised communities.

Despite being visually impaired, Ms Fazira Kawuma holds an impressive array of leadership positions. She is the Deputy Mayor of Jinja City, and has also founded an NGO; Source of the Nile Union of Persons living with Albinism (SNUPA).

Additionally, she holds roles as vice chairperson of the National Council for Disability, chairperson for advocacy and membership at the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU), and board member at the Uganda National Association of the Blind (UNAB).

In 2011, Ms Kawuma lost her sight completely, experiencing complications that arose after completing her A-Level exams. The condition worsened when she commenced a diploma course at Uganda College of Commerce in Tororo. Despite seeking medical advice from various eye specialists, she was informed that her condition was genetically-induced and irreversible.

Struggling with her impaired vision, Ms Kawuma made the difficult decision to drop out of Uganda College of Commerce. However, undeterred by her challenges, she later returned to academia and successfully earned her diploma in Community Based Rehabilitation from Kyambogo University.

“The moment I accepted that I have become blind, I started looking for people to rehabilitate me. I devised strategies of how I can restore hope in myself. I started joining associations for persons living with disabilities (PWDs) so that I can find comfort. That is when I came up with the idea of promoting the marginalised persons living with albinism,’’ Ms Kawuma says.

She then put her energies into starting SNUPA with its headquarters in Jinja City. This was after she discovered that many persons living with albinism were dying as few of them knew what to do to live longer.

Despite her already busy schedule, Ms Kawuma remained steadfast in her commitment to uplifting and empowering individuals within the albinism community.

As a leader of SNUPA, Ms Kawuma made numerous sacrifices during its early stages. Utilising a portion of her limited financial support as a volunteer coordinator for the Jinja District Association of the Blind, she embarked on the challenging task of identifying persons living with albinism across the districts with in Busoga Sub-region.

Due to limited facilitation and the disability she has, Ms Fazira struggled to reach out to communities to identify families with persons with albinism who were confined indoors.

“I could sometimes sit on a motorcycle from Jinja up to Luuka because it would take me directly as opposed to the taxis that could require me to change from one vehicle to another vehicle although travelling on boda boda was risky. In some cases I would use bicycle boda boda transport,’’ Ms Kawuma recounts.


Under Ms Kawuma’s leadership, SNUPA has flourished, boasting a membership of 1,554 individuals with albinism whose conditions have significantly improved over time.

One of her notable achievements is securing funding for sun screen lotion through Action on Disability and Development (ADD), effectively reducing the incidence of skin cancer among affected individuals and subsequently decreasing mortality rates.

“I am happy that my dream of reducing problems facing people in the disability fraternity is turning true because, as I talk now, records indicate that only one person passes on in a year compared to the 10 who were dying of skin cancer before my intervention,” she says.

Ms Kawuma takes pride in the organisation’s growth and sustainability. She has successfully trained and mentored new leaders, ensuring a smooth transition of leadership while maintaining her oversight as the founder.

Furthermore, SNUPA’s initiatives in economic empowerment and educational support have empowered its members, exemplifying Ms Kawuma’s commitment to enhancing the well-being and opportunities of those within the albinism community.

Ms Fazira Kawuma with Mr Peter Ogik, the executive director of SNUPA. PHOTO | ABUBAKER KIRUNDA

The journey to becoming deputy mayor

The experience in creating and managing SNUPA gave Kawuma the confidence to go for the position of deputy mayor after Jinja had been made a city in 2021. Her experience in serving as a councillor and deputy speaker at Jinja District Local Government worked well for her.

“After realising that this position [deputy mayor] needs a person well-versed with local government issues and good academic qualifications which qualities I had compared to others, I decided to offer myself for the position,’’ Ms Kawuma says.

She reveals that she honestly found the journey easy because the position only required one to have a National Identity card and she had more than that, given the  managerial skills she had acquired at SNUPA and high academic qualifications of a master’s degree in Social Sector Planning.

Having served as a manager and a leader in previous engagements, Ms Kawuma says she has experienced a few challenges in the office of the deputy mayor because most of the work in the new office is similar to what she has been doing before. She hints that taking on leadership roles in various places, however, prepares you for the bigger positions.

One challenge Ms Kawuma has encountered is juggling her roles as a full-time worker at both SNUPA and the deputy mayor’s office. Initially, balancing responsibilities in these two offices proved difficult, but with the unwavering support of her family, she has successfully managed this dual workload.

Ms Kawuma attributes her ability to rise to the top to her commitment to education, which equipped her with invaluable managerial skills. Her academic journey began at Nakibembe Primary School in Bugweri District and later Mbale Church of Uganda in Mayuge. She then joined Wairaka College in Jinja City, Kawempe Moslem School and Hassan Tourabi Education Centre- Bweyogerere in 2000 and sat for her A-Level exams in the same school.

Continuing her pursuit of knowledge, Ms Kawuma earned a Diploma in Community-Based Rehabilitation from Kyambogo University, followed by a Diploma in Public Administration and Management from Makerere Business School. She furthered her education with a degree in Social Work and Social Administration from Kampala University, obtained a Certificate in Administrative Law from Makerere University, and attained a Master’s degree in Social Sector Planning from Kampala University.

When questioned about her extensive academic and professional endeavors, Ms Kawuma emphasises her desire to inspire other women.

Advice to women leaders

Ms Kawuma encourages women not to fear to take up leadership positions.

“Get helpful contacts and do networking. Identify people who matter and make the best use of them. Know how to relate with them in a professional relationship because that is how I was able to build SNUPA,” she says.

She also advises women to learn how to balance their roles, adding that as a politician, activist, mother and a social worker, she is able to balance work and family.

“I don’t bring politics home but I use my political connections to do SNUPA’s advocacy. The contacts I get are because of my position. I use my influence in my position,’’ Ms Kawuma says.

Ms Kawuma acknowledges the challenges women face in reaching leadership positions and emphasises the importance of capacity-building and economic empowerment, particularly for those aspiring to political office.

She advises women to always contest for any position and to participate in government programmes so that they are empowered economically since leadership requires a lot of money.