Lillian Aber: Go-getter who tiptoed her way to the top

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Lillian Aber: Go-getter who tiptoed her way to the top
Minister Lillian Aber

PROFILE | There was a time her mini-profile on X (then Twitter) read: "Dr Lillian Aber" with a bit of description related to her political job as the Kitgum District Woman MP.

This 'Dr Lillian Aber' found out the hard way how the world can be unforgiving when 'Twitterati' launched missiles at her.

They said she was self-conceited to address herself as "Dr" for a mere honorary title.

She had acquired the Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Zeo Life Theological College in the US in 2019, she said.

By the time the 'stones' had stopped hitting her innocent social media target, Aber had quietly told herself "It's alright" - like her name suggests. She lowered her head and edited it down to "District Woman Representative (Kitgum)".

For those who might notice, the conclusion would be that Aber had momentarily forgotten herself, been brutally reminded and she had humbly accepted the 'reality'.

But then that is how Aber has lived all her life: accepting what life throws at her, accepting reality, and using it all to climb one more step on the rungs of the brutal ladder of life.

In the run-up to the 2021 general elections, Aber used that reality of her life to its fullest by laying her humility on the mat for the voters in Kitgum to see.

"Most times I referred to my husband as my uncle whenever they would call for parents' meetings," Aber said of Lazarus Ocira, who had married her at 17 but taken her back to school after childbirth.

Aber with the current head girl at her former school Rev Jabuloni Issoke Memorial College in Kitgum in February.

Ocira is of the other world and a girl who called her uncle to hide the truth would have probably wanted no mention of him anymore but Aber weaved that and more to stomp to Parliament with grace.

"In Primary Six, one of my English teachers requested I contested for head girl position," Aber relived of her life journey.

"I wasn’t sure if the pupils would vote for me given the fact that many of them would find me selling fruits, greens in the market for survival, some times I would cook molokony for soldiers at drinking joints .

"My spirts were low. I feared the mockery that would come out from fellow pupils yet the interest kept on building up. Indeed, my competitors used that against me, they gave me a nick name “Awaaro” meaning the local person who buys goods and sells in the market."

But Aber accepted that reality and used it to her full advantage to trounce her competitors for the position.

While in secondary school, Aber's life of working while studying continued with the local brew, 'Kwete', that she sold at Kony Pacho area in her native Kitgum.

But things changed for Aber at Makerere University and the child who had first tested the burden of leadership as a class monitor in Primary Three was appointed to the Guild Cabinet of Anna Adeke Ebaju, the current national youth MP, as as information minister.

In between, Aber had tiptoed her way around other political dreams, losing some and gaining a few.

That humility mat the laid in Kitgum fetched her 41,192 votes to defeat Roselyn Alanyo Olobo of the Uganda People’s Congress and Norah Odokorach, an independent candidate.

But on Thursday evening, Aber made a giant lip on the rungs when President Museveni named her a State Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugee Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister.

“I am grateful to President Museveni for entrusting me with this important role," she said. "I'm so humbled and honoured to serve as Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister.

With barely three years in Parliament, Aber will be responsible for the coordination of all refugee matters in the country.

She will also be responsible for national preparedness for disasters, including floods, landslides, earthquakes, droughts, and famine.

Aber (centre) in a group photo during the cleaning exercise in her constituency. She took a lot of flak for the military gear.

Having been born in the slum Westlands of Kitgum, Aber attended Holy Rosary Primary School, Peace Primary School and Issoke Memorial College in Kitgum before joining Old Kampala Secondary School in Kampala.

At Makerere University, she studied a bachelor’s degree in Humanities at the School of Literature and Communication before mastering in Business Administration of Oil and Gas from Uganda Christian University in Mukono.

She also attained a second master’s degree in public administration and management from Makerere.

The youthful minister’s involvement in national politics began at Makerere University where she won the elections to become a guild representative councillor of the School of Arts in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

After serving in Adeke's guild government, Aber stood for the guild presidency on the FDC ticket, but lost to Ivan Bwowe, who later appointed her as guild vice president.

Fresh from university, Aber in 2016 general elections crossed from FDC to NRM and contested and won the chair of the National Youth Council.

The National Youth Council has produced young leaders over the past years such as Housing and Urban Development minister Persis Namuganza, former East African Legislative Assembly speaker Dan Kidega, former Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, and NRM chief whip Hamson Obua.

Aber could shyly place her name among these luminaries. She has earned it.

In February, Aber retraced her steps to Rev Jabuloni Issoke Memorial College in Kitgum where she was a head girl in 2003.

She has endured scorn for holding onto Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba's shoestring but in politics, that is also called loyalty and for Muhoozi to walk steadily or even run, he needs that shoestring fastened.

Aber, like her sidekick Balaam Barugahare who is also living the dream as Minister for Youth and Chidren Affairs, has been one of the beautiful stories in Muhoozi's push to the top.

The thing with Aber is, even when she says things many would think came straight from the cesspool, she maintains the kind of calm that makes dew look violent instead.

Recently, Aber courted public controversy when she was pictured in official UPDF uniform against the military law. At a time so many Opposition supporters are said to be languishing in jail over their party berets and such, Aber's gaffe was costly.

Being in the dining table, she got away with it. She would still have gotten away with it because where some unleash their newfound status to defend their wrongs, Aber coils and leaves the dust to settle.

In 2023, Aber was appointed by Muhoozi as his National Vice Chairperson of the then MK Movement for Northern Uganda and member of the central committee.

MK Movement has evolved into Patriotic League Uganda that vaguely goes around as neither a political grouping nor a pressure one.

The mother of two who remains single but her steps are getting bigger.

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