Fish vendor now Uganda’s youngest serving MP

MP Hellen Auma Wandera. She campaigned using boda bodas and walked door-to-door to meet voters. 

What you need to know:

  • In 2011, Proscovia Alengot Oromait was only 19 when she became MP for Usuk County in Katakwi District. It made her the youngest political figure in Africa.

When Hellen Auma Wandera was elected as Busia District Woman MP in Uganda, she simply knew she would be joining other legislators across the country.

There was, however, something special about her rise in politics, often dominated by men in a country where campaigns can sometimes cost an arm and a leg. Born in December 1997, she will become the youngest MP in Uganda this term. But perhaps she may never have been.

After the results were announced in January, she had initially garnered 27,000 votes; just behind Sharon Nabwire (30,747) and Fiona Nakku (28, 480).

However, after a recount, Ms Auma had 18,182 votes, followed by Nakku’s 16,223 and Ms Nabwire on 15,444. This turn of events has now thrust Ms Wandera into the limelight, having been an obscure fishmonger in Kampala. At the MP’ retreat under the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) in Kyankwanzi, 150kms northwest of Kampala, even President Yoweri Museveni took note of her new name: ‘Mama Busia’.

Uganda has often thrust surprising talents in elections. In 2011, Proscovia Alengot Oromait was only 19 when she became MP for Usuk County in Katakwi District. It made her the youngest political figure in Africa.For Ms Auma, however, her story is that of grass to grace. Her parents, Dickson Wandera and Betty Nekesa, had seven children. Ms Auma studied social science at Kyambogo University and graduated in 2019.“It was not easy because all my siblings were relying on our father’s little salary as head teacher,” she told the Daily Monitor.“We managed to attend school despite the challenge, along the way, of frequently being sent home for school fees,” she added.Her mother had shown leadership talent. As village chairperson for Buyuya in Masafu Town Council of Busia, she was also a fish trader. “I had to plough people’s gardens to raise additional money to contribute to school fees,” says Ms Auma.Through side jobs, she raised her initial capital of USh5,000, which she used to buy and sell tomatoes during her holidays. She later grew her business by importing clothes from Nairobi.Her first bitter lesson was on currency exchange rate. BUying stock from Kenya required conversion of Ugandan shillings. Here is where middlemen milked her dry. At university, she started selling fish at Banda Market in Kampala, frequented by college students. Her mother supplied the fish from Busia.In her final year, Ms Auma quit fish vending and returned home.“I realised that Busia being a conduit of business products deserves better. Our district borders Lake Victoria and has gold deposits, yet it still lags behind. This hurt me,” she said.“So I decided to contest as Woman Member of Parliament to make things better for my people.” At 23, she was seen as too young and wild. Ms Auma hired boda bodas and went door-to-door to meet with her potential voters. Some dismissed her, others thought she was a joker. Eventually, she trounced seven rival