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Ugandan Rabbi Is Country’s First Jew To Win Seat in Its Parliament

Try, try again: Rabbi Gershom Sizomu Wambedde won his bid for office after a losing run five years ago

Jordana Narin
February 26, 2016
Bechol Lashon via YouTube
Bechol Lashon via YouTube
Bechol Lashon via YouTube
Bechol Lashon via YouTube

Gershom Sizomu Wambedde, widely considered the first black African-born rabbi, has made history yet again: last week, he became the first Jew ever elected to Uganda’s parliament. As the Forward reported on Wednesday, Sizomu edged out seven other candidates to win a highly contested seat representing the rural Bungokho North district, near the Kenyan border.

Sizomu ran with the government’s main opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change, and his victory was made all the sweeter given that he’d lost this same race five years ago. Tablet’s Matthew Fishbane covered that candidacy in a stunning two-part series. Assuming none of Sizomu’s opponents appeal his victory—allegations of voter fraud are common in Uganda—he expects to be sworn into office in May.

“I am a representative of all people in my district—regardless of religion or tribe,” he told the Forward. “But this will also be the first time our community of Ugandan Jews will be represented. Now they will see that we exist, that we are participating in our country’s development and growth.”

Sizomu, the leader of Uganda’s 2000 person Abayudaya Jewish community, has long made it his mission to ensure Ugandan Jews have a voice. The lessons of Idi Amin’s dictatorship in the 1970s—when Judaism was outlawed—made an impression on the young Sizomu, and he soon realized his co-religionists needed a strong representative. To that end, he began thinking about rabbinical school and made his way, in 2003, to Los Angeles to study at the American Jewish University. He returned to Uganda after his ordination, in 2008.

Explaining his political aspirations five years ago, Rabbi Gershom Sizomu cited the Mishnah’s Tractate Avot, telling Fishbane, “Where there’s no man, you strive to be a man.”

Jordana Narin is an intern at Tablet