Nalongo Annette Nana Namata Mwafrika Mbarikiwa became an overnight celebrity on social media when she stormed a meeting organized by Acode a couple of weeks ago, snatched a microphone and dramatically told off the delegates.
Quick Talk caught up with her at her lawyer’s office in Wandegeya where they were organizing to record a statement at police; she has reportedly been receiving threatening SMSes, calls and WhatsApp messages after the incident.
The interview starts in Wandegeya and continues to Kampala Central police station (CPS).
Nalongo is wearing a dress this time, and keeps her sunglasses on throughout the interview. She wears her hair in dreadlocks and far from the agitated woman in green shorts who went viral on social media, Nalongo now looks composed – even worried. Quick Talk is struck by her beauty…
Hi! This is Quick Talk from The Observer!
Hi! We talked on phone; sorry I could not recognize you, my phone has been buzzing all day and night. I receive a lot of calls and SMSes, I’m not sure who I’m talking to; anyway we can do the interview.
Okay Madam Celeb! Have you watched the video clip?
Yeah! Oh my! That was crazy! I feared myself. I think I was very annoyed. [Laughs out loud.]
Some people say it was stage-managed.
[Looks pissed and throws her hands in the air to stress the point!] No! Uganda has reached a point where [people] cannot talk about what is hurting them!
We are hustlers and I can say I completely got pissed off and on that day I expressed myself.
Tell me about what was going though your head…
It was a normal day. I arrived at work – at work I have a small TV; so, I tuned in to watch NBS TV’s recorded version of Frontline [a popular political talk show] but it was not there.
On the screen was a man I did not know at that time, but was later told is [Mukono RDC] Fred Bamwine. He was talking about how it was the citizens’ obligation to pay taxes and take care of their leaders.
On the screen, the topic was something to do with widening the tax base. I found that man very unrealistic and he was talking with impunity.
And you snapped?
[She talks with such pain and anger, Quick Talk notices she is silently crying behind the sunglasses.] We have children and I pay school fees for them. It’s not a shame to say that I’m a single mother, because their father doesn’t support them.
I have been at URA conferences; so, at least I know something about taxes, so I was talking about what I know.
[Throws her hands up in disgust] Taxes everywhere! On top of the many taxes, recently KCCA was asking for taxes for even our signposts. [As we are settling that, then OTT; everywhere taxes, taxes! But we don’t see their relevance.
Eh, Nalongo, but that ka-short…
[Laughs, but Quick Talk can still see the brimming tears] In fact I was wearing flip-flops. Why put on suits? We don’t go to parliament, we are hustlers … suits don’t matter; it’s the head.
Even my children asked me where I was going with those flip-flops and shorts but I told them I was going to town and they wondered… Any injustice to [anybody], I take it personal.
You are friends with Stella Nyanzi…[The renowned university researcher is infamous for her expletive-laden language and unconventional means of protest.]
[Stella] is my good friend, an inspiration, single mother and a nalongo like me! There are times when I’m stressed - nga ebintu binsobedde - I call for a chat. There was a time she was in Masaka and I called her, she almost came [to Kampala]. She is always available for me.
There was a time I was following up with the father of my children, Stella Nyanzi helped me a lot.
These nalongo things she says…
No! She is a woman who speaks her mind, so do I. I take injustice personal.
Can I say the Stella Nyanzi friendship inspires this militant side of you?
I’m an aggressive type from childhood; you can see my friends…I like Stella. I’m not very diplomatic! That’s why when I see injustice, I go for it fast and I take on that person. [Yeah, by the time the person trying to calm you down is Miria Matembe – the militant one before the militant ones of this generation arrived!]
By the way, has government got in touch since?
No! But what I’m seeing is scary and I fear for my life. People have been trailing me, calling me and telling me to shut up for the sake of my children. Sometimes they come to my place.
Sometimes I have to change my routine or cancel my appointments because of these people who are following me. Even the children, I had to take them somewhere else. I think the SMS and calls are a caution from government.
Is this the first time you are clashing with government?
No. There was a time Makerere University was closed, I put a placard on my vehicle. I remember police dragged me on the ground in the process of arresting me.
Hmmm… so, what is your day job?
I’m a businesswoman.
I deal in books, clothes, shoes – Crocs… I do various things, I also have a restaurant … everything! [No wonder tax talk irks you, Nalongo.]
Are you this tough on the children too? [She is a mother of five, including a set of twins. Her eldest son is in medical school.]
[Laughs and appears more relaxed] They are used to me... They have seen me in action especially when they are being bullied at school. I storm the school and fight for their rights.
If I were to date you…man, you look tough! But what is your ideal man?
[Gives Quick Talk that you-are-such-a-ka-boy look] I want a man with brains and humanity. I told you I’m a single mother; no man would go for me. I don’t like lousy men.
You feminists, it is believed, encourage single motherhood.
Feminist? I’m an independent activist. I’m not employed by anyone or any organization. Whenever I see injustice, I go for it. Anything else I will not comment.
Given a chance, would you do it all again?
[Smiling] Yes! I would do it again.
[No matter how much Quick Talk prods, she is cagey about her background and age, but she was born in Kampala, Nsambya hospital. She says her mother is from western Uganda and going by one of her names, her father is a Muganda. She refuses to say the schools she attended.]