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Sheila Kawamara: Born to fight for rights

Sheila Mukabakoba Kawamara Mishambi was the founding executive director of Uganda Women’s Network: a coordinating body for NGO’s involved in gender rights advocacy.  She says her formative years prepared her to be a very assertive person.

She began to defy the status quo as a young girl and perhaps in form six at Trinity College Nabbingo. Here she defied advice from her teachers to have law as first choice course for university. She chose to be a teacher instead.

However, after graduation she only taught for two years before exiting to become a journalist. She says she had always loved writing and reading because she understood early that in order to fight for her rights, she had to be knowledgeable.

“Letters mesmerised me and I just loved reading and writing where I put my thoughts into writing,” she says.

She says that to this day, storytelling and reading still amaze and mesmerize her to the extent that every month, she gives herself a treat of buying and actually reading the book.

Kawamara describes herself as the old fashioned reader even when information seems to be more circulated on social media.

She fondly recalls her formative reading years when she was the biggest fan of the René Lodge Brabazon Raymond who wrote under the pseudo name James Hadley Chase. His crime fiction thrillers were very popular in Uganda in the 1970s.

But to pursue her passion in writing professionally, she did a diploma in journalism and was soon writing for the New Vision, covering mainly parliament news. Her biggest story, however, came in 1994 when she was among a group of daring Ugandan journalist who headed into Rwanda to cover the genocide two days after then-President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down. It was a bold move for a young woman and it turned out to be life changing. Her biggest story was titled “Thousands killed in church” and it shocked the world.

Kawamara joined UWONET a year after that. She had been in the women’s movement for a long time and it was a smooth transition. At UWONET, she worked with others on the East African Community Treaty to try to make it gender sensitive. Again, in another smooth transition, she was elected as legislator representing Uganda at East African Legislative Assembly and served between 2001 and 2006.

Along the way, Kawamara met Col. Jack David Mishambi and they wed in 2001.  But he passed on three years later leaving behind their four children. Kawamara adopted a fifth child six years ago.

Kawamara was born in Iganga where her parents late Sergio Kawamara and Helena Kajumba Kawamara lived and worked. The family later relocated to Toro Kabarole district before moving to Kampala where she started school at Luzira Primary School. She also attended Shimoni Demonstration School; a merger of Indian Primary School and Shimoni Primary school.

Most people have tough memories of former president Idi Amin Dada but Kawamara fondly remembers him as a loving president especially to the little ones.

She says, “It was fun seeing the president drive himself coming to play with us at school. I don’t remember seeing him with escorts or the convoy kind of business”.

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