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Justine Kasule Lumumba: the yellow girl from Bugiri

Two ardent defenders of President Museveni and the ruling NRM party have cast doubt on her leadership in Parliament — questioning her resolve to whip NRM lawmakers into line. They also abrasively interrogate her efficacy as a Government Chief Whip.

Presidential Press Secretary Tamale Mirundi has on various radio stations described Justine Kasule Lumumba as a sloppy chief whip, who has registered a dismal performance in managing an erratic NRM majority in the House. On the other hand, Ofwono Opondo, the NRM deputy Spokesperson, has blamed the chaotic scenes in Parliament - that often portray the ruling party badly - to the NRM leadership in the House.

Yet Lumumba remains unfazed by the rhetoric of the two gentlemen. Asked how she is going to up her whipping game in Parliament, the Bugiri woman MP and former Parliamentary commissioner said she can’t delve into that subject because she will be “opening up” her “tricks” of dealing with the NRM troops in Parliament. Justine, mostly mistaken by those who don’t know her to be a man because of her name - Kasule Lumumba - once said that she tells the truth and “life goes on.”

“I don’t tell lies, I don’t promise what I will not do.  I endeavour to fulfill what I have promised,” she said.

Lumumba is her father’s name, but it is also supposed to echo the character of the renowned pan-Africanist from DR Congo, Patrice Lumumba, who was brutally murdered for truth-telling, among other attributes. Lumumba also contributed to the frosty debate of “who owns Migingo”, a football- pitch-size island in her constituency that has caused a diplomatic row between Uganda and Kenya. During a recent Kenya presidential campaign debate, almost all the contestants reiterated that Migingo is in Kenya.
“I am the MP for Migingo. As an MP, I tell them that it is in Uganda,” she said.

However, she was quick to point out that “the technical people” have the final say about the war-threatening boundary matter. Lumumba also points to the abundant fish at Migingo as the reason for the bickering. This woman of the truth, who joined politics in 2001, also lets off a salvo on corruption - a beast that has left her ruling NRM government hanging by its fingernails.

“We are engulfed by this big monster called corruption. We have corruption everywhere,” she said.

Lumumba argues that to curb this vice, Ugandans must realise that the fight against it is not for government alone but, rather, a responsibility for all Ugandans. She also suggests that whistleblowers should be paid handsomely and be highly guarded as a way of encouraging them to report cases of corruption. Yet as a former inspector of schools, Lumumba, 40, suggests that corruption is so embedded in society that she was once appointed to supervise schools in Bugiri district in 1997, just after finishing school.

“In July 1997, new districts started, and they [government officials who knew her] gave me a job as an education officer. It was odd because you cannot leave school and inspect schools!” she said.

Fresh from Makerere University, with an undergraduate degree in Education, Lumumba used to supervise people four times her senior. “It was hard. But, they used to advise me,” she said. But her young and energetic spark sowed a political seed she never anticipated. Lumumba said she had feared politics all her life because in the 1980s, when DP lost the elections, her father, a staunch DP supporter and chairperson of the party in the region, suffered a lot.

“When UPC won, we suffered. They robbed us; all our property was taken by the UPC chairperson of our region, and that made me fear politics,” she said.

But her stint as an education officer opened the gates for the then naïve would-be politician. Lumumba says she used to ride a motorcycle during her supervisory duties in Bugiri district - something that endeared her to many people. They were shocked that an education officer would ride a motorcycle, a feat earlier viewed as a male preserve.

After four years of riding a motorcycle, Lumumba joined politics in 2001 - sealing the journey of a humble Catholic girl whose first trip to Kampala was when she came to pick her admission letter from Makerere University in 1993.

“I have come from far,” she said.

Lumumba says the trek to the top is not an easy one. She grew up in Bugiri, in a polygamous family of 18 siblings and her father’s four wives.

“It was a polygamous home, and we were all living in one house with so many rooms - twelve in all - and two sitting rooms,” she said.

Lumumba, however, says this polygamous establishment helped her learn how to compete and also made them all bond as a unit.

“We had to compete for everything,” she said, emphasising that among the delicacies that drew fierce fights was meat.

Looking back at how they hustled in the family of 18 children and four adult women, Lumumba now says:  “I would prefer the style of separating the homes” if someone is to have more than one wife.

Growing up in a Catholic-grounded family, Lumumba’s perceived destiny was one of being a nun and dedicating her life to God and the Church. But after completing her O-level exams at St Anthony S.S., Nkokonjeru, she was advised by her sister Babirye, herself a nun, to continue with her studies.

“That is how I ended up at St Joseph’s Secondary School Naggalama,” she said.

During her days at Naggalama, Lumumba recalls John Chrysostom Muyingo, the Bamunnanika MP and state minister for Education, a man she says shaped their future as the head teacher of the great school.

“Dr Muyingo was our head teacher at Naggalama and he taught us how to dance with boys and how to use cutlery. This was very important because I attend so many high-profile meetings these days, and I find so many people who don’t know how to use cutlery, then I ask myself: what school did this person go to?” she said.

A jovial and calm legislator, Lumumba said that at campus, she never missed the Wednesday ladies night at Angenoir, which was a nascent nightclub in the 90s.

“I used to dance lingala [music from DR-Congo], and people would give me space,” said the stout and bulky MP.

And like any varsity student, the experience of freedom at Makerere came with a boyfriend, a chapter that came with costs.

“When I was in first year, he was in third year. I remember when I went to visit a friend at Kikoni, I went to draw water, and he saw me and followed me. He was consistent, and in my third year, I considered his proposal,” she said.

In her third year, Lumumba also got pregnant. “By 1997 I was pregnant. He introduced me and we got married. We have two sons now, and I am praying for a daughter,” said the 40-year-old politician. Lumumba says among the many reasons she got married to her husband was the fact that he was a committed Catholic. Today, however, her husband is a born-again Christian who prays at Watoto church, and they often split the children during Sunday services.

“For me, I remained Catholic. I married him because he was a staunch Catholic, but he has changed,” Lumumba talks about her husband, who she says loves and often dances to Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe, with his sons.

dtlumu@observer.ug

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