Cecilia Ogwal a woman who will be forever be remember for being a political iron lady, corruption free legislator

Thursday January 18, 2024 will be remembered as a sad day in the history of Parliament of Uganda as legislators mourned the passing of a political icon in the late Cecilia Ogwal, Dokolo District Woman Member of Parliament. Her death is something that shocked many people because as a politician and mother, Ogwal touched many hearts.

For one week, different institutions in Uganda including Parliament have been celebrating the life of a woman whose resilience during the Constituency Assembly in 1994 led to the inclusion of women representatives in Parliament and local government councils in the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda.

President Yoweri Museveni who granted Ogwal, also made it to Parliament on January 18, 2024 to pay tribute to a woman he called “sister’ for the time they have known each other. The President told Parliament that he had not had a chance to work very closely with Ogwal who by the time of her death at 77 was a member of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). She had also served as Assistant Secretary General of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) party during the time when Uganda was even under the movement system.

Museveni commended Ogwal for being a patriot who never advanced politics of hatred to achieve whatever she worked for. He also commended her for contributing to the pacification of the northern Uganda by resisting to support the two decade-long Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebellion.

“She will be remembered for her patriotism by refusing to succumb to the pressure of joining Vincent Otti (deceased former second in command of LRA) and other rebels in their fight against us,” said Museveni who revealed that security agencies had recorded the phone conversation back then.

He added that when UPC leaders who were in exile directed that the people of Lango sub-region where the party’s founding father, former President Milton Obote hailed from should not participate in the 1994 Constituency Assembly, Ogwal who was Acting Secretary General then, refused.

“That was the second time I noticed that she played an independent and positive role saying no, ‘we may not be NRM but the people of Lango must participate’, and they participated,” added Museveni.

Such is the woman that Uganda has lost to cancer, a non-communicable disease that is rapidly becoming a health burden to Uganda with numbers being enrolled at the Uganda Cancer Institute increasing. She spoke passionately on every topic whether on the floor of Parliament, in the Committee of Parliament and at international conferences, but, it was her fight for women rights that outshone everything she stood for.

Parliament’s tribute

Prime Minister Nabbanja in her motion said that the deceased was an icon of Constitutionalism and rule of law in the country. She also said that the late Ogwal was an “excellent politician” that articulated issues that she rose to debate about.

“Honorable Cecilia Ogwal has been a competent leader who together with others strengthened Constitutionalism, democracy, parliamentary practice, political tolerance, rule of law and encouraged cohesion amongst different shades of opinions. For her exemplary leadership, His Excellency President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni bestowed upon her the Uganda Leadership Award in 2023,” stated Nabbanja.

Nabbanja also commended the late Ogwal for being a strong advocate for the rights of women and children and for speaking the truth to power with “unwavering confidence and conviction”.

Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Joel Ssenyonyi while seconding the motion to pay tribute said the deceased who started out in Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) before crossing to FDC the party she has served to the time of her death, was an inspirational leader who promoted multiparty system in Uganda.

“Throughout her life as a leader, Honorable Cecilia Ogwal has consistently exhibited compassion and a strong commitment to foster our national democracy. She gained notoriety when she blatantly opposed the monolithic Movement system which had outlawed the multiparty system in our country. It was this bold stance that earned her the appellation- ‘iron lady’- a respect she has greatly walked with in life and guarded in action and candid speech,” said Ssenyonyi.

The LOP said that the opposition achieved tremendously in the 9th Parliament when the late Ogwal served as Opposition Chief Whip and also as a Commissioner of Parliament, such positions that are influential in the running of the legislature.

Ssenyonyi however, joined the sentiments of many Ugandans who are not happy with the healthy system because a number of top leaders have been treated abroad while others fail to make it back alive.

“The passing of our esteemed colleague, Honorable Ogwal and many other similar deaths from foreign hospitals, continue to expose the lacuna and deficiencies in Uganda’s health care system. Many Ugandans succumb to treatable diseases, a consequence attributed to corruption and failure of the government to prioritise the health sector,” added Ssenyonyi.

Speaker Among, who has been eulogizing the late Ogwal since news of her death broke, told Parliament her loss is unbearable for the institution. She said that Ogwal’s health had deteriorated in the first week of January when Uganda was hosting the Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth (CSPOC2024) hence a quick decision to fly her to India for specialized treatment.

“It is a pity that we convene here today to pay tribute to our own Imat Honorable Atim Cecilia Barbara Ogwal, Miss Uganda as has always been said, the iron lady. Although death is an inevitable journey for all of us, the pain of losing a remarkable woman like Ceclilia Ogwal is unbearable. A distinguished woman who sat here with all of us, now we see her casket before us,” Among said.

The Speaker said that the deceased was a remarkable woman who left a trail wherever she went and represented Uganda well at all international conferences.

