Some people have argued that democracy is not necessarily a prerequisite for society to achieve development. I am not one of those people because I believe that development brought about by democracy is more rewarding and sustainable while that without democracy acts like a smokescreen.
Through a democratic election in 2006, people in Kampala overwhelmingly voted Al Hajji Nasser Ntege Sebaggala as their Mayor for a period of five years. Although most of the elites, including myself, supported Sebaggala’s opponent, Peter Ssematimba—we believed that he would make a better mayor because of his education and exposure—Sebaggala nonetheless won because his supporters, the urban uneducated poor, overwhelmingly gave him the votes. I was skeptical from the beginning about Sebaggala’s promises of making the city better, but all the same, I gave him the benefit of doubt.
In his last year serving as the mayor of this dusty, muddy city, Sebaggala has occupied that seat, but has nothing much to show in terms of achievements. The city has become more disorganized with less service delivery than when he found it. In fact, one can argue that the city could have possibly been better without him because he almost adds no value apart from his drawing a salary, allowances, and his penchant for being drivenin a state of the art vehicles with the personalized number plates that read “MAYOR.”
When he recently froze KCC accounts, an action that led to a strike by KCC workers attempting to recoup unpaid salaries, it hardly changed anything in terms of service delivery to city residents. The garbage went uncollected, as had been the case before the strike, and the state of roads remained in just as sorry a condition as when the accounts were active.
Sebaggala has always complained that the KCC receives inadequate funds from the central government, his claim as to why he cannot deliver services. He says that government sends him only 15 billion shillings for roads every year. Although it may be true that this money is inadequate to fully upgrade the roads in the city, it is not too little to fix the dangerous potholes that threaten drivers of the major roads in the city.
Both Sebaggala and former President Idi Amin share many commonalities, but two are most notable: minimal formal education levels and untamable egos. Both have big dreams, and somehow luck has been on their side when they tell blatant lies to the people they lead. The major difference between the two men is that Sebaggala was elected while Amin captured power by force.
As one English commentator once said: “One wonders how a buffoon like Idi Amin managed to rule Uganda for eight years superintending over some of the best brains in Africa.” The same question can be asked today. How can a person like Sebaggala, with his low level of understanding, become mayor of Kampala when there are so many more capable candidates around?
Idi Amin, once believed that his army was powerful enough to militarily defeat the armed forces of Israel and possibly capture and occupy the famous Golan Heights. In the same vein of absurd egotism, Sebaggala recently made public an artist’s rendering of the fifty-storey building he wants to put up in Kampala. The building, he says, shall become the tallest in East and Central Africa. This is not to mention the three hundred buses he promised to bring to the city when he had just assumed the office of the mayor. One wonders whether the mayor has any sense of guilt.
I am sure ten years or so from now, Sebaggala shall be asked about the fifty-storey building he promised to build this year, and by that point he shall have either forgotten about it or he shall have an excuse as to why the building shall not yet have been built.
The problems of Kampala may not necessarily be solved by the mayor alone, but as the current head of KCC, he takes the sole blame for making Kampala a living hell for we residents and especially for the people that voted him into office.
So did we get the best out of democracy by having Sebaggala as our mayor? One may ask whether the election of Sebaggala as the mayor was a breach of democracy or whether democracy gave birth to his reign? The mayor recently announced that he will not run for reelection. The whole city can celebrate this.
Kampala has been bleeding the way Uganda bled under Idi Amin. Sebaggala might be going, but there is a lot of work that still needs to be done to rebuild and expand this great city with or without a 50-story building. God Bless Kampala.
Sam Stewart Mutabazi is a human rights defender.