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Jennifer Musisi’s Kampala

By Haggai Matsiko and Joseph Were

KCCA Executive Director explains her plans

Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) Executive Director Jennifer Musisi’s current pet project is decongesting the city of motorised traffic.  As she explained to The Independent, part of that project involves some old strategies that her predecessors spoke about; introducing buses and kicking out the smaller taxi vans, easing traffic flow by introducing fly-over bridges, re-designing road junctions from roundabouts to traffic lights, and shifting a taxi park from the city centre and replacing it with a six-floor parking area. It’s a tough job.


Fortunately for her, however, Musisi sees such tough tasks as part of her mission. She has retired over 500 former workers of KCCA, kicked vendors off city streets, and thrown a former mayor and a feared and decorated army general out of government houses they had wrongly allocated themselves. Now she is taking on the boda boda motorcycle riders; an unruly voting machine that has previously proved untouchable. Along the way, she has been threatened with death, criticised on radio, TV and newspapers, sent hate mail, and escaped poisoning.

A devout Christian, she turns to a verse in the Bible for motivation to plod on.

Ezekiel 36: 33-36 speaks of rebuilding cities and turning previously desolate places into a Garden of Eden.

But Jennifer Musisi also has other weapons in her armory in the fight to rebuild the city. Like most successful implementers, she has an ability to lock out pessimism or negative thoughts and not dwell on the criticism she attracts. She has even more ambitious dreams, like introducing electric cable cars in Kampala.

“Why not,” she says, taking a sip of her coffee from a cup that was obviously a gift, and leaning back in her brown pure leather swivel chair in her immaculately set office.

She is totally concentrated as she speaks, occasionally twirling her hands to reveal neatly manicured nails, or shifting to subconsciously ensure that each hair on her nice coiffure is in place – mostly combed back flat with a small mop sitting gaily on her prominent forehead. Her white pearl earrings match the pearl choker around her neck and the black stiletto pumps with silver tips complement her black and white flourished dress perfectly.

“I like to dress femininely,” she says about her signature immaculate looks, “I don’t have to wear dark-padded suits – to look like a man.”

Jennifer Musisi obviously is enjoying herself. She is a woman in a storm without being part of it. Under its local government mandate, KCCA is supposed to manage critical infrastructure such as roads, public markets and parks, public parking, street lighting, and solid waste management. It is also expected to deliver critical services to the city including cleaning, health, water and sanitation, and education.

But her appointing authority, President Yoweri Museveni is depending on Jennifer Musisi to deliver a trophy that has eluded him for all his 28 years in power – winning the adoration and electoral support of the elite Kampala urbanites for his ruling NRM party. Museveni has never won an election in the city. Usually, poor service delivery by previous occupants of Musisi’s position, if not office, has been blamed for the opposition triumph. Musisi is supposed to change that.

In the past, President Museveni has been partly blamed for the failure of city managers, to perform.

A 2012 study under the United Nations University – World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) project on Decentralisation and Urban Service Delivery in Africa, found that the NRM government regularly employs ‘strategies of subversion’ to subvert and weaken the authority of local governments. It also found that unlike the situation in other African countries, the NRM government’s actions undermine the work of local governments of all political leanings.

In the Kampala case, the targets were opposition politicians and Museveni, by ensuring that they do not get the resources they needed for the job, deliberately made them fail. Some say Museveni hoped the failure by the opposition leaders would lead city residents to embrace his NRM party. It did not. That is when he turned to Musisi’s KCCA strategy.

Jennifer Musisi appears to have decided to approach her task like someone eating an elephant; piece by piece. Part of her problem is that although Kampala receives about 300% more money from the government than an average urban area elsewhere in the country; it gets about 50% less per person.

In the 2009/10 Financial year, according to the UNU-Wider study, it got Shs 34 billion from the central government, which was 306% of the average district releases of Shs 11 billion. But on a per capita basis, KCC got Shs 24,000 compared to Shs 50,000 per person average for the districts.

Under Jennifer Musisi, Museveni has opened the coffers. In 2011/2012, KCCA got Shs 85 billion from the central government and collected another Shs 41 billion from non-tax revenue. The following year, 2012/13, it got Shs 87 billion from the government and collected Shs 76 billion. In the 2014/15 FY, KCCA has a budget of Shs182 billion, Shs 120 billion of which is from government funding.

Yet, the city population has even higher demands. That partly explains why the city population remains unsatisfied even as a 2011 study showed that, in fact, Kampala’s service provision is far better than most places.

In 2010, Museveni convinced Parliament to back-peddle from a decentralization policy of local government in Kampala and recentralize running of the city under the KCCA. Jennifer Musisi was handpicked by Museveni to become the first executive director. She started work in April 2011.

But Jennifer Musisi is not all cockiness. She is a top-tier lawyer and administrator who made her bones at the highest levels at Makerere University and the Uganda Revenue Authority. She also holds a Masters of Public Administration degree and has attended Harvard Law School and George Washington University in the US.

Jennifer appears like the fixer of Museveni’s dreams. She is incorruptible, fearless, and puritanical in her drive to clean up the city literally and figuratively.

But, in reclaiming Kampala, she and Museveni had not counted on the residents electing an acerbic-tongued opposition politician and lawyer to be the first Lord Mayor of KCCA. Erias Lukwago was elected in 2011.

Although his position was envisioned as mainly ceremonial, Lukwago and Musisi have managed to turn their relationship into a multi-layered conflict of KCCA chamber brawls, courtroom tongue-lashings, and street drama.

At the job for three years now, Jennifer Musisi may not have turned Kampala City completely from the mess she found it in, but she has brought hope. Many city residents now believe in her.

The city streets are cleaned daily and the lighting works. But her biggest mark has been on the roads.

Interview with KCCA Executive Director

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