Erias Lukwago: Fighter for the common man or political joker?
Posted Saturday, March 16 2013 at 02:00
The city Lord Mayor is applauded in some circles for being pro-poor but others say he doesn’t deliver.
Even the Lord Mayor, Erias Lukwago himself, confesses that his mayor-ship faces one of the highest stakes stark against it as compared to others; for it is an impotent role, striped of any budgetary powers whatsoever. But this is his exact undoing, his critics say; he is complaining too much, crying foul too often and indulging in too much politicking at the expense of serving the people who voted him into office.
In flagrante delicto, a Latin term to mean “caught in the act,” is now almost crossing into everyday usage in Kampala, popularised by no less than Lukwago, himself a trained and practising lawyer. But if there’s anything that his tenure has been caught up in, it has been one wrangle after another with the government appointed technocrats in Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), especially, its Executive Director Jennifer Musisi.
Lukwago may assert that his actions are an attempt to create equitable development in Kampala and not leave the urban poor out of the bus ride of development. However, his critics say that two years into his tenure, Lukwago is now running the risk of making his reign an exclusive affair of conflict and dispute, denying him the ability to deliver on campaign promises and hence harming his future political prospects.
Cat fight with Lady Jenny
So influential has their relationship been that as of today, forms of art have crept into pop culture, wholly inspired by the Lord Mayor and the KCCA executive director. On radio and TV, commercial adverts have been airing, featuring an archetypal marital quarrel between a husband and wife. And who are the spouses, you may want to ask? Jennifer and Erias, that is who.
Since the honeymoon of the two leaders’ tenure of office elapsed, (a time during which they agreed on such things as the eviction of former mayor al-hajj Nasser Ntege Ssebaggala), for nearly every strong action that the KCCA leadership has taken in Kampala, Lukwago has been on the otherside, throwing his hands in the air, in protest. This could include actions like the eviction of vendors off the streets of Kampala. In all these cases, Mr Lukwago has been powerless to stop the raging and bellowing graders from razing his voters’ kiosks and merchandise into rubble. All he has in retaliatory firepower is words of condemnation and protests.
And ingenious internet-user Uganda youth have not been lost on this set of conditions. They have designed caricatures that show a macho Ms Musisi hovering over a cowed Mr Lukwago. The word “musisi” means earthquake in Luganda and some have gone ahead to make illustrations that show Lukwago being hit by an earthquake.
“The Lord Mayor is supposed to be the face of Kampala. But you’ve got to give it to Jennifer Musisi; she is now the face of Kampala. It is strange because she has even never asked for votes,” says Norbert Mao, president of the Democratic Party (DP) who has worked with Mr Lukwago before.
Mr Lukwago’s supporters, however, see this as proof of his strength and political grounding. Kenneth Kakande, the Democratic Party’s spokesperson, (although speaking in a personal capacity), says that Lukwago’s battles in Kampala are not against Musisi, but against President Museveni. And by engaging her thus far, it is testament to his resolve and strength.
Kakande explains that after the Executive refused to win the right to run the capital city through the ballot, it changed the law to make this possible. Through KCCA, Kakande says, the Executive was working to frustrate Lukwago’s work of helping the poorest people in society, but that this far, the Lord Mayor had still held firm.
Lukwago himself says it is just short of miracles that he has been able to stay afloat and weather the storm for two years in which the Executive wanted to swallow him up.
There is a dramatic quality to the scenario between Lukwago and Musisi. But speaking of dramatic, that would not be the first time the adjective has had anything to do with Lukwago. It will not take a lot of jogging to take your mind back to the mid to late 2000s for run-ins that the then MP for Kampala Central had with riot police, especially over city markets.
Today, chances are very high that the next time you will see Lukwago on a prime time TV news bulletin, it will not be a report about him launching some programme or other or doing any of the ‘ceremonial’ duties like laying foundation stones.
It could be that the media is choosing to overlook his pro-people works like the keep Kampala clean exercises he does on Saturdays, Mr Lukwago says. But it could also be because the trailer of the upcoming bulletin will already be showing him darting from one end of the screen to the other, other opposition politicians in tow, running away from surging clouds of tear gas at another of his attempted protests or marches.
At the end of the bulletin, he will be on top of the bed of a dark blue police truck, held and incarcerated by big muscled men from the riot police. Then it will hit you that you have seen this all before, the exact same script.