Women are increasingly taking up a number of managerial positions in Uganda and are delivering beyond expectations as Carol Natukunda writes
Someone once joked that Jennifer Musisi was the ‘man’ of the year. The Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) iron lady got everyone talking when ‘her’ graders stormed and attempted to raze down the contentious Centenary Park.
Musisi has pulled down a number of illegal buildings in the city, including those that belong to high profile people. She has also chased vendors away from the streets and is now busy setting up a mechanism of proper revenue collection.
A lot of people simply fear Musisi. It is just about one-and-a-half years since she assumed office, but already, the ground is shaking and a number of walls crumbling. Despite the heavy criticism, she is only doing her job — squeezing the thieves and reforming Kampala into a first-class city.
“It has taken about 40 years for Kampala to degenerate to the level where it is. It would be unrealistic to expect a turnaround over a short period. It is going to take some pain on the part of the dwellers,” she told New Vision in an earlier interview.
That women like Musisi have taken charge of high profile offices is not a secret anymore. These women are now running the show in the fight against corruption. They are holding positions where they have to directly deal with some of the most notorious thieves in the land.
Just like KCCA, the Uganda Revenue Authority, once an epitome of rot, is now steered by a woman — Allen Kagina. Years ago, you needed to pay huge sums of money to process a simple receipt. After the Julia Ssebutinde probe in the 1990s which saw the thieves sent packing, the Government appointed Kagina.
The self-acclaimed born-again Christian was tasked with the responsibility of steering the tax agency from one of the most corrupt institutions to one of the region’s most gainful revenue authorities. Under Kagina, URA has helped the country tone down its dependence on foreign donor budget by up to 70%.
Because of this impressive performance, the Government increased its bar of expectations from URA as it realises more revenue. Kagina’s entry saw a massive restructuring exercise that trimmed the number of departments from 10 to five.
With the necessary structural changes in place, Kagina embarked on a campaign to clean up the tax body’s image, making it the revered corporate organisation it is today. Kagina has, several times, admitted that many people questioned her ability to lead URA, on the basis of gender, but today, her actions speak louder than words.
Dr. Maggie Kigozi was in 1999 appointed Executive Director of Uganda Investment Authority (UIA). She was the first person to serve in that position.
Under her leadership, UIA won the prestigious Corporate Location Prize for the best investment promotion agency in Africa and the Middle East in 2001.
With her connections to Africa-Asia Business Forum and the Ugandan Diaspora Network, UIA’s annual reports kept showing improvements in Foreign Direct Investments and jobs they created. Projections grew from 48,098 jobs in 2006 when Uganda was declared Africa’s seventh fastest growing economy, to 55,690 jobs in 2007.
When she retired from UIA in 2011, Kigozi became a consultant for the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation.
In the Police, Grace Akullo, the director of the Criminal Intelligence and Inspectorate Division, is in the headlines everyday. Akullo has been largely at the centre of investigating several scams, including the pensions scandal, which has seen even the untouchables locked up.
While she comes across as a no nonsense person, she is only doing her job. “My work is to investigate and as long as we have evidence, nothing can stop us from moving forward,” she says.
Akullo is heading investigations in the OPM financial scandal involving the loss of over sh50b. This has seen the arrest of some officials like Geoffrey Kazinda for their role in the scam. She is also leading the Pension Scam investigations, among others.
Dr. Diana Atwine
In 2009, President Yoweri Museveni set up the Medicines and Health Services Delivery Monitoring Unit, headed by Dr. Diana Atwine to unearth the rot in the health sector.
The situation was so bad that according to the then available statistics, stock-outs or lack of essential medicines like antimalarials, painkillers and antibiotics in all health centres across was a norm. In any 100 health centres sampled then, 90 would lack essential drugs. In the three years that Atwine has been in charge of the unit, we have seen arrests of many health officials for stealing drugs from government hospitals.
By early 2012, about 42 people had been convicted and over 160 cases were being investigated. The unit has also unearthed illegal health centres and quack doctors, among others. Investigations conducted recently by the unit revealed that over 2,300 fake nurses are operating in Uganda, out of 25,618, who are registered by the Uganda Nurses and Midwives Council.
Yet, Atwine remains modest.
“We all have a duty to protect and save lives and to make sure that every Ugandan is assisted in the best way possible,” she says.
Additional reporting by Martin Kanyegirire
Teopista Ssentogo, a workers’ legislator says: “I am excited to see women going up. Women make better managers in workplaces. We have seen a lot of corruption scandals where men are bosses and that will stop.”
Ssentongo believes women have made impressive records even in smaller organisations where they work before rising to the top. Women, she argues, build better teams, and are consequently liked and respected as managers.