“She lived an impactful illustrious life and served her country with distinction. We want to thank the party that brought Ogwal to Parliament, that is FDC but she legislated for Uganda. She was an icon of love, unity and mentored many of us. Most of us ladies came to Parliament because we wanted to be like Cecilia Ogwal. She was an accomplished MP who put her country first in all her deeds. She spoke for the whole of Uganda and not for the people of Dokolo or her party” the Speaker added.

Last speeches

One of Ogwal’s last appearances in Parliament was on November 21 when the House was paying tribute to the late Joyce Mpaga one of Uganda’s first black female members of the Legislative Council (LEGCO). From what is recorded on the hansard, Ogwal said that Mpaga and other women made a key contribution in the founding of the Pan-African Women Organisation (PAWO). She spoke to the hearts of many while making this speech and this website is reproducing it below as extracted from the Parliament’s Hansard of November 21, 2023 in a special sitting presided over by Deputy Speaker, Thomas Tayebwa.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is very important that as women, we should appreciate this session because it has allowed us to appreciate the role a woman can play if given an opportunity.

While I pass my condolences to the family of Hon. Joyce Mpanga, I would like to let you know that the whole of Africa is mourning the daughter of Uganda who has fallen asleep and whose memory has brought us here today.

 The casket before us is of our dear sister, friend, freedom fighter, dedicated wife, a widow who can feed orphans without begging any one and a woman who has demonstrated that if you give me education, I can do anything over and above what a man can do. This is the lady before us. (Applause) She was an educationist, a politician, a philosopher – I have thought of words – My naughty son, Hon. Muwanga Kivumbi, asked me whether I was going to speak in English or Luo. I said try to understand what I will say, do not care how I have said it. I hope he is catching up.

Hon. Joyce Mpanga left Uganda in tears but also left Africa feeling the sense of loss. Her role in the liberation struggle in the early days when women’s role was purely in the kitchen and giving birth, that was the time Hon. Joyce stood up.

The whole of Africa is mourning with Uganda this great lady called Hon. Joyce Mpanga.

As you know, I am the Chairperson of the Ugandan Chapter of the Pan-African Women Organisation.

It is important for you to know that Pan-African Women Organisation (PAWO) came into existence before the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Before the African Union was formed, the women of Africa came together, including Hon. Joyce Mpanga and some of our great women of Uganda, stood together and they gave birth to PAWO in 1962 before OAU was formed in 1963. Really, how can you forget Hon. Joyce Mpanga?

Mr Speaker, I have heard from the Prime Minister that Hon. Joyce was the first woman to be elected to LEGCO or Joyce was the first woman to represent women in the LEGCO. All of us must re-read the Hansard and our history.

My understanding is that Joyce was elected in 1960 when LEGCO was elected in 1957 or 1958 although the process started in 1957.

The LEGCO was already established in 1958 and women were there. You know very well that our own daughter, Florence Lubega, was one of the ladies by election in that LEGCO.

I just want us to understand a little better because – That is why when the Government is celebrating the heroes of Uganda, they forget these giant heroes. These are heroes beyond heroes who should be remembered before you think of anybody else. (Applause)

When you talk about the heroes in Uganda, I urge the Government to remember those women who were bashed by the tradition and culture they suffered. Today, all we are asking you is to remember them and the roles they played. They are not begging for anything.

Now, somebody is saying, Joyce would have participated in the formation of policies.

Joyce just died yesterday, how many times did you call her to consult on anything in the development of either women’s agenda or anything? She was an outstanding intellectual.

Why didn’t you call her?

In the gallery, we have the “Buteles”, Yona Kanyomozi died an outstanding Economist and nobody called him to make a contribution.

Let us wake up as Ugandans and use our own resources before we go out to look for Europeans. (Applause) Therefore, Joyce, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. (Laughter)

I would like to enrich your history. Some of you look at us with a lot of envy and say, this is one of the longest serving women in Parliament, you think it is something to enjoy, it is not. It is a journey of pain. If you are really a woman, it is not business as usual. It is a journey of pain. (Applause)

It is a journey when your husband has demands on you, when the children have demands on you, when a fellow woman is fighting you, when everybody is against you; but you have to stand up and prove you are stronger than the men who are fighting you.

Thank you, Joyce –(Interjection) – yes, even the co-wives are fighting you –(Laughter)- and the step children are fighting you, including those whose DNA may not match their husband’s. (Laughter)

Mr Speaker, forgive me for being emotional but the death of Hon. Joyce has triggered something unusual in me.

I would like to remind you that before Hon. Joyce entered Parliament to join her sister Florence Alice Lubega, an Irish-born Lady called Boyce and an Indian-born lady who was my name sake, Dorothy Barbra Sabinn, were representatives for women in LEGCO, prior to the election of 1958.

We were represented by foreigners – as you, Mr Speaker, bring some Europeans and Americans here and talk about the gender or policies that Hon. Joyce and others worked for, what would be their contribution?

