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Spotlight on Winnie Kiiza, firebrand leader of Ugandan opposition

By Jeff Mbanga in Kampala
Posted on Monday, 27 November 2017 13:27

By the time the sergeant at arms in Uganda’s parliament stopped security operatives from manhandling Winnie Kiiza during a nasty brawl over a constitutional amendment on 27 September, the legislator and leader of the opposition had seen enough.

In that bare-knuckle fist fight, where members of parliament threw whatever weapon lay closest to them and an army general punched and bruised a young opposition legislator, Kiiza saw the country’s political dynamic change.

“You see, those goons were coming for every opposition member,” Kiiza tells The Africa Report about the security personnel. Whatever respect Kiiza, the first female leader of the opposition in parliament, had for the ruling party, it appeared to vanish that day. “Before, I had respect for [President Yoweri] Museveni. At some point, I pretended we were in some sort of democracy. But now I am coming to terms with the reality of a dictatorship,” Kiiza says, hitting a thick table for emphasis, in her spacious office on the fifth floor of parliament.

Wearing red – a colour that has become a symbol of opposition to a plan to scrap the constitution’s age limit for presidential candidates, granting Museveni a chance to run for the presidency in 2021 – Kiiza says Uganda will be destroyed if Museveni extends his rule beyond 2021.

She says the experiences of her district have prepared her for the fight to come.

In late November 2016, gunfire rocked the palace of the kingdom of Rwenzururu in Kasese district, where Kiiza is member of parliament (MP).

The clashes started after government security officials accused King Wesley Mumbere of offering militia a safe haven in the palace.

The army bombed the palace after Mumbere reportedly refused to surrender, killing more than 50 people, and the king was arrested.

“I have lost any respect for Museveni. The people who killed are the ones who were promoted,” Kiiza says, referring to Brigadier Peter Elwelu, who commanded the attack and was promoted to major general.

A time for everyone

For most of the heated political events over the past 10 years, Kiiza – a former district councillor – has been a quiet voice, preferring to represent her people rather than take centre stage.

There were moments between 2012 and 2014 as the chief whip of the opposition that she ruffled some feathers.

But Kiiza, who turns 47 next month, has since become a fierce critic of the ruling National Resistance Movement, hitting out at another grand plan to introduce a new land policy that would grant the government permission to take over land for a developmental project without immediately compensating the owner.

And yet, she senses some hope.

The emergence of a number of MPs from the ruling party against the constitutional amendment appears to have re-energised her.

Kiiza has already promised to defy police orders should there be a plan to block planned countrywide rallies, where she will lead members of parliament from the opposition to educate the masses about the dangers of amending the constitution.

“This thing of the age limit is not about the opposition. This time it is for all of us, not a particular side,” Kiiza says.

It is a message she intends to drum up wherever she goes, hoping that, like the people of Kasese, more will come to the realisation that the ruling party has reached its limit.

This article came from the November 2017 issue of The Africa Report

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