With less than two and a half years to the 2021 Presidential Elections, one woman has revealed her intention to stand for the country’s top most office.
Phiona Mirembe, a Kampala-based lawyer, has decided to challenge President Museveni in the upcoming General Election.
Mirembe’s decision, which she announced via her Facebook page recently, will make her the fourth woman to stand for President in Uganda after Former First Lady Miria Obote (2006), Beti Olive Namisango Kamya (2011) and Maureen Kyalya (2016).
The Tower Post’s Alex Alinda caught up with the 31-year-old at her office in Naguru as she discussed about her life and plans to better Uganda.
Who is Phiona Mirembe?
Phiona Mirembe is a lawyer practicing with Mirembe & Co. Advocates. I was born on 3rd January, 1988 to Daniel and Rose Bawuna.
Which Schools did you go to?
I attended Stella Maris Boarding Primary School – Nsuube for Primary School. I then went to Tororo Girls’ School but later switched to Lugazi Mixed SS where I completed O’level in 2003 before joining St Mary’s Kitende for A-level. I graduated with a Bachelor of Laws from Makerere University in 2011 and attained Diploma in Legal Practice from LDC in 2013.
Why did you choose to take on Law as a profession?
I wasn’t interested in being a lawyer but customarily in Uganda, it has been that the best performers in academics take on courses like Law, Medicine and Engineering among others.
So my school and my parents had already identified me as a top performer, and when it came to filling choices for courses to do at the University, my dad told me I had to do Law. But my interest was in Economics and Business.
In a 2015 interview with The Observer Newspaper, you stated that your vision was to make your law firm a household name, both domestically and internationally. Has that been achieved?
No! that has not been achieved.
We had a setback in the year 2017 where we were pursuing a huge transaction that we spent so much time and money on but it unfortunately left us indebted and it was not wise to keep the firm open.
So we closed for a year and only re-opened for business in 2018.
But from what I see right now, for a firm that had to close for a year and then re-open, we have done really well in the few months we have been operating.
I still have the dream to make this firm a household name. I want to make Mirembe & Co. Advocates a home to at least 100 lawyers.
Do you think there is rule of law in Uganda?
I wouldn’t say there is no Rule of Law in Uganda.
But I think we still have a long way to go to achieve what one would ideally call the Rule of Law.
The Rule of Law cannot be achieved when there is a lot of politicking going on in the justice and legislative sectors but not all hope is lost; we can still achieve it.
When did you develop political ambitions?
I wouldn’t want to call them political ambitions.
Mine is the desire to see something change about our country. I would be very happy if someone who is not me is President because as you can see, I have a law firm to run and other things to do but again the people that are actually capable of bringing change to this country are doing nothing.
So who is going to bring change this country if I don’t stand?
I have the grit and selflessness that bleeds for my country, and that is why I made the decision to stand for President.
Who is your role Model and why?
I may disagree with him on quite a number of things but I think Barrack Obama was a very ideal President. There is so much to learn from him.
I also admire Donald Trump for his grit and for refusing to pay attention to people who tell him he can’t.
What urged you to take the decision to stand for president?
I would say I am a woman of very strong convictions.
I did a transaction in late 2018, which I am still involved in and in this transaction, someone very highly placed in the government took advantage of a community of about 2000 people.
He stole a big chunk of money that was supposed to be theirs and gave them very paltry figures.
For me that really pained me and I asked myself; “If one person is able to do something like that to 2000 people, who knows what is happening in the rest of the country and why aren’t people coming out to do something about it?”
At that point I was like “enough is enough, I need to do something for my country”.
What do you think of President Museveni’s efforts to fight corruption such as; establishing IGG, Anti corruption court, the recent Anti-Corruption Unit and appointing army officers in public offices among others?
I want to appreciate the President for doing a commendable job in fighting corruption; He might have fallen short here and there but he has done a good job.
Unfortunately, the institutions in place are not fully fighting the vice because I think that possibly the President having worked with so many people to establish what he has established, he feels that he owes them.
For instance, there are some people that apparently cannot be touched even when we know that they are corrupt and for me I feel the President cannot really touch them because they helped him get to where he is.
So me I say, if we don’t do anything about it, then we won’t be able to fully fight corruption regardless of how many commissions we institute.
In your opinion, what should be done to fight the continued vice?
I always argue that you have to inspire morality and character so if the Head of State inspires morality and character in people, then people will be inspired not to steal.
How do you plan to solve the problem of youth unemployment in Uganda?
I would focus on Industrialization.
With industrialization alongside good structures, the economy will get better and youths will have jobs.
You realize in Africa; our problem is sometimes we industrialize but very few people benefit from it because the money stays within a few hands.
For instance, in Africa, we have about 30% of the world’s natural resources but still people do not benefit from these resources because we give them away as raw materials to other people who benefit more after making finished products.
So I would put emphasis on processing our raw materials and then sell them with value as finished products.
It is also important to domestically industrialize instead of inviting foreign investors who in most cases repatriate the profits to their home countries.
