Uganda is a country of young people. Half the population is under 15 years of age, 70 percent under 24, and 95 percent under 55.
You couldn’t guess how young the country’s population is by looking at the country’s current leadership, most of whom are well into or past middle age. It wasn’t always like that. President Museveni started the war that brought him to power when he was 37, and entered State House at 41. Milton Obote became prime minister at 37.
Their respective administrations were dominated by relatively young people. Outside politics, the likes of Elizabeth Bagaya, (former model, actress and diplomat), Philly Lutaaya (musician and HIV/Aids activist) and Okot p’Bitek (poet and academic) were in their 20s or early 30s when they emerged on the national stage.
While top leadership positions may be starved of young people currently, a lot of young Ugandans are making a mark elsewhere, ranging from arts and entertainment to public advocacy.
In November, we asked our readers, through social media, to nominate young Ugandans they consider influential and trendsetters in different spheres. Over two months, we received more than 2,000 nominations through Facebook and Twitter.
The Observer Team whittled the number down to 30, using rather liberal definitions of ‘youth and influential’ (someone who commands a large following, has significant impact on public policy or social attitudes, or sets trends). JOSEPH KIMBOWA brings you, in no particular order, the 30 names that featured prominently in our readers’ contributions:
BUSINGYE KABUMBA (35)
Dr Busingye teaches Human Rights and International Law at Makerere and other universities. Educated at the University of Pretoria, Harvard, Oxford and Makerere, Busingye is also a partner at Development Law Associates.
His poetry collection, Whispers of My Soul won first prize in the published works category at the National Book Trust of Uganda (NABOTU) awards of 2002.
He was 19 years then, the youngest Ugandan poet ever to publish a whole collection of poetry.
He has since become a sought-after commentator for the media, television, newspapers, etc. With the ever-heating political environment, Kabumba’s voice and face will definitely dominate airwaves this year.
ANDREW KARAMAGI (28)
In 2014, Andrew Karamagi did the impossible when he walked up to the then Attorney General (AG) Peter Nyombi, who was delivering a speech, and grabbed the piece of paper he was reading from.
This action won Karamagi admirers and critics in equal measure, but the perennial critic of oppressive leadership had made his mark.
He is one of the pioneers of the defunct Black Monday campaign, a consortium of various civil society organisations that used to wear black every Monday to protest corruption and bad governance in Uganda. You can never predict what Karamagi has in the bag for 2018.
EVELYN ANITE (33)
Anite was just another insignificant MP until she knelt at Kyankwanzi in 2014 and begged President Museveni to stand as NRM’s sole candidate in the 2016 presidential elections.
That request was adopted by NRM and Anite has since held two ministerial positions. She was also vocal in the recent passing of the age limit bill.
While her 2014 stunt was unpopular among many, this move will be remembered to have all but ended the political career of the then prime minister, Amama Mbabazi, who was more than convinced that he would succeed President Museveni as the NRM candidate for president.
Loathed in the opposition circles, Anite will be one of Museveni’s biting dogs going forward.
PRINCESS JOAN NASSOLO (20s)
She is calm and beautiful. One of the daughters of Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II, Princess Nassolo’s influence in Buganda is growing by the day.
Whenever the Kabaka needs representation, he confidently sends her to deliver his message. She is also involved in the running of some kingdom entities. We may see more of Princess Nassolo’s face and contribution this year.
LIZ KAKOOZA (26)
After struggling with depression and going through a rehabilitation process, Kakooza decided to form Tumaini Foundation to raise awareness about mental health in Uganda, which is on the rise.
“I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and having experienced stigma first hand and with the lack of access to adequate mental health care in Uganda, I made it my life’s purpose to raise awareness around it which in turn will address the issue of stigma,” Kakooza once said.
Her organization’s approach is threefold: aimed at raising awareness and address the stigma around mental health, improving access to health care for people living with mental health issues and influencing and implementing policy and legislation around mental health.
In the process, she has become a ray of hope for a significant group of Ugandans – mental health patients – who are sometimes abandoned by their own relatives. Hers is a commitment that is unlikely to end anytime soon.
MIRAJ BAROT (28)
He is one of Uganda’s youngest billionaires. His worth was estimated at $15 million in 2012.
He currently manages Tirupati Development, Tulip Consultancy and Virat Alloys, the latest addition following the acquisition of the assets of Sembule Steel Mills.
