16 December 2012

Uganda: Goodbye MP Cerinah Nebanda

Preliminary report indicates inflamed pacrease. ( Resource: Uganda Legislator Passes Away )

To those who keenly followed Cerinah Nebanda's political career, her performance was particularly noteworthy, as she delighted in speaking bluntly about the plight of the downtrodden people and against the surging levels of corruption in the country.

No young woman MP could inspire and court unrelenting support for causes she believed more effectively than Nebanda.

At 24, she was young, fearless, and resolute in pursuing the causes she believed in. She also had the money.

Yet these superlatives hardly mean much anymore because Nebanda is no longer with us. The Butaleja Woman MP died mysteriously on Friday evening, leaving a nation in shock. By the time we went to press, the cause of her death was a subject of intense public speculation.

Some people close to her pointed to poisoning as the cause of her death.

Nebanda exhibited a kind of political maturity usually seen in veteran politicians and, in barely two years, made an impact not many politicians live to make in their entire careers.

Although she flirted with politics from a very tender age, it was at Makerere University that she cut her political teeth - as an active member of the Uganda Young Democrats (UYD).

Elected to Parliament in 2011 on an NRM ticket, she quickly became visible thanks largely to her piercing squeaky voice that emphatically drove her point home. On Thursday last week, when President Museveni addressed Parliament after the passage of the controversial Petroleum bill, Nebanda constantly heckled him, challenging some of his assertions.

In turn, Museveni would gesture at her, referring to her as "my daughter."

Emmanuel Dombo, the Bunyole East MP, seen by many as Nebanda's political mentor, said he admired her resolve and character.

"She has been a very active, promising and courageous member. I saw her as one of the young leaders who we could cede powers to," Dombo said.

Nebanda was passionate in pushing for what she believed in. In one of her memorable contributions on the House floor, she castigated government for not doing enough to help the poor in Butaleja and other areas.

"I have come to realize that we have no future. If we have a future, we must have a plan and a way forward... In fact, it's now that I have come to know how this government works. I used to just hear about it but now I am seeing it with my own eyes," she said.

"After ripping off my people of Butaleja by buying all their cotton at Shs 200 per kilo, they put the price high at Shs 2,000 when they knew that the people no longer had the cotton. When the people rushed to buy more seeds and grow more cotton, the prices dropped back to Shs 200 during the harvest so that they [buyers] could benefit while our people did not."

Her colleagues described her as loving - someone who spoke glowingly about two things: her mother and the people she represented in Butaleja. Her greatest love was her mother, who raised her and shaped her into the woman she became. A businesswoman who runs a string of petrol stations in Entebbe and Butaleja, Nebanda's mother funded her campaigns.

"She was a very strong person who believed and advanced issues to do with the welfare of the downtrodden people," a visibly saddened Kinkiizi East MP Chris Baryomunsi said.

Indeed, Nebanda was among the vocal members who supported a pay raise for health workers and more budget support for the health sector. A staunch member of the anti-corruption task force of the 9th Parliament, Nebanda never mixed politics with the fight against corruption.

For instance, early this year, when Parliament was considering PAC's report into the inflated compensation of businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba, Nebanda demanded that government recover the lost money. The scandal claimed the political scalps of ministers Syda Bbumba and Khiddu Makubuya.

"I am not yet satisfied and I cannot thank the former ministers. I can only thank Hon Makubuya for telling us that there is a time for everything. There is a time for stealing and a time for eating. Now it is time for accountability...The people of Butaleja and the people of Uganda will be so satisfied when they see that their money is refunded and recovered," she said.

For taking positions that were contrary to those of the ruling party, Nebanda earned herself the moniker of being a rebel NRM MP. Little wonder she kept the company of similar minded MPs like Theodore Ssekikubo, Wilfred Niwagaba, Muhammad Nsereko, and Vincent Kyamadidi.

Last year, Nebanda and her group memorably walked out on President Museveni during a party retreat at Kyankwanzi, accusing him of protecting ministers implicated in corruption. Wilfred Niwagaba, the Ndorwa East MP, said he admired Nebanda's courage.

"She used to stand up for something and she was reliable. She believed in issues of good governance and she was an enviable member because of her jolly face which had a smile throughout," Niwagaba said.

Ssekikubo said Nebanda never gave up. "Even when we lost on something she continued being part of the struggle," the Lwemiyaga county MP said.

Nebanda becomes the second member of the 9th Parliament to die, after Michael Oromait (NRM, Usuk) in September.

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