The 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda and the Local Government Act, 1997 empowers Local Councilors in Uganda to play key leadership roles in ensuring the effective functioning of local democracy and decentralization. Specifically, Section 24 of the Local Government Act, 1997 mandates the Chairpersons LC I, II, III to serve as the political head at that level Village, Parish, Sub-County levels respectively. Among others, the Chairperson should preside over the council and executive committee meetings and; monitor the general administration, projects, government services in the area under his or her jurisdiction. The committees of local councils are also mandated by the constitution to assist in the maintenance of law, order and security; initiate, encourage, support and participate in self-help projects and mobilize people, material and technical assistance in relation to self-help projects; vet and recommend persons in the area who should be recruited into the armed forces; serve as the communication channel between the Government, the district or higher local council and the people in the area.
To be able to achieve the above constitutional mandates, lower local councils should be equipped with relevant knowledge and skills. It is the desire to provide these skills and knowledge to the LC1 chairpersons and their committees that Okere City with support from the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, a German political foundation held a two-day workshop on 6th and 7th August 2021 targeting 35 participants. The main objective of the workshop was to enable LC1 councilors and their committees to gain deeper insights and knowledge on how to become more effective local councilors.
Facilitated by Ojok Okello, the founder and CEO of Okere City using a majorly participative methodology, the workshop enabled the councilors to among others; understand their role as Local Councilors, become better community leaders; have a better understanding of their different areas of jurisdictions; know how best to represent local voices and solve problems; learn how to be better communicators and influencers and; be better managers of their caseworks.
On the first day, the workshop focused on working with the Councilors to best understand their roles and responsibilities whilst at the same time becoming effective community organizers and understanding their different areas of jurisdictions. The sessions recapped provisions about the roles and responsibilities of councilors as clearly encapsulated in Section 24 of the Local Government Act, 1997. More so, the session laid out some of the fundamental aspects that councilors need to priorities if they are to become effective leaders. Namely, that councilors were encouraged to;
a. Be visible, accessible and accountable.
b. Understand their local community and be ready to stand up for their communities at all times.
c. Be proactive leaders who take action, listen to, and is always available to local people.
d. Understand that ordinary citizens value their availability, time, and ability to take action more than their core functions, such as, just attending council meetings, for example.
As a point of emphasis, the facilitator, Mr. Ojok Okello noted that if Councilors played their roles more effectively, then they will get rewarded in the next general elections and that the reverse is always true.
As a recap of the first day, Councilors were given an opportunity to reflect on their roles and responsibilities they have performed in the last month. The councilors were requested to present their activities using a pie chart with the most activities conducted taking a big percentage of the of the chart.
For most councilors (98%), the past month was occupied with conducting activities around sensitizing their local constituents about the announced presidential directives surrounding the implementation of standard operating procedures (SOPs). 75% of the councilors also attended social and religious gatherings such as marriages and burials. 50% had also organized special hearings on cases brought to their desks ranging from petty thefts, trespass (especially domestic animals trespassing gardens) and handling cases of domestic violence.
Reflecting on the sessions of the day, Mr. Loki Samuel, the Chairperson of Amukogungo village quipped: “I was not only able to recount the milestones I have achieved as the Chairperson but I also reflected so deeply about how best I could improve my performance to be a more effective local leader”.
For Mr. Ekel Alfred, the Chairperson LCII of Okere Parish, the workshop session enabled him to have a better understanding of how and why some of the challenges he faced as a leader as persisted overtime. For instance, “I had never taken stock of my monthly performance. If I did every month, I am sure I would have done much more as a local leader”, Ekel said.
On the second day, the workshop session focused on knowing how best to represent local voices and solving problems; learning how to become better communicators and influencers and; how to effectively manage caseworks.
Here, the facilitator emphasized that for a local councilor to become effective, he/she should;
a. Have a fervent understanding of their villages such — the demographics, the key issues facing local people and the way that services are being delivered, physical features, etc.
b. Always be prepared to represent local voices by being a channel of communication between the communities they serve and the council, representing the views of others and speaking up for the unheard.
c. Always communicating and influencing decisions by ensuring that the views of local people are taken into account when they are presenting such issues to higher local governments, and;
d. Always being proud to publicize their successes and achievements because that is how their constituents will know that they are performing.
To bring the discussion home, the facilitator worked with the participants to analyze some aspects such as the demographic statistics and physical features of their villages. The exercise helped to unearth that some councilors had not updated their household demographic data and it also gave them insights how to continuously update their data and use it to inform their decisions as a local council authority. “You should have a special book with names and numbers of all the household heads and their family members in your village. Once you have the book, you can keep updating it as when new babies are born or when someone dies” Ojok advised.
Reflecting on the session, Okello Jaspher, the Chairperson of Akwala-Akwala village reiterated that he had always taken certain things such as publicizing his achievements and success for granted. “From now henceforth, I will proudly recount what I have achieved as a counselor so that the results of my work is known and appreciated by my constituents”. Mr. Okello remarked.
Overall, the workshop presented a unique opportunity for the local councilors to refresh and remind local councilors that they have a crucial role to play in ensuring that local democracy works and is believed in by residents. The most important takeaway was that the local councilors were able to understand that they are the lynchpin of their local communities and the bridge between their local residents, the government and other non-state actors.