Barely a week after it was elevated to city status, Mbarara finds itself embroiled in a leadership battle that could test the cohesiveness of the new administrative unit.
On July 1 this year, Mbarara Municipality was officially elevated to city status amid as much fanfare as the “scientific jubilation” organised to mark the day could allow.
But beneath the brilliant smiles, the gracious toasts and celebratory ribbon-cutting, a bitter power struggle raged on, as various leaders and power brokers bickered over how the new city’s interim management ought to be set up.
That same day, Robert Mugabe Kakyebezi was installed to continue serving as the interim Lord Mayor for Mbarara City, with the new city’s headquarters occupying the former municipality offices. Meanwhile LC III Chairperson Gumisiriza Kyabwaisho was named the division Mayor for Mbarara City North seated at Kakiika division headquarters, while Moses Kajubi became the interim Mayor for Mbarara City South, headquartered in Nyamitanga division.
This arrangement seemed to resolve the bitter turf wars between the municipality and district leadership on who should take on the interim leadership for Mbarara City once it was gazetted.
In a June 24 press conference -exactly one week before Mbarara became a city- a tough-talking Mayor Robert Mugabe Kakyebezi had made it clear that he would brook no opposition to him assuming the new city’s leadership, a claim that was hotly contested by district Chairperson Rtd. Capt. JB Bamuturaki who insisted that he was the rightful head of the soon to be created city.
Kakyebezi put the confusion down to a lack of clarity in the legal regime on how existing leadership structures ought to be reconfigured once a new city is formed.
“Government is stuck with guidelines because the city thing came when they were not prepared on how it would work in terms of leadership. I was voted by all the people in the municipality, and made a contract with them for five years, and my contract is still running; you cannot now tell me to leave my people.”
Then Mbarara municipality Mayor, Kakyebezi, revealed that all the mayors from the (at the time) soon-to-be created cities had agreed to sue the government if it issued guidelines usurping “their” right to take on the city leadership.
“We had a meeting with the rest of our mayors in Hotel Africana Kampala and we wrote a letter to the minister in charge of local government intending to sue if he makes a mistake to usurp our powers in a contract we made with the people that we represent,” he said.
It therefore came as a relief to many when at the official launch of the new city, Robert Mugabe Kakyebezi formerly the municipality Mayor, was installed as the interim City Lord Mayor with little opposition.
Even his most outspoken challenger for the city’s highest post, Mbarara district Chairperson Rtd Capt JB Bamuturaki struck a conciliatory tone at the launch, advising local leaders to eschew bickering and work together to develop Mbarara into a formidable city.
“If we want to progress let us forget about bickering,” Bamuturaki said.
The city’s newly appointed Lord Mayor Kakyebezi re-echoed that call, urging:
“Let us forget what happened, sit down and work instead of indulging in political fights.”
Not yet Uhuru
However a section of Municipality Councillors remained unconvinced by the decision taken regarding how the city’s interim leadership ought to be structured.
Imam Kagiko, the municipality Councillor representing Katete ward told theCooperator that as councillors they were disappointed that the Mayor (Kakyebezi) and the Town Clerk, Theophilus Tibihika, had not consulted them about the composition of the city’s leadership, and yet they are “major stakeholders” in the Mabara city initiative.
He recommended that, if the new regime is to be consistent with the law, the interim City Council should be composed of the district councillors currently representing some municipal divisions at the district council.
“As leaders they should have followed the law to elect an interim Mayor from the LC IV councillors with due respect to this new dispensation and composition,” Kagiko explained.
Meanwhile, a different group of councillors has proposed another approach to the city’s leadership crisis.
Out of 49 municipality councillors, 13 petitioned the Minister for Local Government challenging the decision taken to elect an interim leadership. The petitioners include; Florence Gumisiriza representing Ruharo ward, Doreen Natamba representing Kakoba ward, Nicodemus Mujuni, Asiimwe Ntengye representing Ruti ward, Susan Sempira representing Nyabuhama ward and David Nahurira of Kishasha ward, among others.
They argue that the law guides that when the city comes the councillors for the LC V level that come from within the said municipality are mandated to take the interim leadership of the City, not the LC IV councillors or the seating Mayor.
“The law is clear that once the municipality is approved for a city status then automatically the LC V Councillors that have been representing Municipal divisions at the district council will take over the interim leadership of that city,” said Deo Rukundo who represents Nyakayojo Division.
He says they are ready to sue the government if it does not rectify the matter of interim leadership of the newly created City.
“If the government attempts to change the law as it is, stopping us from taking over the city interim leadership as LC V Councillors who represent municipal divisions, we shall challenge them in court,” said Rukundo.
According to Section 4 (a) of the Local Government Act, “a city shall be equivalent to a district, and a city council shall exercise all functions and powers conferred upon a district council within its area of jurisdiction”.
However, the Act provides no guidance on how the law ought to be operationalised for freshly-minted cities
City lawyer, Estella Ategeka says the root of the squabble lies in the fact that the law makes the city equivalent to a district without making the two entities contiguous.
“The issue comes from the fact that, by law, a district is equal to a city and so the district leaders imagine that they should take over leadership of the cities. However, these new cities do not comprise the entire district but rather, mostly the area originally occupied by the municipalities. So the municipality leadership believes that they should be ones leading the new cities,” she observed.
She also pointed out that the guidance on the nature of the new cities’ leadership and the manner in which it should be constituted remains unclear.
“Right now, who should take over is a problem, neither is it clear how they should be selected,” Ategeka said.
She called on the ministry of Local Government to urgently come up with guidelines to resolve the leadership crisis in the new cities in order to avoid creating a power vacuum.
Mbarara was established in 1901, became a township in 1957, a municipality in 1974 and was elevated to city status on July 1, 2020.
It is composed of 6 divisions of Kakiika, Kakoba, Kamukuzi, Biharwe, Nyamitanga and Nyakayojo and it covers an area of 449.07 sq Km, with an approximate population of 190,000 people.
Six other Municipalities were elevated into cities along with Mbarara, including: Jinja, Masaka, Fort Portal, Arua, Gulu and Mbale.