The momentous rise of musician-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu alias Bobi Wine has opened doors for many of his mostly young supporters to ‘stardom’ of their own.
To People Power and members of the Kyagulanyi-led National Unity Platform (NUP), Saudah Madaada is no stranger. She won hearts of NUP sympathisers mainly after the 2018 Arua municipality by-election that was characterized by violence and bloodshed. Madaada was hit by a cartridge of the bullet that killed Kyagulanyi’s driver, Yasin Kawuma.
She was later allegedly tortured by security operatives – trauma that left her fighting for her life in a Nairobi hospital. Her bravery and outspokenness have earned her titles such as ‘General Saudah’ and ‘field marshal’ at NUP, though she has no military training.
“I think people are just excited to call me general because I have done extraordinary things for the struggle. I am a principled woman who cooperates with fellow mobilisers unlike some who downplay the power of mobilisers,” Saudah Madaada said when The Observer found her at the NUP office in Kamwokya, Kampala.
She described herself as a “strong woman and nothing can intimidate me if I set out to achieve something, because I love my country”.
Under NUP, she is a member of the committee that oversees political activities at all education institutions in Uganda. She doubles as a mobiliser.
When Kyagulanyi popularized the red beret as one of their campaign symbols, his supporters took it a notch higher designing caps, overalls, T-shirts and ties, among other red apparel.
“When I looked around, everyone was wearing a red cap or a red overall. I thought about buying fabric and brand myself differently,” she said.
True, Madaada looks stunning when in full ‘ceremonial dress’ – an idea she borrowed from security personnel from various countries. She buys material and tailors her uniforms at Shs 1m.
“As long as the tailor does a perfect job, I don’t care about the final cost. So far, I have about 15 uniforms, but I don’t wear some because they are hard to wash,” she said, laughing.
For those that joined Kyambogo University in 2011, Madaada is a renowned name. She was a member of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) university structure. Despite being on government sponsorship, she participated in every tuition fees strike by private students. During her second year, she almost lost her right hand as she protested.
“On that day, the late [AIGP Andrew Felix] Kaweesi commanded police to disperse demonstrating students with teargas. Kaweesi knew me very well and first warned that he would arrest me. When I ignored him, a police officer threw a teargas canister right in front of me,” Madaada said, showing me several scars on her right hand where pieces of shrapnel burrowed.
She was later arraigned before Nakawa court and charged with inciting violence. Madaada spent 20 months at Luzira.
“I continued with my studies because lecturers would come to Luzira. I also sat my examinations properly, but came with handcuffs under strict surveillance at the university,” she said. She graduated with a super first class degree in engineering.
She later joined the general FDC party structures and won as the youth chairperson representing Nakawa. She had, meanwhile, picked interest in Kyagulanyi, who had been invited to the university’s cultural gala.
“This was my first time to meet Bobi Wine. We exchanged contacts and I would often call him. One time he invited me and my friends to One Love beach in Busabala to have some fun and our friendship deepened.”
When Kyagulanyi expressed interest in the Kyadondo East MP seat, Madaada abandoned FDC that was backing Apollo Kantinti, to campaign for Bobi Wine.
“I knew Bobi was the perfect candidate. Actually, when he won, [FDC] sent us text messages saying [we were no longer welcome] at Najjanankumbi.”
After excelling in Kyadondo, Madaada headed westward to campaign for FDC’s Betty Muzanira who won the Rukungiri Woman MP by-election in 2018. A month later, she was in Bugiri where JEEMA’s Asuman Basalirwa won the municipality’s by-election.
HAUNTING ARUA BY-ELECTION
While Madaada followed friends to Kyadondo, Rukungiri and Bugiri by-elections, her journey to Arua was “out of passion”.
“Mzee Kassiano Wadri is like a father, because one of his sons was my great friend after we studied together at Kyambogo. I took a decision to camp in Arua for about two months before the election,” Madaada said.
She hit the road alone in her personal vehicle with only Wadri’s posters and personal items on board. Her role: publicity online and on the ground. She would spend nights in several hotels and sometimes, at Wadri’s home in Terego. Madaada said the two months in Arua went well, until all hell broke loose on August 13, 2018.
The day started in high spirits after Bobi Wine arrived for Wadri’s second-last rally. By the time Madaada and group arrived at the venue aboard a branded tractor, the rally was almost done.
“As we exited, security barred us from accessing the city center. In this back-and-forth exchange, police started shooting in the air to disperse our people. While running for our dear lives, I entered [Ntungamo Municipality MP] Gerald Karuhanga’s vehicle and followed Wadri’s procession with Bobi Wine,” she narrated.
“On our way, we found police dispersing an FDC rally. In this confusion, most people abandoned their vehicles and only three stayed on the road.”
According to Madaada, it was almost 7pm when security tasked Wadri to call off his rally after unknown people allegedly pelted President Museveni’s motorcade with stones.
HOW KAWUMA DIED
Madaada said once the dust settled, normalcy returned to the area and some Wadri supporters converged at Pacific hotel to watch news and drink beer, while others turned in. She stepped out of the hotel gate to join Yasin Kawuma in Bobi’s Toyota Tundra UAT 416X parked outside.
“I sat in the co-driver seat and started chatting with him as I scrolled through my phone showing him images and videos from the day’s activities. All windows on the huge double-cabin pickup were up except mine that I had lowered for fresh air,” Madaada explained.
Bobi Wine shortly approached the duo in the Tundra and asked to be driven to another location since his brown vehicle that had left for refueling had delayed. But the brown vehicle showed up before Kawuma could drive off; so, the People Power leader left the Tundra for the other car.
