In 2012, Barbara Allimadi co-organized a protest after a Ugandan police officer was filmed squeezing the breast of a female opposition politician during an arrest ahead of a rally. Allimadi, along with other fellow activists, stripped to their bras in front of the Central Police Station in Kampala on April 23, 2012, to condemn the alleged police assault. This came to be known as the infamous “bra protest” in Uganda.
“We settled on the bra protest. We thought it would be most appropriate for what had happened. It’s not like we were saying we don’t respect ourselves. We were disgusted by what had been done,” Ugandan political and human rights activist Allimadi later told the Daily Monitor. Many young people became braver thanks to her fearlessness in the fight for justice, and she had a lot more to offer to Ugandans especially the youth had she not breathed her last at just 48 years old.
Born in Uganda, Allimadi was a brilliant child. She had just joined Gayaza High School in 1985 when the Obote II government in which her father Eriphas Otema Allimadi served as prime minister was overthrown and the family went into exile. In London, Allimadi’s love for math and physics led her to pursue a degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering at London Metropolitan University. She practiced engineering for some time but left it to engage in private business.
Allimadi returned to Uganda in 2007 when her mother passed away and started working closely with freedom fighter Kizza Besigye and the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). She later rose to fame in 2012 following her defiant bra protest after footage showed a police officer squeezing the breast of Ingrid Turinawe, an official of the FDC party women’s league.
“When I saw what happened to Ingrid, however, it shocked and offended me,” Allimadi said in an interview in 2015. “I spoke to other people who were passionate about human rights and we wondered what we could do. Somebody proposed the bra protest.”
Allimadi first objected to the bra protest idea but slept over it and changed her mind. “I realized that nothing we could do, other than the bra protest, would match the gravity of what had occurred,” she said. “I was seriously offended that a police force that is supposed to protect us had assaulted a woman in front of everyone. I had lost fear and respect for the police and I was not afraid to show my bra.”
Allimadi and some of the other protesters were arrested after they refused to put their tops back on during the infamous bra protest that rocked Kampala and attracted international coverage. They were released two hours later without charge. Allimadi came to be loved by many including her family as a freedom fighter.
“I am sure there are one or two family members who felt offended but they did not tell me about it. Some people understood the reason I did what I did: I use taxis and taxi conductors would let me go for free.”
The Ugandan network engineer turned activist went on to lead other protests against human rights abuses and corruption while calling on the government to make copies of the Constitution available to all Ugandans in the major languages. In 2019 when the political party known as the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) was formed by an opposition leader, Allimadi became the spokesperson for international and diaspora affairs.
She was serving in this role when her family confirmed the news of her death in April 2020. She passed away at her home in Kiwatule, a Kampala suburb. A year after Allimadi’s death, a foundation that will provide college and university scholarships to young girls was launched to uphold her legacy of activism.
It needs to be stressed that Allimadi was such a brave warrior who should never be forgotten. Before her death, her siblings always worried about her welfare.
“My sister Doris, based in London, was especially worried and always called Barbara to persuade her to step back from the frontlines,” Allimadi’s elder brother Milton Allimadi said. “Doris never tried to talk her out of her activism again when Barbara once asked: ‘Then whose sister should we send to the frontline, whose sister should be killed in this struggle?’”