Nalweyiso now sixth-highest ranked African woman military officer in history
PEOPLE | There are only five women military officers Proscovia Nalweyiso is required to salute. With her promotion to a three-star general, Nalweyiso is not only the highest ranked woman military officer in the history of Ugandan military, but also among the continent’s few generals in a professional dominated by men.
In 2010, Gen Fatima Zohra Ardjoune became the first woman in the Algerian People’s National Army (PNA)—and in the Arab world—to reach rise to the rank. She was followed three years later by Fatima Boudouani, before President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika promoted three more women officers to the highest rank of commanders.
As a Lieutenant-General, Nalweyiso is now at a rank head of South African Defence Forces’ highest ranked woman officer, Major-General Refiloe Phelile Florence Sedibe, aka Jackie Sedibe (wife of former South African defence minister and one of the founders of Umkhonto we Sizwe, Joe Modise).
President Museveni on Friday promoted Nalweyiso for the second time in two years after her rise to the rank of Major-General in 2017.
It is estimated that women constituted less than 20% of the total military population in the world, with the stat even worse in Africa despite a remarkable history of women warriors in the continent.
In the 18th Century, the admired but feared warriors of Dahomey Kingdom in Benin — who were also known as the “Dahomey Amazons” — contributed to the kingdom’s military power, and were respected for being brave and never running away from danger.
The Dahomey warriors might have been engaging in close combat using spears, but Nalweyiso, as commander of the women’s wing of the NRA guerillas based in the Western Axis, was at the front Museveni’s fighters captured Mbarara in 1985.
At least five women fights fell in the battle that more than confirmed that Museveni’s “bandits” — as Milton Obote called them — would capture Kampala in a matter of months.
She had joined the war in 1982 by circumstances that followed the rigged elections as the rule of law crumbled, with President Museveni keeping her close to his detail at State House over the last two decades.
Nalweyiso was a Captain in 1986 when the NRA captured power and if anyone had told her she would rise to be a respected Lieutenant-General in the army, she would have probably thought them possessed.
Yet she kept rising in ranks steadily over the years, first becoming Lieutenant Colonel before making history by becoming the first woman officer to attain the rank of a Brigadier in Uganda.
In 2017, she rose to the kind of rank many of the most fiercest commanders in the NRA bush war have died dreaming of and many more continue to only imagine.
The 65-year-old is one of Gen Museveni’s most trusted officers and doubles as the president’s senior advisor on military affairs.
Having borne the wrath of frontlines, Nalweyiso is in the class of former Zimbabwean vice president Joice Mujuru who went by the nom de guerre Teurai Ropa (spill blood) during the liberation war and is hailed as ferocious warrior who brought down a colonial military helicopter with an AK-47 assault rifle.
Other African countries with women generals include South Sudan, whose president last year promoted his wife to the rank of Major-General to keep her higher in rank than many officers who form part of her guard detail.
According to Brigadier-General Thandi Mohale, chief director of transformation and management and former MK’s sniper, “Only five of 52 current major-generals are women, and the numbers are similar in other high-ranking posts. There are no female lieutenant-generals, only 35% of the brigadier-generals are women and out of 940 colonels, 158 are women.”