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Jennifer Semakula Musisi

By Haggai Matsiko and Joseph Were

`I am here to do a serious job, don’t involve me in politics’

The KCCA executive director spoke to The Independent’s Joseph Were and Haggai Matsiko

After three years in charge of KCCA, you have a campaign you are running. Do you want to tell us about it?

We are in an effort to transform Kampala. To take it from where we found it – deplorable, disorganised, a total mess, to a place where it would be a capital city in the real sense of the word. Right now Kampala is like a transit place, people go through it. We want to make it a destination, a place where people desire, plan, and want to come.


What are the highlights of these three years?

Getting the basics in place, laying out an institutional framework in terms of staff, organisational, and operational structures, strategy, plans, reviewing the legislation and seeing what needs to be done, building up databases for properties, for taxes.

We have done over 100 kilometres of roads, revamped health centres. Recently, we opened up a renal centre to treat people with acute kidney failure. In Kisenyi, we have a state of the art health centre that can handle all sorts of surgeries, we have a very nice maternity wing, and we have done five state- of-the-art dental facilities all over the city.

We didn’t know KCCA could have dental facilities and all!

We have started an agricultural resources centre, we do greenhouse farming, we train farmers, we fund Community Development groups. We have created over 10,000 jobs and set up an Employment Services Bureau at the house where the former Mayor, [Nasser] Ssebagala was on Sezibwa road. We are using it as a place where we first give basic training for youths in preparation for jobs. We will also link them to potential employers.

Is all that in your mandate?

Yes. (But) we are also creating our mandate where we need to. We have also built markets in Wandegeya; we are starting one in Busega. We have bought land in Bukoto, Kitintale and Gabba to build new markets. The plan is to have a modern market in every division so that people do not have to trade on the street and in park yards.

But some of these achievements have come at a price, some people do not like you very much like the taxi drivers, what is happening at the old taxi park?

When you are doing a public job and trying to get your work done, it is not like being in a beauty contest so that people admire you and see that you are very attractive to look at. Or in a comedy where you are supposed to make people laugh because they are there to laugh.

We are here to do the serious job of transforming Kampala. And the city has deteriorated because of impunity, disorder and failure to regulate.

But what is your logic in removing people from Old Kampala to Usafi, which they say is inaccessible, dangerous and unready?

The logic is one. One of the biggest challenges of this city is immobility and congestion. So in the last three years traffic engineers here have been working with traffic police to study the traffic patterns and come up with solutions.

For the short term, regulate boda bodas, which we started on. Get mass public transport means. We have advertised for people to bring in as many buses as they can. We are trying to reactivate the passenger train.  We have also opened up many exits.

What happened with Pioneer Easy Bus?

We wrote to Pioneer Easy Bus and invited them to come and start operations, why they haven’t started, we have no idea.

We have no issues with Pioneer. The only issue they had with us is they wanted exclusive bus lanes, which technically and practically speaking, for Kampala, with all these narrow roads, becomes a problem.

Speaking of narrow roads, why don’t you remove parking on Kampala Road?

We have already gazetted the regulations. We want to remove parking on certain corridors such that there is no parking especially within certain hours of the day.

You have a reputation for taking tough actions. Where does that come from?

I have got to get the job done and, like I said, this is not a picnic.

Have you been doing that from your background?

I have always got my job done, whether it is private, whether it is a public job. Whether it is as the head prefect, I have been getting my job done.

So where does that ability come from? Many people would like to take decisions like that but they cannot.

Let me tell you why people do not take tough decisions. One; a lot of people are not as passionate. For me this thing of transforming Kampala, even when I am sleeping, I think of what else we can do, I wake and start sending emails, guys why don’t we try this. I live, I pray, you know, that is my passion. Kampala must be transformed.

But some of these things like chasing vendors, chasing General Sejjusa, these are dangerous people, don’t you sometimes…?

Fear them? No. Because when you believe you are doing the right thing, why should you fear them? The other thing that makes people fail to take difficult decisions is because they are compromised. People give them bribes, people threaten them, people give them personal favours; that is why they fail to make decisions.

