There is divided opinion about the purpose and consequences of the unprecedented speed at which Uganda has been curved into smaller and smaller districts since independence.
From 15 districts in 1962, Uganda now has 117, with 5 more to be born on July 1 this year. By July 1, 2019, Uganda will have 135 districts.
Opponents of the exercise view it as Balkanization of a small territory without evident benefits for the citizens. Supporters consider it an essential measure designed to achieve “effective administration of those areas and bring services closer to the people.”
While most agree that these mini-districts have exacted a financial burden on the national treasury, proponents of the exercise are optimistic that better and more efficient service delivery and increased citizen participation in their own governance will be achieved and entrenched over the next few decades.
I am opposed to the creation of new districts. I favour the merger of units to achieve, at most, the 18 districts that were created by the Local Administration Act of 1967.
However, I accept the reality that the country has been chopped up into these pieces, with little chance of patching them back together. I will not hide my head in the sand and pretend that the districts do not exist. The challenge is how to make them work and bring services and tangible benefits to the people.
For the most part, the new districts have generated jobs and perks for new administrators, councilors and women’s representatives in parliament. Yet it is not increased numbers of administrators and representatives that the people need.
They need big infrastructure projects that will create jobs and attract investors. They need full citizen participation in the planning and implementation of their development programs. They need modern healthcare, education and other social services.
They need a very small, efficient and accountable government, one that transcends partisan politics and religious divisions, and understands the need for careful planning and accountable, corporate governance.
For example, Rukiga County in Kigyezi, which becomes a district on July 1,2017 is too small to need dozens of administrators and councilors. With its headquarters at Mparo, the leaders and service providers of the new district will not be challenged by its size but by the very poor quality of its road network.
The new district will have exactly 11 km. of all-weather tarmac, the short stretch on the Mbarara-Kabale highway that was first tarmacked in 1969. The rest are backbreaking potholed trails that generate tons of disease-inducing dust in the dry season, and become muddy traps during the heavy rains.
Rukiga County, which included the sub-counties of Nyakishenyi and Nyarushanje during its first seventy years, was once effectively governed by just a county chief, six sub-county chiefs and very modestly paid parish and sub-parish chiefs.
Gabrieri Katabaazi and Peter Kabagambe, the two great county chiefs of my childhood, provided exemplary leadership and presided over remarkable development of their territory. Their leadership and public relations skills enabled them to work with multidisciplinary teams that made the place one of the jewels of late colonial and early post-independent Uganda.
Yet they neither had easy telecommunication facilities nor access to hundreds of highly educated and skilled professionals and businesspeople to lend them advice and support.
However, first things first. We need to plan the creation of the district. Ideally, the transition to autonomous district status should have taken at least two years of intense planning and preparation. With only days to go, the idea that there is no interim leadership team and no implementation plan invites urgent action by the leaders of Rukiga.
Happily, there is an emerging group of Banyarukiga patriots who are coming together on a mission to create a model district that will transform the lives of its residents.
We need a very well planned, professionally zoned and built district headquarters and support facilities and institutions at Mparo. Fortunately, the large government land there has not been ruined by illegal private buildings. Careful planning and enforcement of zoning bylaws and building codes will save Mparo the fate of the haphazard chaos that afflicts many towns.
Likewise, there should be a Rukiga District Masterplan, developed with very strong input from the residents of Rukiga and other stakeholders who live in Kampala and abroad.
At its core, the Masterplan should have a deliberate agenda to unite the people towards a common goal of shared responsibility and investing our time, treasure or talent in the growth and development of a model district.
President Yoweri Museveni and his government have done their part in offering us the challenge. It is now our turn to roll up our sleeves and set to work for the renaissance of Rukiga. We can do it. We must do it right.