On the fallacy of decentralisation

Monday August 5 2019

Harold Acemah

Harold Acemah  

By Harold Acemah

On July 1, two new districts were inaugurated in West Nile sub-region, namely, Madi-Okollo and Obongi which brings to 11 the number of districts in West Nile which was one united, multi-ethnic, prosperous and progressive district at independence in 1962.
The occasion was a cause for both joy and sorrow, especially for Madi-Okollo where a boundary conflict looms large over an obscure place called Ewanga, which the neighbouring Yumbe District claims.
By the way, I was born in Yumbe in mid-20th Century, but I’m not taking sides in this petty, unnecessary and bitter dispute. I would rather play the role of an arbiter and peacemaker.
I am advised by reliable sources that next year when Terego County, where I come from, and two other counties acquire district status the number of districts in West Nile will escalate to 14. It’s absurd and ridiculous, to put it mildly.
The irony of it is that while many senior officials in government, especially in the ministry of Finance, lament about huge cost of public administration in Uganda and correctly call for a significant reduction in the size of the bureaucracy, the sole candidate keeps awarding or promising district status to every Tom, Dick and Harry who sings him praises or promises to mobilise passengers for the yellow bus.
This reminds me of a councillor from Madi-Okollo who thanked the ‘sole candidate’, during a radio talk show in Arua, for granting them a district because, according to her, he did so out of love for wananchi of the area, which is laughable.
It’s now self-evident that the original purpose and rationale for decentralisation has been abandoned. Decentralisation is now used by the NRM regime to create new districts primarily to gain political support. The original objective to bring services closer to the people is no longer applicable and on some occasions the sole giver of districts has openly said that if wananchi vote for NRM, district status would be granted together with provision of services which citizens and taxpayers in a civilised country are entitled to as a matter of right.
Maracha, which is next door to Terego, has been a district for almost 10 years now.
I recently met a former UPC supporter from Maracha who crossed to NRM a few years ago. After some pleasantries, I asked him whether delivery of basic services had improved since Maracha became a district. The answer I got was a definite no, which did not surprise me.
Like most districts in West Nile, almost 90 per cent of the district’s budget goes to pay salaries, allowances and administrative costs of civil servants and politicians. What is left, barely 10 per cent, is totally insufficient to provide essential services which wananchi desperately need and deserve.

Way forward
The fact that decentralisation is a fallacy has been exposed. Despite its noble objectives and goals, decentralisation has failed miserably and the burning question which begs answers from Uganda’s political leaders is the way forward.
The fallacy of decentralisation was illustrated once again a few days ago when fighting erupted between Obongi and her mother district, Moyo, a tragedy which can only please those devious and unpatriotic types who want to divide, impoverish and weaken the people of West Nile. Divide and rule is a dangerous game which Ugandans must reject totally.
According to a story published in the Daily Monitor of July 29 titled, “Four houses burnt in fight over sub-county,” two persons were injured as residents of Moyo and Obongi districts clashed over the location of Palorinya Sub-county. The situation is getting worse by the day.
Political leaders from the two districts are locked in a bitter quarrel over Palorinya which hosts over 120,000 refugees.
Obongi MP Hassan Kaps Fungaroo accused Moyo Woman MP Joyce Moriku of inciting wananchi to attack him which the lady denied. It’s a disgusting and shameful development for the West Nile Parliamentary Group.
In my opinion, the best way forward is devolution. Uganda does not, in this regard, need to reinvent the wheel. All we need to do is borrow a leaf from Kenya, our neighbour and partner in the East African Community, a country which is already implementing devolution.