UGANDA: Women, Power and Politics

Wednesday, August 25, 2010
The New Vision
Eastern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Human Rights

THE topic, "Women, power and politics" has several dimensions. It has links to economic, religious and cultural issue. Cultural practices such as that of Buganda, where princesses are referred to as “Ssebo” (Sir) and the king belongs the mother's clan and the fact that princesses inherit large tracts of land and are consulted on important issues is simply a novelty.

Interestingly, I was at Gayaza High School with two princesses —Ndagire and Zalwango but I do not recall using the “Ssebo”. What happened?

Another amazing culture is that of the Banyankore cattlekeepers, where women were historically custodians of milk. Control of milk gave unprecedented power to the custodian. Possession of such power could be effectively utilized in the science of managing people—politics.

A question was put to President Museveni whether this culture persists in the face of increased quantities of milk and the fact that it is currently a major income earner. His response was candid.

He proposed that research needs to be undertaken to ascertain current realities. Modification of practices is occurring before our very eyes. When an activity has the potential to accord higher revenue and therefore power, it progressively shifts from being female-dominated to being male-dominated.

Examples of this include a systematic change of sex in the nursing profession, and more recently the hair salon business! A colleague backed this “modification process” when she informed me that basket weaving, currently a money-generating export item, which was hitherto predominantly women's work in Rwanda is increasingly being taken over by men.

“Modification” of culture and practices is a positive trend; it is an avenue that women can also use to venture into areas that previously were occupied mainly by men—such as politics. Men have traditionally dominated such public domain while women have been relegated to the private domain, supposedly sheltered in homes.

Affirmative action in politics, a practice pioneered by Uganda in the East African region has been adopted across Africa.
My personal experience in politics confirms that affirmative action has yielded positive results in the realm of women, power and politics. My initiation into parliamentary politics was miraculous.

The day started like any other Friday, but by midnight I was fully endorsed and engrossed in competitive politics. I had been transformed from a campaign agent into a candidate by a stroke of fate! Needless to say, at that moment, my adrenalin was running high and I was pleasantly delighted by the power this new status immediately bestowed upon me in a matter of seconds!

The odds stacked against me in the race were high. They included the fact that I am a woman and was standing in a constituency. In addition to this, I was looking for votes in an area where I was not born, which fact had attendant challenges. On the other hand, I had several advantages. To a large extent political capital had already been amassed by several activities we had executed and most significantly women were keen to vote for another woman apart from the District Woman Member of Parliament.

In politics, securing women's support is half the race won because women are faithful and consistent voters. I thus reaped from affirmative action in that women's participation in politics had been demystified intensely by affirmative action; it was no longer a contentious issue.

My main challenge was that I had to continuously justify why I was standing in a constituency. More civic education needs to be done to create awareness that a constituency can be effectively represented by a woman.

I convincingly dispelled this misconception by giving examples of women who had hitherto represented constituencies such as Syda Bumba and Winnie Byanyima. In addition to this, the fact that Dr. Specioza Wandira Kazibwe had served as Vice-President worked like magic! Women are by nature very cautious, and therefore do not feel inclined to participate in the highly risky area of politics, however there is more gain where stakes are high.

Women should venture into politics at all levels. It is time to modify the composition in the realm of politics and power. The following tips are practical tips which have worked for me. This winning formula in politics is simply based on three words— message, organisation and money—MOM!