Now for me, I think the way God made me, I think in black and white. Is this right, is this wrong, finished.

Many of us think that if you want to change a city, it is better to sensitise people and get a buy in from your citizens, you seem to prefer enforcing?

That is what the media wants you to believe. The taxi drivers, for instance, we have been talking to them for the last six months. I have met taxi drivers or their representatives three times with my tight schedule. I explained to them what we were going to do, they requested for more time. I gave them the time. The police talked to them, they did everything.  So, sensitisation is something we try to do.

One of your jobs is to make Kampala attractive. You are competing with Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, Kigali, how are you doing that for Kampala?

We are doing the infrastructure, the greening, the regulations, all these things.

So how does that make you more attractive than Nairobi or Kigali?

So that when you start a business on a street in Kampala, you can make money, you do not have vendors blocking your clients. So that when you are living in the Sheraton and have a meeting in Munyonyo, you can make that journey in ten minutes because the road is not congested. Those are the kinds of things.

Talking about money, you realise that most of the money in Uganda is made in Kampala?

More than 85% of Uganda’s GDP comes from Kampala.

In terms of money, you manage 85 % of Uganda’s money, are you aware of that responsibility?

I am…

And how does it translate in your thought patterns?

It is part of my job; I manage a multibillion shilling budget of this city. I have an asset base that I control of over Shs400 billion and so on and so forth.

Is that a good thing to start with?

It is not necessarily a good thing. The challenge we have is that Kampala is becoming an island.  You have people coming from less desirable parts of Uganda to Kampala. Our Kisenyi Health Centre is supposed to cater for that part of Kampala but because its facilities are actually better than a lot of private hospitals, we have over 500 outpatients a day and inpatients from as far as Mbarara, Masaka, Mityana. This applies to every facility. So there is a problem in the development imbalance.

But there must also be opportunities. How do you plan for these opportunities?

The same opportunities; the employment, the business and all those other things can be created in other districts. You can say that our budget is bigger but that is because government and the development partners are beginning to put confidence in us. When we came donors had given up on KCC, the government was also giving up. But we told them, give us a chance, we are going to show you what we can do. And we have been able to build that confidence in them.

From what you have said so far, would I be wrong to say that you are doing a maintenance job other than innovating?

We have put systems and possibilities in place for people to get jobs. If you look at the kidney, dental units, and all these other medical facilities – there was one dilapidated ambulance running for the entire city, we have bought new ambulances, you could call that maintenance but how many districts for example have the same facilities as we do?

You know this modern concept of Smart City, a technology based city?

I know. I have been to Paris. They have battery eco-friendly cars that you just park and put in a card and leave your car there, they are public cars. Now in Kampala we do not even have a public transport service by government. We are just trying to build bicycle lanes on the roads like Kabakanjagala and Jinja Road. You cannot run before you walk.

There are places, if a tree fell, a truck would come, shred it and bag it immediately, carry it to the shop where it would be sold  as manure. Here, your trucks carry the tree up to Kitezi to the landfill. Why can’t you have a technology like that?

We are tired of carrying waste up to Kitezi. We have already tested our landfill and it is viable for biogas. We want to recycle these waste products into manure, plastics, and also train our people, and remove toxins. We have identified five companies that are doing the same work in other countries. We are sorting to select one or two for Kampala.

I am sure you benchmark other cities, which city are you impressed about?

We look at bits and pieces, we don’t want to copy and paste. We want to do something that is configured and tailor-made for socio-economic factors. I was looking at cable cars in Europe. I also went to Algeria and they use cable cars for transporting people in the city. We are going to do a feasibility study for cable cars in Kampala because for me it really makes sense. The challenge may be the sustainability of power in the city. We are also using solar power; the streets of Kabaka Njagala Road are solar powered, same applies to Greenhill Road in Nsambya and even in Usafi.

Do you have a philosophy under which you rotate your management style?

I am a very simple person. Like I said I want to get the job done. I look at a problem and I think we can get a solution. So, I don’t have a theory that I follow, I just get the job done.

I know you are a lawyer, but I was looking for a theoretical background to your style?