Miraj moved to Uganda from India when he was five years old and attended Ugandan schools and is very proud of his ‘Ugandanness’. New year, more projects, more investment.
ANNE KANSIIME (30)
She is one of the most outstanding comedians on the continent. Her remarkable sense of improvising coupled with her small frame has catapulted her to the continental scene, winning various awards as well as snatching a deal to advertise DStv products.
For the young girls in her home town in Kabale, they know that in this world, you can be anything, including being paid to make people laugh.
The 30-year-old has 1.8 million Facebook followers, one of the highest in the country. Rest assured that Kansiime will continue to be many people’s stress reliever this new year.
PHIONAH MUTESI (22)
The 22-year-old competed in the 2010 World Chess Olympiad in Siberia as Uganda’s No 2, the only girl in a team of university students and working women. She was 15 then. On her return, she triumphed in the national tournament.
And her story would later be depicted in a book and movie The Queen of Katwe where she featured as a ghetto girl who beat all odds to become a national chess champion.
Phiona was recognized as the most influential athlete in Uganda during the “Queen’s Baton Relay” in the 2014 Commonwealth Games; there is only one athlete from each country selected for this title.
SOLOMON ‘KING’ BENGE (34)
Benge is the founder and lead trainer of Fundi Bots, a Ugandan non-profit that uses robotics training within and outside high schools to promote better and more practical ‘STEM education’.
STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In this system, learners are placed in groups of four to six and taught the basics of building robots.
They are then asked to use the same principles of problem identification, brainstorming, collaboration, construction, programming, final deployment and system feedback to solve real-life problems.
In this ever-evolving technological world, 2018 provides an opportuinity for Benge’s next innovation.
RONALD KIBUULE (34)
Kibuule is a member of a young team of ministers in President Museveni’s cabinet. The 34-year-old is known for his arrogant demeanor to the extent that he was recently suspended from parliament for allegedly entering the chambers with a gun.
Many see Kibuule as one of Museveni’s blue-eyed boys since former premier Amama Mbabazi’s departure.
The Mukono North MP and state minister for Water Resources is not alien to controversy. As Children and Youth Affairs minister, he was once quoted as saying that women dressed indecently attracted men to rape them. Be assured of a new Kibuule episode in 2018.
NANCY KACUNGIRIRA (32)
She is 32. She holds a master’s degree in International Communications from Leeds University. Despite graduating with a first class bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Fine Art from Makerere, Kacungira always loved reading news.
So, when she ‘accidentally’ landed a news reporting gig and later anchoring job at NTV in 2012, she never looked back.
The former Power FM presenter has since gone to where many broadcast journalists dream of, BBC, having won the first BBC World News Komla Dumor Award in 2015.
ABAAS MPINDI (30)
Mpindi is the founder of the Media Challenge Initiative (MCI), a youth-driven non-profit, building the next generation of journalists in Africa through training, mentorship and experiential peer-to-peer learning.
MCI runs the Media Challenge Academy which provides opportunity to media students to have hands-on experience with radio and television production and online communication.
They also conduct annual media challenge awards to celebrate individuals and organizations doing exceptional work in the media industry in Uganda. 2018 is another year for Mpindi to inspire and train more into journalism.
BRIAN AHUMUZA (27)
There’s no way you can mention fashion in Uganda and leave out Brian Ahumuza of Abryanz Collection. What started as a retail shop selling clothes in downtown Kampala is now a huge phenomenon.
The Social Work and Social Administration graduate’s styling genius has been tapped by many brands and big-name celebrities for press appearances and in advertising.
His brand grew to include an annual event, the Abryanz Fashion & Style Awards, a platform that awards and recognizes movers in the fashion industry. He is someone many aspiring stylists want to be or dislodge this year.
ANNA ADEKE EBAJU (26)
The former Makerere University guild president Anna Adeke Ebaju and current National Female Youth MP has a big dislike for bad governance.
When the ‘age limit bill’ was tabled in parliament recently, the 26-year-old wrote this on September 14, 2017 for her 6,929 Facebook followers: “We call upon all Ugandans to call their respective MPs and demand an assurance that the constitution will not be raped this time round. Demand to know their position on the #AgeLimit bill.”
