“How can the interest and the commitment of those in charge of this city be galvanised, so that they see service delivery as important as an end in itself? For me, we need first to mobilise citizens.”

People living and working informally are often the most affected by shortfalls in service provision, impacting their access to education, healthcare, markets, sanitation, roads and more. In this episode, ACRC researchers Badru Bukenya and Buyana Kareem join Junior Alves Sebbanja for a conversation about service provision in Kampala, discussing the systemic and governance challenges underpinning it.

Drawing on findings from their ACRC research, they talk about emerging crosscutting issues, including how limited capacities and inconsistent political support are impacting governments’ abilities to deliver on policies. They discuss citizen engagement as a key starting point for building sustainable programmes, highlighting the importance of including communities within planning processes in order to understand their needs and priorities, and to deliver contextually appropriate solutions.

Badru Bukenya is a senior lecturer in the department of social work and social administration at Makerere University, and political settlements lead for ACRC in Kampala.

Buyana Kareem is an interdisciplinary researcher at the Urban Action Lab, Makerere University, and supports ACRC’s city of systems research in Kampala.

Junior Alves Sebbanja is a project manager at ACTogether Uganda and part of ACRC Kampala’s uptake team.


The full podcast transcript is available below.

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Intro Welcome to the African Cities podcast.

Junior Alves Sebbanja Welcome, everyone. Sebbanja Junior is my name. I work for ACTogether Uganda, though I have been conducting or leading the team that is conducting the ACRC activities and ACTogether Uganda. So the purpose of discussion is to have an interaction around the outstanding key findings from the ACRC study. That’s why we had to organise this discussion around how the dysfunctioning government structures have affected the involvement of slums, but also service delivery within the slums. So we conducted the research in Ggaba settlement, which is also having a number of settlements that are slums and also Kisenyi III in Kampala Central that has also got a number of slums within there. So, Dr and Kareem, could you briefly introduce yourself perhaps before we start the discussion? 

Buyana Kareem Yes. Thank you, Junior. My name is Buyana Kareem and I work with the Urban Action Lab of Makerere University in Uganda in the Department of Geography. And my role in the African Cities Research Consortium programme in Kampala is to support the city lead and the city of systems research. And then, of course, to interact with the domain researchers in the different domains. Thank you and over to you. 

Badru Bukenya Okay. I think I can take it from there. My name is Badru Bukenya, I’m based in the Department of Social Work and Social Administration of Makerere University, where I am a senior lecturer. As far as the African Cities Research Consortium is concerned in Kampala I’m the political settlements lead and my role is really to, if possible, to undertake the political settlements mapping for Kampala and to guide other domains in incorporating the political settlements framework in the analysis that they are doing in their respective domains. Over to you, Junior. 

Junior Alves Sebbanja Okay. Thank you very much for accepting to be part of this discussion. Now, Badru and Kareem, as you are aware that the informal economy contributes around 35% of the entire GDP of the country. And this is where we also see the informal settlements contributing to the GDP. Having majority of the slum dwellers, about 60% living there, a number of activities, owning property, through which government will collect some kind of revenue that perhaps would actually contribute to the development of the cities and also as a country at large, but realise that still, much as the informal settlements or informal economy is contributing such kind of percentage, when you go down into the community, you realise that these communities are underserviced simply because the government programmes or any other programmes that are being brought in those communities are not well-structured. And of recent, I had a communication or feedback from the LC1 chairperson of Katogo slum that is in Ggaba community. He mentioned that, yes, their settlement is within the environmentally sensitive area, but they have deficiencies around provision of services from Makindye Division Council because they perceive them as people who are settling within the environmentally sensitive areas. But again, he mentioned that the government or the city council may collect revenue from their communities, and yet the services that they actually extend to them are a little bit limited. For example, finding the collective places where they can actually dump waste, it is still a challenge, having access roads within their communities, which is also another challenge. Then the other thing is also having proper land or utilities within the community – it is also something that is really challenging them. I also had an opportunity to talk to the assistant deputy town clerk at Makindye Division, still under the ACRC study, and he mentioned that for them they provide services based on the demand from the community. So where communities or slums have gotten local leaders were not active, of course they would lag behind. But those settlements that were put in leaders who are very strong and active will have access to those services. Still, we had to ask them about the dysfunctioning structures within their system and they mentioned that, yes, of course that’s what people perceive, but the systems are there, they are put in place and they are functional. But the only problem is around still the demand that is really expected from the community. And still, when you go back into the community where we carried out this study, people are complaining that some kind of departments cannot be reached out to, people are very busy, and all those things. So maybe from your point of view, especially Dr Badru, in the political settlement point of view, what would be your opinion around that kind of and insight that we got from both the community and the city level? 

