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Lukwago and NRM finally talk

By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi

As the Lord Mayor attempts to build bridges with the NRM majority in KCCA, his own opposition base is getting nervous

Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago seemed to have a clear strategy concerning disagreements over running the city. He would position himself as a pro-people leader blocked by the ubiquitous NRM establishment from working for his people.

The circumstances of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) he inherited – a majority NRM council, a new executive director designed to be a thorn in his side, under a law [KCCA Act 2010] that disempowered the political leadership – seemed to call for such a strategy.

Out of 30 councillors of the authority, only 10 are in the opposition – six from DP, two from FDC and two opposition-leaning independents. The ruling NRM, on the other hand, has 18 party die-hards, with two NRM-leaning independents.

A council so hostile was never expected to back Lukwago, a DP-leaning independent who has in recent years emerged as one of President Yoweri Museveni’s principal adversaries, especially in Kampala.

After many attempts to assert himself over the running of the city, including petitioning court to protest that Executive Director Jennifer Musisi was “usurping his powers”, Lukwago came to a conclusion.

“I have been told that my job is to just attend ceremonies,” Lukwago said a few months ago at an Activist for Change rally in Mulago in reference to his disagreements with Musisi, “if that is the case, I am going to do many such functions to oust President Museveni”. Through public protests, Lukwago had taken his case to the court of public opinion.

An olive branch

But he has changed course. The Lord Mayor is now talking to NRM councillors. Daudi Lwanga, chairperson of the NRM councillors’ caucus, confirmed that they had met “once” with Lukwago and would probably meet again before normal KCCA business resumes.

Lwanga says the NRM caucus’ biggest interest in talking to Lukwago is to improve service delivery in the city, as it is on the basis of this that they will be judged when they go back to seek re-election.

An NRM councillor who attended the meeting with Lukwago on May 4 told this reporter that they had asked the Lord Mayor to stop participating in protests and to cede the post of deputy lord mayor to the ruling party. Lukwago’s choice for deputy lord mayor, DP’s Sulaiman Kidandala, is only so in name because the councillors withheld their approval.

These will be hard concessions for the Lord Mayor to make, given that the slim hold he is got on power at City Hall. But it may be inevitable. Like the NRM councillors, Lukwago has to account to his voters.

Due to the political stand-off in the council, it has had only one ordinary meeting since it was sworn-in in May 2011, on October 19, 2011, out of a possible five and minimum three required by the KCCA Act 2010.

Without meetings, the Authority has fallen short of carrying out its duties, of formulating policy, setting service delivery standards, determining taxation levels, and enacting legislation. Lukwago has also been unable to implement his manifesto.

Redundancy of the council has also undermined the work of KCCA’s 10 technical subcommittees. Each of these is made up of three councillors, assisted by technical. They are mandated to scrutinise specific issues and prepare reports for discussion and adoption by the full council. Since council does not sit to pass these resolutions, the technical teams simply implement the raw reports of the subcommittees.

A technical officer at KCCA told this reporter that the reports are “usually of poor quality”, partly because most councillors are not knowledgeable in the fields they handle, but mostly because they do not benefit from open discussion and input that would come from debate on the floor of the council.

This situation is “good for the ED [Jennifer Musisi]”, because if the Authority does not make resolutions, “Lukwago loses the moral ground to criticise her, as she would challenge him to present the guidelines his Authority has put in place”, the technical officer said. “She has a city to change and cannot wait for the politicians to sort themselves out,” the technical officer added.

In the face of opposition from Lukwago, Musisi has evicted street and market vendors, is now building new markets, and has introduced passenger buses.

“When all these projects take off, the people of Kampala could start asking what the lord mayor has done for them,” said the technical officer.  It could be fear of this that may have driven Lukwago to try and reach out to NRM councillors.

But why would the NRM councillors want to talk to Lukwago? It is in the interest of their party to see Lukwago fail; so why offer him a rope to clutch on if he was sinking?

Sources at City Hall, the seat of KCCA, say the councillors could have looked at their talks with Lukwago as an opportunity to increase their bargaining power. Musisi needs them on her side in her battle with Lukwago and we understand she reached out to them after their meeting with Lukwago.

Some say a follow-up meeting between Lukwago and the councillors could be in doubt because of Musisi’s influence. Lwanga, the chairperson of the NRM caucus, could neither confirm nor discount this possibility. He said they hadn’t set a date for the next meeting because he was travelling for two weeks.

