By Andrew M. Mwenda
The mayor has consistently opposed and obstructed every effort to reform the city and thereby rendered himself irrelevant
Finally, the NRM has found a way to get rid of Kampala Mayor Erias Lukwago, a man who has been a thorn in their feet. A commission of inquiry chaired by a high court judge found him guilty of abuse of office, gross misconduct and incompetentence – what a way to humiliate an opponent.
Because the battle between NRM and Lukwago is basically political, I am inclined to withhold my support for government schemes to remove a democratically-elected mayor. However, Lukwago has consistently and maliciously obstructed all attempts at reforming the city to improve its performance.
In many ways, most supporters of Lukwago (who are equally President Yoweri Museveni’s strongest opponents) do not see how the mayor and the president share a common approach to politics and management.
For Museveni, almost every decision he takes is based largely on the calculation of its ability to help him retain power. So, if there is a chance for Museveni to do something good for the country but which threatens his job as president, he will not do it. I am aware this behavior is the stuff that all politicians are made of – even in such democracies are Norway and Sweden.
However, it seems to me that Museveni has taken political expedience to the extreme end of what you find especially in the US. This has led to the growth of the impunity of special interests. At the top level, Museveni has tolerated corrupt politicians and civil servants who indulge in open theft of public resources when such people possess political value i.e. they deliver votes from their ethnic or religious constituencies. He has allowed and often aided rich businessmen who contribute to his campaigns to take public land, build in road reserves or the city’s green areas.
This impunity of the upper class has gone hand in hand with the impunity of the lower classes that are powerful numerically (in terms of votes). For example, attempts to clamp down on boda boda riders and subject them to the traffic laws have been resisted by Museveni.
Market vendors and hawkers who litter the city have always been protected and defended by Museveni. Poor people in the countryside; who encroach on game parks, wetlands and forest reserves, are aided and given police protection by Museveni.
These decisions calculated to win the president favor with such popular constituencies at the local level (whether it is a city, a district or even a sub county) have had dangerous consequences at the national level. They have promoted corruption at the top and impunity at the bottom.
This has led to institutionalized corruption and incompetence in government hence and the breakdown of public goods and services. It has also destroyed the environment from below so much so that Uganda is loosing forest cover at a rate of 2 percent per year.
Subjectively, Lukwago and Museveni may be opponents but objectively they stand for the same political principles, or lack of them. Lukwago’electoral base is made up of vendors, hawkers, taxi drivers, boda boda riders, idlers, pick pockets, unemployed youths, etc.
Because they constitute numbers, Lukwago’s war against KCCA Executive Director Jennifer Musisi is to resist every reform that may hurt these groups even if it improved the city generally. In pursuit of this, Lukwago has sought various excuses – some of them convincing, most of them empty – to fight Musisi instead of working with her.
Since she came to office, Musisi has done what had evaded the city for decades. With increasing resistance from elected councilors who were profiting from the dysfunctions in Kampala, she is filling potholes, building pedestrian sidewalks, planting trees, retrieving green areas, etc.
On my NTV show last week, I made a miscalculation arguing that Lukwago will not be re-elected. On second reflection, Lukwago has a political strategy. By positioning himself as the defender of those groups being clamped down by Musisi’s reforms, he is buying himself political favor for the next election.
In spite of weaknesses in her administration, Musisi has done for Kampala a great job. Initially, I had feared Museveni’s support for her would not last the rough waters of political maneuvering. Surprisingly, the president seems to have remained supportive.
However, as we move to 2015, Museveni’s support for Musisi’s reforms will begin to wane and the city may degenerate into the garbage heap it has always been. For now, most reasonable people appreciate the work Musisi is doing in spite of constant obstruction from a mayor determined to serve only one interest – how to be re-elected.
All reform creates losers and winners. The costs of reform are felt immediately, so they are certain. This allows the losers to overcome what economists call “collective action” problems. So they become militants determined to resist reform.
The challenge is that the benefits of reform come at a later date, so they are uncertain. This makes support for reform lukewarm and tentative at best or absent at worst. In the contest between those who stand in defense of reform and those opposing it, the opponents punch above their numerical strength because they can easily unite around their interests.
Secondly, a good reformer has to sequence her/his reforms. If you attempt to reform everything all at the same time, there will be too many toes you will be stepping on. This may mobilize broad-based resistance to reform.
A good tactician will therefore ally with one group against another to achieve a specific reform. For example, you may ally with shopkeepers against hawkers and vendors. Once you are done with them, you can ally with consumers against shopkeepers. Today’s allies can be tomorrow’s adversaries.
If Musisi begun reform with boda bodas, vendors, hawkers and taxi drivers, it is because she can only inconvenience them when Uganda is far away from an election year. The closer we get to 2015, the less possible it will be to tackle them. Hence 2015 and 2016 can be the years to tackle the rich business barons, for then one can politically whip up the sentiments of the poor against the rich.
By defending the parochial interests of his constituents against a meaningful reform of the city, Lukwago has shown that he places his personal interest to remain mayor above the collective good of the city. To this extent, he and Museveni are birds of a feather that fly apart.