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Nicknamed the Iron Lady in the political circles, the former beauty-queen-turned-politician is an early model for political renegades who refuse to give in to complacency or let party intrigue stop them from serving their communities, writes Brian Magoba.
At 23, Cecilia Ogwal won the first Miss Uganda held in 1969 at the Apollo Milton Hotel (current Sheraton). Then a Bachelor of Commerce finalist at the East African University in Nairobi, she might have laughed in the face of a fortune-teller who prophesied a future in politics for her.
But she became so staunch with Dr Apollo Milton Obote’s party, the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), and so involved that people often confused her with Obote’s own wife Miria Kalule Obote. Thus, few would have foreseen the day the UPC’s Acting Secretary General between 1985 and 1992, would leave it after losing her parliamentary seat to the son of her party’s founder.
Now, Cecilia Barbara Atim Ogwal’s profile on the Parliament of Uganda’s website says she is a member of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), which she joined because she relates with its agenda for capturing power.
In the years it took her shifting from UPC to FDC, Ogwal ranked among Uganda’s longest-serving Members of Parliament, and earned the nickname “Iron Lady” for her past and continuing contributions to changing Uganda’s political landscape, mostly for the better.
A fearless visionary
In a 1993 interview with Courier Magazine’s Augustine Oyowe, she rebutted claims the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government was moving Uganda towards true democracy. She maintained she had been openly encouraging citizens not to believe what she called fake democracy.
“This man Museveni is entrenching himself daily militarily. The whole country is being militarised towards supporting a dictatorial system. The more Museveni is given time, the more he will entrench himself and it will be very difficult for us to uproot him. The sooner the outside world can help us get rid of him, the better it will be for Uganda”, she said.
As a veteran politician herself, she could have identified with the instinct for self-preservation, which makes expressing such strongly-worded convictions an uncomfortable and usually avoided fact.
In her case, she was labeled a pot calling the kettle black. Today, the succession question and presidential term limits are rallying cries becoming more popular with both politicians and vigilant citizens alike. If in 2016 President Museveni stands for re-election, in Ogwal’s prophetic remarks, Ugandans will have an example of one who dared voice them long before the dissenter’s expression gained enough momentum.
Defying the powers that be
The saint she shares a name with, Cecilia, was sentenced to death because she refused to worship the Roman gods. It also means “the way for the blind”, which some of her trailblazing exploits will exemplify for future politicians.
For instance, Ogwal’s fallout with the UPC began in 1996 when she defied a directive issued by deceased party leader, Milton Obote, for members to boycott local council and parliamentary elections. Thus she successfully contested the Lira Municipality seat, winning it on June 17, 1996, only relinquishing it to Jimmy Akena in 2005 in what would have been her third term.
Protestations that she consequently left the party amicably did not convince skeptics who maintained she had been sabotaged to create opportunity for UPC’s becoming a family dynasty, with Akena’s mother Miria Obote, in the lead role as Party President.
She is an early model for political renegades like Kampala MP Mohammed Nsereko and independent MPs who refuse to let party intrigues stop them from serving their communities.
The Cecilia legacy
She is not one to court controversy, but neither does she balk from saying and doing what she works for the greater good even if she draws fire for it. Her recent comments at the Global African Diaspora Parliamentarians Summit in Midrand, South Africa, provide a shining example.
Addressing delegates in May 2011, she said, “Practices that are against African culture are now classified as human rights. I am forced to accept homosexuality. That is wrong and should be condemned, it cannot be accepted.”
She said this when it is neither a re-election campaign nor a major religious holiday, the two times many clerics have noted are when politicians, if they are not the Minister of Ethics and Integrity, are most likely to state confrontational views on matters of morality.
Walking out of Parliament in November 2003 and asking President Museveni to resign if he could not seek international help ending the war in Northern Uganda, provides another instance of how and why she will be remembered as a long-serving politician who never gave in to complacency and stopped advocating for the progress of the common man.
• Born: 12th June 1946 to Opio Boniface (RIP) and Rosemary Apio. Married to Lamech Ogwal with seven biological children and several adopted ones.
• Currently Woman MP, Dokolo County.
• Vowed to retire politics in 2016 if all churches in Dokolo are regarded as places of worship.
• Certificate in Public Private Partnerships (PPP) from Australia’s Habitat Studies (2008)
• Certificate in Christian-based values, Hagai Institute Singapore (1997), Liaison Officer for Returning Refugees at the Ugandan Embassy in Kenya (1979 – 1980), Chairperson, UPC’s Presidential Policy Commission (1992 – 1996), Chairperson, UPC’s Interim Executive Council (1996 – 2004), Chairperson, Uganda Development Bank ( 1981 – 1986)