I struck cord with Mrs. Jennifer Musisi, the Kampala City Authority (KCCA) Executive Director in April 2011.
Around that time, I had travelled to Dubai for a Printers’ exhibition from where I received an unusual call from Uganda. The caller, a female voice, asked me;
‘Where did you get that story from?’
‘Which story?’ I asked.
‘The story about me becoming the new ED of Kampala,’ the caller shot back.
‘So you are the famous Mrs. Musisi?’ I probed.
‘Yes I am. But that story; No one knows about this and Mzee (President Museveni) will not like this. Why did you let the cat out of the bag? This is not good. Where is the story in this? Did you have to write this?’ she wondered.
Despite her softness, I understood Jennifer as someone completely green about how the media works. A good story is always a good story. That is why every media house around that time was busy speculating on who would become the first Executive Director of the new KCCA. My story had therefore become a good scoop because she did not only confirm it but demanded to know who it is I was and where I had gotten the courage to publish it before the official announcement of her appointment.
When I returned to Uganda, she demanded to meet me to sort out a few issues.
‘I need you to understand that KCCA is a sensitive institution with so many competing interests. This business of you reporting what has not happened will not help this city,’ she lectured me before she begged for support.
‘But since you have demonstrated you are on the ground, I will need your support. This is not going to be an easy journey,” she said.
Like some of her ilk in the Pentecostal Movement that have niched themselves as the pious, incorruptible government technocrats such as the Commissioner General of the Uganda Revenue Authority, Ms. Allen Kagina, the soft spoken but clearly steely Musisi, plucked out of retirement where she had been baking and selling cakes and bread, set out to clean a robustly rotten KCCA system that had excelled in conducting business on ledgers, instead of the digital system that is the stuff of a modern city.
The city had been parceled out to various interests and feelings. There were those who desperately wanted change at City Hall, a return to the basics, restoration of sanity and cleanliness. This group was the frustrated lot with the glaring chaos and disorganization in the city. It abhorred the inability of KCCA to curb corruption and improve revenue collection for better services. But it also detested the idea that Kampala had been written off and would never be redeemed. I belonged to this school of thought.
There was a second category- the politicians and the dealmakers. This group, from the ruling party and the opposition, had vested and fiercely competing interests in the city. As a central government appointed official, Musisi was set up against an apposition political group determined to defend its turf. Kampala had become an opposition stronghold. And that wasn’t the only stress. In her backyard, she had those from the ruling party determined to flaunt any rules in a bid to frustrate even the most logical reasoning from the opposition. Musisi, therefore, became the ‘football’ as these competing teams played her the way they thought fitted their interests. Additionally, the dealmakers who benefitted from the rotten system at KCCA were determined to maintain the status quo by frustrating every effort to return the city’s administration to the rules. This was the KCCA Musisi was handed to. A city that was a mix of the bourgeoisie and the lumpen proletariat, a city that had become a no man’s land. I remember at the height of the fierce battles at KCCA in 2012, while trying to steer the city on the right course but facing frustration and outright condemnation, a burnt-out Musisi told me in a text message; ‘I sometimes fear for my life. This is clearly a thankless job. You put your best energy for the common good but no one believes you. Everyone thinks you are the worst criminal they have ever encountered.’ I told her to stay put for when pain intensifies, it is usually a sign that it’s reached its peak and is ebbing. This is how terrorists endure torture. Any form of pain occasioned to you has this same effect. It would be a matter of time when Kampalans understood that the city had to painfully move forward. There are signs that that moment has arrived.
The third category was the businesspeople. Both the formal and informal businesspeople had competing interests. Hawkers wanted to keep their traditional selling methods, operating anyhow and erecting kiosks anywhere. Worse still, these had political godfathers who were unwilling to sacrifice their political incentives to have them operate formally. The formal ones, especially the shoppers always wanted the hawkers and boda bodas off the streets, especially those who had made it a habit to block visibility by erecting kiosks right in front of their shops.
To face this, those of us who stood with her at the time taught her simple basics on how to relate with the media. The media was going to be very important in rallying the city behind her. We asked her to join the popular social networking sites like facebook and twitter; very crucial tools that would not only improve her public appeal but also put her in direct constant interaction with the people. It was partly these pages that gave her a clearly uncensored picture and pulse of the city in which she was able to develop unique intervention tools to drive the city forward.
The crisis in Kampala was largely attitudinal. Attitudinal because chaos isn’t natural. It is behavioral. It is nurtured. Disorganization too is nurtured. The habit of littering and nurturing a rotten system requires an attitude that appreciates low-grade stuff. This is what was happening in Kampala by 2011. But Musisi suddenly realized that changing the face of Kampala did not require terrestrial mechanics. It required a few justifiable stringent rules here and there, and physical changes on the streets and the in the wider infrastructure of the city to usher in an ambiance and a semblance of order, a social, political and economic architecture that embraces the ‘feel good factor’ that is found in modern cities around the world.
It is therefore no surprise that in a matter of three years, most critics, except the politicians, are silent. The ordinary Kampala residents, despite their political affiliation, are beginning to be happy with the progress that has been made. The sense of order and cleanliness is slowly returning to the city. The digitized KCCA Hall is now a modern and robust facility, something to be proud of, and not an object of radicle.
So, yesterday, I deliberately sent an email to Mrs Musisi demanding to know what she thought have been her achievements in three years. I told her I wanted numbers, not Wolokoso, because figures reflect science; and you cannot dispute facts of science. Below is a bit of what she told me;
“In years we increased our local revenue collection by over 86%, rebuilt our assets register to a worth of UGX 422 billion, from a book value of UGX 45 billion that we inherited. We reconstructed and upgraded over 146 Kms of roads, more than doubled our garbage collections from an average of 14,000tons/month to over 32,000tons/month, created over 8,200 workspaces, supported 3,039 urban farmers with inputs and provided startup capital to over 1,579 youths. Our health centers attended to 1,026,801 Outpatients and 34,374 mothers delivered in our health units. We immunized over 22,445 children, and 34,374 mothers delivered in our health units. We constructed and renovated 36 classrooms, 5 science laboratories and processed 2,346 building plans and many more.”
“Despite our notable achievements notwithstanding,” she told me, “we recognize the magnitude of the task a head in addressing the enduring challenges of continuous process improvements.”
She added that KCCA has the enormous task of providing adequate infrastructure, improving the efficiency in public transport systems, creating meaningful jobs, addressing environmental degradation, improving housing and living conditions of the slum dwellers, enhancing the health of mothers and children, controlling the urban sprawl and developments, improving the quality of education in our schools, building pleasant green spaces and recreational facilities as well as building resilience to risks and disasters.
I do believe that a good and clean city begets good business, good investment and good tourism. A good and clean city does not discriminate against race, colour, region, religion, political affiliation and level of education. It is a city for everyone. A good city is the compound (eirembo) for the traditional African homestead. In the fourth year, politics aside, every citizen should take care of this ‘Eirembo’ for Kampala continues to stay at the tail end of what modern and clean cities look like. Those who have travelled will agree with me.
Am personally proud of this woman, her Pentecostal streak that is always in constant conflict with my line of journalistic practice notwithstanding.