Kawuma and Madaada continued talking, until she noticed a slight cut on her right eyebrow.
“I didn’t feel any pain at the time. I continued with my phone until a drop of blood covered my phone screen. I [touched] my eye and felt a deep cut. When I turned to Kawuma to ask what had happened to my face, he was heavily bleeding around his chest in the grey overalls,” Madaada recalled.
“I was terrified… I opened the car door to alert our people in the hotel. Before I could go far, someone hit me hard on the back and I fell.”
In her red overalls and wreathing in pain, Madaada said, she overheard a male voice saying: “That’s not the guy. The man we need is in a red overall; this is a woman.”
Still, the beating and kicking continued as on the other side security raided hotel rooms to bring out more people.
“They bundled me onto a police patrol pickup. Later, I heard a voice saying ‘this is Zaake’. I noticed the [Mityana municipality] MP’s face after they pushed him under the patrol seats, crying endlessly. Kawuma’s lifeless body, covered in blood, was also bundled onto the same patrol vehicle and they drove us at a terrific speed,” Madaada narrated.
Although she was weak, Madaada noticed they were at Arua hospital. Her overall was all torn with her left breast bleeding profusely.
“It is hard to explain how everything happened so fast, but just know my left nipple was missing, yet I had gone to Arua when everything was intact,” she added. Seeing my shocked disbelief, Madaada showed me the scar where a nipple used to be.
Madaada said her friends told her she had passed out and regained consciousness five days later at a hospital in Kiryandongo.
“When I woke up, my left breast was covered in plasters. The doctors told me I lost my nipple but didn’t tell me how I lost it.”
After almost a week in Kiryandongo, she was transferred to Nsambya hospital before a referral to Platinum hospital. She moved to Lubaga hospital, then back to Nsambya until she was evacuated to the Aga Khan hospital in Nairobi where she spent two months. Madaada was narrating her ordeal with ease until I asked what treatment she received in Nairobi that she could not get in Uganda.
Her eyes turned red and she asked to prematurely call off the interview. After seven minutes, she said: “I no longer want to discuss my health. Let’s talk about politics.”
To hopefully brighten her up, I asked about her relationship status. But this was another turn-off. She took a deep breath to say: “If I could get pregnant, my child would feed on one breast, but I can’t conceive. In Nairobi, doctors found that my inner organs were affected and rotting away due to bleeding. The only way to save my life was by removing my uterus.”
It was a tough time for Madaada but the surgery was successful.
Asked why she did not sue her tormentors, she answered: “It’s useless! Even if I won the case, court would not return my uterus and nipple. I have nothing to lose now. My mother has only one girl and she must be feeling bad that she will never carry any grandchild from my womb. For men, I had someone and we split at campus. So, I am no longer interested in relationships.”
Still, Madaada does not regret joining politics.
“I am glad to be one of those who started with the People Power movement. I will stick to the struggle. You can’t mention 50 people that started People Power or NUP and not mention my name. Impossible!”
At NUP offices in Kamwokya, August 13 is a special day to recollect the Arua nightmare that left Kawuma dead and permanent injuries on many other supporters.
WHAT NEXT FOR MADAADA?
After nearly a year in various hospitals, Madaada has regained her strength, although she still complained about general body pain when we met. She is, nevertheless, more determined to continue with her mobilisation for Kyagulanyi’s presidential bid in the 2021 general election.
“I know this next election is a bit tricky, but we have to stick to the struggle and God will see us through. Security will beat and maim us, but the struggle has to continue,” she said.
So far, she has camped in more than 27 districts popularizing Kyagulanyi and NUP activities. On whether this is a job that comes with a pay cheque, Madaada said: “This struggle is real with no salaries. [However] when I am into mobilisation across the country, Kyagulanyi facilitates the activities very well.”
Madaada credits Winnie Kiiza (Kasese woman MP), Cecilia Ogwal (Dokolo woman MP), Angelline Osegge (Soroti woman MP), and Alice Alaso (former Serere woman MP) for inspiring her to join politics. She also applauded the Kitgum Municipality MP and state minister for Environment, Beatrice Anywar; “Anywar was a superwoman while in FDC, but I don’t know why she sold her efforts. Why? The struggle is not about money.”
For male politicians, she looks up to former FDC president Kizza Besigye, Ibrahim Kasozi (Makindye East MP), and jailed FDC activist Sam Mugumya. Despite the fact that Madaada has rubbed shoulders with several big shots in the opposition, she is not inspired to run for elective office.
“If I stand to be elected, who will do the mobilisation? Until I meet my creator, I will forever be a mobiliser.”
🔹 Saudah Madaada is a proud Musoga, who declined to talk about her family for “security reasons”.
🔹 Born on January 1, 1982, Madaada, the only girl out of five siblings, studied at St Agnes Catholic Girls’ PS, Naggalama, St Joseph’s SS, 🔹Naggalama for O-level and Nabisunsa Girls School where she did Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Entrepreneurship at A-level.
🔹 She joined Kyambogo University on government sponsorship to study Engineering.
🔹 Growing up, she always wanted to be engineer, but the futile job hunt partly led her into active opposition politics.
🔹 “I have a super first-class degree, but failed to get jobs. I joined the ‘jobless brotherhood’ and we dumped piglets at parliament with hope to get jobs but I didn’t get a thing,” Madaada said. “I have never worked as an engineer, but I am glad that I repair my car in case of any faults. I gave up on applying for jobs…. but if someone gave me an opportunity, I would take it up.”
🔹 If she’s not coordinating NUP mobilisation activities in Kamwokya or upcountry, Madaada spends time on her farm in Bbaale, Kayunga where she deals in pineapples, matoke and poultry farming.