Agnes Nandutu: Troubled minister who miraculously became MP

Ms Agnes Nandutu, a proud mother of seven beamed from a split and humble family in the rivers and ridges of Bududa District to not only become the area woman representative in Parliament but also a state minister for Karamoja affairs in 2021 before being detained on April 18, 2023. 

Barely two years in her new roles that saw her quit television, crisis after crisis in Uganda’s restive Karamoja sub-region would then architect the revelation of major scandals involving a web of high-profile government officials, including Ms Nandutu herself.

Ending Tuesday, Ms Nandutu was due to become the third minister to face criminal proceedings in line with the infamous Karamoja iron sheets scandal. Ms Nandutu was held on April 18 after she surrendered to police, a day after eluding state investigators.

Appearing June 25, 2021 on her former workstation, NTV Uganda, the first time legislator told popular morning show host Faridah Nakazibwe that her journey to the top had been captained by God.

‘‘My parents separated when I was young and I kept roaming in between my grandparents and stepmothers but God has remained in charge,’’ said the journalist-turned-politician who was famed through a comical Friday 9pm NTV Uganda news segment dubbed ‘point blank’- and a citizen-based debate television show called People’s Parliament. 

Speaking of her staggered education, Ms Nandutu who first put on shoes in P7 class while she was only headed for a drama competition in Mbale City said: ‘‘I had a troubled childhood. You people who grew up in Kampala are lucky.  We’d first dig at home before going to school.’’

‘‘I got five aggregates in P7 at Bumwali Primary School. I would admire my colleagues from rich families but I was gifted. So they would come to me for consultation,’’ she recalled during the ‘Mwasuze Mutya’ program.

With her frustration fused to the core by fate, Ms Nandutu opted out of school by the age of 18.

‘‘I attended Bbulo girl’s secondary and them Blucheke Secondary School but I was determined to join armed forces. I admired them but my dad refused,’’ she revealed.

Pressed hardest by a poverty thrusted misery, she -with- her mother fled to Kenya’s capital Nairobi ‘‘to try and make their life better as maids.”

‘‘Conditions there still weren’t good and my mum compelled me to return. Upon my return, I was a very good and honest cook at Freedom restaurant in Bududa District before I became a bar maid,’’ she disclosed.

Several days after returning from Kenya, Ms Nandutu says, one of her cousins brought her (Ms Nandutu) on her maiden way to Uganda’s capital.

‘‘I came willing to do anything, everything to earn some money. We resided in that Wabiggalo slum in Namuwongo, a Kampala suburb,’’ she said. 

Tittering almost through the entire show in a brownish-white African fabric, Ms Nandutu acknowledged the role of perseverance in her decades long journey.

‘‘What I have gone through has kept me strong. When God does good things, you even forget past hardships,’’ she said. 

Her cousin’s friend, Mr Andrew Buzibanga predisposed her to

broadcasting at a state run radio in the early 1990s.

‘‘As a freelance journalist at radio Uganda, I met Mr Mike Bwaayo and he started training me. He was awed over my first on-air presentation,’’ she said, going on to state that: ‘‘Deceased Mr John Ateddu advocated for my initial Shs16,000 salary payment.’’

Ms Nandutu recounts how- then Daily Monitor Executive Editor, Mr Peter Mwesige also recommended her elevation to a full staff due to her ‘powerful stories’. 

Late Amon Thembo had encouraged the S4 school dropout to pursue further studies in 1994 but her highly prioritised broadcast skills were often deemed outstanding by her employers.

‘‘I had rare confidence and passion that would see me- jump from job to job; media house to media house,’’ she said.

Once the opportunity to join NTV Uganda arrived in 2008, Ms Nandutu abandoned her previously held jobs at Impact FM and Daily Monitor newspaper.

‘‘Mr Samuel Ssetumba alerted me. At my interview, Ms Betty Dindi didn’t even ask for my academic documents because I was skillful,’’ she extolled.

‘‘I declined being promoted to become a Daily Monitor Eastern bureau chief as I was longing to be on television,’’ she added.

However, Ms Nandutu said: ‘‘I was never tempted to forge documents. All I had was a certificate and it’s what I presented everywhere for a job.’’

‘Producing a lot of children’

‘’People identified me as that woman who produces a lot. I once got struck by labor-pains while on journalistic duty in Entebbe. The hardships of my life underlined the need for being hardworking and I vowed to hustle my way in Kampala,’’ Ms Nandutu said on June 25, 2021, not long after her appointment to cabinet.

Hard hit by the world, the law-maker said by 1998, she’d been spiritually renewed and drawn closer to God.

