Hailing from one of the most remote regions of Uganda and being raised by a single illiterate mother, Jane Frances Abodo came against all odds in a society that viewed the girl child education as futile. Francis Emukule caught up with her to share her story, after she delivered a public lecture in the Anti-Corruption Week at Uganda Christian University (UCU).
Abodo, is the ninth among 62 siblings. Her story has turned out to inspire many girls especially from Karamoja, she says.
“I was brought up by a single mother, one Veronica Lokolimo. My father, Joseph Lokolimo, then a grade II magistrate died when I was young. My mother, despite the fact that she was illiterate loved education so much that she would always encourage us to read hard,” Abodo narrates.
At the time Abodo started school, girl child education in Karamojja was given less attention as girls were only considered as sources of bride price.
“Educating a girl child in Karamoja was viewed as wastage of time and resources.
“And to discourage girls from wasting time by going to school, those who never went to school fetched more bride price than their counterparts did, ,”she said.
But Abodo says her mother decided that she would rather be undermined for sending her girl to school than enjoying bride price.
And like many pupils who attend upcountry schools, Abodo says she wrote on the ground while she was in Kangole Primary School where lessons were conducted under a tree.
“A teacher would come and mark our work on the ground using a stick,” she recalls.
“When I graduated to P2 and we upgraded to writing on small boards with chalk, I was excited.”
Abodo says that using chalk also had its own disadvantages, including leaving their tinny dark-skinned bodies covered in chalk at the end of the day but also having to buy pencils and pens.
“Today, it is very normal for primary pupils to have a book for each subject, but I didn’t have that luxury,” she said.
“For me, a book was cut into two and I used each piece for two subjects, writing one on the front and the back for every subject.”
Abodo got chance to sit in a classroom when she reached P7. Until then, all the classes-P1 to P6 were conducted under trees. She said:
“I always thought that everywhere in Uganda primary schools are like ours until I left Karamoja,” she said.
Joining secondary school
Fortunately, after finishing primary school Abodo joined Aboke Girls School in Gulu District on merit for her O-level. Life there was better because it was a nun’s school, where standards were upheld.
Knowing her background, Abodo says she dedicated her life to working and reading her books which the nuns soon recognised and later offered to pay her tuition as long she stayed at the school during holidays to work for her tuition. “I was in Aboke from S1 to S4 and for all those four years I never set foot at home for holidays,” she recalls.
During that time Karamoja was also facing insecurity issues. One time while at school, her village was attacked and burnt down by rebel soldiers, leaving her family scattered. Likewise while in S4 third term, her school was attacked by Joseph Kony’s Lords’ Resistance Army rebels and a number of girls abducted.
Abodo was lucky to survive the attack as she fled to Lira with other students where they stayed for two weeks. However, despite the rebel attack, the school ensured that the survivors in candidate classes sat for their finals exams.
“During the examination time, we used to walk from Lira to Aboke to sit for exams under Police protection,” she said.
“We could walk in single file into the examination room and at the same time come out quickly before the mandatory time and we were not even reading because we had fears of the rebels attacking again.”
After finishing the S4 final exams, Abodo went back to the village in Kapedo to see her mother, who survived by brewing a local gin–Enguli–which she sold to the villagers. Abodo and her siblings constituted the workforce at home. She said they collected firewood, dag in the garden and ground millet.”
In her S4 exams, she scored 16 aggregates.
“The nuns were so happy that they still wanted to sponsor my A-level on condition that I went back to Aboke for holidays, but I didn’t want to miss my mother for more two years,” she said.
So she opted to seek for a scholarship else where.
“I went to father Trudo in Nsambya and told him the sisters in Aboke have been paying my tuition, but I want to be going back for holidays and surprisingly he just agreed to pay my tuition. He drove to pay the fees and he also bought me literature books from St Paul’s Bookshop on Kampala Road.”
Abodo, excelled at her A-level scoring ABB. This was enough to earn her government scholarship at Makerere University.
Her dream was not to become a lawyer. “My first choice was librarianship and the second was education.At that time we didn’t have career guidance; so I thought those were the right choices.”
She did librarianship for two weeks and then met a friend who is now her husband who advised her to opt for law because she had qualified for it.
“He looked at my points and told me to go to the academic registrar who then transferred me to the law class,” she said.
After her three years at the university, she graduated with good grades and this earned her a sponsorship at the Law Development Centre (LDC).
Luckily, her mother is still alive and enjoying every moment of her daughter’s success.
“When you look at her now, you cannot believe she has been through a lot, and I always thank God for her life,” she saiys.
She attributes her success to how her mother brought them up.
“We grew up knowing that you have to work hard to achieve what you want.It also taught me how to be contented with what I had,” she reflects.
Her mother was able to help 11 of them to earn atleast a minimum level of education.
“I thank God because at last my mother was able to push us all to attain a minimum level of education which is a degree level.”
In 2015, Abodo was recognized by the Uganda Law Society as the best prosecutor of the year. Her office boasts of the highest conviction rates in Uganda.
For eight years she has headed the Anti-Corruption Court, they have not had integrity scandals because a lot of temptations are involved especially with the criminals who always want to bribe their way out.
Over time, Abodo has also grown through the ranks. She started as a pupil state attorney before moving to senior state attorney, principal then attorney principal and now to senior assistant DPP.
She said there are so many temptations that one must have a lot of integrity to survive because cash keeps flying around you.
“It is also very hard to deal with cyber crime because often there is no sign of scene of crime”
The criminals are also becoming more creative and the challenge is for you to keep up with the speed of the criminals.
Word of wisdom
Whatever you do, do it to your best and don’t do things because you want people to see you because as long you do good, you will eventually be noticed.
“I am not the most intelligent person. But I was hard-working. And who knew that the Karamoja girl who walked barefoot for years would one day be in this office?” she wonders.