My article on Africa’s Youngest MP, Proscovia Alengot, made the front page today of the Saturday Monitor, Uganda’s largest independent newspaper: http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/I+m+stressed+by+men+from+Parliament++says+Alengot/-/688334/1526168/-/x2qsl0/-/index.html
Unlike most university students in Uganda, Proscovia Oromait Alengot is extremely busy. She wakes up at 5:30 every morning to finish her assignments and sits in lectures from 8:30am to 11:30am before heading off to work. Many university students take part-time jobs to help pay tuition, but Ms Alengot’s occupation is different.
Fresh out of secondary school at the age of 19, she represents the people of Usuk in Parliament, making her 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, a member of the ruling NRM, was elected a month ago to fill the seat of her father, Michael Oromait, who passed away in July. She claims that her father told her that he eventually wanted her to succeed him.
“One of my daughters will go back and become a politician,” Oromait allegedly told her. “It’s you that I want, since you are talkative and educated. Since you debated at Mchoka and won, I want you to go and become a politician,” Ms Alengot quotes her late father.
Juggling with studies
As an accomplished debater in high school, Ms Alengot is comfortable with public speaking and she is in her first semester at Uganda Christian University (UCU) in Mukono, where she studies Mass Communication. “Lectures are there everyday and the discussion is on Saturday and Sunday. I do not waste any time…I just go and discuss and my friends explain to me what I have read.”
When asked how she will balance her studies, the responsibilities of being an MP, and her social life, Ms Alengot responded, “Because I am a Christian, I do not booze (take alcohol). My free time is for the Bible and reading my novels…that is how my life is.” Her confidence level is high for a 19-year-old and Ms Alengot feels prepared for the challenges ahead.
Not everyone agrees with Ms Alengot’s assessment and some MPs have been critical of the teenage lawmaker’s quick rise to power. Mr Michael Mukula, MP for Soroti Municipality, also the deputy chairperson of the NRM, told Daily Monitor in September that he is concerned because of her lack of experience and lack of exposure.
Mr Barnabas Tinkasiimire, another member of NRM, was more critical in an interview with the Associated Press. “When you analyse that baby, what kind of knowledge and experience does she have? This is unbelievable.”
Ms Alengot said this kind of criticism, even from members of her own party, does no bother her. “There are those opposition leaders…who really intimidate me,” Ms Alengot admitted. “But I told myself, I will stand. As Obama(US President) said, ‘yes we can’. I said, ‘Proscovia, I can.’
“I am nervous of nothing,” she said, adding that there are several MPs whom she considers mentors and friends.
Ms Alengot’s political ambitions grew at an early age as she watched her father meet with political advisers and constituents. “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 an MP, as a minister, and as president, because I like to see MPs debating on UBC [Uganda Broadcasting Corporation] TV.”
“So it is from that time that my dad passed on, I was given that task to go and… complete his manifesto,” Ms Alengot said. “No one can complete my dad’s manifesto but me, because he never handed it to anyone. I have his documents and I believe I can make it.”
Ms Alengot said her father’s greatest contribution as an MP was education and she plans to continue her father’s initiatives, especially in the areas of health and education. “The biggest need of my district is health centres.”
She also hopes to address issues facing women and young people. Ms Alengot proposed that the government should give money to groups of women in the villages, “so that at least when their husbands go to work and there is no money, they can go get money from their groups to buy salt, sugar, and treatment for the children.”
The 19-year-old legislator also said “first and foremost, the President should provide jobs for the youth, because the youth are now suffering. When someone finishes school, he or she begins roaming the street, looking for a job, but there are no jobs for them. At least they should give them tractors for agriculture which will enable them to earn a living.”
Although Ms Alengot benefitted from her father’s political legacy and the support of some leaders in the NRM, her electoral victory came as a surprise to many, including herself.
“When I won the (party) primaries, I did not feel all that excited, but I was happy to be the flag bearer of the NRM, and I kept on praying to God and said, ‘God, make me win the final battle.”
Although she now balances her time between UCU in Mukono and Parliament in Kampala, Ms Alengot hopes to return to Usuk as much as possible. “I will always go back to Usuk and my constituency,” she said, “because I am fighting for the people. I am a customer to them—they sent me and I will fight for them.”