The anticipated birth of Uganda’s latest districts on July 1, 2017 triggers different emotions in different people. Some are hopeful. Others are despondent. Some are anxious. Others are confident. Some have a mixture of these emotions.
A few are so opposed to the idea of mini-districts that they do not engage in discussions about how to make the new units work.
The opponents of districts remind one of the reaction of some parents to a teenage daughter’s pregnancy. The parents’ anger is completely understandable, of course. Yet protests, rebukes and threats of filicide cannot alter the fact that, in a few months, the young lady will be a mother.
Wise is the parent who accepts the reality and provides the daughter with means for a healthy, safe and successful birth and motherhood. This does not imply endorsement of teenage pregnancy.
Whether we like it or not, six new districts – Bunyangabu, Butebo, Kyotera, Namisindwa, Pakwach and Rukiga – will come into being this weekend.
Six more – Bugweri, Kapelebyong, Kasanda, Kikuube, Kwania and Nabilatuk – will be added on July 1, 2018. The final six – Karenga, Kazo, Kitagwenda, Madi-Okollo, Obongi and Rwampara – will come into effect on July 1, 2019, bringing the total to 136 districts. Or is it 137?
Each new district adds a huge burden to the national treasury. According to the permanent secretary to the ministry of finance, the start-up cost of a new district is Sh.16.63billion ($4,632,287). The operating cost in the first year of a new district is Sh. 59.25billion ($16,594,089). This is not pocket change. It is not surprising that many new districts remain severely underfunded.
Whereas “taking services closer to the people” is a nice sounding slogan, I am yet to see solid data that shows that mini-districts make a difference to the lives of most citizens.
However, continuing to argue against the wisdom of creating a new district is a futile engagement. As a native of Rukiga County, I have embraced the advent of a new district and will work with my compatriots to make it work.
We have an opportunity and the means to focus on our small community, in support of our leaders and the workers that will focus their energies on transforming it into a viable and thriving district.
Rukiga is a very small district, covering only 426.3 sq. km., with a population of 100,726 people (2014 census.) We have many highly educated and experienced professionals in almost every field of human endeavor. There is no reason why we cannot transform our new district into a place we would all want to live, work and enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a better quality of life for our people.
The most important step is to believe that we can do it. The second step is to volunteer our time, talent or treasure to the new district, without expecting any compensation except the satisfaction of giving to the community that made us.
But first things first. After the celebration and formal launch of the new district this weekend, Rukiga will need an interim leadership that will hold the fort until formal elections are held.
It would be highly advisable to appoint as interim chairperson an individual who agrees in writing that he or she will not be a candidate for election as LC5 chairperson. The interim chairperson should be someone with experience in public administration and leadership, with a demonstrated ability to put in place the building blocks of an effective district administration.
The interim chairperson, the chief administrative officer and the resident district commissioner are more than enough to effectively lay the groundwork for an efficiently run district.
Careful planning, patient and meticulous attention to an integrated development agenda and transparent and accountable corporate governance will be key to the success of the new district.
The new district headquarters at Mparo, together with the urban community that will emerge from this new status, will require very careful planning and enforcement of bylaws. This may help avoid the haphazard chaos that has become the norm in many urban centers in the country.
It bears repeating that the success of Rukiga District will, to a large extent, be determined by the willingness of the citizens, especially the educated elite, to discard their national partisan labels whenever they are dealing with the new district’s interests.
The place is too small and too desperately underdeveloped to be a theatre for Ugandan national political struggles. This is a moment that invites, nay, demands unity of purpose and destination. We must rise together or we shall fall together.
My comments, though focused on my home district of Rukiga, are relevant to all the new districts in the country. This is not the time for cynicism or despair. The challenges that older districts have faced must not discourage us from trying to do better.
The central government’s financial limitations and other challenges must not paralyze able-bodied patriots who understand that the new districts are our communities, our inheritance and our responsibility.
Each one of us must decide what contribution we can and must make to the growth of our respective districts. Then, let us get on with it.