Joyce Mpanga, an educationist, women rights activist, and veteran politician who passed away last Tuesday was a woman of many firsts. Joyce Rovincer Masembe was born on January 22, 1933, in present-day Kasanda which was then part of the Mubende district.
"I want to be remembered for the work I have done because I have done a lot of volunteer work, particularly in women," she said four years ago in an interview with URN.
She studied at Ndejje High School. The school was later demoted to Nalinya Lwantale primary school. She then joined Gayaza High School in 1946 where she was head girl for two years. A condolence message from the US Mission in Uganda said that it is saddened by the passing of Joyce, a Fulbright Program alumna of Indiana University (1962).
“Her participation as the first Ugandan woman in the program opened the opportunity for many other women. Our thoughts are with her family and friends. May her soul rest in eternal peace.”
Joyce was the third woman in the East Africa region to get a university degree and the first Ugandan woman to win a US Fulbright scholarship.
Many credit her for the affirmative action intervention in admitting female students at Makerere University and later public Universities. She was a member of the National Council of Women which among others, lobbied the Odoki Commission about women's representation in parliament and lower councils.
“I helped the women of Uganda to put their thoughts to Odoki constitutional commission and helped to make the Uganda constitution gender sensitive. For the first time, the women were recognized. It’s a he or her. You don’t cover me under men,” Joyce said previously.
She went to Makerere University in 1953 and taught at Makerere College School. She also served as a member of the Legislative Council in the sixties. Other women in LEGICO were Sarah Ntiru and Francis Akello. She also lectured at Makerere University before fleeing into exile in 1967.
Makerere University described her as "one of Makerere University’s Matriarchs,” saying, “She was a woman of many firsts, including being the first female lecturer in the faculty of education at Makerere University and Gayaza High School’s first African deputy headmistress”
When she got admitted, Margaret Brian was the warden for the 13 girls who were residing in the present-day Makerere Guest House. Joyce was among the 13 girls. The warden’s house was the wooden house at the guest house. Last year she revealed that this is how the hall was nicknamed the “the Box”. Her last appearance at Makerere was during the Sarah Ntiru Memorial lecture last year.
“When we moved into the new Mary Stewart hall. The 13 of us would only fill the first floor. By the time I left Makerere we were 50 girls,” she narrated.
“Our warden, Margaret Brian often gathered us in the evenings and told us about her struggle with Mary Stewart to persuade the protectorate government to admit girls to Makerere College. We were always motivated by these talks and helped us to appreciate the ladies' selfless act,” said Joyce.
“And she warned us that if you go wrong, you will be blocking the room or wayward for many other girls,” she added.
Joyce did her education so well that by the time she was leaving Makerere, she had been offered a job as a part-time lecturer at the Faculty of Education. Thereafter she was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study for a master’s degree in the United States of America.
After Makerere University, she was nominated to join three other women in the Legislative Council in 1958. She shared that from that time, a political bug bit her to the extent that she became more interested in politics.
Mpanga the loyalist
She was the wife to Andrew Fredrick Mpanga, who by the time of their marriage in 1965 was the attorney general of Buganda under Kabaka Mutesa II. Andrew had also served Buganda as the solicitor general. Edward Mutesa II and Dr Apolo Milton Obote attended their wedding.
Buganda kingdom said Joyce was still serving in Buganda’s parliament (Lukiiko) at the time of her demise last week. A statement from the kingdom added that Joyce fought for the restoration of the kingdom and also looked after then-prince Ronald Mutebi before he was crowned Kabaka of Buganda. No wonder, Nabagereka Sylvia Nagginda Luswatta, the wife of Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II has been closely associated with her.
Nagginda was one of the high-profile guests when Joyce launched her book titled; “It’s a Pity She’s Not a Boy”. The book tells the life story of Joyce; a fighter for women's rights, and the first minister of Women's Affairs in Uganda. The book was forwarded by Nagginda.
Whoever has crossed paths with Joyce will testify that she was loyal to the kingdom of Buganda. At least her son, Peter Mpanga bears testimony to that.
“We belong to an entity of Buganda and our two parents so much loved the king. And our mother instilled that love,” he said.
Her other son, David Mpanga has served the current Kabaka in different capacities from attorney general and minister of Local Government in the Buganda government. He currently serves as minister for special assignments at the Mengo-based institution.
Joyce raised her children as a single mother. If there is one thing that David Mpanga remembers about her, it is the fact that she was a disciplinarian.
“In Luganda, there are two words for the female gender - omukyala and omukazi. If you wanted trouble in our household, call a woman omukazi,” said David Mpanga.
Life in exile
Joyce fled the country into exile in 1967 through Nairobi to join her husband, Andrew Fredrick Mpanga. Andrew was in London when the Obote government stormed Sr Edward Mutesa’s palace (Lubiri) in February 1966.
The Obote government had suspected her of hosting pro-Mutesa groups at her home in Lungujja. She had been summoned to CID but she decided to abscond and fled Uganda through Nairobi, Kenya. Andrew had played a pivotal role in processing immigration papers for Sr Edward Mutesa who had escaped from Uganda to Burundi to travel to the United Kingdom.
Joyce had narrated to URN that life in exile was initially not easy and that she had to babysit for a house owner in London as part of a rent arrangement. She returned to Uganda shortly after Iddi Amin took power. She took up an appointment as assistant secretary to the Examinations Council from 1972 to 1978.
She lost her husband during Idi Amin’s regime. It should be noted that the husband was not murdered by the regime but died a natural death. When Prof Yusuf Kironde Lule became president, he nominated Joyce for a job as Uganda’s ambassador to Germany but she declined the offer.
In one of the previous interviews at her flowery compound in Lungujja, Joyce explained that she was not willing to get out of the country again after many years in exile. Lule then appointed her as the deputy chairperson of the Public Service Commission.
She was appointed by President Yoweri Museveni to serve as minister for Women in Development in 1988 and later minister of state for Primary Education from 1989 to 1991. She was succeeded by David Pulkol. She also served as MP for Mubende.
Her son, Fredrick Joshua Mpanga said the cause of death is suspected to have been a cardiac arrest. She was about to celebrate her 91st birthday. She was the mother to lawyer and author, David Mpanga, Peter Mpanga, a former private secretary to the Kabaka, George Mpanga, a poet and podcaster living in the United Kingdom, and Lydia Mpanga Sebuyira, an assistant professor at the University of Washington.