Many years ago, I read a book called Tess of the Durbevilles by Thomas Hardy. I think it was for my A’ Level Literature, but it might as well have been part of the Literature course at university. My memory fails me but it really doesn’t matter.
What matters are two quotations I read therein, which I have gone back to the novel to find:
“However, our impulses are too strong for our judgment sometimes.” … “A strong woman who recklessly throws away her strength, she is worse than a weak woman who has never had any strength to throw away.”(Thomas Hardy)
Don’t ask me why they came back to me – they just did, mostly prompted by the events of the last two weeks or so in Kampala. In that time, the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) has been involved in all sorts of unseemly machinations to get rid of Kampala’s elected mayor, Elias Lukwago.
The short of it is that Lukwago was dragged by his own councilors before a legal tribunal some months ago. They accused him of incompetence, administrative sabotage and dereliction of duty. About two weeks ago the tribunal ruled that all the charges against the Lord Mayor had been proven, effectively paving the way for his ouster.
And thus began perhaps one of the most breathtaking legal and administrative intrigues in Kampala’s history. The councilors, egged on by the NRM minister in charge of Kampala, Frank Tumwebaze, hastily convened and “elected” the four members they needed to make the numbers that would aid them in impeaching the Lord Mayor. A couple of days later, Mr. Tumwebaze called the now fully constituted Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) political body, with the only item on the agenda to impeach the mayor. Across town, a judge sympathetic with Lukwago hastily wrote an injunction stopping the impeachment process which was delivered, kicking and screaming, by Lukwago’s lawyer right in the middle of the televised impeachment vote.
In the midst of this political mêlée was KCCA’s Jennifer Ssemakula Musisi, a woman who has come to symbolize everything that is developmental about Kampala, but who has, in the process of lifting the city out of the doldrums where it had been condemned by successive incompetent mayors, not endeared herself to certain sections of the city.
Jennifer Musisi is an appointed administrator who once famously said that she would stay above the political fray because she was not a politician. Yours truly listened to that claim with a degree of skepticism – any public administration office is political by definition if not implication and it is the degree to which one plays the politics that defines one’s success or otherwise.
Jennifer Musisi, for some unfathomable reason, agreed to preside over the ‘dead of night’ swearing-in of the four hastily elected councilors and to sit through the impeachment process which saw her nemesis, Lukwago, ousted by all but three of the KCCA councilors. It should be noted that almost all the KCCA councilors belong to the ruling NRM.
During all the amateurish political plotting, legal seesawing and heated exchanges on the airwaves, a critical reality has been lost. That reality is that KCCA is actually finally working, thanks entirely to the impact of the indomitable Jennifer Musisi.
Musisi is basically a take-no-prisoners type of administrator in the mold of Britain’s Margaret Thatcher (RIP). Someone once remarked that Musisi is like an elephant – once it charges, it will trample everything in its path so you are best advised to get out of its way.
In truth, that is the only personality that could have tamed an ugly, disorganized, lawless, dusty, garbage-clogged, ill-planned, overcrowded, pothole infested, unruly wild, wild, west of a city steeped so deep in corrupt practices that Kampala has been for decades. Under Musisi’s watch, itinerant traders in sundry foodstuff and used clothing have been driven off the main high street, the ‘new’ taxi rank, a hitherto byzantine place that you ventured into at the risk of being accosted and mugged, has been revamped, city hall actually has employees that put in a day’s work, public toilets have been reopened, streets are being repaired, greenery has returned to Kampala’s public spaces that haven’t been sold off or stolen on the watch of Musisi’s predecessors, taxi operators are paying record fees into KCCA’s coffers (which fees are not being stolen), motor cycle riders have been peacefully registered and, perhaps most critically, Musisi has worked hard to involve young people in the rejuvenation of the city, the culmination of which is the ‘carnival,’ a street fest that has now been celebrated two years running, and which brings musicians and ordinary Kampala residents together with school children to showcase what the city could be for every one.
By any measure (and yours truly will stand by the triple gold standard of his global travel experience), Jennifer Musisi is doing the right things to revive Kampala City and her efforts are bearing fruit.
Which is why it was odd that she would publicly align herself with the needlessly hasty political process to impeach the mayor. Why, if it had to be a KCCA administrator, didn’t she send her deputy, a woman clearly chosen for her NRM sympathies if not tribal affiliations with Museveni?
By simply going to work Musisi had proved to the residents of Kampala who had the sense to see it that the person of Lukwago was as politically inept a demagogue as his office was not really important to make Kampala work. Yes, he thought of himself as the man of the people, having been elected by a paltry 200,000 or so people in a city with more than 1,500,000 eligible voters. But Musisi’s administrative results were speaking for themselves, so she could ignore the Lord Mayor’s street rhetoric without losing much sleep.
It is also the truth that the people rooting for Lukwago are mostly impressionable, idle, loud-mouth and empty-mind gossip mongers who will follow any noise to pass time, or disgruntled political talking heads who see, in Lukwago, a chance to give the incompetent, rudderless, corruption-ridden national government of Yoweri Museveni a bloody nose.
Lukwago is the most visible member of the opposition Democratic Party (DP), a once mighty party of the 1960s-80s but now reduced to a rump, and it has been mooted that he ran for Mayor as a stepping stone to contesting for the presidency in 2016. The official Parliamentary opposition, the Freedom for Democratic Change (FDC), gave up any pretense at being relevant or coherent in 2011 and so Lukwago and a woman called Betty Nambooze (also of DP) are the de facto political opposition to Museveni’s 27-year-old regime.
So, how could Lukwago, a man with no notable political achievement to speak of, be seen as someone worth putting stock into? Simple. Lukwago is actually known to be an air-head but such is the level of disgust with Museveni especially among the Baganda élite that allying themselves behind even him now makes sense since there is no other worthy opposition to throw weight behind.
In other words, those pushing for Lukwago’s ouster to follow the rule of law are merely parsing words, gingerly stepping around the elephant in the room, and are using the law as the Trojan Horse. Their real hope is that enough people get angry with the shabby, corrupt, process the ruling NRM has used to try and unseat Lukwago to rise up in insurrection against Museveni. In that political mud bath, there happens to be a woman called Jennifer Musisi who was appointed by Museveni to administer the city.
Jennifer who? “Oh, that girl,” you often hear Betty Nambooze call Jennifer Musisi even though both women must be around the same age.
Does this sound to you like the kind of putrid dish a highly capable administrator, an accomplished lawyer and a self-proclaimed Christian “saved” woman would want to be part of?
Jennifer Musisi is thus best advised to stop, step back and actually do what she claimed she was going to do when she took office as executive director of KCCA; keep away from partisan politics. She needs to let the NRM and DP slug it out in the courts of public opinion as well as the legal chambers of the country while she does what she has shown in a relatively short period that she is capable of – taming what has been until now a totally unmanageable city.