Jennifer Musisi, the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) Executive Director, was the guest of honour at Barclays Bank’s Women of Excellence Awards ceremony, which took place on May 19. In her speech, she shared about her life and career. Here are excerpts;
“One of the things people always ask me is where I came from? Sometimes, I feel like I just popped out of the woodwork myself because four years ago, no one knew me. I was raised by a single mother and I think she did a very good job because she raised four others and they are all doing amazing things.
There may be other single mothers out there struggling with two or three children and probably thinking they will never make it and are getting into all sorts of situations because they think they need help. You can do it if you are confident and determined.
My mother taught me how to do everything. She was very hard working and would spend a lot of time making us work and one time I thought;
‘Maybe she is my step mother; she just treats me so badly! She makes me wake up very early, makes me work all day and forces me to do things I do not want to do.’
But I’m so glad now that the things she taught me made me what I am today.
Determined to excel in school
At one point, my mother was struggling with school fees, and putting food on the table. She was a professional mother, working with government. Those who work with Government know how they do not pay well. Sometimes, she would even go to school and tell the headmaster to be patient, the money was coming.
In order to supplement her income, she reared chicken and run a bakery. At some point, she had taxis. So, she did everything, all, in addition to her job. Because she was working so hard to get us through school, I got inspiration from her.
I wanted to make her different struggles worthwhile; the sleepless nights, walking to various supermarkets with a huge basket of chicken and then going back to collect money for our fees. In primary school, coming third made me sad because I knew how she would be disappointed. So, my target was to always be the first in class. Since I was also learning various skills from her, I became very practical, which I feel parents should also teach their children.
She once told me: “We may have the luxury of a maid or a car at home but it is no guarantee that when you grow up, you will also have the same. So, you need to be able to do everything that a maid would do or run any other kind of errand without a car. You need to get real, get a life and do what you need to do.
She also taught me that if you are going to be a good leader, you should be able to do everything or at least understand what your subordinates do. Otherwise, you will not be able to instruct or tell them what to do.
When I go back home for instance, after work, and I find the kitchen sink full of dirty dishes, I will take off my shoes and get to work before I even go to the bedroom because I am so oriented to being practical. And by doing that, I’m leading by example. I’m one of those people who have had my house help for 22 years now because I have been mentoring, sharing, training and working besides her.
How I manage to do it all
The most significant thing I can relate my perspectives, attitudes and my entire life to is accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior when I was in secondary school and never looking back.
The purpose, strength, confidence, faith, the feeling that I have a purpose and destiny in life, there is a reason I am here; I’m serving the big guy up there and He is looking after me and He is my God. That was my turning point.
There are people who wonder about what makes me so resilient and brave? It is only the confidence and strength that only God can give us and the ability to overcome a lot of storms.
What you read in the newspapers is just a tiny part of what actually happens. It is just a blast being in my position. It just gets very fascinating and sometimes, you are thinking, “Wow! Will I survive this time? And I say yes, I shall survive and I keep going and the results keep coming.”
I’m like any other woman
Another common question people ask me is what I do, rather than building roads, putting up street lights and reclaiming property. I live a normal life. I do stuff that other women do.
At home, I cook, clean, look out for cobwebs and I like gardening. I do not like farming though because my mother once said that if you want to get poor, bury your money in a farm.
I spend as much time as I can at home, which helps me balance my roles as a woman. As you go higher, there are cocktails, parties, events, meetings, seminars and so many other things that take up your time. You need to decide on the most important things you need to do so that you balance that with the rest of your life. I’m happily married.
Appreciating my husband
If you talk of men who are promoting women, then, my husband is one. He has been there encouraging, praying and telling me that I can do it.
He accepts me as I am because men can tend to fear highly educated women who happen to be go-getters. He asks me to go for the top and reach for the skies. He has made such a huge difference in my life.”
What I would do differently
That would perhaps be to spend more time with the people who matter. I travel a lot but I have learnt to prioritise. Otherwise, I would not be able to see my children or husband or read the documents that I need to read before meetings.
When my parents were alive, I was so busy. I was travelling and sometimes our relationship was reduced to phone calls or sending a driver to them with things. And even when I got time to see them, I would be scrolling through my I pad checking messages.
I wish I had spent more time with my mother. She is now gone. That is the one thing that I regret. Many times, she would tell me that was me she wanted to see, not the things I sent her. So, take the time to spend quality time with your parents when they are still alive because once they are gone, they are gone.
Being a woman should not be an issue
Sometimes, people ask me the “woman” questions; How does it feel like being a woman executive director? How does it feel like being a woman and you are chasing after all these men and then sometimes they are chasing you and you are getting into all sorts of situations, in court and tribunals?
Being a woman is not the issue. You know men tend to throw that look that says, “but you are a woman,” and I am like, “So? I’m also the chief executive officer of Kampala and you do not mess with me because I have the whole of the law called the KCCA act behind me giving me the powers that I hold, and an instrument signed by the president of this country appointing me to this job.”
For the time being, I’m here to stay to do a job and I’m here to do it well. It is okay that I am a woman and do not apologise for that fact.
You need to fill the positions that have been given to you as women, with confidence and the assurance of how you got there. You beat everybody else including men to get to that position. Throw out orders, give directions, make decisions and move. The sky will be the limit for you.
But I understand the challenges we face as women, I understand the morning sickness, when the children are sick, when you are going through an emotional trauma. I have also gone through them but those come and go and should not be an excuse for not performing. We bear with you for that time, but when you come back, do some serious work.
Women can be strong but not bitchy and that is a weakness that we sometimes have. You get so nasty trying to be strong that it becomes offensive. You can actually be feminine, be pleasant and professional without offending people or having to scream at the top of your lungs to get people to do things. You can instruct and direct with authority to get results.
It is important to have honest people around you. I like people who can tell when I’m going overboard, people who correct and challenge me. I appreciate that. Those people are good for you. Women also need to be on top of their game by taking time to read, study and excel in order to promote themselves.