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Friday, June 2, 2023

Before We Go to Vote, Can We go to Court?

A few weeks ago, Kampala Mayor Nasser Ntege Ssebagala wore his most nonchalant face and declared that he would not contest again because he had completed his mission. As Ssebagala made his mindboggling “mission accomplished” declaration, I wonder whether the people present laughed at him or cried for Uganda’s capital city.

For a Mayor who drew up a very impressive programme, which came complete with deadlines for each of his plans, and published them in a booklet that he distributed to whoever cared to receive them, the reality has been a far cry from the promises. Ssebagala’s booklet had all sorts of futuristic plans, including constructing pedestrian walkways and cycling lanes.

Instead, what Ssebagala has left behind is a city with arguably the highest pothole-per-road ratio in the world. On my one and only visit to the Burundi capital, Bujumbura, I was shocked to see that a country whose capital had been in the middle of a war that had raged on for decades and only ended about four years ago had better road infrastructure than Kampala. I have not been to Mogadishu but, on current form, perhaps it can give Kampala a run for its money.

Anyway, as Ssebagala was retiring into a new career of trying to help keep President Museveni in power, residents of Kampala were making their feelings about the work that the outgoing Mayor has (not) done in style. At Lumumba Avenue, where I recently counted 193 pot-holes, disenchanted road users decided to plant banana stems on the pot holes. With the current rainy season, they certainly have enough water to sprout, provided – as I expect – they will penetrate through the thin rock beneath.

Meanwhile, in Mbuya, road users and business owners on Monday clashed with police over the poor state of the road. The road was recently graded to remove the tarmac so that reconstruction work could start but nothing has been done for more than two months, leaving the residents engulfed in dust nearly every time a car speeds past.

Ssebagala is not the only politician to have failed to fulfil his promises. However, his failure to come good on his promises is perhaps most glaring since he is presides over the capital.

But if Ugandans were to scrutinise the election manifesto of every politician before the next election, it is likely that none of them has done even half of what they promised. The painful thing is that nearly all of them manage to get away with it simply because they mainly lead a population that is not yet able to collectively demand for, and defend, its rights.

Now, because the people in parliament are unlikely to want to put in place policies that make them accountable to the ordinary Ugandans who vote them to power, they cannot be expected to enact laws to that effect. But, like all things that may initially be resisted but eventually become accepted by the majority, we need to have some kind of mechanism that make politicians accountable.

My suggestion is for an avenue where politicians can be sued for failure to fulfil their promises. If, as in the case of Ssebagala for instance, the majority of city is not happy with the services that he has (not) provided, then residents should be able to sue him and have him refund all the money paid to him as salary, along with any other punitive action prescribed by the courts.

At least that would make politics less attractive to the political leeches and then, perhaps, we end up with leaders who truly, honestly want to help improve the livelihoods of the people they lead.

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