That is the history of Uganda and the girl child. We were represented in the legislature by foreigners, until eventually, “slowly-slowly”, even by nomination, people joined in.

I am not here to talk about the usual that you people have talked about or the Government has got from Google record but we are celebrating the role played by our own Ugandan daughter in the legislature.

Hon. Joyce did a lot although she was not so much of a loud talker. She did a lot and used that quiet and confident character of hers to push a lot for this country, not only for women but for the entire education system, as the Minister has just shared with us.

I would like to let you know that apart from Hon. Joyce playing a role in the politics of Uganda, it is amazing that the struggle for the liberation of Africa, a young girl at her age got involved.

And, some unthinkable young girls got involved very vigorously and made sure that the PAWO was established and drove the affairs of the liberation struggle from the front of women, leaving the men still fighting, “who will be our Chairperson if we come together as the Organisation of African Union (OAU).”

Allow me to read, just a few names which some of you may want to reflect one of these

1. Bibi Titi Mohamed of Tanzania, I am sure many of you have read about her.

2. Jeanne Martin Cisse of Guinea, who was the first Secretary General of PAWO.

3. Ruth Neto of Angola.

4. Aoua Keita of Mali

5. Pumla Kisosonkole of Uganda, whom many people thought was a Ugandan but later on, when you look deeper, you find that she was from a South African origin.

6. Rebecca Mulira, our own Ugandan.

7. Margaret Mambui Kenyatta, the daughter of President Jomo Kenyatta.

8. Joyce Mpanga, our own, please, even when we are mourning, clap for her. She was number eight on the list of the founder mothers of PAWO.

9. Fatia Bettahar from Algeria.

10. Likimani Muthoni, writer and journalist from Kenya. You have all read her book. “My Blood is Not on Sale”.

11. Phoebe Asiyo, former member of Parliament from Kenya and also member of the LEGCO then, before independence.

12. Albertina Sisulu from South Africa, freedom fighter.

13. Maria Nyerere, our own from Tanzania and several others.

These are the founder mothers – and if you have any differences with Hon. Joyce Mpanga, the children have repented. Some of us the women who are still alive will repent but, please, always remember Hon. Joyce Mpanga and her team who did not only fight for the liberation of Africa, not only holistically but also to liberate women.

Always remember the role that Maama Mpanga has played. (Applause) That is what I am begging of you.

Along with other women, they converged in Addis Ababa in 2018 together with one of the daughters. I do not know whether she is around that daughter accompanied the mother in 2018 to revive the activities of PAWO in Africa so that we can become vibrant again and stop the guns, which are raging all over Africa.

That was the role that Hon. Joyce Mpanga played recently in 2018, to make sure that we start a new programme of how we can silence guns in Africa and start the journey for development and unity.

Now that she has entered the casket, though many of us would not want and I am sure that if we were to ask the family members, they would have said, “she could have waited for may be another one or two months” but the issue is, she would have to entered anyway. Now that we have agreed with God that she has entered the casket and she is going, what message would she leave us with? This is our challenge now, how do we remember Hon. Joyce as an educationist, pioneer women mobiliser, a distinguished teacher? I would want you to remember that Hon. Joyce Mpanga, the husband dying and leaving her young but she was able to rear those children, whose names were read.

You ask yourself, Mr Speaker, you are young, God forbid, if your wife were to leave, let us just pray that it does not happen, I am giving an example. Young as you are or my son Hon. David here, the wife decides to go and we wait for 20 or 30 years and we say; now give us your accountability; you will hear, he married this one then left two children. (Laughter)

I am saying this, because I want the Ministry of Education to stand up to the call we are making today. Let us increase the budget on girl-child education. (Applause)

Hon. Joyce has been able to prove that when you educate a girl, you educate the community and the entire country. Her children did not put a burden on the family of anyone. They did not put a burden on the Government, the mother was able to stand up and provide for the family and the children.

That is a commendable message, which she has left with us, the women. So, we must walk in her footsteps. Thank you, Maama Joyce, for what you have done as a widow; you have left us a very rich history. You have not left shame on the children. You do not have to explain, “This one, my half-brother – You know, after my father died, something happened – I do not know but then this –

Mr Speaker, I am here to conclude; I did not know that I stepped on a live wire. (Laughter) Take it or leave it, fellow mourners, the title of the book of our dear sister here is, “It’s A Pity She’s Not a Boy.”

However, I would like us to change that story today and I wish the family could agree that the second edition must start today. It is a blessing that Hon. Joyce Mpanga was born a girl; that is the message I leave here today. Mr Speaker, whether you want to endorse it or not, I have spoken and it is recorded in Parliament. (Applause)

My dear family, I stand with you at this moment. We celebrate the life of our sister. We are not mourning; we are celebrating her rich life and hope the Lord God will lead us in that path which is difficult to walk but we will all try. May God bless you all. (Applause)

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