By Flavia Nassaka
On March 10, just days after winning a resounding re-election to his job as Lord Mayor of Kampala city, Erias Lukwago showed why if something fundamental needs to change at White Hall, it will not be coming from him.
It all started after KCCA signaled that the electioneering honey-moon was over and it was time for business by warning vendors to get off the street. It gave them a deadline of March 10. That very evening, Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago took to one of the popular Luganda radio stations in the city to criticize the authority for lacking a programme for the urban poor. He said it was a mistake for the authority to reject his proposal to subsidise market dues for low income earners to enable vendors acquire stalls in the new modern markets built by KCCA in several parts of the city.
“There should be parts where street vending is accepted,” he said.
It was a direct rejection of the Kampala Capital City Authority’s position that the city laws outlaw any selling of merchandise on the pavement. It also failed to recognize that the city authorities have attempted to accommodate the low income vendors; by building the new Usafi Market and allowing them to do business on one of the city streets on Sunday.
Clearly Lukwago seems bent on the populist rhetoric that has made him the most powerful politician in Kampala. He gained popularity from making statements that resonate with the majority in Kampala – especially those who live or work in the low end areas of the city. Often, this meant criticizing the policies of the Jennifer Musisi-led KCCA as anti-people. For that, and a lot more, Lukwago was in 2013 famously hounded out of office in a combination of legal maneuvers, political tactics, and brute force.
Although his previous five-year tenure ends in May, the KCCA managers list his position as “Lord Mayor impeached”.
The official record then describes the events of November 25, 2013, which were orchestrated through a meeting of elected city councilors by Minister for Kampala, Frank Tumwebaze and the KCCA Executive Director, Jennifer Musisi and purported to impeach the Lord Mayor.
On that day, 29 of the 34 councilors in the KCCA chambers voted to impeach Lukwago. But the High Court subsequently declared the alleged impeachment to be null and void. That, however, did not stop Tumwebaze and Musisi from appealing to the Court of Appeal, locking Lukwago out of his office and denying his salary and other entitlements.
At around the same time, an attempt was made to amend the KCCA law to squash the powers of the Lord Mayor. Under the Kampala Capital City Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2015 that was presented to the national parliament on November 10, 2015 the government sought to amend the KCCA Act to ensure that the Lord Mayor ceases to be elected by universal adult suffrage. Instead, it proposed that the Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor would be elected by at least two-thirds of all members of the Council. It was argued that the Lord Mayor’s powers to convene and preside over the KCCA Council meetings meant that in his absence all business could not be conducted.
The maneuvers failed and Lukwago was on February 24 re-elected as Lord Mayor with a whopping 75% of the vote. He polled 176,637 votes about four times those got by his National Resistance Movement (NRM) counterpart Daniel Kazibwe who garnered 49,366 votes. The Democratic Party (DP) Flag bearer, Issa Kikungwe trailed them with 7,759.
Musisi and Tumwebaze have a fight coming their way from Lukwago. And, if winning the battle for supreme political power in Kampala was a game of chess, Lukwago is now playing white, with its implied advantage of initiative in an attack.
He, however, must choose his moves carefully. Should he choose sharp attacking moves in the opening, it appears his twin-nemesis of Musisi and Tumwebaze, appear to have prepared moves to smother his attacks. But Lukwago could possibly be pushing his advantage because of the perceived disarray is Musisi’s camp since her appointing authority, President Yoweri Museveni, criticized her methods of work. The President said Musisi’s methods had cost the ruling party, NRM, the recent election in which almost all seats for Member of Parliament and division mayors in Kampala district went to opposition candidates.
That is something else going for Lukwago. He has a commanding majority of the 34 members of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) parliament on his side. At MP level, opposition politicians Kato Lubwama took over Rubaga South constituency, and Allan Sewanyana, who only became popular for fighting a failed battle to serve the Lukwago impeaching council a court order, was also rewarded with representing Makindye West constituency. Most of the candidates vying for KCCA councillorship rode on Lukwago’s name to lure voters. They had to show that they are endorsed by the ‘super star’ and as a result some wrote on their campaign messages phrases like ‘Omuloodi Waali’ literally meaning the Lord Mayor is not going anywhere. Some accompanied their pictures with his.
Lukwago himself did not have to spend much on getting re-elected.
When The Independent spoke to him just before the Feb.18 presidential and parliamentary elections, he said instead of campaigning for himself, he was committing more time to what he called the struggle to dislodge the government of President Yoweri Museveni by rallying behind the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) Presidential flag bearer, retired Col. Kizza Besigye.