Wanyoto – Public Life Has Its Stress and Excitement [interview]

LYDIA WANYOTO seemed to come almost out of nowhere when she was elected to the East African Legislative Assembly. Now working with the African Union, Wanyoto shared her life story with Simon Kasyate on Capital Radio’s Desert Island Discs programme.

Good evening and welcome to the show.

Good evening our listeners but also those on Facebook and our viewers because I know we are all over this place.

Who are you, where were you born, to whom and when?

My father was a pre- and post-independence technocrat. He studied in Makerere college of those years, [had been] to [King’s College] Budo and was the head prefect of Budo in 1936.

He did his university and became an agriculturalist, a technocrat at independence and he was one of the first district commissioners in northern Uganda, Bunyoro, West Nile and in Mbale. When he retired, that is when I was born so, myself and the fifth sibling were called “pension children” [laughs].

I was born 44 years ago in Mbale in a small village called Nyabweya, bordering Mbale town. We used to walk to a small school in Mbale town called Fairway primary school and it is where I did my primary school education and it’s where I got the best results to take me to Gayaza High School.

Describe to us what your childhood was like.

We were many children because my father was polygamous and he was a village chief. I doubt anyone recognized me because I was just one of those many children in the village and we had to survive. But my siblings tell me I never liked washing plates because there was a roster on who was to wash when.

I used to play around when it was my turn either for washing plates or cleaning the house I would make sure the roster changed. I grew up in a warm home but also with many languages because my father was a Mugishu but our mothers are from different regions of Uganda and that’s how I am able to speak a number of languages. I do not need an interpreter in Ankole, Kigezi, Kisoro even up north and Kiswahili.

Enforcing discipline… how was he able to pull that off?

We have all been able to go to school actually, therefore we thank God. Our last born, the very last, is a lawyer in town called Paul and runs a chamber. [Our father] was able to manage his pension but also we have brothers and sisters with children our age (laughs) so we also got the social support because there was giving back to the family.

I cannot say we lacked. We had a very blessed foundation daddy planned for us and that is why we are here and the best inheritance he gave us was education and the value system of his name.

He was a big civil servant and an elder in the community but you could not use his name until he was sure you kept good grades in class and you were disciplined in school. You could only use it if you lived up to the legacy so those of us that have it, lived up to his legacy.

Plays Different Colors, One People by Lucky Dube

You work with the African Union in Somalia tell us about this assignment.

I am the deputy special representative of the African Union in Somalia and it is where I am based, mainly in Mogadishu.

What does this job entail?

We represent African union interests in terms of pacifying Somalia. Also, we have troops from different African countries, Uganda being one of them, contributing to the army and the police and we are dealing with the issue of eradicating and disabling al-Shabaab terrorism in Somalia. I sit in Mogadishu to represent that voice of the African Union.

When you look at Mogadishu today, do you see progress towards a time when Somalia will be that respectable polity with a proper state running and the people able to realize that they have to build and pacify their own country?

Yes, we are working at it though it is tough because of the asymmetrical tactics used. Just yesterday we had gone for prayers then we have suicide bombers who just move into the prayers and blow people up.

They moved into the centre of Mogadishu to a very high-profile mosque next to a hotel and blew up people but this happens [frequently] and I am saying this is tough because we no longer have a specific geographical location of where there is al-Shabaab.

We have been able to liberate many towns but [al-Shabaab] strike and go back and hide so, the challenge is that we have troops who are ready to fight to save lives and we have suicide bombers willing to die to kill people.

Did you ever take up any position during your primary school?

In Fairway I was doing sports and I was a sports leader. I was good, but as a school we never did well because of the nature of competition from other schools. But in academics, anyone who went there knew that Fairway was always the best and because I was one of the top students, I was able to make it to Gayaza High School.

What was your feeling when you got into the gates of Gayaza?

Fortunately for me, because I was a pension child, I had big sisters who had been to Gayaza. So, I wasn’t the first Wanyoto in Gayaza. In the textbooks of the school there were “Wanyoto was here” and by then the school was very organized, it was still a Muzungu school, missionary-based.

Still, in the textbooks you would find names of people that had been there [and had used the book]. I took over some of the textbooks that my sister had used earlier.

My second time to come to Kampala was when I was going to Gayaza but I had earlier come through my sister’s home. I was trained how to put on the different dresses for the different occasions. I was even taught how to walk. In Mbale I was just dancing Kadodi and playing all over the place.

I mean I had never seen pavements in a compound, so I was taught how to walk on a grass compound. My sisters told me that when you walk in Gayaza, your tummy must be tucked in.

You must be straight and you walk on the pavement, you do not speak over people’s head, you look someone into the eyes and lower your nose not above their eyes they taught me gestures, they taught me courtesy.

Plays Mama by Judith Babirye

Did you have an idea of the kind of person you wanted to be when you walked into Gayaza High School?

