Richard Todwong is the newly-appointed Minister of State without Portfolio. He is also the Member of Parliament for Nwoya County in Nwoya district. Todwong met his wife, Barbara Ayesiimire, at Makerere University. When Samuel Lutwama visited their home in Ndejje, off Entebbe Road, they told told him how tribal differences nearly killed their love
"I studied the women I came across as a young man at the university and found Barbara Ayesiimire worthy, with virtues of good a wife. She was born in Bushenyi to a Rwandan mother and I was born and grew up in Acholi, northern Uganda. So, winning her hand in marriage was a sparkle in my life."
Richard and Barbara have been married since 2003 and are blessed with three children; Alvin, 12, Austin, 6 and Alma, 4.
"By the time we met, he already had a passion for politics. At that time, he was contesting for the guild elections at Makerere University," Barbara explains.
Barbara's unconditional love and support for her husband and family has been tested and proved over years. She has also scaled up the academic ladder, with a master's degree. However, she put on hold lucrative job offers to stay home to look after their children until they are of age.
"Richard spent most of his time in politics, so our children were often unattended to. As a result, I thought I should give priority to my children, so I quit my job."
Richard was born in 1973 in Purongo village in Nwoya district. His father, Savio Ojok, is a retired prison warder and his mother is Delphino Achibo.
Ojok has more than six wives. According to Richard, his father was a disciplinarian, who raised them with an iron hand. While growing up, he would sit around the fireplace with his siblings every evening to listen to stories from older people.
Barbara was born in 1976 to E. Bwarare and a Rwandan mother, who died when she was young.
She grew up in a polygamous home, where love and harmony were part of the family virtues.
"Although we were born by different mothers, our father ensured that we were closely-knit," she says.
Growing up, the seeds of family virtues were firmly planted in her. Although she has scaled academically and her husband is now a minister, she has not discarded the lessons she learned.
"Being a wife of a minister does not require me to develop wings. The only challenge now is how to use my position to reach out to the downtrodden in society, instead of being carried away by a mere position," she says.
The story of their love started in 1998, when the two were students at Makerere University. Richard had never entertained the idea of dating a non-Acholi woman.
"My intention was to get someone from my home area through the Acholi Association, but it did not work," he recalls. Most Acholi girls at the university did not want to associate with him because of his outstanding connections with the NRM government, yet Acholi perceived the Movement to be having a vendetta against them.
At that time, the Lord's Resistance Army rebels were at their peak of fighting in the north, so associating with the Government was perceived as treacherous among the Acholi kinsmen.
"Barbara was my coursemate and we were in the same discussion group. Our friendship began at a freshers' dinner, organised by Michell and Complex halls of residence. She was in Mary Stuart and I was in Lumumba Hall. Since we had both fluked the dinner, we were the odd people out. Somehow, I found myself getting closer to her. My main interest that night was to establish her true identity and her room number," he recalls.
"I politely asked her if I could offer her a drink and she turned it down. Gaining courage for the next move was difficult, but I kept dancing, until I asked for her name and room number," he reminisces.
Barbara resided with the chairlady of Mary Stuart, who was a bully:
Richard narrates: "When I knocked at her door, the chairlady opened it. "Can I help you?" she asked. The room was jammed with girls. Barbara sensed my discomfort and quickly moved towards me at the door. Her gesture was a green light for me.
Richard took the opportunity to express his feelings, hoping it would culminate into marriage. From that time onwards, they met often and before long, love sprouted.
Armed with love and resolve, Richard was ready to withstand the storm that came from his kinsmen, who did not approve the choice of his prospective bride on grounds that she did not understand their culture. He was fortunate, however, that his parents did not object.
Barbara says their tribal differences were never a subject of contention in her family. After informing her father about Richard, his concern was about the seriousness of her boyfriend.
"Does he love you and is he willing to marry you?" were the words of Barbara's father. However, his fears were allayed when he finally met Richard. The couple walked down the aisle in 2003.
Marrying your best friend:
Barbara says her marriage has thrived because she married her best friend. "As you know, we are not insulated from the challenges of marriage. But when they arise, we usually seek reconciliation. The one who wronged the other apologises and we move on," she narrates.
Richard attributes his political success to his wife, whom he says has 'mentored and shaped him'.
As a Born-again Christian, Barbara believes in discipline as a tool for empowering her children. "While growing up, my father instilled discipline in us. I wanted to do the same thing with my children," she says.
"Parenting in the modern era is tough, as careers compete with the time we devote to our children," Barbara adds.
She urges parents to create more time for their children. As a mother, her biggest desire is to raise all her children up to the degree level.
Harmonising their differences:
Richard and Barbara come from two different religious backgrounds. She is Anglican, while Richard is Catholic.
The differences in faiths presented some challenges in their relationship, but Barbara says they did not allow that to draw them apart.
"We were both requested to bring letters from our churches, giving us permission to marry from another faith," narrates Richard.
Describing Barbara's character, Richard says she is laid-back and 'politically alert'.
"Before I launched my campaign in 2011, she engaged me in a lot of debate, which sharpened my intelligence. In most cases, she would debate like my opponent and I wondered why. But later, she told me she was testing my reasoning capacity and whether it was convincing enough to win votes.
"I remember when we crossed the line while arguing and I jokingly threatened to kick her out of my house."
Richard says for strange reasons, his wife has always opposed him during arguments.
"I strongly believe she is part of my political journey."
He believes balancing politics and family can be challenging, if one is not organised. "As a Member of Parliament, I have to be in touch with my constituents and as a father, also be there for my family," he states.
His children used to wonder why he always came back home late and rarely took them to school, until his wife gave up her well-paying job to stay home and raise her children. "My wife, who has a masters degree in Public Administration and Management, stepped in for me. Otherwise I was losing the balance," he said.
"Even if we rewind the clock back to our university days, I would still choose Barbara.
"It was not easy for a campus girl to date a man who was as poor as a church mouse. When I first met Barbara, I had nothing.
When one visited me in my room at the university, all I offered was water. But when I was elected a student leader, I started earning some money, which I used to buy some items for my room," he says.