The colourful story of Jennifer Musisi at KCCA
As the curtain comes down on Jennifer Musisi’s tumultuous seven years of uncompromising stewardship of the city authority, it is the memory of dead bodies felled by KCCA operatives, which may remain with the formidable outgoing executive director more than anything else, according to sources.
The story of corpses at the gates of Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) is one which is well documented.
“Incidents of bringing dead bodies to City Hall haunted her,” said one official who worked closely with her. “She is a religious woman. Whenever an incident happened in the field, her name would come up. She did not like it.”
Musisi came to KCCA from Uganda Revenue Authority with the reputation of having been a member of the born-again Christian fraternity which comprised the tax body’s then Commissioner General Allen Kagina’s inner circle.
At KCCA, Musisi has also built a similar body of loyalists largely known to pray, and stick together. One day mid-last year, a woman in her 30s walked into ‘White Hall’, as the KCCA building is sometimes fondly referred to.
She was carrying what looked like a sleeping baby. According to security officers who manned the gate that day, the baby was wrapped in clean clothes so nobody suspected anything untoward.
After she had passed the main gate, one official said, and was now heading for the second gate which leads to the offices, a security official belatedly realised that she was struggling to hold back tears.
This fact drew attention and on closer examination, it was then established, quite shockingly, that this lady had carried a dead child’s body onto the premises. Her plan had been to dump the body at the KCCA reception in silent protest.
The authority’s enforcement officers had taken all her little hawker’s stock in an enforcement swoop. With no money, she failed to pay for the child’s medication hence its death. She was quietly escorted to her home and the incident ended without media attention but the management got to know about it.
In August last year, another macabre story played out in the full glare of cameras as outraged vendors attempted to storm City Hall with the body of a dead colleague, Olivia Basemera.
The vendor had died after drowning in Nakivubo Channel, the city’s main waste water drain outlet. Basemera had slipped and fallen into the murky waters of the heavily polluted channel as she fled from KCCA enforcement officers.
Three years earlier in November 2014, another incident happened where again a vendor, Madinah Namutebi, had been arrested in one of those smash-and-grab enforcement raids and taken to Central police station. The vendor was later transferred to City Hall. While there, two relatives of Namutebi came with her two-year-old baby to see her being arraigned in court.
In the course of their stay, the child strayed and was run over by a KCCA truck. The authority leaders apologised but it inevitably entered the record of the ugly scenes of Musisi’s reign.
And in the early days of her tenure, a KCCA eviction operation in Luzira superintended by the late George Ninsiima Agaba, a former KCCA director of physical planning, went terribly bad. Threatened, Agaba’s bodyguard, Santos Komakech shot and killed a protesting resident there. The fallout from that killing defined KCCA’s subsequent relationship with Kampalans.
If anything, these incidents showed that behind the glitter and trappings of power at KCCA, beyond the political fights, Musisi came face-to-face with life at its most desperate.
On Monday when her notice of resignation came up, it was hardly a surprise to many insiders at City Hall. The 21-page resignation letter she sent to the president listed a stellar performance, dwarfing the past city leaders.
But it is such consequences of her enforcement teams’ brutality, and her fights with Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago and some ministers that may well stay on people’s minds. For a technocrat who so badly wanted to beautify Kampala, it came at a great cost.
Together with the then minister for Kampala and Presidency Frank Tumwebaze, they tried to illegally get Lukwago forcibly kicked out of office because most of the times, he opposed their plans.
With support from President Museveni, it is safe to say the lord mayor hardly served his first term in office. Another mark of Musisi’s stay at KCCA came early when she went against vendors. This was necessary to restore order in the city which had been turned into a chaotic mess by unregulated hawking.
It was also important to calm traders who were threatening to stop paying license fees and other dues because, they said, vendors set up shop right in front of their business premises blocking off shoppers, yet they (vendors) didn’t pay license fees.
She succeeded in throwing some vendors off the street but the brutality with which the exercise was/and is being done marked out Musisi. It also cost political capital for her boss, Museveni.
In the 2016 general elections, it would show. Museveni was hammered at the polls in Kampala. In a post-election retreat at his country home in Rwakitura, Museveni squarely blamed the loss on Musisi – a technocrat who had been his blue-eyed enforcer only months earlier.
