WCW: People who haven’t come close to me, they have the wrong image of me – Miria Matembe
Written by Derrick Asaba on December 29, 2021
“I like my uniqueness. My physical appearance makes people think that I am fierce. People fear me. Actually, many people don’t know the kind heart I have. My kindness has been exploited. That inner, soft part of me is there. And those that have come across me have come to know it, and have used it to their advantage. You see, my fierce outer appearance is just a way to protect my weakness,” ― Matembe.
Miria Rukooza Koburunga Matembe is a Ugandan Attorney, Politician, Mother, Anti-corruption crusader and Gender rights activist in Uganda. She is married to Nekemia Matembe and they have 4 sons, named Godwin, Gilbert, Gideon, and Grace.
She was born on August 28, 1953 in Bwizi Bwera Kashari, in Mbarara to Samuel and Eseza Rukooza who were peasants and is the 4th born of the nine siblings, five boys and four girls.
Matembe attended school at Rutooma Primary School, Bweranyangi Girls School, Namasagali College (Kamuli College then) and then received her LL.B. from Makerere University and her LL.M. from the University of Warwick. She was awarded her Honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D) from University of Victoria in 2007.
She laments the fact that most people have held a dark vision of her which has somewhat portrayed her wrongly. She highly yearns that such people get to know about her brighter side.
Growing up in a humble background, the situations around (watching women being beaten, crying) inspired her to use her strengths and abilities to fight for the womenfolk as she grew older. A platform (s) met her and she has lived to execute her childhood motives.
Matembe started her career as a pupil state attorney in the Department of DPP ministry of Justice. She then moved to lecture at Makerere University Business School (MUBS) which was then Uganda College of Commerce. After 5 years she moved to the Central Bank of Uganda (Bank of Uganda)
Matembe embraced politics at the height of excitement of the NRM government capturing power. She recounts that many people joined this government for it showed a ray of optimism the norm it was then and democracy to the benefit of all citizenry.
She believed that she could use this platform that fostered women emancipation, democracy, good governance to champion the cause she longed for. Her hopes were weakened as she revealed.
She was Mbarara District Woman Member of Parliament from 2001 to 2006. In June 2006, she became a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow with the National Endowment for Democracy.
When the bid to remove the Presidential term limits heightened, she couldn’t stand the pressure. She opposed this move which was followed by loss of her position as Minister for Ethics and Integrity.
2006 was the end of her Parliamentary term as Mbarara District Woman Member of Parliament. She decided and vowed never to return to Uganda’s politics unless she returned as president. She bit her tongue in 2021 however, when she stood to represent older persons in the 11th Parliament but was defeated by NRM’s Peggy Waako.
While serving in the Pan-African Parliament there, she was chairperson of the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Discipline a permanent committee of the parliament.
Women’s rights advocacy and participations
Miria Matembe has been a strong proponent for and an advocate of women’s rights in Uganda. For over two decades beginning in 1989, she was a member of Uganda’s parliament. She worked in the Ugandan government as minister for ethics and integrity from 1998 to 2003, after which time she became a member of the Pan-African Parliament representing Uganda.
In 1995, she was a member of the Constitutional Commission that created the Ugandan Constitution and she was one of the experts from Uganda and Kenya that reviewed and made proposals on the Proposed Constitution of Tanzania and presented their findings to the Warioba Committee in 2015, under the auspices of Kituo cha Katiba. She was the former chairperson of Action for Development, Uganda’s leading women’s advocacy organization, an organization she co-founded.
In 1990, she was the deputy general of the Pan-African Congress held in Kampala. She has been a lecturer on law and English at the Chartered Institute of Bankers, also in Kampala. A lawyer by profession, Matembe is also the author of several articles and a book, Miria Matembe: Gender, Politics, and Constitution Making in Uganda, on women in politics.
In October 2006, Matembe gave a lecture entitled “Women, War, Peace: Politics in Peacebuilding” at the University of San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Distinguished Lecture Series.
In 2011, she delivered the keynote address at The 11th Sarah Ntiro Lecture and Award held at Grand Imperial Hotel, Kampala -Uganda to those women who are either inspiring models or have worked to facilitate girl-child education at the Forum for African Women Educationalists (Fawe) organized-event and, for the disadvantaged girl-child. The main awards came in two categories; the “Woman of Distinction” award that recognized women whose activities promoted girl child education, and the Model of Excellence award that awarded women achievers who set a good example for young girls
Matembe who was one of those honored for her valiant efforts to promote girl child education gave thanks to god when accepting the award. She said ignorance and lack of resources were some of the issues hampering the advancement of girl child education.
Matembe was presented with the Women Heroine Award in 1998 from the Women Heroine Project in New York City in the United States. The award was given to 100 women who made a tremendous contribution to the world-wide women’s movement from 1898 to 1998.
In 1995, she was a member of the Constitutional Commission and later served as a delegate to the Constitutional Assembly that created the Ugandan constitution.
She was the former chairperson if Action for Development (ACFODE), Uganda’s leading women’s advocacy organization, an organization she co-founded.
Matembe has also served as a consultant on women and politics in Africa for National Democratic Institute (NDI), Club Madrid, Isis WICCE, UNDP to mention but a few.
She equally played a crucial role in the founding of some regional women’s organization such as Women Law and Development in Africa (WILAAF) and African Women’s Development Network (FEMNET). She recently co-founded the Centre for Women in Governance (CEWIGO) for which she is a member of the Advisory board.
She has published books which include among others, The Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Betrayed, Woman in the eyes of God : reclaiming a lost identity and Miria Matembe: Gender Politics and Constitution Making in Uganda.
The other side of Matembe09
Matembe loves dancing and at right times, goes out to dance with her sons. She also used to be an actress acting in plays throughout Uganda namely in two plays named Play of the Year by The National Theatre. The plays are Lubwama N’ Amakage and The Time Bomb, which she wrote.
“I didn’t have a good childhood because I had to work all the time. My family earned a living by digging and working at a food kiosk at a trading center. If my mother wasn’t available to work, I stayed home to look after my other siblings, while my other brother went to school. Yet, I was expected to perform as well as him,” she narrates.
Her worst time in life was in 1992 when the draft was completed. She faced a double loss of her brother and mother in the same year in December and September respectively.
“I remember one time when I had taken my mother to Mulago hospital for a check up, I could not stay to monitor her condition. I had to rush back to the constitution session because I was so afraid to miss the opportunity to have a women’s provision in the Constitution. So, I left my mother at the hospital with my sister. After the session, I went back only to be told that my mother had died. I was told she did not go through the CT scan as suggested by the doctors because I left the hospital. I felt that if I had spent more time with her, she would have lived. I was very busy that time,” she explains.
Nonetheless, she wears a smile on her face on the other hand ― her dream has been realized. She, as a little girl wanted to be a lawyer to plead and work for women, to get into Parliament and change the law for better equality for women which platform she finally got within the country and globally.
Matembe tells that she didn’t cry as a child because when she saw women crying, they didn’t get any help and so she saw no reason to cry. But, she cries when she hears women’s stories of mistreatment like rape and being battered. Corruption scares her even more.
“While I was working with the Constitution making commission, I kept praying to God, telling Him that I must win. Then, of course, I won. And after that, God started talking to me and he asked me: I have given you money and I let you win. I have done all of this for you, now, what have you done for me? I used to drink beer but now I don’t…and I gave my life to God. Before, my life was for women’s rights. Now, my fight is to train them spiritually. My fight is spiritual now,” says Matembe.