Badru Bukenya Thank you so much to you for that elaborate background. From my point of view, I think we need to start off with an understanding of what we mean, first of all, by government structures that are important for service delivery and then what we mean when we say that government structures are dysfunctional. Okay. So from my point of view, government structures can be looked at as systems that are established by policy through which the state or the government interacts with the citizens. They can also be looked at as arrangements through which service delivery, for example, through which health and education, are planned and delivered to citizens. Now, the important services that we usually mentioned, or when you interact with citizens, what do they mention? We have things like education, we have things like health, we have markets. You mentioned a little bit about sanitation, roads, revenue collection, you know, and so on and so forth. And each of these services has a system for making sure that the service is planned and then finally delivered to the last mile or to the consumer or to the citizen, in this case. I’ll give you examples here. When you look at education, we know that in order for education to be delivered, there should be schools, okay. And at schools, there are also sub systems, for example, you have the school management committees, you do have parent teachers association but also for education to be delivered, you need supervision from local governments. In Uganda, we operate a decentralised system of governance whereby service delivery happens at subnational level. And then, since we are talking about Kampala City, so service delivery is essentially a function of the Kampala Capital City Authority. So you have supervision from KCCA and this supervision is both in terms of the city inspector of schools and the city education officers. But then ultimately there should also be some degree of supervision from the national level, for example, the Ministry of Education. And the same system can be replicated for the other services. For example, in terms of health, the way you have the facility level, you have staff, but they are supervised or governed by the healthy unit committees or the facility committees. And then at the city level, you have supervisors coming to ensure that these services are delivered. Now, the issue to address directly in how are these systems dysfunctional? Correct? And you have mentioned some of the interactions that you have had with the citizens. So the systems are dysfunctional basically because they are not performing to the expected level. They are not performing to the expectation or to the satisfaction of citizens. When you ask the citizens about issues concerning public education in Kampala, let alone in Uganda, when you talk about health performance or functioning of markets, okay, the road network, all these things, citizens are having a lot of concerns about these services. So in public schools, for example, there is lack of enough facilities. Classrooms are not adequate, the textbooks are missing, desks are inadequate. That is in public schools. The schools are congested. Okay. Teachers are demotivated, there’s a lot of absenteeism for both the learners and their teachers generally. And that kind of brings us to looking at issues of outcomes. So you have low literacy and low numeracy, that is, if you look at issues of education. Okay. When you go to health, of course, you see that people have to seek for health services from private outlets. Okay. Now, look at these other issues around markets, leaders are unable to collect market dues, filthy muck pits, unhygienic food, people operating in really very dirty places. Okay. And there are issues around the governance of these markets, leadership run goes in there. Okay. Factions among traders. So all these issues combined, yes, they do reflect that there are challenges in the city. They do reflect that things are not moving to the expectation of citizens. Now, maybe the key question again, to ask is, what is causing these dysfunctions? Okay. Now, of course, you can look at these, depending on the different sectors, depending on the different services – education, health, markets, sanitation. You know, they can be looked at individually in their own capacity. But also we do have what you may call cross-cutting issues that are coming out here. First is the issue of government implementing policies that it has little capacity and the commitment to manage. For example, in the area of education, government is implementing universal primary education, universal secondary education and universal upper secondary education, or what they call A-level education. And if you look at this alone, you realise that there is first of all, less capacity, but also the commitment of government to implement these universal education programmes is lacking. Okay. So policies are generally implemented on account of the political capital that they offer, regardless of what I’ve just mentioned, regardless of government capacity to implement them. And because the focus is on gaining political capital, you realise that there’s less investment in terms of funding going to these different service areas. Okay. And if there’s no adequate funding, you’ll realise that the infrastructure will be wanting personnel, they will not be adequate and those available will not be trained. Okay. There is inconsistent political support, you know. Support for these universal programmes usually emerges at the time of elections, for example, and then to compound all these challenges, especially for the case of Kampala, things are made worse with the unending fights between the leadership of the city and the national-level government, which is keen or admires to be the one in charge of Kampala. So you have a political wing which is aligned to the citizens, not in agreement with the technical wing, which aspires to make the head of the state happy. Okay. Now overall, we see government commitment to service delivery to be extremely low. When you look at to resource allocation in government of course when you look at the budget you can be able to tell where government priorities are. So for example, currently the government is spending quite significant amounts of money on security. Okay, so a lot of money is spent on building the military and its capacity, generally sectors which are important for rhythm, continuity, are receiving a lot of support. And I’ll end my submission with two important points. One is that when you look at the situation in Kampala, it is like government is only providing minimum levels of service provision that are enough to prevent a public revolt against it or against the government. Okay? Just to the minimum, to make citizens a little bit comfortable, to make citizens go along with their business, not necessarily prioritising service delivery. And then, two, there is no citizen engagement in most processes that are important for service delivery. Look at issues of planning, okay, there is no or there is very minimal involvement of citizens in defining needs. There is minimal involvement in planning, there is minimal involvement in funding or financing services. There’s minimal participation in the actual delivery of public services by citizens and let alone the monitoring and evaluation of these services. So let me keep it at that and maybe my colleague Kareem can always take it from here. 

