18 December 2012

Uganda: Adieu, Dear Cerinah Nebanda

On May 19, 2011 - nineteen months ago - those of us, who had won parliamentary elections, were sworn-in at Parliament.

Politicians, by their nature, compete for visibility, and on this occasion they didn't waste their time in trying to outdo one another; after all, there was nothing to lose. We dressed up, and those who accompanied us, in all sorts of attires, ostensibly to grab attention.

Deputy Attorney General Fred Ruhindi, who represents Nakawa, was accompanied by male youths who preferred yellow body paintings to shirts. The word 'Ruhindi' and 'NRM' were inscribed on their backs. One such attraction was the 23-year-old Cerinah Nebanda, who was accompanied by men dressed in very hard animal skins.

She stood out from the crowd. I didn't know who the skins men had accompanied until last Friday, ironically and unfortunately, the very day Nebanda passed on. On this Friday, I returned home very stressed and decided to relax by viewing family videos, including my swearing-in ceremony.

My wife's attention and mine was caught by the skins men in the video; and now that I knew most of the MPs, I was able to notice that the person they had accompanied was Nebanda. Moments later, my good friend Ivan Were called my wife - as my phone was switched off-to inform us of Nebanda's demise. I switched on my phone and in the space of 10 minutes two MPs, Betty Nambooze Bakireke (Mukono Municipality) and Latif Ssebaggala (Kawempe North) had called, about Nebanda's death.

That is how huge Nebanda's influence in and outside Parliament had grown within just 19 months. We recently lost another MP, but nobody called me either to confirm the bad news or to express condolences. But for this 24-year-old, both the public and colleagues in Parliament called, largely to express their shock.

Nebanda may not have hugely influenced legislations because of lack of experience, like many of us, but her outspokenness has been an inspiration, especially to NRM MPs. Because of the coercive nature of the ruling NRM, few MPs are able to express their inner feelings for fear of retribution. Many NRM MPs are extremely knowledgeable and quite outspoken in the corridors and the Parliament canteen.

They have been made to believe that their party leader is a prophet and his words are divine revelation. Even when you disagree with him, it must be in secrecy for fear of excommunication. The coming onto the scene, therefore, of new political creatures like Nebanda who are able to openly point out the faults of the revolutionary leader without doubt lit up the 9th Parliament.

There is nothing wrong that Nebanda saw in her political party - NRM - and she didn't speak against it. She, therefore, has been a strong pillar in the fight against corruption. You cannot speak about any success of the 9th Parliament without speaking about Nebanda. She gradually taught many NRM MPs that the revolutionary leader is a human being capable of making mistakes and it was their constitutional duty to correct him.

Slowly, many NRM MPs picked courage and stood up against corruption. From Nebanda, many MPs and other leaders should get to know that you don't have to live forever to have an impact on society. In 19 months, she has registered her mark on the Parliament of Uganda and the public in general. Nebanda represented Butaleja district, carved out of Tororo, but has been attractive to media audiences almost all over the country.

I have featured with her on CBS and Akaboozi radio stations. These are purely Luganda speaking radios but they found Nebanda a value addition. She, therefore, has been a national leader. Many MPs are constituency chiefs preoccupied by winning the next elections. If fighting the looters is what might compromise their return to Parliament, they fold their hands and look the other way.

Therefore, those of us involved in the fight against looters have lost a battle-hardened fighter not so easy to replace. Her replacement will certainly be the reason we will remember her most. She has indeed raised the bar for the next Butaleja Woman MP. Nebanda, I will certainly miss you as a friend, colleague, and sister.

My promise to you is that we will never relent on our struggle for a better country. I know Uganda will be better and you have missed living in a prosperous country whose foundation you have contributed in building.

Those of us who profess Islam, at such a time, can only say: "To God we belong and to Him is our return."

The author is Kyadondo East MP.

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