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Maya Angelou: The smell of new money in Uganda

by Editorial Team
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By Ahumuza Muhumuza


Ekizike. That is what the streets have named the sh50,000 note because of the large gorilla on it. The well-built silverback smugly flexes its huge muscles on the face of the legal tender, as if reflecting the strength of Uganda’s largest denomination.

Harambee’s Ugandan cousin is as evasive as he is sought after on these streets. The rare great ape, only found in the mountain ranges that straddle Uganda’s southwestern borders, is a national treasure and a fitting choice for the banknote.


The US of A, on the other hand, has a long tradition of having deceased mostly elderly white men gracing their currency – an exclusive tight knit clique of Jacksons, Grants and Ben Franklins. It was, therefore, amid great fanfare that an African American poet – Maya Angelou – was announced as the new face (or rather tail to be precise) of the quarter dollar this week, an honour she shares with George Washington who remains on the head of the quarter.


Handout photo provided by The United States Mint on January 10, 2022 shows the reverse (tails) quarter honouring Maya Angelou, designed by United States Mint Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) /AFP)

Our neighbours, too, have portraits of their founding fathers on their currency – Tanzania’s venerable mwalimu mzee Julius Nyerere and Kenya’s elderly statesman Jomo Kenyatta both grace their respective country’s legal tender. Idi Amin and Milton Obote both briefly had their faces on Uganda’s shilling during their respective regimes, but that is a bygone era.

Uganda may not have founding fathers that everyone can unanimously rally around, but we definitely have national heroines that deserve to be brought back into national consciousness each time we make a transaction. Here are our top picks for Bank of Uganda’s next revamp.


Sh20,000 note

Winnie Byanyima

A maverick pioneer, Winnie Byanyima is a woman of many firsts. The first female Ugandan aeronautical engineer, she later served as Uganda’s ambassador to France, Oxfam International executive director, and is currently UNAIDs executive director.

If Asan Kasingye is the president of Ugandans on Twitter, then Byanyima is the honorary Queen Mother of Ugandans on Twitter. On the social media platform, no topic is taboo for Winnie, no one has impunity from her attacks. Byanyima will take on the high, the mighty, and the miserable; from Bill Gates to Bezos; Bobi Wine to any random Bosco Kataala in his Katanga bedsitter.

One moment she will be coming at the billionaires for their role in perpetuating global inequalities, the next she will be firing shots at poor Bosco, who lives on less than a dollar a day, for questioning her parenting style.

Byanyima is a woman of all seasons; one moment she will be comfortably chairing the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps – lecturing world leaders on the role they need to play to mitigate the climate change crisis – and the next she will be in the bushes in rural Mbarara educating the scandalised masses on the traditional use of basil aka omujaaja as a laxative on both ends – a herb, spice and toilet paper.

She represents a Uganda we need to see more of, suave and sophisticated in the right context, but not ashamed to flaunt its local side when the situation calls for it.


Sh10,000 note

Specioza Kazibwe

Kazibwe argued that cows should be allowed to enjoy sexual intercourse, at a time when artificial insemination was all the rage and scientists were pushing for it in a bid to ‘modernise’ Uganda’s agricultural sector

Specioza Kazibwe is another outspoken Ugandan who stirred up Ugandans’ emotions, long before social media existed. Kazibwe holds the record of being the first female vice-president on the African continent.

As a mother of twins (nalongo), culture has bestowed upon her the leeway to speak her mind and she has used this to full effect – publicly commenting on topics that would otherwise be taboo. When her story is finally written, she will be remembered for speaking her mind candidly.

For example, she argued that cows should be allowed to enjoy sexual intercourse, at a time when artificial insemination was all the rage and scientists were pushing for it in a bid to ‘modernise’ Uganda’s agricultural sector.

A decade later, when she was trying to encourage men to get circumcised, Kazibwe said she was an authority because she had touched many busolo (penises) while carrying out her duties as a doctor.

Specioza Kazibwe was a household name in the 1990s, an icon of modern Uganda, and these kids deserve to put some respect on her name.



Rebecca Kadaga

Rebecca Kadaga is Uganda’s iron lady of the 2000s. Kadaga may have since receded from the limelight, but when Uganda’s history is finally written, her name will be up there with the real ones.

Kadaga was the first female elected to Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament, which effectively made her the second or third most powerful person in the country and one of those next in line to replace the President in case of any emergency.

Kadaga fought tirelessly to put the nation on the map, hosting hundreds of representatives from around the world in international parliamentary conferences and representing Uganda in just as many conventions abroad.

During her lengthy term in office, Kadaga fought to advance women’s rights and was a strong voice for her people of Busoga where she was, quite literally, a kingmaker. She is currently the first deputy prime minister, minister for East African Affairs and Kamuli district Member of Parliament.



Robinah Nabbanja

Is the sh50 coin still in circulation? It is too early to tell what kind of legacy Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja will have, but if she works hard enough, we just might nominate her to be on the heads of the sh50 coin.




Through her intelligence and resolve, Nyabinghi managed to rally thousands of followers to take on the Europeans and their powerful native collaborators on the battlefield

We kept the best for last. Originally known as Queen Muhumuza (no relation to the writer), Nyabinghi was a rebel queen most remembered for organising and galvanising some of the very first resistances against the colonialists, who thought it fashionable to gobble up more and more of Africa at the time.

Charismatic and calculating, Nyabinghi led and inspired anticolonial movements across east and central Africa – taking on the British in Uganda, the Germans in Rwanda and Tanzania and the Belgians in neighbouring Congo.

Through her intelligence and resolve, Nyabinghi managed to rally thousands of followers to take on the Europeans and their powerful native collaborators on the battlefield.

Makerere University history professor Mwambutsya Ndebesa says Muhumuza represents a dimension of the struggle that has, unfortunately been edited out of the history books. He adds that her image needs to be rehabilitated so that she can inspire current and future generations to continue struggling against the forces of marginalisation. We concur and that is why she should be our new face of the ekizike.


Speaking to Deutsche Welle, Ndebesa said both oral traditional history and imperial colonial history were deeply patriarchal – glamourising and idealising men and kings – and relegating powerful women like Nyabinghi to the footnotes of history.

Like the British had done with French national hero Joan of Arc in Normandy, they eventually captured Nyabinghi, imprisoning her in their then regional capital of Mengo in what is present day Kampala after a sham trial.

In pan African circles though, her image is already rehabilitated; Nyabinghi is venerated, having symbolised anti-imperial resistance beyond Africa and achieving deific status in the Caribbean.


From Speke Road to Byanyima Boulevard

As some politicians try to stir up anticolonial sentiments, more than half a century after European governors left the city, if we get down to renaming our main streets from colonial to local heroes, the above personalities will suffice.




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