Junior Alves Sebbanja Yeah. Dr Badru, thank you very much for giving that insightful discussion. Maybe to take it to Dr Kareem? Dr Badru has mentioned that one of the issues that is leading to the dysfunction in the local government systems and structure is that there is government incapacity to implement the programmes, the initiatives within the city or slum areas. What would be a problem based on your understanding?

Buyana Kareem First of all, dysfunctionality to me is not total failure to deliver services, but rather than not delivering services in an equitable and sustainable manner, and equitable in spatial and democratic counts. So the effects of that is that governance by standards gets to directly compete with accepted informality, which is the standard, assuming that government is an impartial and neutral custodian of the law and enforcing the law and citizens are willing adherers. And then the accepted informality is that the same municipal officials holding the standard will end up permitting a petrol station to be situated in a wetland and then also housing by the poorer wards will be situated in the wetland. So the petrol station in the wetland and the houses, the residential houses in the wetland is the accepted informality. And then the standard is that you’re not supposed to build in a wetland. The other example that I can give is that there is the standard of, you know, engineers, environmentalists, public health specialists in the municipality coming up with the design of the market, which is in the form of a high rise market with storeys and then, you know, that is the standard. And then when that market is finished and launched by the mayor or by the president or the executive director, then you’ll see the accepted informality being the sprawl of open air markets within the neighbouring areas, outside and a distance away from the formal standardised markets. So the effect is that you have standards which are in direct competition with the accepted formalities, given the examples that I’ve highlighted. The other effect is that when there is dysfunctionality, dysfunctionality redirects the power to mobilise knowledge and resources into the hands of donors, which is not a problem. But the challenge with that is that when the power to mobilise resources and knowledge is redirected into the hands of donors, then you have a situation where service delivery is about bringing in solutions that have worked elsewhere and that diminishes the ability of government to come up with contextually appropriate solutions that operate in a way that meets the peculiar situations, the peculiar contexts of informal settlements. So then government takes a backseat and then CBOs, NGOs, multilaterals like the World Bank step in. And so that’s the other effect of dysfunctional government as structures. The other effect that I see is a lack of interest. Again, you see this, for example, in the waste management sector. You’ll have a private sector that is contracted to collect garbage and impose these fees on the generator, based on the generator pays principle under the waste management ordinance. But then on the other side, you have people who are saying we shall not pay. We have our own illegal waste dumps and therefore we can pick our waste informally, let alone… our own recycling centres. So often that tension between social fabric and organisation, all that in a way downplays the ability of government to exercise its oversight function over private sector interests and operations. So those are some of the effects that I can talk of and over to you, colleagues. 

Junior Alves Sebbanja Thank you very much, Dr Kareem. Under the ACRC study, I had an opportunity to chat with the LC1 chairperson of Katogo slum community in Ggaba settlement in Ggaba, and he mentioned that even the disappointments that they have with the City Council not providing the necessary services to their community, now they have resorted to working with the NGOs, and that is Rotary, the ACTogether and the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda and even other civil society organisations because they think those are the institutions or bodies that are trying to, you know, to understand their needs. Now, Dr Kareem, in your discussion, you mentioned that the reason as why there is that inconsistencies in the implementation of government programmes, you mentioned a number of factors. Now, I just wanted to understand, how best can we realign these engagements and the systems to have something that really works for the community, but also the city council, especially around the development of the slums and the city at large. What would be the most appropriate solutions that we can actually adopt moving forward?

