New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Lubega's Love for the Girl Child

Florence Lubega is a veteran politician and first black female Member of Parliament in Uganda. Gladys Kalibbala brings you the life of this legislator and women activist

Florerence Lubega was the first black woman Member of Parliament in Uganda. She was one of the 21 elected Buganda members to join the Legislative Council (LEGCO), which had another woman, Sugra Visram, an Indian, who passed on last week.

Last month, Lubega was among the 52 former speakers and prominent legislators who received Parliamentary Awards for their contribution to democracy, good governance and the rule of law.

President Yoweri Museveni presided over the ceremony. As she delivered her maiden speech to the Legislative Council on March 11, 1959, Lubega indicated that she was ready to promote the girl child education, which she said was lagging behind.

She told members that there was nothing more important to the health and progress of a society than giving women the best education. She decried the admission of girls into boys' schools, terming it as no education at all.

Lubega also expressed concern over the low enrollment of girls in the few mixed schools available at the time. She noted that some schools had only one female teacher to teach subjects that were fundamental to the girl child.

These were domestic-science, art, music, handcrafts, literature and religion. " We cannot afford to leave these subjects out of an African girl's education at the time of social change," Lubega said.

She said education availed to girls at that time was tailored towards making them more attractive as wives, since marriage was regarded as the only career open to them.

During Uganda's independence celebrations in 1962, Lubega read a document about the country's expectations at Kololo. This year, she was very glad to be around 50 years later to celebrate the golden jubilee.

"I just thank God for keeping me alive to witness the 50 years of our independence," Lubega said during the parliamentary jubilee dinner.

She was born on November 5, 1917 to the former Kattikiro of Buganda, Samuel Wamala and Elina Nantongo. Those who remember her from the past say she carried herself with a regal air and it was no surprise that she ended up being a pioneer and a leader.

Lubega has surviving siblings like Israel Magembe, 90, who was a notable musician of his time after training in Mombasa. Others are Stephen Sembasa who lives abroad and their last born, Paul Musoke Wamala, 67, who was once the director of Tourism and retired a few years ago.

She remembers that her father looked after the late Sir. Edward Mutesa II as a young boy after the death of his father Ssekabaka Chwa.

Education

Lubega studied at Gayaza High School, Buloba Teacher's Training College and taught in various schools between 1942 and 1944. She was among the first female students to join Makerere College in 1945. Others were Mary Senkatuka Astles, Margaret Mulyanti Mukasa, Catherine Senkatuka, Margaret Kamuhigi and Yemima Ntugwerisho Musoke.

From 1950 to 1951, she studied at St. Hugh's College, Oxford London University. She taught pioneer women's activist and politician, Joyce Mpanga at Gayaza and many other prominent women in the country. Lubega later joined politics in 1959.

She got married to Saulo Lubega, a former teacher at Mityana SS, who later became an MP and a Buganda treasurer, replacing Omutaka Nelson Sebuggwawo. Her husband was the last treasurer for Buganda before the kingdom was abolished in 1966 and he died around 1969.

Leadership

Florence Lubega served as a deputy minister of community development and later deputy minister of labour, planning and Community Development in the Obote 1 regime.

When Idi Amin overthrew Obote in 1971, she fled to exile in the UK, where she met and interacted with friends like Joan Cox, the former headmistress of Gayaza High School.

When peace and stability returned to Uganda, she returned home. While abroad, Lubega was known to engage in charity activities, which helped needy people and on a number of occasions she would bring into the country material needs, which she would distribute to the poor.

She was also a devout Christian who was not afraid to preach about her faith even in the UK. She is excited at the prospect of celebrating her 95th birthday come November this year.

You would be surprised by her strength and stamina for that age. Lubega still walks upright while her eye sight is still good and she reads without glasses.

"A few years back, I had developed eye problems, but after an operation at Mengo Hospital I can read properly," she explains. She is also somewhat of a trend setter, spotting red highlights in her hair that made her stand out during the Parliament celebration.

Brother speaks out

Paul Wamala, Florence's brother, thanks God that his sister is still mentally alert and has a good memory. Her current life centres around praying, reading the Bible and sleeping. Just like all old people, she likes her close relatives to visit her, since most of the people at the home where she stays in Mengo go to work daily.

Among such relatives who are always in her company is her niece Florence Damali Settimba, wife to Musa Settimba who was the first black dentist in Uganda. She is a daughter to Lubega's brother Israel Magembe. Lubega lives with her brother's son and he normally drives her to church every Sunday.

She, however, does not open up easily, especially to people she does not know. Wamala says Lubega has lived a private life ever since she came back from Britain and few people knew she was in the country until recently when she was invited to Munyonyo.

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