Midway the show, Ms Nandutu in a toned-down voice astounded her host, Faridah- revealing that she’d been at NTV for over twelve years despite having no academic qualifications.

‘‘I registered at Uphill College Mbuya where I’d study in the evening and on weekends. I’d dress in my blue skirt with a white blouse (uniform) and sat for Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) exams in 2013 and excelled,’’ she said.

She’d later fail severely in the 2015 Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE) exams due to what she described as intensified time consuming life responsibilities. 

‘‘In 2017, I re-sat for S6 exams and passed. Then-news manager at NTV Uganda, Mr Maurice Mugisha called me to return from work leave but I couldn’t because I had to first complete exams,’’ she said.

According to Ms Nandutu, her return to school was not politically motivated but rather due to enlightenment while in Kampala.

”I will not give up until i get my degree,” she echoed.

Kadaga-Obore, Nandutu feud

Ms Nandutu, presenting herself as one with a bete noire for inauthenticity, said her truthfulness landed her in trouble as she was expelled from covering parliament in 2017.

‘‘I did a story about former Speaker Rebecca Kadaga’s extravagance in Parliament. Nothing could compromise us with my fellow journalists Francis Jjingo and Yassin Mugerwa. The director communications and public affairs department in Parliament Mr Chris Obore was directed to deny me accreditation,’’ she claimed.

Years later, Ms Nandutu sneaked into parliament and conducted an interview with the current speaker of parliament, Mr Jacob Oulanyah.

‘‘When they noticed, all the security people at the entrance were reshuffled. Others said my presence at the Parliament premises was a threat to their job,’’ she recalls.

Ms Nandutu said she’d forgiven those that pursued a vendetta against her.

‘’I surrendered and told them that I had left parliament as a journalist but I would come back as an MP and that I had to be Mr Obore’s boss.’’

Poor unmarried woman’s Shs600,000 miracle to Parliament

Broke but into a legislative race, Ms Nandutu was shocked after she emerged third in ‘rigged’ NRM primaries but her vocal prowess via mass media did not let money-splashing individuals prevail.

‘‘I quit the ruling NRM party things. I told myself that it’s not party primaries that decide. I returned to Kampala extremely broke having spent money in primaries,’’ she said.

Clinging to her intention, Ms Nandutu solely resolved to stand as an independent candidate in the national race for Bududa woman MP.

”My friends contributed and I raised Shs3million for the nomination forms,” she said.

Ms Nandutu dismissed claims that her path to electoral victory on January 14, 2021 was eased by her media influence. 

‘‘It’s a miracle that I’m a minister and an MP. People in my village are poor and don’t follow events in Kampala,’’ she noted.

Ms Nandutu confessed that harbouring dreams of being a legislator was somewhat orchestrated by roles she assumed overtime, some by assimilation despite being poor.

‘‘I’m lucky God gave me an oratory skill. I talked to NMG General Manager Editorial, Mr Daniel Kalinaki about my MP aspirations and he told me that you can go to Parliament and change the rhetoric of money influencing electoral activities.’’

While on the show, Ms Nandutu narrated her ‘Sweeping miracle’ on a prayer mountain she had visited for meditation ahead of the January 14 legislative poll.

‘‘I didn’t even have transport for a bus back to Bududa district. After I’d lost NRM primaries. I went to a room at the prayer mountain and while I was sweeping, I saw dusted Shs600,000 notes held by a rubber band under the bed. It was a miracle and I used the money for transport,’’ she explained. 

Also to her advantage, she says, towards the end the legislative race, two bitter opponents of the incumbent were disqualified from the race by court- making the Bududa Woman MP contest a two horse race.

‘‘That’s when the election changed. They started de-campaigning me as the unmarried woman using the phrase ‘kumururumbu’. This instead made me a household name in the district as I’d sank deep into people’s blood,’’ she said.

Ms Nandutu undeniably emphasizes that God masterminded her victory.

‘‘Prior to my electoral victory, God walked on foot and arrived in Bududa District. I sweepingly defeated her (Ms Justine Khainza). I’ll committedly work for my people who voted me because I was poor,’’ she said.

Ms Nandutu who thought she had peaked her political career in becoming an MP- disclosed that the June 12, 2021 news of her appointment as Minister got her seeping red wine.

‘‘I cried. I was shocked and soaked in disbelief. The president had picked a house girl and a person who worked as a bar-maid- President Yoweri Museveni has really followed the path of Jesus Christ,’’ she climaxed her story- weeping while also signing off with her legendary outro… ”Aaaagnesssssssss Nandutuu, Minister of for Karamoja affairs.’’ 

*This story was originally published on June 26, 2021.

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