Of Village Meetings That Almost Turn Native!

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Self-defense tactics on display at the meeting.

One of the unofficial parts of my ‘job description’ as a wife is attending our village council meetings, when my husband is unable to attend. I don’t really mind that role since I passionately believe in the notion of active citizenship, which starts with being part of decision making right from the village all the way to the national level. And so yesterday afternoon, after enjoying a sumptuous lunch with my family, I went to attend our local council meeting.

The agenda was very clear – we were going to discuss the issue of house numbering, a project recently launched by the Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA). We were also going to talk about security in our area, as well as assess the performance of our representatives in Makindye Division and those that represent us in in the city council. The meeting, which was called at for 3:00 p.m. started at 3:38 p.m., which, going by Ugandan standards, was an early start!

We all know how directions in Uganda are given. There is the famous one of “You go, you go, you beat a corner, you go, you go, you beat another, after the mango tree, there is our house.” For those not familiar with the expression, ‘beating’ a corner means taking the turn at the corner. The fact that many of our roads have no signposts and the houses have no numbers, means that one has to look out for landmarks that enable one give directions to their home. So in that regard, the house numbering project by KCCA is a welcome venture. The project is in its pilot phase and was recently unveiled in Muyenga, by KCCA. But not without glitches, and hence that was part of what we discussed in the meeting. There were concerns about the fee to be paid by owners in order to get house numbers (set at 55,000/-) and issues around what exactly should be displayed apart from the house number. The one that KCCA unveiled had a plot number and block number, information usually provided on a title deed. The residents of my village were of the view that that level of detail is not necessary and that as long as the street name is clear, all one needs is a house number.

In our midst, to explain the rational behind the detail of the house numbering project was the Makindye Town Clerk and his team. The meeting turned rowdy as they were explaining themselves because there was a feeling that some parts of the project were not clear or transparent. The Town Clerk and the village chairman exchanged a few hot remarks, the chairman expressed his points while banging his fist on the table, the Town Clerk threatened to walk out of the meeting, the mummers from the participants were getting louder and at some point, the chairman suddenly declared the project closed for discussion. But we prevailed on the chairman to let the technical team explain their side. After they were done, we came to a conclusion that only basic information be displayed on a house – i.e. the house number.

After that we discussed security. We had a demonstration of self defense skills done by two young men. The demonstration was quite interesting, though I am not too sure that in a situation of danger, I would remember exactly what to do. The chairman though, told us that there are self defense classes given at a small fee, at our community  center. Maybe after climbing Rwenzori, I should sign up for the self defense classes.

We didn’t get to the item that I was really looking forward to – that of assessing the performance of our representatives at our division and city council. This was because these leaders didn’t bother to show up! Only one came, but he left in the middle of the discussion about house numbering. I was quite disappointed to say the least. With elections around the corner, one would think that leaders would be eager to come and defend their record over the last five years, especially if they are looking to be re-elected by us. Their failure to show up certainly made my job easy. I now know who I won’t be voting for in the next election!

That said, despite the rancor in the meeting, it was good to sit with my village mates and deliberate on matters of local importance. It’s a habit I hope to inculcate in my children. We get active citizens by being active citizens.

A lovely week to you all!

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