2021: Kampala’s wicked problems can’t be manipulated by handouts

Friday November 22 2019




With two-bit singers – Catherine Kusasira, Buchaman and Full Figure – appointed recently to prop up the ruling party’s fortunes in the 2021 elections, the NRM is getting ready for a bare-knuckle fight in the ghettos of Kampala.

But, once again, NRM seems to be choosing a wrong approach for going into battle for the Kampala vote. No matter how much money NRM is going to spend in the ghettos via its recently appointed envoys, victory is far from assured. In Kampala, NRM is confronting the full weight of wicked problems – poverty, poor education, unemployment, poor housing and ill health.

A German scholar, Prof Horst Rittel, who died in 1990, coined the term “wicked problem” in the 1960s to describe problems with many co-dependent factors that make them seem impossible to solve. Attempts at solving such problems call for a deep understanding of the unique situations faced by the stakeholders. Simple actions such as dishing out money can’t work.

However, Prof Rittel came up with some helpful suggestions, which NRM strategists should pay attention to. First, they should not rely on a single definitive strategy. For example, dishing out cash to angry, unemployed youth in Kampala may temporarily appease them. But they may get angrier once the cash is gone and their feelings of deprivation, hopelessness and exclusion stay.
Second, the strategists must see every wicked problem as a symptom of another major problem. In Kampala, drug abuse by young people is getting out of hand. Stop the smoking of marijuana in ghettos and a bigger problem may come out pronto!

Third, in trying to solve a wicked problem, there is no room to learn by trial-and-error. NRM could have already got it wrong by picking the trio of musicians to lead the charge against the “enemy” – fellow musician Bobi Wine. Clearly, NRM strategists have failed to see that Bobi Wine is no longer a mere musician; he is now the face of a young, angry generation that appears to be redefining its political place.

Fourth, the strategists must be fully responsible for their actions. I don’t see how the Kusasiras can be held responsible for the loss that NRM may yet again suffer in Kampala. They never went to NRM looking for jobs; the party came to them. NRM wins, they win. NRM loses, they win! They are in this thing for themselves, period!
That is why one of the first things Kusasira did was to pull rank on the NRM people who have been fighting tooth and nail to secure Kampala for the party. Disdainfully, Kusasira dismissed them as a bunch of knick-knacks! What a bummer!

Fifth, solutions to wicked problems must never be seen in simple true-or-false terms. It is true that Buchaman worked closely with Bobi Wine. It is also true that he is popular in the ghetto in his own right. But it is a bad idea to even imagine that he can stop the People Power excitement. No social movement, even a nascent one like People Power, can be stopped by a party that no longer interacts with its environment.


This is what the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in Mexico found out after ruling the country non-stop for 71 years. A declining economy, rampant corruption, brutality against opponents and failure to stop violent crime are the key factors that led to the defeat of the once “invulnerable” PRI by the Opposition National Action Party in the general election of 2000.
Is anybody in NRM paying attention to this?

Dr Akwap is a senior lecturer at Kumi University. oakwap@gmail.com