Another view is that with the presentation of a new KCCA budget fast-approaching, the councillors felt they needed to get back to council. Muruli Mukasa, the minister in charge of Kampala affairs, has already been reportedly proposed a pay raise for the councillors to match that of technical staff, and the councillors need to be in council to approve the raise.

Wider fallout

But Lukwago doesn’t only have NRM councillors to sort out. His relations with even members from his DP haven’t been good. The position of deputy lord mayor was the tipping point in relations between Lukwago and the Council.

In a meeting on October 19, 2011, Lukwago nominated two candidates, from whom the council would select a deputy lord mayor. The nominees were Bernard Luyiga, a DP-leaning independent, and Sulaiman Sserwadda Kidandala, a DP councillor. The nominees were given 20 minutes to canvass for votes, after which the councillors would vote.

Luyiga and Kidandala were both former members of the Uganda Youth Democrats, DP-s youth wing, and while at Makerere University, Luyiga succeeded Kidandala as chairman of Lumumba Hall. In an attempt to avoid the potential divisiveness of canvassing the council for votes, the two went to Lukwago’s office, and, in the presence of Rubaga Division Mayor Joyce Ssebuggwawo, asked him to just appoint one of them. He refused.

Lukwago’s preference was by that time known to be Kidandala but it is not clear why he also nominated Luyiga, who says he had not been given any prior notice.

According to another DP councillor, who asked not to be named for fear of “worsening relations with the Lord Mayor”, Luyiga seemed to have wooed the majority NRM councillors during the canvassing and when the meeting resumed, he sat on their side.

“Lukwago then changed goal posts,” says the councillor, “he said that although the councillors would vote, he was still the final person to make the appointment.”

“We saw no point in voting,” the councillor said. According to the law, the lord mayor appoints his deputy and the councillors simply approve.

Lukwago eventually appointed Kidandala. Luyiga, who had been at City Hall the previous term and expected Lukwago to appoint him ahead of Kidandala, who was serving his first term, was disappointed when the Lord Mayor by-passed him.

Kidandala’s appointment displeased some DP councillors, like Shifrah Lukwago, Angella Kigonya and Zahara Luyirika who had also served in the earlier council and favoured Luyiga.

Lukwago’s detractors say his popularity on the way to City Hall had made him arrogant. “He disregarded us from the start,” one DP councillor said.

They said Lukwago compared poorly with former Mayor Nasser Ssebaggala, a DP member who is said to have taken the trouble to court the support of NRM councillors, before he eventually crossed to NRM.

“At least Ssebaggala would call us for meetings in his houses in Makindye and Bugolobi and we would discuss how to handle council matters.” Lukwago heavily criticised Ssebaggala’s council for corruption, a feeling that could have influenced his decision not appoint his deputy from those who had served in it.

But the councillor who didn’t want to be named argued that Lukwago should have met the opposition councillors after the elections to plot the way forward. The source was angry that Lukwago only discussed how to run the city with “his Ssuubi colleagues” (especially MPs Ssemujju Nganda and Betty Nambooze).

DP councillors have been angered further that Lukwago ignored them and sought out NRM councillors for talks “because they are the majority”. A councillor that attended the meeting with Lukwago said they urged him to also talk to DP councillors but he hasn’t.

“It is like he is playing divide-and-rule, How can the others trust him when he cannot work with people from his own party?” said Luyiga.

The fallout between Luyiga and Lukwago recently took a new twist, with Luyiga threatening to move a motion to censure Lukwago. Lukwago reacted by dropping Luyiga as the KCCA representative to the Makerere University Council. Luyiga has since appealed to Musisi, arguing that this was illegal.

Luyiga told The Independent that Lukwago’s decision to talk to NRM councillors smacks of “hypocrisy”. “He criticised me for cooperating with NRM councillors, so why is he talking to them now?” Luyiga asked.

It is such arguments that could complicate talks between Lukwago and NRM councillors. Many of his supporters will not want to see him cozying up with NRM, and may see him as a sell-out, a problem former Mayor Ssebaggala also faced.

Lukwago campaigned on a platform of checking NRM’s “abuse of power and corruption”. NRM told voters that even if they voted for Lukwago, his hands would be tied to do anything in a council in which only a miniscule minority were loyal to him. As things stand now, Lukwago’s report card is blank.

Yet one year into his five-year term, he needs to register some achievements as lord mayor. But to do so, he faces the challenge of reconciling his ultra-opposition stand with the need to cultivate allies in the council, especially the NRM, and managing the perceptions of his voters.

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