Q and A: Uganda's Norbert Mao - Skilled Politician Still Sees TDA Path To Victory In 2016 Vote

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Norbert Mao


Norbert Mao rose from shoe cobbler, bicycle repair boy, blacksmith to leading Ugandan politician. Heads opposition Democratic Party. Okumu Langol Livingstone caught up with Mao recently.

He was abandoned as an 8-month-old baby at Makenge, Mbarara military barracks in Western Uganda, a son of a former Ugandan soldier.

BSN: Tell us how you rose from a shoe maker, bicycle repairer and a blacksmith to party president?

MAO: I guess it’s because of my determination. I am the only child of my mother who left me when I was only 8 months old. This explains enough and taught me to do things for myself which I have initiated. I grew up in an Aunt’s safety in Bwobo, I grew up with an aunt and my father entrusted me to grow up with an elder. Growing up with my Aunt and grandmother was very good, a disciplinarian to me, she was very strong.

My grandmother encouraged me to take school very seriously, She used to tell me in Luo 'Kwan aye mani ki woro,' education is your mother and father....

Later on, I went to live with my father Dusman Okee in Jinja Town, eastern Uganda, when I was 12 years old. My father was working in Uganda Green Milling; I sat for my Primary Leaving Examination from Jinja.

My journey to leadership is basically based on education; it has been central in making me who I am, so I was inspired to become a lawyer because I saw a lot of injustice. My father faced a lot of injustices during Amin’s time because he served in Obote’s I government as an army man in the 1960s.

Amin never wanted educated people in Acholi. Mr. Okee was frequently arrested, I felt that being a lawyer would give me deeper knowledge to fight injustice and give me determination; would give me things to study law because I had acquired higher grades that would qualify me to study law.

At the time there was full-scale war going back in Northern Uganda, our community, the Acholi, was seriously stigmatized for the collective guilt for our dark past, was heaped on Acholi people.

I then decided while at University that I would not be a bystander anymore, I would enter politics. I then decided to joined student politics from Makerere University, I rose to become president of the Students' Guild.

But that was not enough I needed a bigger platform after graduation, I came to Gulu to explore possibility of entering political life from home. Thus, I ran for Constituent Assembly seat for Gulu Municipality, however I lost that election. After that I decided that I needed to do more work to let me settle for the people on the ground. This made me to apply for the job as the Project Advocate for Legal Aid Project, I came to Gulu as the lawyer for the poor people.

I was serving the people without holding political office. However, I was successful during the Parliament of 1996 against the very powerful opponent Mrs. Betty Bigombe.

So I spent 10 years in Parliament as an advocate for peace, human rights campaigner, land rights campaigner and campaigner for the restoration of multiparty political dispensation.

From 1988 I had joined the Democratic Party,  DP, I decided that I needed to lead the party as the representative of Uganda's younger generation  born in 60's and 70's. My first attempt to be elected leader of DP was in 2005, I lost to the then-Kampala mayor Ssebana Kizito.....In year 2010, this time I was successful; by that time I was also Chairman for Gulu Local  Government Council. Also I was very active in the Juba Peace talks with LRA, I campaigned very actively for the dismantling of IDP Camps.

And also worked hard that the local government is strengthened by the time I left for real campaign in year 2011, in order to prepare for the presidential campaign. Gulu was ranked number one in local government score card in Uganda.

That is my political life. I am saying in God I believe; he has a divine purpose in me.

BSN: The Democratic Alliance, TDA, Uganda was expecting that the opposition groupings would choose a single presidential candidate to deliver the TDA a win in the fourth presidential election in year 2016. Does the TDA have an opportunity to win when they failed to choose one candidate?

MAO: The TDA idea is based on urgent demand for opposition unity by Uganda. During the by-election when we united, we won in Parliament; we have joint shadow government headed by FDC party.

We united for the Campaign For Free and Fair election. TDA was there to nurture the result of our effort for togetherness. It’s a political project, it's purpose is to defeat Museveni's regime in the 2016 election. We expect to establish the Government of National Unity with the agenda for free prosperity in the economy, restoration of term limits, a civilian controlled army, putting in place a neutral Truth and Reconciliation Process. But above all laying a permanent foundation for peaceful change of government.

Uganda has seen many things, we have modern technology, we have got good qualifications, but we have never seen peaceful change of government. TDA is still alive and strong; I will still continue to seek ways of having a form of candidates at all level.

We have challenges because of personal interests superseding national interest.  We are going to continue with dialogue to maintain the center, togetherness coalition, it's difficult to maintain, but we are not going to give up.

BSN: What is your position on an Acholi agenda?

MAO: The Acholi want greater autonomy that amounts to the economy. We want to protect our national mineral [resources], oil and land. We don’t want our affairs to be determined from Kampala; we have decided to pursue national interest, me and Dr. Ambassador Olara Otunnu. We also want to protect our national mineral [resources] oil and land.


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