She says even if a woman is in a high position, she is likely not to segregate against men like men have been doing to women for ages.
“A woman has a kind heart. She thinks through things and works like she is working for her children,” says Ssentongo
Little wonder then that in one interview, KCCA’s Musisi acknowledged that even with the death threats she was receiving, she was not about to quit cleaning up Kampala.
“Because it is my city, it is my children’s city and will be their children’s city. We cannot all go away and live somewhere else, I will do my part,” she said in an earlier interview with New Vision.
According to Joyce Mpanga, a former minister of education and one of the first women to serve in the Uganda National Assembly in the 1960s young women today are entering the workforce better prepared and more ambitious than ever.
She argues that emancipated women raise their hands for “ugly jobs” where they take on the challenge and prove themselves in a visible way.
“By the time a woman says she is ready to take up a big position, she was probably ready a year ago,” Mpanga reasons.
Breaking the old boy’s network
Mahnaz Afkhami, who was minister of state for women’s affairs in Iran from 1975 to 1978, thinks raising women’s voices can have a significant impact on the quality of government.
“There is a direct relationship between the level of democracy and the presentation of women in leadership and the quality of governance,” she said.
Afkhami is now president of Women’s Learning Partnership, a training and advocacy centre for women leaders based in Maryland, US. During her tenure in Iran, she oversaw women gaining equal rights to divorce, support for employment, maternity leave and child care.
In Nicaragua, a councilman soliciting sex in return for metal roofing for her home prompted Aurora Arauz to run for a seat on the municipal council.
Arauz was president of a women’s cooperative and trained in her legal rights, so she filed a police complaint when the council member sought a sexual bribe, the UN Development Programme reported in a study published in October on women’s perceptions of corruption.
The council threw the man off the body and held a special meeting to improve services for women, including naming Arauz as a women’s coordinator. All these examples reinforce an influential World Bank study in 1999, which found that for every standard deviation point increase in women in public office above 10.9%, corruption declined by 10%.
Not that simple
Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who was Indonesia’s first woman finance minister earned a reputation as a tough reformer, agrees that at the grassroots level, more women in government can have an important impact particularly on how resources are allocated.
Women think of the welfare of children first and whether they have enough food to feed the family, whereas men can be less sensitive to public needs and serve their own interests, she said.
“They are just being comfortable among themselves and are not having other views,” Indrawati added.
At the national level, however, Indrawati and other experts said the impact of more women in power was less clear and it is too simplistic to say women clean up government.
Today, women hold a record 20.2% of seats in national legislatures, more than double their number in 1987, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Rwanda for example, allots half its parliamentary seats to women. Despite these gains, corruption is scarcely in retreat.
Widely watched governance indicators from the World Bank likewise show that the number of countries that have improved their corruption scores is roughly similar to those that have proof that women are any less corrupt than men. Instead, integrity may be more a function of opportunity and the way society operates than of gender, she said.
“There is a growing body of evidence that corruption operates in specific political and social networks to which women do not usually have access — particularly when women are new to positions of power,” said Clark, who is the first woman to head the UN Development Programme.
A new study titled Fairer Sex or Purity Myth? by researchers at Rice University and Emory University lends support to the idea that it is institutional structures that matter most and that women’s political gains are a result.
The researchers speculated that the difference may be partially because women are less apt to take risks. They cite two different behavioural studies from 2003 and 2008 that show women are just as ready as men to take bribes, but they are more cautious if there is a good chance they will be caught.
In autocratic regimes, women are more likely to have gained power through male patronage. If corruption is the norm within the male hierarchy, women are less likely to speak out for fear of losing their jobs, they said.
The opposite happens in open and democratic governments. The risk of getting caught is higher where the legal system functions well, and where voters are more likely to punish corruption at the polls. Because they tend to be risk-averse, women are doubly cautious, they said.
This could help explain why corruption in a patriarchal culture like India remains so pervasive despite women’s increased political participation, while in open and transparent Nordic countries, it is low.
Indeed, a new United Nations study examining 3,000 elected women and men in Indian villages noted that the social and cultural environment does play a powerful role.
If women face low levels of literacy, poor training, a large housework burden, live in male-dominated societies and are financially and socially dependent on fathers and husbands, public positions for women have less impact on corruption and governance.
Lavina Banduah, the executive director of the Sierra Leone branch of Transparency International, which watches out for graft worldwide, sees the problem daily in her country, which ranks high for corruption and low for accountability on governance indicators.
“Women cheat other women,” Banduah said. “In the marketplace, it is women who are using the dubious means and weighting the scales.”