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Nnaabagereka shines at Sarah Ntiro lecture

Nnaabagereka Sylvia Nagginda

Nnaabagereka Sylvia Nagginda

Buganda kingdom queen, Nnaabagereka Sylvia Nagginda says her life as a public figure, wife, mother and diplomat took a leaf from Sarah Ntiro to delicately balance between her royal duties and personal life, writes JOHN MUSINGUZI.

The Nnaabagereka was the star at the second annual Sarah Ntiro public lecture at Yusuf Lule Central Teaching Facility auditorium, Makerere University on August 31.

Not only did she deliver the keynote speech, she also autographed her autobiography. Coming with her daughter Princess Katrina Ssangalyambogo, she was welcomed by not only the vice chancellor Prof Barnabas Nawangwe but also the university chapter of Baganda Nkobazambogo youth organisation.

The auditorium was packed to capacity, with her office staff, female former ministers, Bunyoro kingdom staff, members of the family of Dr Sarah Ntiro, faculty and students. Her paper was discussed by three powerful women: Elsie Attafuah, UNDP resident representative in Uganda; Anna Reismann, country director of Konrad Adenauer Stiftung for Uganda and South Sudan, and who funded the whole function; and Martha Kiiza Kalema, who works with Bank of Uganda and is granddaughter of Sarah Ntiro.


Born Sarah Nyendwoha in present-day Hoima district in 1926, she was the first woman from East and Central Africa to graduate with a degree, from University of Oxford in 1954; she passed History with honours. She had earlier been the first female diploma graduate from Makerere College.

She married a Tanzanian academic and diplomat Sam Joseph Ntiro in 1958, and on top of working in many countries, she also served at Makerere University in the 1970s, shielding and helping many academicians flee for their lives. Throughout the lecture function, she was repeatedly referred to as a trailblazer.

A story was told of how Nyendwoha stubbornly faced up with a mathematics teacher who refused her to be in his class in 1945. Nyendwoha was the only girl going to study mathematics. The math teacher, who could not stand seeing a girl in his lecture room, advised her to register for what he called ‘female courses’ such as knitting and tailoring.

After ordering her to vacate, but she refused, he then gave an option: “either you move out or I move out.” Nyendwoha stood her ground; so, the teacher was the one that moved out! It was only out of consideration for her male colleagues that she ceased to come back to the course, and registered for History, Geography and English.

By her stubborn action, she had made a bold statement. After graduation, she preferred to return by ship and train so that she could carry along her bicycle, a journey that took her more than three months. She was welcomed in Hoima with a full week of festivities.

As a graduate teacher at Gayaza High School in 1955, the government attempted to pay her less than her male counterparts with the same academic qualifications; she categorically rejected the idea. Instead, she offered to teach for a full year without a salary so as to pay back for her scholarship and then look for employment somewhere else where she would be paid equal salary.

When the governor’s wife, Anne Cohen, heard of the story, she invited her for a discussion which led to the former intervening and ensuring that the female teacher got the same salary as the male teachers. That was a precedent that has never been reversed to-date.


Echoing the public lecture’s theme, ‘Catalysing change: women as pillars of society’, Nagginda noted that women in Uganda have made inroads in education and other spheres because of brave women who came before them and demanded their rights such as Ntiro, Rhoda Kalema and Joyce Mpanga.

“We are riding on their shoulders, and the world needs more of such people,” she said.

Attendees at the lecture

She intimated how becoming the Nnaabagereka (queen) helped her realize her dream of the 18 years she studied and worked in USA: to make contributions to the country’s development. Hence, in 2000, she formed the Nnaabagereka Development Foundation which addresses needs of children, youth, women, health and communities.

The foundation has since formed partnerships with kingdoms of Acholi, Alur, Bunyoro and Busoga and with African queens and cultural women leaders from kingdoms in Ghana, South Africa, Lesotho and Nigeria.

In 2007, she founded the Ekisaakaate kya Nnabagereka which has impacted thousands of youth, and now gone beyond Uganda into UK, Canada, South Africa and USA. In 2022, she founded the Nnaabagereka Nagginda Women’s Fund aimed at philanthropy and social investments.

Nagginda unpacked the day’s theme through the lenses of her life as recorded in her autobiography titled, The Nnaabagereka: Queen Sylvia Nagginda Luswata: Life. Passion. Duty.

She performed a book signing ceremony of her autobiography, whereby twelve specially chosen persons and whoever bought the book on that day went away with their book copies autographed by the queen of Buganda.


In her speech, she said her autobiography aims at inspiring readers to embrace their own passions and strive for positive change in their communities.

“It gives an insight into my life, tracing my journey from early years to becoming the Nnaabagereka, exploring my formative experiences, education, and the profound impact of my family’s heritage on shaping my character and values. My story sheds light on the challenges I face as a public figure, and it explores my role as a wife, mother and diplomat, highlighting the delicate balancing act I have to perform between my royal duties and personal life. As the narrative unfolds, the book delves into my pursuit of empowering women, promoting education and championing social causes which became the driving force behind my initiatives, ranging from advocating for girls’ education, to supporting maternal health and women’s economic empowerment and establishing the Ekisaakaate kya Nnaabagereka.”

She said her life journey had taught her many lessons, key ones being: be a pillar that reinforces the structure, be self-confident, have integrity and love thy neighbour.

She urged women to grow networks of mutual support so as to access the many opportunities in many spheres of life and achieve much towards gender equality. Martha Kalema said Ntiro dedicated her entire life to change and challenging the status quo.

“She often told us, ‘If the men can’t hear you, speak louder, and stand on the table and shout and make sure that you are heard’, and that staying small and fitting in, is not the safest path.”


Elsie Attafuah, born and raised in a slum of Accra, Ghana, used her example of how she struggled to reach where she is as a source of inspiration.

“Always fix your eyes on your goal despite the obstacles and feelings of tiredness; through plenty of communication and self-belief, we can achieve mindset change... What I know very well is that empowerment is a collective effort,” she said.

Ann Reismann too affirmed the need to know and acknowledge the women who came before and what they did and sacrificed so that the present generation may enjoy liberties.

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