You know when I came into this job, the President recommends you to Public Service Commission. There was this panel of distinguished gentlemen and ladies and they were asking me; what is your experience in managing cities, I said none and that was the truth. So, [they asked] do you have any qualifications in municipal management and all these other city management, I said absolutely not. So why do you think you can do this job? I said because I can.

First of all, I have already identified the problems of Kampala and I have already laid the strategy on how to address them. Thirdly, I am very convinced that I can address them. That is all I have. I don’t think I need any papers.

But you know many managers, the way they approach such a situation is to get people who have done it and understand how it is done?

The problems of Kampala and of Uganda actually are very simple. People complicate them for their own reasons. I have no theories, I have no mentors. I just get the job done.

Role models?

I have friends like Allen [Kagina] whom I have done a fantastic job with. We share the same passion, we pray together, we share challenges; we encourage one another.

You have a very powerful circle; Allen Kagina, Jennifer Musisi, Janet Museveni, you are about to take over this country?

I don’t know. But I have a group of friends that are very sincere in their love for the country and of course their love for God and the feeling that we are here for a purpose. When these people take on a task, they will do it from that simplicity of we are here for a purpose, to make a difference, and God will make a way.

But that makes some people accuse you of being inflexible and rigid and yet modern managers have to be flexible?

For example…

These things we have been talking about, when you see an old woman on TV crying, saying now me I have been here in Usafi Park, I am sick…

Fortunately, I do not watch T.V, I rarely read stuff. I do not have the time.

Are you a politician?

No, and I will never be. I am not interested in politics at all, the only political thing I do, is I vote.

So there is this perception that you are a non-politician who has been sucked into politics?

In a sense, as KCCA technical people, we are caught in between two political situations, the government and the opposition, unfortunately. But we try to do our work and take the technical line.

Do you think the situation would have been better if you had had an NRM leaning Lord Mayor?

There a lot of talk about the government and the opposition. This whole thing of politics, Musisi vs Lukwago, where the picture is meant to portray one as a victim and the other as a conqueror, oppressor is not true. When I arrived at KCCA, the first person I called was Lukwago, introduced myself as the new ED and I told him, we want to understand your vision and manifesto, what do you want to see?

How did you fall out?

The fall out was about expectations. The first fall out was when he went on radio and he started saying all these KCCA people are thieves. I told him you are accusing us of all these things but we have to work together. Then disagreements arose over the contracts committee. Lukwago was complaining that we are handing out multibillion shilling contracts and he was saying he is being left out.

Some people say it is lack of clarity of the KCCA law that has caused all this?

I am a professional person who has spent all my working life in a very well organised corporate entity. Working in systems and delivering results for me is very simple. Even when we were in URA, we had a Board of Directors whose policy making was clear. My roles are very clear in the authority. We just need to work with people with common interests. Even here at KCCA, we didn’t have problems for several months until the situation was messed up by politicians.

How do you see the situation being resolved?

It is not about to be resolved. Even if I am not here if the next person works with a political head with the same attitudes and diversionary thinking, they will actually have a bigger problem. I just want my team to be left to work. I didn’t impeach Lukwago, politicians did.  The political differences have now gone beyond individuals. No matter who is here, the problems will persist if certain individuals don’t change their attitudes.

How does all this affect your work?

My time is very little; I start working at 3:30am.  I work the whole day. I go home at odd hours; I spend a lot of time looking for money for KCCA operations. But we have been diverted from our technical work. Look at the time we spent at the Tribunal. Lukwago takes us to court, we finish the case he brings another one. We try to collect revenue, he tells people don’t pay. Yet if there’s no money to run KCCA, there will be a crisis. Since we came we have grown revenue to 90 percent from where we found it and that is a good thing but my passion is to grow it to 200 percent. So, I want time to look at the systems, look at the revenue bases, do the computations, and do the projections to make sure that the money comes in. But now, I have to go to court, undo a lot of destruction.

The description of how this distracts you reminds me of the noises sometime in 2012 that you had you wanted to resign. Is it true?

