The Promota Magazine
Book review: My Life’s Journey, by Janet Kataaha Museveni
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When politicians write their autobiographies, there is a natural tendency to be cynical about them. After all, many of these tend to be self-serving, self-justifying or trying to correct or preserve their place in history. It was with such a cynical mindset that I approached My Life’s Journey, by Janet Museveni.
By the end of the book, my cynicism was swept away. This is partly because the book does not read as a ‘typical’ political memoir. Yes, there is a lot of the political in it but, it could just as well be a book about a love story, albeit a love story involving a President and his First Lady, but a love story nonetheless. It is also another kind of love story, that of a woman for her children, her wider family, her homeland region and for her country.
For those who come purely for the politics, they may go away disappointed as the book has so much more to offer. In one of the most moving episodes of the book, in the chapter called ‘Henry’, the author gives the heartbreaking account on the life of her brother, the eponymous character of the chapter. It is not just in the recounting of the life and death of a beloved elder brother that we see another side to the First Lady. The chapter also allows us a glimpse of how she came to fully embrace her Christian faith. In fact, her strong religious beliefs run like a golden thread throughout the book. And it quickly becomes obvious that this is the well that provides succour for her in times of triumph as well as in tragedy.
Besides her Christian faith, which is evidenced by various biblical quotations sprinkled throughout the book, various chapters are preceded by quotes from great philosophers and writers including Socrates, Shakespeare and Rudyard Kipling.
As might be expected, the book takes us through early childhood, through schooling and higher education and right through to the present, where she is very much the matriarch of the First Family.
Inevitably, many will come to this book hoping to see whether it provides an insight into the life of her husband, The President. Sure enough, there is plenty here that tells both of their personal relationship, as well as her husband’s political career. It must be remembered that when she met Yoweri Museveni, he was not the President of a great country. Although she passes up on the opportunity to say it, for a committed Christian, you wonder if she looks back at that chance and brief meeting in Nairobi on Christmas Day 1972 as the day she got the best Christmas present of her life. Their subsequent romance and marriage is beautifully told in the book. She was however intrigued when, on being asked what he was doing these days, he replied “I am fighting Idi Amin”. One does not have to be from Uganda to know how preposterous that must have sounded in 1972. After all, Amin was known throughout the world, even if the notoriety was not of the sort that all would seek.
In learning of the young Janet’s life, we also get a glimpse of the young Museveni’s own juvenile days. It is worth reading this chapter to discover why he is called Museveni, even by family members. There is even some drama two days before his wedding to Janet. Museveni is detained at the airport in England where he was coming to be married. Eventually, a call from the immigration authorities to the reverend secures his release and allows him to be with his bride.
For those of a political bent, the chapters that will have them poring over the greatest details will be the ones on Museveni’s part in the struggle to oust Amin, the period in exile and the triumphant return home. For the general reader, the whole book gives a fascinating insight into a crucial period in Uganda’s history. Furthermore, it is told with the kind of insider’s knowledge that is unprecedented.
I doubt anyone will come away from this story unmoved or without having learned a great deal. For those who wish to see a woman only through the prism of her husband’s career, there may be disappointment. After all, the clue is in the book’s title: It is her life’s journey, not that of her husband. Nevertheless, this gives an excellent account of an interesting life and at no point in the book does the story drag. Even more than telling a fascinating story, many will be able to see that in her life are echoes of the life stories of many Ugandans. The journey from her early days to where she is now can be likened to the journey of where Uganda was to where it is now. This book should be an inspiration to men, and especially women across Africa, for it shows what is possible with faith, education, dedication and perseverance, both in the personal and the national sense.
by Ade Daramy