The constitution was ‘raped’ and Adeke and colleagues will need a new strategy of countering NRM in 2018.
NORMAN TUMUHIMBISE (31)
An activist and coordinator of the Jobless Brotherhood, Tumuhimbise’s peak came when he challenged President Museveni on the contents of his Sowing the Mustard Seed through another book titled Unsowing the Mustard Seed.
He has been arrested several times like when he was alleged to have led a group of youths to throw ‘yellow pigs’ near parliament protesting the conduct of especially NRM legislators.
With over 70 per cent of Ugandan youths without jobs, Tumuhimbise could be representing the biggest constituency.
SHEILA GASHUMBA (21)
The 21-year-old TV personality has made a name as an arrogant and proud go-getter who is not afraid of telling off those that try to break her confidence. Gashumba started out as a 10-year-old anchor and reporter for a children’s show on a local TV station.
She has gone on to become one of the most popular TV personalities, scooping various awards along the way. In 2012, she started a charity organisation, Young Bodies Big Hearts, where she rallied young people to give back to society and help the less privileged.
She is now a big girl and 2018 promises to come with bigger things.
STEPHEN KIPROTICH (28)
Kiprotich popped up from nowhere to win the 2012 London Olympics marathon to become Uganda’s second gold medalist after legendary John Akii-Bua who had last won at the 1972 Munich Olympics in the 400m hurdles.
Kiprotich repeated the same heroics at the 2013 IAAF Moscow World Championships to cement his place as the country’s greatest athlete. Now aged 28, Kiprotich is expected to lead Team-Uganda at this year’s Commonwealth games.
MALE MABIRIZI KIWANUKA (31)
He has been called a go-getter. An attention-seeker. A lunatic.
A nobody. But David Male Mabirizi Kiwanuka is someone whose ego can’t just be swept under the carpet. He shot to prominence when he sued the Kabaka of Buganda, accusing him of illegally collecting land fees (obusuulu) through the Buganda Land Board.
The case is on-going. He was also the first Ugandan to sue government after the passage of the Constitution Amendment Bill 2017. Call him what you want, but Mabirizi is not about to hibernate this new year.
ROBERT KYAGULANYI (35)
Prior to the Kyadondo East by-elections last year, Kyagulanyi was just a self-proclaimed Ghetto President, and almost all Ugandans knew him as Bobi Wine. It is quite amazing what six months can mean in a man’s life.
After staving off competition from FDC’s Apollo Kantinti and NRM’s Sitenda Ssabalu to become Kyadondo East MP, Kyagulanyi’s prominence has shifted from the ghetto to uptown Kampala, with some mooting the idea that he may become Uganda’s next opposition front-man.
Through his music and now political standing, many youths have found someone to look up to, with a story true to the old adage of ‘from grass to grace.’
This could be Bobi’s year to stamp his influence on Ugandan politics.
STEPHEN SEMBUYA (31)
He is the chief executive director of Pink Industries in Nakwero, Gayaza. The company produces chocolate bars, cocoa butter, drinking chocolate, cocoa beans and chocolate used in production of confectioneries.
The company employs 15 staff and 63 others working on the 640-acre cocoa farm located in Nkokonjeru, Buikwe. The son of Christopher Sembuya, popularly known as Sembule, Stephen is making real strides to turn around the mindset that chocolate is a foreign product.
ISAAC SSEMAKADDE (early 30s)
Another brilliant mind in the legal fraternity! The Center for Legal Aid boss has become a household name when it comes to judicial reviews and human rights cases.
His confident and assertive tone, complemented by a good grasp of the law, has won him lovers and haters alike.
He has represented the likes of Stella Nyanzi, journalists assaulted by police and state operatives and many human rights victims in Uganda. Ssemakadde is undoubtedly changing lives and inspiring others going into 2018.
DENNIS ONYANGO (32)
He is the first Ugandan to win the Caf Champions League. He is the first Ugandan to become the continent’s best footballer of the year (2017).
And the first Ugandan Captain to lead Uganda to the Africa Cup of Nations finals (2017) in 40 years.
Dennis Onyango is the perfect description of consistency. For over a decade, he has been Uganda’s best goalkeeper and his resilience has seen The Cranes earn a place at the table of men on the continent. He almost led the national team to a memorable World Cup birth.
Onyango is a living legend in Ugandan football, an inspiration to many young sportsmen now and in future.