No, I had a big influence because my dad wanted me to be a lawyer. He had always said that I would make a good lawyer and because one of my half sisters was already a lawyer, so I worked very hard to become a lawyer.

I was very argumentative and I was one of those people who always kept asking the question “why?” So, my dad would always wonder why he had to explain things to me before I acted upon them. Finally, it is where I am today.

What I have seen is that Gayaza gave to Uganda and the community [something very valuable]. I have seen very many people in medical and the few of us in politics because we never really want to be politicians we are meant to be nice public servants, professionals and doing a lot of research but also for some of us who went to politics, our look to politics is different.

We really work to change society, good legislation so you want to work and give back. I am humbled to see Gayaza girls, those ahead of me, those with me and those who followed me, we still seem to be thinking in the same direction we are trying to bring up children who will reflect what Uganda should be and have values that we picked from our school.

Where did you go after Gayaza?

First of all at my O-level, I didn’t do very well to get the subjects that I needed to go to law school and the class was small so I went to Makerere High School and I got the subjects I wanted.

But even there, I didn’t get to law school. So, I first did languages in Education and later when I finished that, I went back to do law so, I got both languages and law.

How were you able top contain yourself in the face of all this freedom at Makerere?

When I joined Makerere, I was still under the value systems I had picked from Gayaza you know, of having priorities. I knew I had to finish my three years of university education, I had to get a job and I knew I had to start a family. In that order and it worked out because I was focused. I had peer pressure from the family.

Plays Mulembe

So, you finished your education, did you find a job that easily?

My first job was voluntary in 1995 when Uganda was making her first constitution. I used to walk to parliament with my friends from Makerere.

Were you by then politically active?


At what point did you get into real political action?

I was a leader in school but we never really got to campaign. It was out of your talent and interests. In Makerere High, I was a head prefect but it was driven by academics too so, they would say provide leadership to concentrate so it was about organizing others.

But when I joined Makerere University, I joined student leadership and I began politicking and campaigning for others but also for myself and I won elections to become the chairperson of Mary Stuart hall.

So, I led the biggest university hall for girls at the university at my time. And my first posters were in black and white and we went to YMCA and we had them photocopied, I took them and pasted them all over Mary Stuart hall.

What was the fire driving you into politics?

I do not know what other politicians or leaders feel inside them but sometimes it’s a calling you cannot put a finger to. Many times I have said ‘I am a professional, let me go work in the UN’, but I will just wake up one day and say ‘look, I am picking nomination forms’.

Sometimes people think I joined politics as a career but I can leave a well-paying job for politics. So it’s not about money for me, it’s the calling. The opportunity for me to work is always there but politics is something I feel gly about.

How did you end up as two politicians… ?

I am an outright practicing politician right from school and maybe when I was growing up, I was on the side of leadership because of my talent and work. When I joined university, you had to stand out and campaign.

I am a public speaker, I have also done language and I am a communicator so, it has been very easy for me to be in elective politics but for my husband, he looked like he enjoyed watching politicians.

I never saw him in the beginning as an outright politician but when he came back from doing his PhD, he was like ‘look I have to join politics’ and he is there but he also blends his technical competences in politics.

Who is he?

I am married to Dr James Mutende he is the state minister for industry and technology and the NRM flag bearer for Mbale municipality.

Plays Gospel Time by Beenie Man

Take us through your journey of how you started a family and joined Movement politics to date.

I joined active politics in university because I was in student leadership. That was about 1995 when Uganda was making its constitution. There were no boda bodas, so we would walk after lunch to the parliament gallery and watch the debates and then I caught eyes of the clerk.

Then one time, the chairman of the CA was also from my home area and my dad handed me over to him and said: “this is for your generation”.

Beyond coming to the gallery, the chairman called me to come in and help him with paper work, then I began organizing files and doing his speeches, then of course I ended up on the payroll of Tandekwire for some transport stipends. In 2001 they [MPs] voted for me to go to the East African Legislative Assembly although I had never been a member of parliament, but because I had worked for them.

How did you manage to balance all your work with your family life?

I must say that it is sometimes tough because it is also sometimes very lonely because people think you have it all when you actually don’t. People think that if you are in public life, then you have money.

Sometimes you have problems in your marriage in your public life sometimes the people in your life fear you, respect you and you are left up there and alone because you also do not know how much you can [speak] out. But the happier days are also there because I like the limelight so, I like addressing crowds, speaking to media, it makes my day and it’s very important and satisfying.

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

I will be an active member of NRM in the political landscape of Uganda. I would like to maintain the political lens of NRM in Uganda but also grow my law career out there. I want to be out there but also with a foot at home.

If you were marooned on a desert island and to be given one thing or person, who or what would it be?

I love shoes.

Plays Stamina by Eddy Kenzo

Source : The Observer