Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On Winnie Byanyima and Dr. Besigye’s “Congolese girlfriend”.

On Winnie Byanyima and Dr. Besigye’s “Congolese girlfriend”.

I was in my final year of primary school at a Catholic/Christian founded primary school just a few kilometers outside Mbarara town, when Uganda had its first Presidential and Parliamentary Elections under the NRM regime in 1996. I remember one evening quite vividly. At around 5pm, together with my friends/school mates, as we headed home after school, we found a buzz of activity at Rwebikoona, a small/shanty town (back then) 3kms from Mbarara town on the Mbarara- Kasese highway. There was a lot of activity, boda-boda cyclists riding at break-neck speed, a long motorcade complete with a singing, cheering and chanting youth, women and men waving posters, leaflets etc. There was equally an excited crowd on the road side, singing, cheering and waving at the one figure that stood out from the long motorcade. A woman, with her torso sticking out the roof of a posh SUV, donning an African garb complete with stylish head gear, was all smiles and waving back to the singing and cheering crowd. I couldn’t get close enough to have a clear stare at this lady, but followed the motorcade all the way to their destination - Kakyeka stadium, a stone’s-throw-away from this shanty town, and venue for a joint campaign rally for the Mbarara Municipality Member of Parliament contest.

Fast forward to the rally, I managed to squeeze my small figure in front of the hundreds of people squatting or seated at the front, just a few yards to where the candidates were seated. Mr. Kigyagi, Winnie Byanyima’s rival in the contest was giving his speech, but at that age, I couldn’t make sense of or identify with his rumblings. When he was done, amidst his supporters chanting and singing, the MC called on Winnie Karagwa Byanyima to step forward and “talk to her people”. There was more, cheering and singing from the crowd as she strolled to the podium. When she held the microphone, the crowd calmed down a bit, and she said “Abanya’mbarara ninyenda kubassima munonga rukondo eyimunyerekyire kaddi konku mushazireho ngu mbajwekyere omu palaamenta…(My beloved Mbararans, I want to thank you for the love, support and for choosing me as your Member of Parliament…) The crowd went bananas. The cheering was deafening, the singing and jubilation was crazy. For over five (5) minutes, the crowd couldn’t stop cheering and singing, despite her pleas. The way she said it with composure, calmness, and a healthy dose of confidence had every one going crazy. It was a priceless moment for me, and i realized she was not your ordinary woman, she was something special.

Later, I religiously interested myself with her top notch debate on Capital FM’s Capital Gang every Saturday, when it was the crème de la crème radio talk show in Kampala. Together with some of her colleagues in the 6th Parliament, she formed Reform agenda cum FDC and went on to marry FDC President Rtd Colonel Dr Kiiza Besigye. Along the way she got her fair share of rough tidings courtesy of the NRM. In Dr. Kobusigye’s book, The Correct Line? Uganda under General Museveni, the writer claims at the height of the 2001 presidential elections, the NRM folks were spreading rumours and propaganda to the effect that Anslem Besigye – Winnie and Besigye’s son had died. I will never understand why a sitting regime would ever think of bringing a humble and innocent young soul into this dirty game of politics. Winnie has since settled in New York on a diplomatic posting at the United Nations. She last contested the Mbarara Municipality MPship in 2001 and beat NRM/President Museveni’s grandly supported candidate Ngoma Ngime, only to resign the seat in the 7th parliament. Nowadsys, she is seldom in our politics and media. Her husband Rtd Colonel Dr. Kiiza Besigye is body and soul into everything political in Uganda. I was quite disappointed that she couldn’t come over to lend support to her hubby as he got nominated and starts his country-wide campaign trail. That is not too much to ask.
I guess she has given the NRM rumour/ propaganda desk a lease of life. Don’t be surprised if along the way, the bold Red Pepper runs a headline claiming a certain Congolese woman has bewitched Winnie Byanyima over Kiiza Besigye. The story may claim, Winnie is having nightmares, can’t sleep and has checked into an uptown rehab centre in New York to recover from the trauma and crazy beatings by ghosts sent by Kiiza Besigye’s “Congolese girlfriend”. Of course all this would be bullshit, but it will have the moralists, conservatives and elders wondering why Winnie Byanyima can’t show up to be with her man in his most challenging and trying times. Then pub talk and the rumour mill will be awash with stories on who could be Besigye’s next wife or Uganda’s next first lady for that matter.