According to the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, governance begins at the village/cell level. A village is the lowest political-administrative unit. In Uganda, villages usually consist of between 50 and 70 households and may be home to anywhere between 250 and 1,000 people (in the case of rural areas). The number of households in urban areas can exceed 500, and in most instances, the crowded slum cells/zone in Kampala City can even exceed 5,000 residents/dwellers. Each village is run by a Local Council 1 (LC1) administration structure. An LC1 zone is governed by a Chairperson — commonly known as LCI Chairperson and an-eleven member executive committee (2 more members added from the 9 provided for in the Local Government Act, namely, youth and PWD representatives).
Currently, there are over 70,626 villages in Uganda. After a period of seventeen years (2001–2017), LC1 Elections were held in Uganda on the 10th of July 2018. This is against the mandates of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, Article 181(4) states that local government elections will be held after every five years. The delay in holding the election was stated to be due to the high cost involved in holding the election through a secret ballot. For instance, an initial budget indicated that this election would cost over 505bn if it were to be held by secret ballot. To reduce this cost, various amendments to section 111 Cap 140 of the Local Government Act was made and the cost reduced from 505bn to 15.9bn through providing for lining behind preferred candidates according to the Uganda Electoral Commission (2018).
As stated in the Local Government Act (2003), A chairperson of a lower government council is among other duties; to be the political head at that level, Preside over the council and executive committee meetings, Monitor the general administration of the area under his or her jurisdiction, oversee the performance of persons employed by the Government; to provide services in the council’s area of jurisdiction and to monitor the provision of Government services or implementation of projects in the area under the council’s jurisdiction; and also to perform other functions that may be necessary for the better functioning of the council, or which may be incidental to the functions of the chairperson or imposed on the chairperson by any law.
Despite their relevance in Uganda’s local governance structure, LC1 units continue to be neglected and unappreciated. They received an annual salary of 120,000 UGX paid through the office of the District Administrative Officer (CAO). “After being elected in 2018, I got my first salary in 2019. But by the time I was reaching home, I had spent all I received and it was not even to buy a few household items I need for my home” lamented Robert Odany, the LC1 Chairperson of Ayiloi A Village, where Okere City is located. Yet, LC1s continue to provide the most needed services in conflict resolutions around land and domestic issues, providing recommendations to citizens to access immigration, registration services, among others. Not only are they financially underserved, but LC1 structures are also disadvantaged when it comes to benefiting from capacity-building programs by both government civil society organizations.
It is upon this background that Okere City and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung launched the capacity building programme for LC1s in Okere Parish as part of the Political Leadership Advancement Project (PoLA-LAB). There are 15 villages in Okere parish each administrated by a Local Council (LC1) leader who is democratically elected by the village members (although 6 more have been curved to enable them to start operating as new villages in the 2021/2022 Financial Year). The parish has a projected population of 5,000 people according to the 2014 Uganda Population Census.
The LC1 leadership improvement component of the Okere PoLA-LAB project aims to strengthen the capacity of LC1 units in Okere to become key commencement points for access to public services and addressing essential community needs. Specifically, the activity is meant to equip LC1 Chairpersons in Okere with knowledge on participatory democratic principles and practices. In addition to equipping the LC1 structures with legal awareness of their constitutional mandates. Ultimately, the project will enhance the skills and the knowledge of LC1 Officials on their roles and responsibilities as key drivers of improving public service delivery. More so, this will contribute towards refining their roles as monitors of government programs which they are constitutionally mandated to offer.
For Okere City, strengthening the capacity of LC1 officials offers a unique opportunity for the social enterprise to work closely with the lowest unit of government while offering possibilities to ensure that all Okere Citys’ efforts are endorsed by the most important administrative unit of that level and that the organization’s work is complementing government of Uganda’s efforts to improve service delivery. “I care so much that all the LC1s of Okere Parish where the Okere City projects undertake robust and holistic rural development work are in support of rather against what we stand for — which is creating a thriving and sustainable rural community,” said Ojok Okello, the Executive Chairman of Okere City.
Bernard Mukhone, a Programme Manager at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (Uganda and South Sudan) reiterated during the inaugural engagement with the LC1s that investing in LC1 is a step in the right direction because it offers a unique learning curve. “What we are doing to train and develop the capacity of LC1s is a rarity in Uganda. One day, the whole country will descend to learn the unique lessons demonstrated by a project that started with humble beginnings like what we are doing here today”
Investing in a robust monitoring and evaluation exercise to document and learn key lessons from the beginning to the end of phase I of the project in 2026, Okere PoLA-LAB will among other things analyze how the LC1 Officials performed in improving service delivery and accountability in their villages. LC1 officials will also be appraised and awarded for their exceptional performance by ordinary citizens.
When all is done, we hope this unique collaboration between Okere City and KAS emerges as a solid and bold idea to reimagine how local participation in politics is practiced and conceptualized in Uganda and beyond.
The writer, @OjokOkello is the founder of Okere City