Anita Among’s election on May 24 as deputy speaker of parliament, completed her five-year-long meteoric ascension to the apex of the elite legislative branch of government.
She garnered an overwhelming 415 votes to ultimately claim the crown and consign her opposition contenders; Mawokota South MP Yusuf Nsibambi (FDC) (35 votes) and Kampala Central MP Muhammad Nsereko (Independent) (24 votes) to oblivion.
The Bukedea woman MP has used individual political brilliance and unquestioning loyalty to the powers-that-be to scale the heights of politics. In terms of influence, access to resources and to the highest office in the land, Among continues to overshadow many lawmakers and ministers.
She’s the latest example of the president’s tendency to prize loyalty over experience. Political watchers say that for the first time, the country has a deputy speaker who is more powerful than the speaker of parliament, Jacob Oulanyah. In terms of access to President Museveni, Anita has first-class accessibility.
Insider sources interviewed by The Observer said Among has dual roles as a shrewd power broker and go-to-person for investors and politicians who want to meet with the president.
“It’s that lady [Among] whose intervention led to the president to allow Roko Construction Company to finally get that deal of constructing the new parliament chambers. The president had completely rejected Roko Construction Company,” one MP who declined to be named said.
“Do you remember when FDC changed leadership of committees? For her and Katuntu (Abdu, MP Bugweri) remained vice chairperson and chairperson of Cosase respectively even when the FDC hierarchy had replaced them with Hon Mubarak Munyagwa (then Kawempe South MP) and Hon Kasibante [then Rubaga North MP],” the same MP said.
“Even the speaker [Rebecca Kadaga] did not only respect but feared her because of her high-profile connections and influence. When the Leader of Opposition [Betty Aol] wrote to her asking the duo to leave their offices since there were other people to serve in those capacities, the speaker defended their stay in office,” the MP added.
Another MP told The Observer that in just one five-year term, Among has been able to start and complete several big projects.
“How many MPs have you heard have radio stations? They are not many but Among was able to open a radio station with powerful equipment, a science laboratory and build a teaching hospital in the shortest period of time,” the MP said.
Among in April 2019 launched several projects in her Bukedea district and President Yoweri Museveni was the chief guest. They included; a science laboratory at Bukedea Comprehensive School named after Yoweri Museveni, laid a foundation stone for Bukedea teaching hospital and opened a new radio station.
When she won her first term as MP in 2016, Among took parliament by storm, leaving colleagues wondering where she derives her power and influence from. One morning in September 2016, as Among entered parliament, a police officer bowed and said, “How are you, Honourable? Did you have a nice day?”
After exchanging pleasantries, the police officer handed over the first-term MP her phone and handbag. Among nodded in approval and broke into a beaming smile. It is not uncommon for security officers to exchange pleasantries with MPs and other parliamentary staff.
However, for the relatively-short time that Among had been in the 10th parliament, she had amassed considerable influence, respect and awe from amongst her colleagues and parliamentary staff that even some seasoned legislators did not command.
Those who have interacted with Among say her personality played a part in the rising influence of the then vice chairperson of the influential committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase), who was also a vocal supporter of Kampala Central MP Muhammad Nsereko during his unsuccessful bid to become deputy speaker in May 2016.
“She is a go-getter. When she sets her sight on something, she will do anything to achieve it,” said one opposition legislator, who like many people we talked to preferred to speak anonymously in order not to antagonize his relationship with her.
The legislator described Among as a “political merchant” who has perfected the skill of dealing with the opposition and the NRM at the same time. Another MP noted that she is good at relating with people.
“When you call her, she addresses you as ‘dear,’ ‘sweetheart’,” said the MP who sat with her on the committee on state enterprises (Cosase).
The MP added that Among always means well for other people and is concerned when someone appears not to be making progress in life. Among, who ran for parliament as an independent, beat Rose Akol, the short-lived minister for Internal Affairs, to the Bukedea woman seat in the February 18, 2016 elections.
It was sweet revenge for the MP who had been defeated by the same Akol twice before - in 2007 when there was a by-election after the district was created, and in 2011. During the two failed bids, Among contested as an FDC candidate. However, in 2016, Among left the party baffled when she declined its ticket and chose to stand as an independent candidate.
