It is a refreshing change to come across an African first lady who is also a powerful politician. The nation of Uganda gets a two-in-one package deal in Janet Kataaha Museveni. The first lady is an elected Member of Parliament representing the Ruhaama County in the Ntungamo District, and she is also the Honorable Minister for Karamoja Affairs appointed by her husband, President Yoweri Museveni. Karamoja region is located in the Northern part of Uganda.
Janet Museveni is a woman of strong character and conviction, and she is probably one of the most influential and most powerful First Ladies to currently reign on the African continent. Born in the Ntungamo district of Uganda to Mr and Mrs Kataaha, Janet Museveni grew up with a desire to uplift others. Her primary desire is to serve, a virtue which is rooted in her Christian belief and upbringing. After her husband became president in 1986, Janet Museveni leveraged her platform as First Lady to support orphans, vulnerable children, abused girls and Uganda’s youths. She is the founder of the Uganda Women’s Initiative to Save Orphans, an organization she established in 1986, and the patron of the National Youths Forum.
And like every strong woman, Janet Museveni has had her challenges and moments of panic and fear. In 1971, when Idi Amin toppled the Obote I regime in a military coup, Ms. Museveni fled to live with her cousin in Tanzania. It was in Tanzania that she re-united with her childhood friend, Yoweri Museveni. The future president was then a guerilla under the Front for National Salvation Army (Fronasa). Their reunion was followed by a marriage in August 1973 which produced four children. However, her marriage to Yoweri Museveni meant spending years in exile and also living in fear. She moved back to Uganda after the fall of Idi Amin in April 1979, but went back into exile in Kenya and then Sweden. She finally moved back to Uganda in 1986 after her husband became president of Uganda.
Janet Museveni credits her time as a refugee for her focus on orphans and the youth. She continues to be at the forefront of politics, playing an active role in assessing and voicing the needs of Uganda’s youth and the Karamoja community. Janet Museveni is teaching women sustainability and healthy life choices by engaging them in programs that teach them to grow food to feed their own communities. She also launched safe motherhood programs across the country and provides microlending programs for women to start their own businesses.
Through the Uganda Women’s Initiative to Save Orphans, Janet Meseveni encourages and helps grandmothers to fill in, where mothers are indisposed due to the HIV/AIDSvirus, to care for and continue to raise healthy and active grandchildren. This practice has helped to curb the number of helpless orphans in Uganda.
Twenty-six year after stepping in as first lady of Uganda, Janet Museveni is stronger in her conviction, faith and determination to build up the youths of the nation. In response to the success of the Uganda Women’s Initiative to Save Orphans, Janet Museveni said, “I am glad that many years down the road, these children have grown, finished school and are independent, upright citizens raising their own families. As a mother and now a grandmother, it gives me a lot of joy to see children who were neglected and had no hope now raise their own families and even take leadership positions in various sectors in our country.”
Janet Museveni is a firm believer in changing the course of her nation by investing in the youths and by fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic. However, her stance on issues like homosexuality and condom usage have been quite controversial. Despite international praise for the presidency’s effective national response against HIV/AIDS, Janet Museveni recently condemned the use of condoms and called for a nation-wide abstinence strategy. She again came under fire for asserting her support for the Uganda infamous homosexual bill popularly called “Kill the Gays.”
As an out-spoken, born-again Christian, Janet Museveni recently released her memoir titled “My Life’s Journey.” The book documents her childhood, marriage, rise to leadership, her faith and her vision for the future. A vision that includes returning Uganda to a path of growth and development; a path that values human lives and is hopeful for the future.
Editor’s Notes: There is no doubt that Janet Museveni has been a wonderful and life-changing first lady to the people of Uganda. However, in an era of democracy and fair and turn-over government, it is fair to wonder if there is truly “no other who can do it quite like her.” Twenty Six years is a long time to rule as first lady in a country where democracy is the rule of law. But, if the people of Uganda have no qualms about it, then who are we to ask? We can only watch and ponder.