Fourty nine year-old Margaret Zziwa on Monday became the third Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) and first woman to hold the post since the regional body was revived in 1999.
She defeated in a closely contested election her compatriot Dora Byamakuma (40), also from Uganda, on the second round after the first one failed to produce the minimum required votes for any of the two.
During the first round, which witnessed none of them reaching the required 30 votes or two-thirds majority, Zziwa scored 27 votes against Byamukama’s 18.
On the second round, Margaret Nantongo Zziwa was elected the first female Speaker after polling 33 votes against Byamukama’s 12 votes. The electorate has 45 voters, nine by each member state.
The first speaker of the Assembly was Abdulrahman Kinana from Tanzania followed by Abdirahim Abdi from Kenya, whose tenure of service ended last week.
For the first time in EALA’s election history, there was serious even virulent campaigning for the post of the Speaker from both candidates.
After being elected and sworn in, the Speaker, who will serve for a period of five years, proceeded to administer oath to the members.
Apart from the 45 elected Members, the Assembly counts 7 ex-officio members, including the 5 ministers- in- charge of the EAC Affairs from respective partner states – Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, the Secretary General and the Counsel to the Community.
After she was sworn in, Dora Byamukama surprised her colleagues and the public by refusing categorically to hug the newly elected Speaker, who had opened her arms to her former contestant.
Byamukama refused even to receive a bouquet from Zziwa’s hands as it was for all members after the swearing in. She received the bouquet from an official lady and went to hurl them in front of the Uganda Minister in charge of EAC Affairs, Elia Kategaya.
“This is shocking if not disgraceful,” said one person in the public gallery, adding: “If two people from the same country and political party do this for a regional post, the regional integration has a long way to go.” Byamukama and Zziwa are both from the Uganda ruling party, the President Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM).
A Ugandan, who was also in the public gallery and who had been cheering every time the name of Zziwa was mentioned in votes counting retorted, “We won, and democracy has won. For how long these bosses will impose on us people to choose”.
Byamukama was the official Uganda government’s choice which even deployed a heavy delegation here for the lobbying in her favour.
She was not seen at the cocktail offered later on by the Office of the EALA Speaker in the AICC Gardens. The EAC Secretariat and the EALA are located in that International Conference Centre in Arusha.
The new Speaker is a holder of Masters of Science Degree in applied Social Research and an MA degree in Gender and Women Studies. She is also a PhD candidate at the University of Stirling in the UK.
She has promised to widen and deepen the EAC integration.