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Richard Todwong: On being powerful but simple

Kampala, Uganda | AGNES E NANTABA | Richard Todwong, the powerful deputy secretary general of the ruling NRM party, maintains a simple and humble personality – a rare thing for a politician. Todwong served as MP for Nwoya County, was minister without portfolio in charge of political mobilisation, and commissioner at the Constitutional Review Commission.

He says growing up in a large polygamous family in tumultuous times taught him the value of team work, community work, organization, and unity.

He was born in 1973; just two years after Idi Amin toppled the first Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) government and started harassing its supporters. Todwong says his family was targeted because his father was a UPC mobiliser.

The hostile environment meant pushing his father to hide from the family for close to three years only surfacing to pay a visit and disappear mysteriously again for fear of his life and the family. That was until the 1980 election when Obote returned to power.

Todwong recalls living in the village until he had to join Primary One in Anaka in town.

“You could only be allowed in town if you were a civil servant, business person, or student,” he recalls.

He missed school for three years due to the political unrests and resumed and completed primary education from Bishop Angelo Negri, a Catholic-owned school run by Verona sisters. The school had a secondary section so it was easy for him to cross over. Four years later, Todwong was to proceed with advanced secondary education. He says the plan was to proceed with education in London at a time when many Acholi’s were getting asylum in the UK. But Todwong says he was unlucky.

“The person who offered to buy me a ticket didn’t do it on time,” he says.

So he ended up at Progressive Secondary School in Kampala. From there, he joined Makerere University pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Political Science graduating in 2000. He returned for a master’s degree in International Relations and Diplomacy.

During the days of his first degree, Todwong was involved in Makerere University students’ politics.

Immediately after his first degree, Todwong got a job with Uganda Revenue Authority as a revenue officer and was elected to head the staff union which a sort of trade union. Then he developed interest in stepping out of organisational politics to public politics.

But in 2001 he was appointed Commissioner with Constitutional Review Commission at only 28 years. For three years, he served at the commission until he returned to URA.

As a member of the commission, Todwong says he was exposed to issues around leadership including traditional institutions, decentralisation, and the role of local governments.

“I became excited about the politics,” he says, “I realised that it’s better to be in politics than to collect revenue”.

He resigned at a time when many were fighting to join URA, but chose to gamble in politics. In 2006, Todwong contested for the Gulu Municipality parliamentary seat and lost.

President Yoweri Museveni, however, appointed him presidential advisor in charge of Greater Northern Uganda. He kept the job for the next four years and says it exposed him to another constituency, a rural one in Nwoya. He contested in 2011 and won. Two years in parliament, he was appointed minister without portfolio in charge of political mobilisation; a role he did alongside being deputy SG of the party. By the end of the parliament tenure, Todwong decided to concentrate on party work.

He says he is still being courted to represent his constituency but is yet to decide.

“The party position is a better place to learn and appreciate the challenges that leaders go through because we interact with these things daily,” he says, “So it’s more satisfying.”

Todwong is married to Barbara and together they have three children.

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