Badru Bukenya Okay, I can give it a go… So the issue is when you ask a question on what can be done to streamline service delivery, definitely that is a very huge question. And this is essentially because the causes of the dysfunctionality are not merely technical glitches that would require technical fixes. These are essentially political issues. The causes of dysfunctionality are political in nature. Of course, I already mentioned issues around the mistrust and suspicion between the political and the technical wings, the political being one which is led by the Lord Mayor of Kampala and representing the interests and desires of the city dwellers, and then the political wing, which is pushing for the interests of the appointing authority. But also when you look at other political issues, you see interferences from central government or interferences from national political leaders. The desire of the president is to win elections in Kampala. He’s interested in converting Kampala from the currently red colours to yellow, which is representing the colours of the national resistance movement, the ruling party. So when he observes that those who are deployed to manage the city on his behalf are not making headway to achieve this, he undermines them, he undermines the institutions. That is why you see a lot of parallel institutions coming on board to implement programmes around the youth neighbourhoods programme, for the parish development model, operation wealth creation, because the President is quite, not happy with the formal structures or formal systems. So given that context, when you ask what can be done, definitely it is a huge thing, a huge question, because then it goes to what we can ask. So how can the interest and the commitment of those in charge of this city, how can those be galvanised so that they see service delivery as important as an end in itself. So that is the big thing. And for me, what can be done first of all is that we need first to mobilise citizens, first of all, to understand that the service delivery is really poor, so they should exhibit their anger and they should be willing to exhibit this anger targeting the right people, people who have what it takes to change things, okay. For example, if there is anger around the correction of rubbish in the city, that anger should not necessarily be targeting the the street-level bureaucrat who is in charge of sweeping the streets of Kampala. But rather to the political and technical leaders at KCCA, but also at national level. Then secondly, the political leaders, especially from the level of KCCA and then at the national level, must have a change of heart. They should do reconsider their stances and move away from this business of political goal scoring so that they become committed to serving the community. To me, those are the basics, those are the important foundations on which any revamping of service delivery in Kampala can be built upon. First of all, mobilising citizens and mobilising them to exhibit their anger, targeting the right people, people who have the capacity to change things, to change policies and to allocate resources where they are needed. And then thirdly, also, having a change of heart of political leaders at different levels to prioritise service delivery to citizens. I submit. 

Junior Alves Sebbanja Okay. Thank you very much, Dr Badru. The other thing that we also need to focus on is the sustainability of the government programmes in the community. You remember we had the youth development programme, where the majority of the… especially looking at the selection criteria, and the appropriate beneficiaries in that programme. It is something that was really holding a number of inconsistencies that pulled at tensions within communities, especially the youth, thinking that people who benefit from such programmes basically, you know, they should be actually linked with the ruling party. So, that continues to create tension within the community to feel like they’re just left out. What would be your point of view around the sustainability of such kind of programmes within the community, but also as a city at large? 

Badru Bukenya Okay. So yeah. So issues of sustainability, yes, about continuity of programmes and then the services from such programmes. And in my own opinion, I think the starting point for building sustainability is around citizen engagement. And this citizen engagement should be at all levels. Okay. So we need to engage citizens in defining the needs that are a priority to them in their communities. We need to engage them actively when we are planning. Then most importantly, we need to also engage them to continue to contribute to the financing of services. Of course, we know citizens pay taxes, but we also know that there were other ways through which citizens were contributing to programmes and service delivery in Uganda, especially before the universalisation of some of these programmes. For example, before the introduction of universal primary education, citizens were contributing towards school fees through the PTA or the Parent Teachers Association. And that contribution was creating a stake by creating commitment on the side of citizens, was creating a relationship with social contract between our citizens and the and the state. And then when universal education came, the government told citizens that they don’t need to to to contribute. And they apparently they don’t have any stake in, you know, in the public schools. You know, even when they see things going wrong, they usually cry out to the government for the government at the KCCA or even national government to come over and address things, which is contrary to what used to happen before the universalisation of these programmes. Before, citizens would sit and they tried to find local solutions to some of these challenges and then government would just come in to support. So that is one of the basic things that we can do for sustainability. The other issue is around government perception and the conceptualisation of these programmes. The programmes need to, we need to depoliticise, I think, government programmes and the policies, as I said, currently the issues around something that will be popular, something that will help the government to win votes. Okay. And and that is something that is problematic because each electoral cycle, if you have noted or if you have been observant about what is happening in Uganda, more generally, each electoral cycle, there’s a new programme that the government creates, a new programme that will help each to win over votes. So that’s why we have a multiplicity of programmes, for example, that that are focusing on empowerment of economic empowerment more broadly, things like the youth neighbourhoods programme that you have mentioned, the Uganda women entrepreneurship programme. So we have Enyoga livelihood programme, Parish development model. Now, before the government learned all those lessons from any of these programmes, you see them creating a new programme that is completely detached from the previous one. So there’s that lack of continuity and of building onto existing programmes. And when you look at what is driving that, the driving factor is politics in relation to government trying to come up with the projects or programme that will be popular to the electorate, but not necessarily be addressing the challenges that the communities are facing in a sustainable manner. So that will be my submission. 

Junior Alves Sebbanja Okay. Dr, thank you very much. Maybe as we conclude, would you or do you have any message that you’re giving to say, for example, the partners within the ACRC study, looking at the civil society organisations that we have, or the ACRC team itself, or Makerere University? Okay, so Dr, if you don’t have any message, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for making time out of your busy schedule to participate in the ACRC podcast. We can’t take your participation for granted, we look forward to the future engagements. Thank you.

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Header photo credit: imagexphoto / Getty Images (via Canva Pro). Kampala, Uganda.

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