Jennifer Musisi, loathed and admired in the same measure

Sunday December 4 2011

One of Misis’s challenges is how to deal with thousands of tonnes of waste from the City.

One of Misis’s challenges is how to deal with thousands of tonnes of waste from the City. 

By Robert Kalumba

She’s such a divisive character. To her admirers, she’s messiah sent, the light at the end of the dark tunnel that is Kampala City. However, to the critics, she’s a false prophet who will be unmasked with time.

She’s dominated the news with colourful stories ranging from head on collusions with an Army General, vendors, shopping malls owners, to a troublesome relationship with the Lord Mayor of Kampala.

But who is Jennifer Musisi? Who before taking on the challenge to modernise Kampala, was actually starting on her early retirement dream, having worked 13 years in URA and preparing to go into private business which included a confectionery, landscape and interior designing and simply spending time with her family?

Life spent a whole day, with the executive director of KCCA, ‘flying’ from one meeting to another as we chatted about everything, from her family, her business, her work, her thoughts about today’s issues, to rumours that she’s one of President Museveni’s closest confidants.

8 am.
“Hi Robert! What happened?” asks Musisi as I walk into her office at City Hall. The appointment was for 7.30am, ending when she said so, and here was I, battered by the morning rain on a bodaboda to her office.

“You’ve missed the most important part of our day; the prayer meeting. Today we were praying for solutions to the bad roads.” She smiles and offers me a seat. The office, is bustling with staff coming in and out and casually chatting as they discuss a range of issues with her. I notice that they all simply call her “Jennifer”. The office though well-organised, is smaller than I had imagined, mostly in browns and creams. “It’s very important to start our day with Christ, through Him, we can do all things” she goes on with a, broad smile.

Musisi is known to have strong religious beliefs and consider her current job an assignment from God. On whether she fears that her beliefs could be perceived by some as a sign of mental imbalance of sorts.

“I’ve been “a born again believer” since secondary school. I believe that my life and what I do is guided by God,” she says staring straight at me. “The challenges I face in my life are overcome by God and the Biblical values I hold are not because I’m super strong or politically connected. I don’t really worry about what people think of my faith, it is what has worked for me and made me what I am,” a smiling Musisi adds.

One of her staff members brings breakfast for both of us, and she confesses that she drinks more coffee than eats meals. As we chat, she is constantly diverted to sign a document or talk to staff that keep walking in and out. We talk about that infamous “battle” with a known Army General, over a house in Kololo and what went through her mind when threatened with arrest.

She chuckles, “you see in my work as a public officer, I always use the law to guide my actions and decisions. This to me was a simple matter, we had the land title to that house and had requested for vacant possession. But then, I heard and read about my impending arrest! Fortunately, I don’t buckle under threats and intimidation, as long as I know I’m acting legally.”

She continues, “Many people called from everywhere, even from outside Uganda cautioning me and basically panicking on my behalf. Others were trying to interest me in negotiations, but I honestly did not see any issues for mediation or “negotiation.” It was neither a personal nor a political matter; KCCA owned the house and now wanted it back, full stop.”

But there was talk that the said house had been sold to a businessman who was also claiming it? I probe further. “Oh yes, I heard that too. But ownership wishes, bribes, influence peddling or threats do not normally solve legal issues, the case is in now in court, and we await the outcome.”

We’re interrupted by her Executive Assistant, who says a meeting is starting. She immediately cuts short the interview and barely touched breakfast and heads to the boardroom with me in tow. After introducing me, she starts the meeting and requests that it be done in one hour, because she’s meeting the UMA Executive at 12 pm. The meeting ends at 11.30am.

She quickly rushes out, telling her aides that she’s travelling with me in her car. “He’s shadowing me for the day, quizzing me non-stop! You know how journalists are,” she jokes with her aides as we head off to the UMA Showground.

We talk about her interest in baking. “I started baking when I was in Primary Five. My mother had a bread bakery, but my interest was cakes. I‘d save and buy baking items and books as my friends bought girly stuff. I taught myself almost everything I know about baking, developed my own recipes and designs. It’s a passion that grew into a top of the range enterprise over the years with directors, management and amazing staff.” So where is the bakery situated? What is the volume of business? She smiles, “I don’t like talking about my business and you will get nothing out of me on that,” she laughs, getting out of the car on arrival at Lugogo.

We are rushing off to Kawempe after the UMA meeting is done, to meet the Division Councilors. We arrive at 2.00pm, Kawempe Mayor Munyagwa is chairing the meeting.

We head back to office for a meeting with a delegation from the South Korean Embassy. I notice she has not mentioned lunch or a lunch-break…!
On the way back I ask about her family and how her children have coped with their mother being in the limelight? Do they get teased at school? Does it unsettle her husband since most men are somewhat uncomfortable with a high profile wife?

“I have children and a husband. My family life is a private matter, but I can say that our lives have changed with this assignment and we’re not able to do some of the stuff we used to do. You know these things have a cost… However, weekends are family time. I cook, clean, and do things around our home. I’m actually a very good cook and able to cook a variety of cuisines. I also do ornamental gardening. Annual family holidays are a priority. Sometimes my children ask me if I’m going to be shot! Their friends tell them so,” she bursts out laughing, “Absolutely not!” Is always my response.”

And your husband?
“Oh, he’s a great man. No hang ups!” she smiles. “Let’s talk about KCCA… ” she cleverly avoids that subject.

We arrive at City Hall and she heads to her office, greeting staff as she rushes by them. The delegation from the South Korean embassy comes in. I skip that meeting. I’m hungry having last eaten at 9.45am. I sit in an office and munch away at lunch that had been ordered for me by Musisi.

The meeting is done. We head off out of town to Kitezi to inspect the garbage landfill. In the car, I bring up the topic of Lord Mayor Elias Lukwago. Why the constant fights between them?
“The reported fights are mostly a creation of the media, the rest is from Mr Lukwago’ s interpretation of the law,” she smiles. “I must admit, I don’t quite understand what his issues actually are. He recently took me to court! I’m curious, because I want to understand what illegal things I did! I‘ve submitted my response and we are all waiting for the outcome of that process. In the meantime, our team is working even harder to restore sanity in Kampala and putting in place systems and personnel that will deliver services to the people and regulate the City.”

What about the rumour that you are President Museveni’s stooge deployed to frustrate Lukwago and his ambitions to run for presidency in 2016?
“Oh yes I have heard that too! I’ve even heard one that I’m Hon Mbabazi’s stooge planted to frustrate Mr Lukwago, and that I want to run for political office myself! It’s amazing. First of all, do I look like a stooge to you? I have never been even vaguely interested in politics as a career. I am a professional person. Why on earth would I suddenly veer off into politics? No thank you! After contributing to the transformation of Kampala, I will hopefully, before too long, go back to my retirement plan.”
Would she drink a cup of tea offered to her by the Lord Mayor? Long pause follows… “I don’t know!

We are back at City Hall. She grabs another cup of coffee, and says she needs to clear her desk before next day to avoid delaying business. I say my adieus and leave her in her office…still working.