By Dr. Ian Clarke

Jennifer Musisi has resigned before the expiry of her contract, citing political issues frustrating her from carrying out programs and achieving targets. She has been doing the job for the past seven years and has finally succumbed to the negative influence that politics exerts on those who work in the public sector.

In some ways she is a victim of her own success, because when she first took office Jennifer was able to leverage the political environment to her advantage, but after the 2016 election, her support from the President withered. Her fall from grace illustrates the narrow line that top civil servants must tread: if you swim with the sharks you may end up being eaten by them. There is supposed to be a dividing line between the political ruling class and civil servants, such that if there is a change of government, the civil servants are unaffected, and the country continues with business as usual. In the USA, many of the important positions in the administration are political appointments, while others are ring-fenced as a-political, so that there is a stable administration. In Britain the top civil servants are independent of the political structure and serve whichever party assumes power.

In Uganda all top public sector appointments are ratified by the President, so in that sense they are political, but the appointee may still steer a middle road and stay away from the politicians. Unfortunately, from the beginning it was clear that Jennifer was not only the chosen appointee of the President, but that she looked to him for political support – which he gave during her first term. However, this also embroiled her in confrontation with the Lord Mayor, which ultimately became a political fight resulting in his impeachment. This did not endear her to the opposition in Kampala.

There are pragmatic reasons for civil servants to align themselves with the party in power in order to get things done. Ultimately the President has a great deal of control on the purse strings, and without an adequate budget nothing will be accomplished. This was the case between 2011- 2016, when Jennifer lobbied and obtained a huge increase in the grant from central government. This enabled her to recruit a whole new staff, and to implement programs of building new roads, repairing potholes, lighting the city and improving schools, all of which were much appreciated by the residents of Kampala.

However, when she tried to make changes to bring order to the city, such as registration and limitation of the numbers of boda bodas, and street traders, she found she was fighting entrenched political interests, and was unable to make much progress. This was no surprise, since politics is such a pervasive influence in all aspects of life in Uganda, and many sensible changes are resisted through political influence and lobbying. When the election went against the NRM in Kampala, the President blamed her style of management, and appointed Betty Kamya to win back political support. We are yet to see how that works out.

I was mildly surprised when she accepted another term in office shortly after the election, because it was obvious that the divergent politics of Kampala were going to make her job very difficult. She is not the first person to resign from KCCA: many of her staff had already fled, including her deputy. These are people who care about changing Kampala, not just collecting their salaries. I know several who left their well-paid comfortable positions because of pure frustration. The situation in KCCA is now pretty dysfunctional and is an example of what happens when everything becomes political, at the expense of common sense, and a disciplined approach to change.

Another issue for Jennifer was that her style of leadership was both high handed and high profile, which did not go down well with some, especially the Lord Mayor, who did not see why he should play second fiddle to an unelected civil servant. Perhaps a lower profile E.D. might be able to work under the political radar, and make the best of what has become an almost impossible job. The whole saga illustrates we have failed to separate the civic structure from politics.

Perhaps a more humble, less politically involved E.D. might be able to avoid the poisoned chalice, but since Kampala itself is so solidly anti-government, it is likely that there will be continued underfunding and paralysis. I admire Jennifer for her integrity of not continuing to take a high salary when she could accomplish very little. However, if all the good people leave, KCCA will revert to the porous organization that we called KCC.