Sometimes you feel; why am I even doing this? It is not for the money I can assure you, I could make better money elsewhere. You try to convince yourself with reasons why you came here. Like because I was created for a purpose, because I am making a contribution for my children and grandchildren and the children after them. And making our country better because if we don’t do it, who will do it? You know; those kinds of reasons. But the times come and I am thinking I could be doing so many other things, being appreciated and making impact without all the hullabalo.

But at a personal level, what do you miss most?

I miss being a normal human being. I miss visiting my friends and relatives, I miss going to the saloon without security. I miss going shopping. I miss going to Nakasero to buy fruits. I miss taking my kids out in the public. I miss that normal life. The way that this job has profiled me, you attract too much attention. In the supermarket, everybody comes out. Musisi has come. They want to shake hands; they want to take photos with their phones. It’s that not normal. And I am a very simple person, I like going to malls in town to buy cheap clothes.

Talking about dressing, you dress in an interesting way, not the power suits, how do you go about your wardrobe?

I wear what I like. First of all, I like being feminine. I am very happy being a woman. I am one of those women who do not feel challenged by men, in the sense of – I don’t feel I have to compete with men. I am comfortable in my body and being a woman. I don’t have hang-ups that many women have. I don’t have to wear dark-padded suits to look like a man.

Did I read somewhere that you are interested in fashion?

No, I am not interested in fashion. I am interested in a lot of things. I am very artistic and very creative. I can do a lot of things. If I started a restaurant, it would be the best in terms of the cuisine. I can do all sorts of cuisine. I can paint, I paint landscapes and pictures.

Why don’t you do an exhibition one of these days?

Where am I going to get the time? I can do interior designing, I can do landscape designing, I can do furniture, I have done all these things. The only time I can do certain things like my embroidery is when I am on a long flight. I also like to do gardening, landscaping and garden sculptures and things like that.

Going back to management of the city, what trends in the city are you anxious about?

Reducing congestion, removing street loading of taxis, creating drive throughs, making traffic flow better. Recently I had a meeting with traffic police on how to make the traffic flow in a smoother way. For example if you are coming from Clock Tower, others from Mukwano, then Shoprite can’t some of them be diverted so that they use other routes instead of all of them squeezing in all at one junction? We also want to streamline boda boda operations in the city because they are also part of the congestion choking the city.

There is this confusion within NRM, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi challenging President Museveni. Our sense is that it spills over to people like you.  Have you had to make sensitive decisions?

At KCCA, we do our work; political interference other than the internal is not a problem. I consider NRM as an organisation, a government organisation but we are not involved in understanding its intricacies and problems. I don’t know what the real problems are neither do I know about their resolutions.

When Bobi Wine sung that song Tugambile Ku Jennifer, you weren’t very happy but you reached out to him and he became part of the Kampala Carnival, how was that experience?

By the way, that song, people thought I was going to sue Bobi Wine but first of all, I have never listened to that song. I have heard the chorus. I have also heard others that people have composed – good songs actually. I have conditioned myself to the fact that no change comes easy especially if it is positive change. People will not appreciate the change when it is happening but in the long run they will. Fortunately, for me, I have gone through a similar experience in URA. When we were transforming that institution, we had to have military protection, very crazy situations, threats to our lives, poison threats, people writing all sorts of things to you, threatening to bewitch you. But now URA is like a model institution in this country in terms of efficiency, 85 % contribution to our budget. So, Allen is very happy and I am very happy that we paid the price to transform our revenue as a country.

I believe more and more will be happy of Kampala. I see people coming to Uganda and Kampala and sending me messages, tweets and Whatsapps, saying you are doing a good job, Kampala is much different from when we last came.

You have had a fractious relationship with the Kampala Land Board. What’s the situation like now?

Kampala Land Board is a different entity. It is not under KCCA. The only interface is physical planning. I have been at the forefront of recovery of properties in the names of KCCA. Some people say I am pursuing an agenda of grabbing properties for a certain group. Even if I wanted to do that, there is no legal process for me to do that.

What do you want your legacy to be like at KCCA?

Well I want to leave Kampala much better than I found it; leave behind a good management team. Most towns are using our template for their development. Local Government is challenging them to copy the KCCA model. Sometimes people in those districts write to me requesting me to help them with some management issues.

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