Before her predecessor and former minister Betty Bigombe resigned in February 2014 as MP and state minister for Water, Lucy Akello, her successor as Amuru Woman MP had no known footprint in politics. In this interview with Sadab Kitatta Kaaya, Akello, 34, explains her surprise victory and plans for Amuru district.
Who is Lucy Akello?
I was born on October 9, 1980 to John Obina; a lecturer (French) at Kyambogo University. I am the second born in a family of seven. I started my education at Olwar Ocaja primary school in Lamogi, Amuru, where I was born. I went to Iganga SS and Uganda Martyrs SS Namugongo.
I then joined Makerere University for [a bachelor’s degree] in Social Sciences. After my graduation (2004), I got a job with the Justice and Peace Commission where I did a lot of work on human rights and peace-building within the community of Acholi sub-region.
I also [hold] a master’s degree in Development Studies (NGO management) from Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi. For the last 10 years, I have been at the Justice and Peace Commission as the executive director heading the seven districts of Acholi, and mostly working on issues of human rights, land rights, women and children’s rights.
What nudged you into politics?
My work experiences with the community compelled me to join politics. Every time I would go to the community, I [would] see the low level of service delivery, the poor services, bad roads, poor representation, and I said to myself, why not? Why not make a contribution to my people?
I actually made up my mind around February; that I needed to really offer myself for leadership. That was before Bigombe resigned her position. So, the by-election was going faster than I had expected.
And your choice of FDC?
I have been quietly supporting and admiring FDC even as a young person because the only president I have known, the only regime that I have seen is the one of NRM and President Museveni, and I see a lot of things that are not right. And for me the party that I felt had a bit of democracy, that accommodated different voices and opinions is FDC.
How did you manage to beat the NRM machinery?
It wasn’t simple and at the same time it wasn’t difficult because you know what people want to hear. They want the truth, and for us as the opposition, we gave [the people] NRM’s report card [over the past] 28 years. We told them that, “look for yourselves, what kind of service delivery do you have?”
Yes it was difficult because there was a lot of money that was being given out to people, even on the last day, but the people had already got the message, and that was enough for them to make a decision.
What is it that NRM has not done for Amuru?
The roads are poor. If you heard, Amuru is one of the districts that are trailing in education. When you come to the health sector, Amuru is one of the districts not receiving kits like Mama kits [for expectant mothers] and yet this is a government programme. Government programmes which are supposed to help people equally are being distributed based on one’s support for NRM.
For example, the Naads programmes, beneficiaries are identified based on their [political] party affiliation. I think they also did not put their strategy right. Their message to the people was not convincing because as opposed to us, we had a strong message to the people and, as usual, they [NRM] concentrated on non-issues, abusing people, dealing with personal issues which the people are tired of.
Are you, therefore, a beneficiary of the NRM divisions?
I would say so, and I must also tell you that we also got a lot of support from the NRM because we told them a lot of truths, and for them they didn’t know a lot about the party… So, it was representation which was very key to them because the challenge they had is that most of the NRM MPs are actually not representing the voices, of the people.
The people chose me because I am able to represent their voices and not the voice of the party based on caucus decisions.
Until the last general elections, northern Uganda was known to be an opposition stronghold, but the trend changed in 2011 elections. How do you factor that into your victory?
You know, in 2011, the government came to the people of northern Uganda and said, we have brought you peace, now give us an opportunity, send us MPs who are lenient to NRM so that services and development come to you. NRM also took advantage of the divisions within the opposition where you had UPC, DP, FDC and all the others selling their candidates for the same seat.
It was like knocking heads. But for this one [by-election], we said no, we can no longer afford to fight ourselves as opposition and as such, they fronted one candidate, and this is going to be the trend of events [into] 2016 which I think is something very good.
Why should we fight each other? We want good representation in Parliament so that we hold government to account at the end of the day. When we have the numbers, then we have a say in Parliament; when we don’t have the numbers, our voices are not properly heard.
It is eight years since the guns went silent; is this enough time for you to fairly judge NRM as a failure?
The programmes which are supposed to bring development and rehabilitation like PRDP [Peace, Recovery and Development Plan], you know what happened to them.
The money which is supposed to help the people come out of their sorry state to develop was squandered. NUSAF [Northern Uganda Social Action Fund] was a total failure simply because the government failed to monitor and hold people who were implementing these projects to account. These issues hurt the people so much because it was as if they were played with – simply to get votes and at the end of the day be dumped.
There are suggestions from NRM that you rigged the election.
Oh my God! That is a blatant lie; it is not true, because, first of all, we [opposition] don’t have the capacity to rig. How do we start? We don’t even appoint the Electoral Commission. Who appoints the EC? It is the government, it is Museveni.
The best we did in this election was to protect our votes, because, there were all indications that they [NRM] were going to rig the elections, and we tied all the nuts, all corners [and made] it difficult for them to rig and steal the votes.
Does your win give the opposition hope to recapture the north in 2016?
My victory gives the opposition a lot of hope. Actually the Amuru by-election was a litmus test for the opposition, not only in northern Uganda but for Uganda as a whole. We only need to work.
Let me also tell you; the whole country was waiting, they wanted to know how Amuru was voting. What the outcome would be, because at the end of the day, the people felt that, yes, we can win this election. And remember, this [seat] was occupied by the NRM, and a strong woman at that.
What do you have to offer to the people of Amuru with less than two years to the 2016 elections?
What I have to offer to them is being with them, being close to them, listening to them more and then speak their mind in Parliament because that is my mandate. I am like a messenger they are sending to deliver their message, to tell the government the challenges they are facing, and for me, that is the best I can do in one year. Then, together, we can see what we can do to develop Amuru.
How does a person married so far away in Teso intend to achieve this?
I am married in Teso, but where have I been working? I have been in Acholi; I have been working with the people. So, I have a commitment to represent the people of Amuru, but it doesn’t stop me from fulfilling my responsibility as a married woman.
What are your immediate targets?
I intend to work with the groups that are already there, because it is through the groups (women and youths) that you get a lot of information. The most important thing for me now is the reconciliation bit of it. Remember we were six in the race, and it was a hotly- contested race.
As a mother, my task is to see how best I can bring these six together so that we work together for the good of Amuru. I am going to use religious and the cultural leaders to ensure that the six of us who said horrible things about one another finally come together and see that Amuru moves forward.
How do you gauge yourself going into 2016?
In this election, I only campaigned for 13 days whereas my [main] competitor had been there for the last five years. And for the few weeks I was there, I presented myself and they liked my agenda. If I maintain the spirit, my chances are going to be very high.
And like I said, I am going to maintain contact with the people to fulfill everything that I promised. There is nothing that I promised them that I cannot do because I didn’t promise them that I am going to build roads or bridges, I told them that I want to represent you and that’s exactly what I am going to do.