The cover of the book-My mayor
In this book, Ochitti p’ Igunye Kumgem (his family root name) shares his experience as a local opposition political novice in local grassroots elections. He shares stories of poverty, betrayal, intrigue, corruption, sex, and power in a local democracy.
The book highlights the nature and level of corruption, intrigue, and betrayal in local electoral processes and how it challenges democracy and good governance in a poor country like Uganda through the character of Cana Denis (again, not his real name) and that of his colleagues.
GULU-UGANDA: “Who will educate our children?” This is the rhetorical question, which is the opening sentence of this book, and it is also the heading of the first chapter of the small but a must read book.
Just below the heading, Ochitti quotes the first democratically elected former President of South Africa; Nelson Mandela: (R.I.P) “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”
Armed with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education, Post Graduate Diplomas in Human Resource Management and Project Planning and Management and a Masters in Peace and Justice, Ochitti tried his luck in local grassroots electioneering to be the Mayor of Wipolo Municipality in 2016 elections. Wipolo is the fictitious name he gave to represent Gulu Municipality in real life.
Cana was convinced to try his luck in grassroots election politics by a group of his elitist friends while enjoying lunch together from a low-cost food joint; and without much thought and adequate mobilization of resources like finances for campaigns, he just jumped into the political limelight.
“Cana, why don’t you try your luck? You are educated and can manage the job…The Office of the Mayor has failed to attract educated people. It requires anyone with the minimal qualification of an Ordinary Level Certificate, but if our town is to become a city, we will need someone educated and with great competence. Maybe you could start a scholarship awards to educate intelligent children of the poor since you have a project management background”. Part of the book that inspired Cana into politics reads.
“Cana, what hurts me is that many of you have your children in the city getting good education, but you don’t care about us in the informal sector who cannot afford the high cost of education today. Now that you have founded a non-governmental organization (NGO) to volunteer and serve others, why don’t you volunteer for us and deliver our voice in this campaign? I dropped out of school after being defiled and getting pregnant in senior four”.
With the above quotation from one of his admirers and friends, Cana now finds the theme on which his manifesto for the campaign will be based.
Cana did not stop the consultation from the food joint before he made up his mind. One of the first politicians he consulted was the district chairman, Honorable Gem Moses, and to him he also was open about his inadequate funds.
Cana shared with him his passion for education and how he got inspired to undertake this responsibility. He also confessed to admiring his leadership skills and asked him to be to mentor him into local political leadership.
What surprised Cana was that even when he (Cana) informed the Chairman that he would join his The Alternative Forum (TAF) party ticket, he responded that it didn’t matter what party he represented, yet TAF didn’t have a candidate.
At first his family members did not support his idea of joining politics because most people think politics is ‘a dirty game’. After counseling, they agreed to bless him but warned him “never to bring to disrepute to the family name” because of politics and never to insult anybody.
“Our name is all we have, so don’t ruin it”, the family concluded.
Cana’s first test of what grassroots election politics was all about was how he survived the temptation of being bribed by a group of low-cadre employees of Wipolo Municipal Council in return for favors when he wins election.
The second test was how his mentors were putting him under pressure to contribute to the nomination event. Cana’s elite friends would rather have a beer with him and discuss politics but not contribute to the campaign; neither were they ready to offer their cars for use. To them politics is all about you and your interest so go ahead and sort yourself out.
The third challenge and introduction to local politics was on nomination day when his papers were deliberately mixed up by one of his agents and he failed to get nominated on the first day. He was being welcomed to local grassroots politics in styles he had never imagined.
The fourth challenge Cana faced was when he was rejected by his mentors and lost their support in favor of the incumbent, who was on the race as an independent candidate, yet he belong to the same political party with them.
His mentors thought he was becoming so popular with electorates that he could be a threat to their popularity and would spoil their votes.
One of his mentors is quoted to have said that Cana ‘unserious’ and promised that Cana would be the last in a campaign of nine candidates, so ‘they didn’t need to waste their money funding his campaigns.
The fifth challenge he faced was required to enter into inappropriate relationship with women who were almost his mother’s age.
“If you want to win elections in some of these places, you just have to make these women enjoy sex. They will be loyal to you and not demand even money from you to facilitate your campaigns. They get motivated to work for you”, one of the power brokers told Cana.
One of Cana’s greatest weaknesses was the impression he created that he was a Facebook candidate and was only for the educated class, yet those who would vote didn’t use Facebook. He was the only candidate in the mayoral race with a functional website, which had his manifesto and was updated regularly.
When the incumbent mayor won the election, Cana was quick to congratulate him. He admitted losing the elections but would continue to serve the people in any way he could; even through his nonprofit organisation. He even reconciled with his mentors who had accused him of being too poor to hold the office of the mayor.
“The choice for Cana in the future was whether to pursue politics, focus on his scholarly life or maybe continue with the development work. But if Cana choses politics, the question would be, would Cana eat dog meat if he had to? Would he play by the rules? Would he still champion the education campaign?” These are questions Cana would answer in the future.