New Ugandan Districts: Leadership Matters

Hopeful: A young boy from Mparo, Rwamucuucu, Rukiga



I wish to speak directly to the people of Rukiga, Bunyangabu, Kyotera, Namisindwa, Butebo and Pakwach, whose counties will metamorphose into districts on July 1 this year. 


Whether or not your new district starts on a good footing will, to a large extent, be determined by the caliber of its leaders. They will determine the future of your children and grandchildren.


You are about to choose your new leaders and representatives, including LC5 chairpersons, district councilors and women’s representatives in parliament. 


Many will be people who spend most of their days in Kampala, returning to the districts to seek elections to lead or represent people they hardly know.


In the next three to four months, they will crisscross your districts in the comfort of their sports utility vehicles, making promises, badmouthing their opponents, buying you alcohol, attending your funerals and church services, and offering you T-shirts, caps and small amounts of cash, all in exchange for your votes.


Party leaders will drop by to put in good words for their candidates. Campaign posters will decorate buildings, electricity poles, trees and public transport vehicles.


However, these rituals of political campaigns should not determine your choices of leaders that will affect your lives. Your vote will determine whether your district will join the pile of dysfunctional habitats or whether it will get onto a path towards growth and development.


In this era of political parties, it is very understandable that many of you are passionate members of one party or other. However, when it comes to local politics, it is highly advisable for one to psychologically suspend one’s membership or affiliation with a national political party. Your district should be your “political party.”


So forget the yellow and blue T-shirts and posters. You should look at the individual candidates, not their party colors and should be ready to cast your vote based on individual merit, in favour of the person you believe is best qualified for the job.


If I were voting in Rukiga District, for example, I would ask myself some basic questions.  First, does the candidate have a reputation for integrity, with such strong moral principles and honest dealings that she can withstand the inevitable temptation to engage in corruption and other abuse of power?


Does she make outlandish, patently false promises or is she honest with the people, including telling them hard truths about what is possible and what is not?  And does she keep her promises? Has she develop a written plan of action, complete with a financial plan and source of funding for her promises?


Does she have the strength to make difficult, even unpopular decisions that will serve the greater good for all? Does she have the character to always stand for what is right?


Second, does she have the knowledge, skills and leadership and management experience to do the job?  If I cannot employ a learner to be my driver, why should I hire a novice to lead and manage a community of hundreds of thousands of people?


Third, is he making a sacrifice to serve us or is he simply seeking high paying employment? Is he possessed of a primitive thirst for fame and power, or does he seek to serve with humility and fairness? Does he try to make himself look good by assaulting his opponents’ reputations, or does he respect and uphold their legitimacy, their honor and their right to hold a different opinion?


Fourth, does he have the ability to listen carefully and respectfully to all his constituents, and to professional experts and other leaders before taking a position or action on matters that affect the citizens? Does he claim monopoly on vision or does he listen to the needs, wishes and aspirations of the “ordinary” people.


Does he have the charisma and eloquence to communicate his message and galvanize people to collective action? Does he have the courage to speak the truth to the people and to the rulers of Uganda?


Fourth, does he have the intellectual and global stature to command the respect and trust of people in Uganda and abroad whose goodwill and support will be key to advancing the fortunes of the district? While he must act locally, can he think globally? 


Fifth, does she have the political maturity to serve and represent all people, regardless of political party, opinion or religion? Is she a genuine democrat who will respect and serve those who did not vote for her? Is she a collaborative person, one who will be a mediator, not a conflict generator, a coalition builder, not a narrow-minded partisan? 


A large percentage of the voters may not have the opportunity or information to examine the candidates. It is, therefore, important that every native of a new district, especially those with access to information and easy transport to their home areas, should make it their business to go home several times and offer civic education to the voters. 


We must use all means of communication to enable the voters to make informed decisions and re-orient them from the tradition of commercialized politics.


The people in the new districts have serious choices to make. The key word is choice. They will be choosing their leaders. The leaders will not be choosing the people.  The people will have power to accept or reject candidates. The elected leaders will have an obligation to accept the contract and to serve the people.


We need servant-leaders who will enable our districts to grow. We need qualified people who understand the principles and practice of accountability and corporate governance.  


Leadership matters. Therefore we must insist on getting the best and avoid getting leaders by default.



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