DOREEN NYANJURA (27)
The LC-V Women Councillor for Makerere University at KCCA has probably been in police cells more times that the city’s hardcore criminals. Her run-ins with police have always been a result of her confrontational politics, getting inspiration from FDC’s Kizza Besigye and Ingrid Turinawe.
In 2012, she authored the book Is it the Fundamental Change, which earned her the title of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) preacher. Formerly the national coordinator for the National Association of the Unemployed, Nyanjura has proven to be a hard nut to crack, and many believe she is the ‘Iron Lady of the future’, as her 2016 campaign slogan suggested.
This is another year for Nyanjura to move upwards.
HAMIS KIGGUNDU (33)
This 33-year-old is involved in a series of businesses ranging from clothes, furniture to real estate.
While some have attributed his wealth to his closeness to State House, there is no doubt that this young man’s name will remain in the books of history as one of the people that changed the face of downtown Kampala.
After dismantling old Park Yard and replacing it with the magnificent Ham Shopping centre, he is currently rebuilding Nakivubo into a modern stadium surrounded by a standard shopping village.
ESTHER KALENZI (28)
Esther Kalenzi is the founder of Forty Days over Forty Smiles Foundation (40 40), a local NGO that helps the needy, especially children and youths.
Helping the needy is a passion she first exhibited as a student at Aga Khan High School in Kampala when she raised funds from fellow students to pay tuition for a classmate who had missed school.
Her foundation came to life during the lent season of 2012, hence the name 40 days and the ‘over 40 smiles’ because she wanted to make at least 40 children smile. It is a non-profit organisation that is dedicated to improving literacy among vulnerable children in Uganda.
The organisation has worked with over 2,000 children to date.
“We are grooming these children to know that their circumstances do not have to determine who they are or what they do with their lives,” she once said.
This new year, Kalenzi will definitely make someone smile.
ABDULKARIIM KATENDE (24)
Katende is best known in the fabrication sector as the managing director of Laser Dynamics Ltd, which deals in fabrication of maize milling machines, feed milling machines, briquette machines and juice extruder machines, among others.
His products are sold beyond borders to clients in South Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia. 2018 could elevate him to a new status as a mainstream fabricator.
JOHN MARK SSEBUNYA (34)
He is one of the few Ugandans leading the current digital evolution. He is a founding member of HiPipo, a leading social entertainment platform established in 2005/2006.
With his technical support, the platform has inspired countless digital media platforms.
He is also one of the brains behind HiPipo Music Awards – a fast-growing brand in influencing music critique. He also championed the Digital Impact Awards Africa – another brand spearheading debate on digital and financial inclusion excellence across East Africa. Ssebunya can only get better in 2018.
JOSEPHINE NABUKENYA (23)
Josephine Nabukenya was born with HIV and she has spent most of her life educating the youth on how they can avoid getting HIV, and how to deal with stigmatization in case they have it.
In 2005, Nabukenya and her mother received an invitation from the US State Department for an opportunity to share her story.
In 2016, she received the Queen’s Young Leader Award that recognises and celebrates exceptional people aged between 18 and 29 from across the Commonwealth, who are taking the lead in their communities and using their skills to transform lives. She is also ambassador of Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric Aids Foundation (EGPAF). Expect her to go all the way.
EDRISAH MUSUUZA aka EDDY KENZO (28)
Born in Masaka and without much education, Kenzo hustled through life to become a household name in Ugandan music.
His Sitya Loss song was his turning point when it elevated him to becoming the first Ugandan to win a BET award (Best New International Act Viewers’ Choice). He has since become an international act, always travelling across the globe to exhibit Ugandan talent.
He has also won various local and international awards since. Kenzo has 806,642 followers on Facebook. Will 2018 bring another award?
HUMPHREY NABIMANYA (29)
Raised in a family ravaged by HIV/Aids, Nabimanya cultivated a passion for fighting this deadly disease through use of positive messages.
At 17, he started hosting a youth talk show on NBS TV disseminating positive messages to young people, teachers, stakeholders and parents on issues of sexuality, entrepreneurship and life skills.
In 2010, Nabimanya started Reach a Hand Uganda that has since helped thousands of young people, especially the orphaned and maginalised. An award winner on several ocasions, Nibimanya’s candle can only continue to provide light for many this year.