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Najjemba Mbabali: On Museveni’s letter that took four years to reach her

`Serving as a minister was a struggle because many ministers clash for visibility and work’

Kampala, Uganda | AGNES E NANTABA | Rosemary Mariam Najjemba Mbabali is a former politician, turned fashion designer and owner of Celebrity Styles; a boutique. She was Minister of Urban Planning between 2012 and 2016. She is the former two-term Woman MP for Gomba District until 2016.

Najjemba says her “turning point” came when she met President Yoweri Museveni in 1996. It was all arranged by her mother, the late Aisha Nababi, who was Local Council Woman Secretary and co-organizer of the president’s visit to their area in Maddu a few miles away from Kisozi. Her mother ensured that Najjemba caught the President’s eye during question time. And Najjemba did not disappoint.

As arranged, Najjemba spoke about the difficulty young graduates faced in finding jobs. She had just finished writing her final examinations for a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and History at Makerere University Kampala and cited her example and said she could help people of Gomba District; especially with health promotion.

She later met privately with the President and he even appointed her to be his “political officer.” But the letter came four years later!

“The whole process was sluggish and yet I could no longer meet with the President,” she says.

From the same meeting, however, she was also assigned as a health promotion officer in Gomba. There was an outbreak of cholera that many misconceived to be witchcraft. The role meant studying short courses in health education facilitated by the Ministry of Health and Mulago Hospital. Four years later, she was appointed as Presidential Assistant in charge of Research. She did that for five years. The job exposed her to the political system and eventually influenced her joining active politics.

In 2006 Najjemba was elected Woman MP Gomba District. Her focus was health promotion and she became the chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on HIV/AIDS and Vice Chairperson of the ICT Committee.

In her second term, she was appointed Minister of Housing in charge of Urban Development.

“It was another struggle but I am grateful for the opportunity by the President to allow me to serve my country,” she says, “Many ministers clash for visibility and work.”

During that time, Najjemba was also elected National Women’s chairperson, a position she held until 2018.

She quit politics after two terms, and now concentrates on her fashion business. She sees it as one way to keep her interacting with people; especially women.

Najjemba says that as a child, she was not keen on politics although she held leadership positions in school and was “politically alert”.

She went to Bat Valley Primary School for primary education when her father, Samuel Muganga, moved to Kampala from Gomba in pursuit of better jobs and education. Her father was polygamous and had a big family. So Najjemba says she was among the many “middle children.” She later joined Kitante Hill School for Ordinary Level and Progressive SS for Advanced level.

Today, she is married to Muyanja Mbabaali, the MP for Bukoto South constituency. She is a mother of three children. She says her constituents still ask her to return to politics and she is yet to decide to return or not.

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