A senior party official told us that in one meeting in 2015, Among, a former FDC deputy treasurer, outright rejected the party ticket, which had been handed to her on a silver platter.
The official said an investigation by the party found that her election was funded by, among others, a senior army officer hailing from the Teso sub-region.
It has been claimed in various circles that Among partly owes her influence and power to the connections she has with State House and some powerful businesspeople. Most of these relations she cultivated before she came to parliament.
For instance, Among is close to Hassan Basajjabalaba, an influential businessman and former chairman of NRM’s entrepreneurs’ league. Among in 2016 lectured at Basajjabalaba’s Kampala International University (KIU), which she was associated with for at least five years.
Her relationship with Basajjabalaba came under close scrutiny when the state enterprises committee (Cosase) investigated the controversial sale of UBC land in Bugolobi. Haba group, a company that belongs to Basajjabalaba, was mentioned in connection with the loss of UBC’s land title.
One MP told us that given her relationship with the businessman, Among should have excused herself from the committee when it discussed this matter. Among roundly rejected this notion in an interview with The Observer then. She suggested that it was because of her connection that the committee was able to secure the UBC land title.
“I got the land title when everyone was about to give up,” she said.
Besides Basajjabalaba, Among is said to be close to Wasswa Balunywa, the principal of Makerere University Business School (Mubs), where she lectured before. Sources told us that she was instrumental in soliciting scholarship opportunities for students and jobs for party supporters at Mubs and KIU.
An accountant by training, Among worked in Centenary bank for 10 years before she resigned in 2007 to contest for the Bukedea seat. After she lost the election, she got a teaching job at Mubs and later KIU. On top of this, Among has political connections to State House. We were told that she talks regularly to President Museveni.
One MP told us that Museveni was chief guest at her thanksgiving ceremony back in 2016. For unclear reasons, the ceremony was kept a low-key affair. Only a handful of people were invited.
In an interview then, Among declined to comment about her personal life, insisting that she wants to focus on her work. She, however, admitted that she is open to working with everyone, including President Museveni, for the good of Uganda.
She said: “Being close to people in NRM and being an independent is a non-issue for me. These are irrelevant things that should not be talked about. We want results at the end of the day and I don’t mind working with people in the NRM.”
Among further told us that she decided to join politics for adventure, not for personal gain.
“There is a book titled Who Moved My Cheese? It is always good to move on in life to find out what is outside there. It is not good to cling onto one thing forever. I also felt that the leadership there [FDC] was not doing enough,” she said.
Maintaining that she is still FDC “by heart,” Among said she chose to stand as an independent after consulting people. She said a good politician always listens to what his/ her electorate says.
“It is my electorate that told me to stand as an independent. I am still FDC,” she said.
Among further said she was not shocked by her appointment as vice chairperson of Cosase because she is “knowledgeable and competent.”
Controversy has always been part and parcel of Among’s political career. Her journey to parliament was not smooth. On Election Day in 2016, she was briefly arrested and detained by police in Bukedea for allegedly trying to interfere with the vote counting process at the district electoral commission offices.
Tom Keith Eyaku, the Bukedea district police commander then, told journalists that he acted after receiving intelligence information that Among connived with one Electoral Commission official to gain entrance into their offices.
Yet long before she came onto the national political scene, Among had already become a phenomenon within FDC where she served as deputy treasurer in charge of fundraising.
In 2012, she defeated Salaamu Musumba, the then FDC vice president for eastern Uganda, and a host of other senior party officials during primaries for the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA). Her victory was shrouded in controversy after allegations sprung up that she had bribed delegates.
James Birungi Ozo, the then party deputy secretary for sports, petitioned the party president, Dr Kizza Besigye, claiming that Basajjabalaba had given Among Shs 150 million to facilitate her EALA campaign.
Anita Annet Among (born November 23, 1973) is a Ugandan accountant, lawyer and politician who serves as the deputy speaker of the 11th Parliament of Uganda (2021– 2026).
She also concurrently serves as the elected member of parliament for the Bukedea district Woman constituency, the same position she held in the 10th parliament (2016–2021).