Musisi was brought in by Museveni who expressed frustration at what he called the opposition’s control over Kampala. Giving her parallel powers to the lord mayor, and handing her the city cheque book, was an attempt to break that hold – but with mixed results.
A researcher and an independent analyst on urban development told The Observer yesterday, “While she was courageous, blaming her for poor performance broke her back.”
And an official at KCCA confirmed this while speaking off the record, saying they have been expecting her resignation.
“It didn’t come as a surprise,” the official said.
In April last year, something happened which showed Musisi had lost her hitherto unquestioned power. She got into a fierce fight with minister of trade, industry and cooperatives Amelia Kyambadde over businesses located at Centenary park.
Musisi wanted all structures there demolished but Kyambadde accused her of humiliating investors after graders had nipped at business lady Sarah Kizito’s buildings there.
Kyambadde, a former equally powerful principal private secretary to the president, appealed to Museveni. The KCCA eviction was stopped in its tracks and presidential guard troops were deployed at the park.
Evidently, KCCA under Musisi would see itself stripped of even more power when its freedom to spend collected revenues at source was removed.
A new directive was issued under which all the money collected in the city would now be deposited with Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) and then transferred to government’s main account, the Consolidated Fund. This robbed the city authority of its financial power.
The authority’s budget was also considerably slashed this finance year. In fact, Musisi cited being starved of funding in her resignation letter. In 2017, she told a parliamentary committee that was investigating her involvement in the famous oil money/URA handshake that if she had known what the job entailed, she wouldn’t have accepted Museveni’s offer in 2011.
“Had I known what this job involved at the time when the president asked me to take it up, I would have declined,” she said.
On Tuesday, the day after her resignation letter, Lukwago addressed the media – clearly overjoyed at the turn of events – he had prevailed, it would appear to him.
“Because of her impunity which led me to be locked out of the lord mayor’s office for three years, I am glad that I witness the exit of Musisi, and I am more keen to witness the exit of President Museveni just like I witnessed the exit of former KCCA minister Frank Tumwebaze. That of Beti Kamya [minister in charge of Kampala] is soon coming,” Lukwago said.
The lord mayor spoke while intermittently breaking into dance. Lukwago said Musisi’s resignation, which has come two years after the resignation of the then deputy executive director Judith Tumusiime, has similar reasons: politics and underfunding.
“Musisi did not resign yesterday, practically she had resigned in October 2016 shortly after Tumusiime left; since then, she has attended only three authority meetings with over a dozen letters of absence and leave of office and has been delegating her deputy most of the time except on a few occasions like the visit of the Kabaka when she comes just to show off,” Lukwago said.
On social media, KCCA official accounts acknowledge achievements of a woman whose decisive actions transformed the city into the relatively better place it is today.
The statement on Twitter and Facebook said: “Starting in April 2011 as the first executive director of KCCA, Musisi established a new institution restricting the old Kampala City Council. She leaves at a time when KCCA has been positioned as a corporate institution with functional systems that have made Kampala a benchmark urban city in Africa and internationally.”
On her part, Lord Councillor Happy Nasasira representing Nakawa II said “whoever celebrates Musisi’s exit is an enemy of the city.”
Another councillor, Moses Kataabu said Musisi’s problem has been political interference and inadequate funding. Kataabu said Musisi should blame the issue of lack of funding on Museveni who cut KCCA’s budget from Shs 500 billion to Shs 300 billion.
At City Hall, some employees are not sure whether they will stay in their jobs after her departure. When she came there, one official said, she recruited her people – sometimes outside public service protocols. With her patronage gone, the future looks uncertain for this lot.
It was always going to be tough for Musisi to transform Kampala to a state-of-the-art metropolis. Her actions, while earning admiration from the elites, were loathed by the urban poor who swarmed the sprawling and festering slums. It also did not return the expected political capital for the president from ordinary people who actually vote.
Musisi, according to those who worked with her, was brilliant and hardworking but she fell into the traps of politicians.
KCCA’s former director of physical planning, the late George Ninsiima Agaba, had told The Observer in 2016 before his death in an accident: “She [Musisi] lost direction the moment she allowed politicians to dictate how the authority works. She is intelligent and hardworking but she plays too much into the hands of politicians, including those in the NRM.”
The battles for KCCA control remain unresolved. The next executive director will almost face similar or even greater challenges.