Meet Joel Ssenyonyi, the youthful MP who will lead the opposition in Parliament

On December 22, the National Unity Platform, the leading opposition party, made changes in its parliamentary leadership.

The most eye-catching of the changes was the appointment of youthful Joel Ssenyonyi, the Nakawa West MP, as leader of the opposition. He replaces Mathias Mpuuga, the Nyendo-Mukungwe MP who had served in the position for two and a half years.

Who is Ssenyonyi?

Now 37 years old, Ssenyonyi was born to Joseph Besekezi Ssenyonyi and Dorothy Nankunda Ssenyonyi. He grew up in Kyengera, a Kampala City suburb.

“I am the first born to my mother. She was the official wife, the wedded wife. We are four of us. My father was a hardworking man. So, I have half-brothers and half-sisters, each of them with their own mother. But eventually, many of these half-brothers were brought to our home. My mother asked my father to bring them. She said I will raise the children. So, we grew up together. Unfortunately, we had to leave our Kyengera home, move elsewhere and began to live real life after the separation of our parents,” Ssenyonyi told a local newspaper a couple of years ago in an interview.

In the same interview, Ssenyonyi admitted that during his childhood, he was a naughty and inquisitive boy who used to disturb his mother a lot.

“I got beatings from my mother. Mothers can beat! I guess that is why we love them. You know they can beat with anything: slippers, hanger. My father, he never laid his hand on me at all, or any of my siblings. It never happened, for many reasons. Partly because he was a stay-away father.”

He studied at Trinity Academy Primary School Bukoto for his Primary Seven, St Lawrence Citizen High School for his O and A Levels.

He says when he was young, his dream was to become a lawyer but later he found his calling in the media.

“I remember in my vacation, UBC advertised looking for anchors. I applied, with nothing. I didn’t have even the senior six results. People applied with master’s degrees, diplomas and so on. But somehow I had this gusto in me of it will happen. So, we go, we do interviews and cross over to the next round, like that, like that. I remember the final round and these people were asking how old are you? I am like, ‘I am 19’. They say, ‘you are 19! Are you at campus or what?’ I say ‘I am in S6 vacation’. My results are not out yet. They looked at each other…but they liked what I offered. They chose two us: myself and a lady, to begin working,” he said.

Despite enrolling for a science course [bachelors degree of science in business statistics], Ssenyonyi remained committed to journalism.

When he left UBC, he joined NTV Uganda as a host and news anchor. He spent five years at the station before calling it quits in 2019 to join politics.

In 2021, he was elected MP for Nakawa West which had been curved out of Nakawa. It was his second attempt at elective politics having lost in 2011 when he contested for Central Youth Member of Parliament on a Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) ticket.

He becomes the youngest individual to occupy the lofty position since multi-party politics was re-introduced in 2006.

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