I would also focus on educating young people in a way that encourages them to innovate and to industrialize their country. In that way, there will be enough jobs for everyone.
The lifting of the Presidential Age Limit worked in your favour as you will be only 33 in 2021 when Uganda goes into polls. Should we say you were in support of the Constitutional Amendment?
I was absolutely against the Constitutional Amendment.
I think it was a wrong move by our government because I don’t see how an 18-year-old can run a country.
But where the people that have the capacity to run the country are not standing up to do the right thing, the rest of us who actually don’t have the capacity but have the heart to run the country shall stand up and lead this country.
Just like the president did not have enough experience in 1980 when he went to the bush, I also do not have enough experience to do this but I am going to read, consult and ask my way to Presidency and by the time I become President, I will know everything I need to know about being President.
For the record, I am not standing to try, I am standing to be President and if am elected President, I will return the age limit because you don’t expect everyone to be President, there has to be an age limit.
President Yoweri Museveni and the NRM Party have won the Presidential Elections five consecutive times, with 61% of the vote in 2016. How prepared are you to defeat him in 2021?
I always argue that “Do the best you can.”
I know I am not in charge of the Security Forces or the Electoral Commission but what I know is that there is a need to change this country.
The President has won on so many occasions and that, we acknowledge but again we can’t say that because that has happened, it is impossible to have something different written in history. So right now what we are pursuing looks like an impossibility but Nelson Mandela said, “it looks impossible until it’s done.”
So I am going to use between now and 2021 to plan how best to win the elections.
There have been allegations of vote rigging and voter bribery in the previous Presidential Elections. Do you think the 2021 elections will be free and fair?
Those are just allegations but be that as it may, whether there is rigging or not, what I know is that this country has to be changed.
Women that have contested for Presidency in Uganda have garnered the miserable votes over the years. What makes you think it will be different for you?
I want to investigate the reasons under which these people stood for Presidency and whether they were actually resolute enough to want to lead this country.
Were they trying to become President or were they wanting to become President?
That is the difference between me and these people. I am not simply trying or seeking the attention of the President so as to become a Prime Minister or to become a minister or KCCA ED, No!
We need to change the country so am not only going to try, I am actually going to run for President and that doesn’t mean that I should pay attention to who has failed before.
I have achieved so many things that people thought were impossible.
Kyadondo East Legislator Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine and his “People Power” have become popular in the recent months and given a section of Ugandans hope for change. What do you think of Hon. Kyagulanyi as a leader and his rising popularity?
First of all, I find him very enviable in the fact that he has stood out to be very brave about what he believes in.
But again I urge that we can’t heal this country but always criticizing what people have done and Hon Kyagulanyi’s campaigns have been all about portraying the President and this government as very bad.
I don’t think there is anyone else that understands Uganda like the President does.
President Museveni understands Uganda so well. He understands so much about Regional Integration, International Relations, to mention but a few, and you can’t afford to dispense off a library like that. You don’t condemn him out of office.
I believe that whoever is going to take Presidency after President Museveni should be someone that actually confers with him on so many matters.
He is a moving library. Yes, it is clear even to a young person that the President has had his fair share of challenges in his leadership, he has done some bad things but he is still a commendable resource for the next President of the country.
So as we struggle to change our country, I argue that we do it maturely and respectfully.
Which political party are you affiliated to?
None. I will stand as an independent candidate.
There are speculations that members of the opposition might consider fronting one candidate to challenge President Museveni in 2021. Would you welcome the idea?
On that, I share sentiments with President Museveni; he told the opposition that they are focused on taking him out of that chair than focusing on solving the problems the country is facing, and that is not what I believe in.
I don’t think it is wise to come up with one joint candidate to stand against President Museveni.
We need a Presidential candidate that bleeds for Uganda because this country needs healing and our healing will not come from the fact that we have dislodged the President.
I refuse to be involved in something like that; I am independent, with my independent views for Uganda.
Have you occupied a leadership position before?
I have never been a leader, apart from being a Time Keeper in P.5 (laughs).
But I actually believe that my inexperience is going to work for me. The stakes are higher for me than for anyone else because I am coming with nothing to rectify Uganda and I have no biases.
I am coming on a clean slate to learn and rectify Uganda. I don’t believe my inexperience works against me, it works for me.
How prepared are you for the Presidential Race because it involves traversing the country during campaigns, printing posters and appearing Radio and Television stations, among other activities which all need time and money?
We have started a fundraising drive and people are already contributing towards the cause.
In terms of time, I have handed over management of the law firm to my colleagues so that I can concentrate on preparations for the 2021 polls.
I am also talking to researchers that have traversed this country before. I have so many meetings with researchers who tell me what happens everywhere in the country.
What we are doing now is having discussions with these people and then when the time comes for us to actually go down on the ground, we shall have something to work with.
How do you spend your time out of office?
Out of office am majorly reading. I read too much.
So am either reading or conferring with my colleagues on so many issues. I meet with my friends and we discuss various issues that could be beneficial to society.
But am also a workaholic so it’s very difficult for me to get free time.