By Julius Odeke
Butebo’s top agricultural economist enters contest as an independent
At the time of his death, Dr Stephen Mallinga had been MP for Butebo County for 17 years. He was considered a political colossus, appeared to be in tip-top health, and unbeatable at election. Although he had hinted at quitting at the next general election in 2016, few were prepared for the abrupt change when he died on April 11.
Elizabeth Aisu was 27 years old when Mallinga first became MP for her home area in 1997. She had just got her degree in Economics and Rural (Agricultural) Economy from Makerere University.
“I felt I needed to give back to my people and the community that had raised me,” she says.
Back then as today, Butebo was a region of poor agricultural people who grew millet, sorghum, and cassava for consumption, reared a few cows, pigs, and chickens, and fished on the few minor lakes extending from neighbouring Lake Kyoga.
Growing up here, Aisu always felt these people needed to make money. They could still do their agriculture but do it for the market.
She set about starting a model poultry farm where area farmers, mainly women, could congregate to share lessons and experiences on how to transform themselves. It was all small scale and, although Aisu wanted to grow her ideas, she realised she could not without a political office.
“I realised I needed to become an MP to gain the platform needed to serve my people better,” she says. But there was Mallinga.
Recently she has embarked on pursuing a Master of Science in Reproductive Health because, she says, Butebo is one of the poorest regions in Uganda, and diseases and deaths related to poor maternal care are far too many.
“Something needs to be done to stop mothers and babies dying,” she says.
When the Electoral Commision declared a by-election for June 6, Aisu says she realised she could not stay out. Although not a member of any of the established parties, she is determined to win the Butebo MP race as an independent.
“I am the best placed candidate to represent Butebo County in the Ninth parliament,” she says, “I need to transform the lives of my people, especially the youth, women, and the elderly who are the majority.”
She is promoting herself as a leader for a better life, more efficient governance, and a leader who delivers results.
“I want the people of Butebo in this by-election to vote for the new, fresh, and a young leader.”
She says her focus will be on agriculture, education, health, and unity.
“I am contesting as an independent candidate because I want to unite the people of Butebo who have been disunited along tribal and political party lines,” she says.
She says as an agricultural economist, the position of MP will place her in a vantage point to bring new methods of farming, provide improved seeds for local crops, and better breeds of animals like goats, sheep, pigs, and chicken.
“I have lived in Butebo since my childhood days and that has made me aware of the needs of my community. The community is developmental but needs a person who pushes for better lives,” says Aisu.
“Maize is widely grown in this constituency and farmers can easily add value to it by milling it into posho before selling it,” she says, “That will have added value to the farmers as they will gain more money out of their maize cultivation.”
She has been involved on some developmental projects. She spearheaded the formation of 200 women groups commonly known in Butebo as Kasale Women Groups where they come together to learn about and encouraging each other to modernise agriculture and get better yields on their little farm holdings.
Using her meager savings to buy murram to fix the Nasenyi road because, she says, it is the route Butebo farmers can easily use to ferry their farm produce to the market.
Apart from developmental issues, Aisu says she has been involved in the everyday life of her community.
“When the area youth groups arranged a bicycle racing competition and they approached me, I gladly provided two bicycles to be contested for,” she says. She is a familiar face at Christian congregations in Kacuru and Kabwangasi and is well-known among the Muslim community where she donates food items during the months of Ramadan.
Aisu says she has acquired most of the experiences she shares with women in the constituency from her wide travel and research in other similar communities in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi Southern Sudan and Rwanda. She says even in Uganda where she has visited almost all districts as a consultant and researcher, she always gathers knowledge she feels can help her educate and sensitise the people of Butebo to develop.
Butebo County, which comprised five sub counties; Kabwangasi, Butebo, Kakoro, Kibale, and Petete and is home to 93,330 people. In the ethnically riven politics of rural Uganda, Butebo presents a challenge as it is on the northeast borderline of Pallisa district with the Teso districts of Serere, Ngora, Kumi, and Bukedea.
That divide appears to favour Aisu whose father, the late Samwiri Aisu of Kumi was a county chief in the area in the early 1960s. He had several wives with three homes in Kakoro, Maizimasa, and in Kibale sub counties. Such connections can be useful in elections.
The late Dr Mallinga, for example, hailed from Kasiebai village in Kanyumu Parish in Butebo Sub County. It has a total population of 18, 642 while Aisu comes from Komolo zone in Maizimasa parish Kabwangasi Sub County which is slightly bigger with a population of 18,761.
Elizabeth Aisu has to battle for the seat with the winner of the primaries of the NRM party to which Dr Mallinga belonged. That race is proving to be quite tight.
Dr Mallinga’s widow, Beatrice Asire Mallinga, 50, who is a primary school head teacher in the area, is contesting against Dr. Monica Musenero, Dr. Patrick Mutono Lodoi, Kepher Kuchana, Richard Oseku, Samuel Kedi and Musosa, a lecturer at the Islamic University in Uganda.