And here I ask, since most ministers are chosen from elected members of parliament (MPs), does Karamoja not have women MPs? We do? What is wrong with our women MPs that the appointing authority does not entrust them with government ministerial duties? Or is the problem the appointing authority?
Where should we start to reverse this negative trend? I dare say that with this Karamoja Women’s Conference, you are off to a good start already. However, Karamoja needs its women, you, to not be “good women.”
Let me explain by using the example of one of my heroes. The activist, environmentalist, feminist icon, the first Kenyan woman to earn a doctoral degree, the first African woman to earn a Nobel Peace Prize, Professor Wangari Maathai, may she continue to rest in power.
Nanjala Nyabola, an influential Kenyan woman, in an article that she authored titled: “Wangari Maathai was not a good woman, Kenya needs more of them” and published in an online publication, African Arguments, asserts that the legacy of Wangari Maathai does not receive acknowledgement and celebration by the Kenyan state as it should, because in Kenya she is considered not a “good woman”.
This is because, according to Nanjala, she overtly insisted on leading from the front, rather than being a spectator, while the men battled for the soul of her country Kenya. She did not accept to be classified as a “good woman”, the kind who accepts and is satisfied by the saying that “behind every successful man there is a woman.”
I invite you the women of Karamoja to emulate Professor Wangari Maathai and do battle for the soul of our country and for the soul of Karamoja; lead from the front. We should normalise a saying that “behind every successful Ugandan woman there is a man.” We should not be okay with only the men leading at the front while we simply play a support role.
While leading from the front, according Nanjala, “Maathai was a consistent thorn in the side of the autocratic administration of President Daniel Arap Moi.” We too, women of Karamoja, need to become a consistent thorn in the side of President Museveni. We can draw inspiration from Nanjala’s explanation of how Professor Wangari Maathai was a thorn:
“She revolutionised the act of protest in Kenya by centring it on the female body. Maathai wove traditional beliefs on nudity and gender together with contemporary political struggles to foment a decisive moment in the struggle that brought women into the centre of a political discourse in which they had only previously been included peripherally.”
I am not necessarily saying that we need always resort to the extremes that Maathai went to, but if you are pushed to the wall and or you are excluded from the conversations at which decisions are made about you, like Karimojong women are from the 80 strong Cabinet of Uganda, I ask: why not?
I ask you, women of Karamoja, when World Food Programme, through negligence, poisoned our people, including women and children of Karamoja, what did you do other than lament on social media? What did the head of state do? What did the ministers from Karamoja do? What did the ministers for Karamoja Affairs do? Who has been held accountable for the deaths and illnesses of our people that resulted from the negligent actions of WFP?
My fellow women, if you only murmur in private and only act when it directly benefits you, then you have chosen to be a “good woman.” If you are an elected political representative, you should step down and allow another woman who is less concerned about being defined a “good woman” to effectively and constructively utilise that space.
You are no Maathai, for that which concerns you, is what people will say about you in praise of you being a “good woman”; and moreover that “good womanhood” as it is narrowly and morally defined, mostly by men. My fellow women, know as Laurel Thatcher Ulrich profoundly observed: “well-behaved women rarely make history.”
Time is now for you to reflect and make a decision. Be a “good woman” or power up and start making history. As a minimum, I ask you take on one or more questions that I have posed in this speech, investigate and advocate to the logical conclusion.
Caution, however, in order to be effective in your investigation and advocacy, you should become thirsty for knowledge. As the saying goes “information is power”, but I add, how you decide to use information is what makes it power.
And when you combine with others, as you have done today here, at this historic event, our power is exponentially multiplied. The queen-bee syndrome does not suit women seeking to make history for the good of woman-kind. Leave the queen-bee syndrome for those who revel in being a “good woman.”
Arise women of Karamoja, arise and make history. Break any and all barriers that hold our woman-kind back and let the whole world forever know your name.
This is part of the keynote address that I gave to the First Karamoja Women Conference, themed: Women, Power Up: Breaking Barriers to Socio-Economic Development” that was held at Hotel Leslona in Moroto in Karamoja in Uganda and was attended by 100s of women from all over Karamoja. Continue reading, download a PDF of the full text of the address here.