Proscovia Alengot Oromait might be the busiest college student I know. She wakes up at 5:30 every morning to finish her coursework, sits in lectures from 8:30 to 11:30 five days a week, and goes to work every afternoon. But unlike most college students in Uganda who have part-time jobs to help pay for tuition, Ms. Alengot’s day job is representing the people of Usuk in the Ugandan Parliament and she might earn a monthly stipend that is four times the average Ugandan salary for the entire year.
Fresh out of high school at age 19, Ms. Alengot is Africa’s youngest MP and the second youngest ever to be elected to a national assembly. There has only been one younger MP in the world—Anton Abele, who was elected to the Swedish Parliament in 2010 at the age of 18.
Ms. Alengot is a member of Uganda’s majority party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), and she was elected two weeks ago to fill the seat of her father, the late Michael Oromait, who passed away this July. Within the last few weeks, Ms. Alengot has won an election, started college, and been sworn into Parliament at the height of a debate on the national budget, so I was grateful that she squeezed me into her busy schedule.
I met Ms. Alengot at a hair salon a block away from Parliament, where she was getting spruced up before a netball match with other MPs. I am not sure which honorables she was playing against, but I imagine being 24 years younger than the average MP gives her quite an advantage.
I spoke with Ms. Alengot for thirty minutes in the most convenient meeting space we could find—a small boutique shop specializing in perfume and men’s formalwear. We found a small folding chair she could sit on and I stood next to her, voice recorder in hand. Halfway through the interview, we were joined by a reporter from the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) and a realtor from Boston, who recognized Ms. Alengot while walking by, pulled out their cameras, and started filming. It was certainly an exciting afternoon for the women who owned the boutique shop—they had front-row seats for the entire interview.
I had been eager to speak with Ms. Alengot since I first read about her victory in the Daily Monitor and New Vision two weeks ago. I wondered what her motivations were for seeking office at such a young age and how she went from being an ordinary high school student to a world-famous MP in less than four months.
During our interview, Ms. Alengot revealed that she has always had political ambitions. “I used to say way back that I want to become the President of Uganda,” Ms. Alengot said. “I always told my dad that next time you will see me as President, as a minister, and as an MP because I like to see MPs debating on UBC T.V.”
Ms. Alengot was active on her high-school debate team, where she won several tournaments, and she has attended dozens of political meetings and rallies with her father. His connections and popularity certainly helped Ms. Alengot in her dramatic ascent to Parliament, but her victory was hardly a foregone conclusion. Members of her own party questioned her electoral viability and she defeated eight older and more experienced candidates, including a former MP, to win the seat.
I would not be surprised if Ms. Alengot eventually achieves her dream of becoming President of Uganda. After all, she has a two-decade head start on most people who enter politics and she is poised and eloquent. She spoke knowledgeably about policy issues affecting women and youth and avoided political pitfalls like discussing the budget debate and the anti-homosexuality bill. I asked Ms. Alengot about the infamous bill that was reintroduced this spring and she wisely replied that she doesn’t have an opinion because the bill “has not yet been passed out.”
When I asked Ms. Alengot how she balances the responsibilities of being an MP with studying Mass Communications at Uganda Christian University and her social life, she said, “Because I’m a Christian, I don’t booze. I don’t take alcohol. My free time is for the Bible and for reading my novels. That’s how I stay. That’s how my life is.”
While Ms. Alengot’s social life might differ from many of her peers, she is confident for the challenges that lie ahead. “I am prepared for those challenges that MPs face, though there is a lot of intimidation, most of them think I’m young. But all I can tell the fellow youth out there—it’s not the body that works, it’s not the age that works, but it’s the brain and the knowledge that one has.”
Unfortunately, some of her fellow MPs from the NRM don’t agree. Michael Mukula, the deputy chairman of the NRM, told the Associated Press that he is “a bit concerned and taken aback because of her lack of experience and lack of exposure. This is not a constituency you want to give a child of that age to shoulder.”
Barnabas Tinkasiimire, another member of the NRM, was much harsher. “When you analyze that baby, what kind of knowledge and experience does she have? This is unbelievable.”
Ms. Alengot said that she isn’t worried by this kind of criticism. “There are those opposition leaders…who really intimidate me,” she admitted. “But I told myself, I will stand. As Obama said, yes I can. I said, Proscovia, I can.”
Ms. Alengot’s confidence rivals that of the U.S. President she invokes. When I asked her what she was most nervous about, she replied firmly, “I’m nervous for nothing.” We will see if this confidence translates into political success or if it prevents her from learning from older and wiser MPs. I hope to follow up with Ms. Alengot in several months, so I’ll keep you posted. I certainly enjoyed getting to know this young and dynamic Ugandan politician and I hope she succeeds in encouraging more youth to engage in the politics worldwide.