Youthful Kato Isa, the National Coordinator of Uganda Poor Youth Movement, is aspiring to become the Member of Parliament for Kampala Central. To achieve that, he must first overcome competition in his party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) by competing for the party flag card. In this interview, Kato, 37, tells News Today Uganda his story and political leadership ambitions. Below are the excerpts from the interview.
You are joining the political arena but many people don’t know you as a politician but rather as an activist, briefly take us through your journey leading to this aspiration of becoming the Member of Parliament for Kampala Central.
My journey started way back as a student leader between 2004 to 2005. I was the general secretary Makerere University NRM Chapter. When I came out, I concentrated on working and getting more education. I got a diploma in cabin crew from London and another in hospitality in India. When I came back, in 2014, we started the NRM Poor Youth. I was the national coordinator.
We did a lot of activism. We were majoring in rooting for rule of law, fighting corruption and empowering the youth. We were tasking government to plan for the youth. We wanted to make sure that whatever government gives to the youth is implemented and supervised.
The government had come up with programs like the Youth Livelihood Program (YLP) but it didn’t have data of targeted people and those who were benefiting. So, we woke them up. When they brought in a new Permanent Secretary Mr Pius Bigirimana, at the ministry of gender, we started a countrywide tour to find out if the YLP had worked and had an impact.
At the moment, I am aspiring to be a Member of Parliament for my constituency, Kampala Central. I stay in Nakasero Parish 4, in William village. I feel that there is a big gap in the leadership of Kampala Central and I am coming to bridge that gap.
To an ordinary Ugandan, you don’t fit the description of a poor youth that you purport to be, you look wealthy, what is the inspiration behind this poor youth activism that thrust you and your like friends into the limelight?
People need to understand the concept of Poor Youth. Poor is a relative word. I can have five million shillings when I am actually poor. If you have needs of twenty million shillings and you have five, then you are poor. That is how people die of pressure. The pressure is not only for poor people; you can see someone driving and collapses. It means he or she is poor in a certain way.
The young people and everyone used to see us driving, and because we are educated, leaving in Kampala and all these urban centres, they would think we are rich yet we were not economically strong enough.
Therefore, we put in the fight as NRM Poor Youth. We wanted certain things to be loosened and changed to empower the youth and tap into the available opportunities. We were also asking for jobs and help.
Has it worked?
In the area of democracy, we registered achievements. First of all, when you look at the way we brought it out was by supporting a candidate – politically. We wanted Mbabazi (Amama) to stand for president which we achieved because he ended up on the ballot paper.
Secondly, we wanted internally (within NRM) to have democracy, at least for the positions of president and chairman of the party to be contested and we achieved it because we went for the delegates conference and members of the party decided on that. The party also made some reforms.
Then economically, the government has come up with numerous ways of employing young people. Secondly, the Youth Livelihood Program funding was increased.
In the area of corruption, we have been resilient enough to stand up. If you have been observant, the group that has fought the massive fraud at Bank of Uganda has been us, the Poor Youth.
We have been fighting corruption not only in Bank of Uganda but also in other sectors. We have fought people in the ministry of gender and immediately we mentioned it, Nakalema jumped on the issue to investigate.
Numerous sections of the public accused the NRM Poor Youth of using the platform and exploiting public goodwill to gain political capital which would lead to members of the group chasing political office like you are doing, I wish they were wrong.
It is always unfair for Ugandans to look at people who come out to speak the truth as people using the platform for other benefits. Because, at the end of it all, if it is a money generating thing, why don’t they join us in the streets protesting? Why don’t they join us in prison when we are arrested?
What matters is what are you talking about – are you talking about corruption; is it there, are Ugandans happy about it, no? What we were fighting for then, if you remember, Hon Anite went to Kyankwanzi and knelt down and told President Yoweri Museveni that we have endorsed you to come as a sole candidate.
That was wrong because in the NRM Constitution, it is not stipulated that a small caucus of MPs can endorse a candidate. So, they were usurping the powers of the party members. So, we came up and said that was wrong. The candidate must be elected at a delegates’ conference and the president agreed with us.
But besides that, the advocacy, we were trying to portray to this country that belonging to the NRM doesn’t mean that you are well off. The perception now in the public eye is that all NRM supporters are eating money in government and getting jobs. It is not true. They are very many NRM people who are suffering.
At a personal level, have you achieved enough leadership experience and strong political ground under the NRM Poor Youth to change goalposts and now become a politician?
You know being an activist means that you have a cause and as NRM Poor Youth we had a cause and it doesn’t end at just that, being an activist. Now we need to also influence decisions.
We have been pushing and pushing but there is somewhere where decisions are made, that is where I want to go, to the parliament, and take these activism ideas there. We all know the powers that parliament has – everything has to be implemented, supervised and audited in parliament and that is where we need to go right now.
Kampala Central – from Francis Babu to Muhammad Nsereko – has been strictly NRM even when the city has been hostile to the ruling party, does that put you under some sort of pressure and fear of losing Kampala to the opposition?
What we need to agree is that the majority of voters in Kampala Central are NRM and the NRM is strong in Kampala. I can give you an example. We have 136 villages in Kampala and 90 per cent of the chairpersons of these villages are NRM. That gives us the leverage to feel in charge of the city.
Are you, as a person strong enough to take Kampala Central away from your competitors, including the incumbent, Muhammad Nsereko?
You cannot be strong without the power of the people that is why I am conversing for votes. Nsereko is NRM. When he was coming in 2011, people wondered if he would make it. He did because we have the majority of voters. I was very active in mobilization at that time.
Even in 2016, he came back as an Independent but an NRM leaning Independent candidate and he won. In parliament, he is registered as NRM leaning MP even though his ideas don’t come from NRM as a party. He comes up with his own ideas as a person through methods that have landed him in trouble.
I am a strong candidate in Kampala. I hear people say the incumbent is strong, I don’t know how strong he is but what I know is he lost touch on the ground. He is just an MP who keeps in the media but on the ground we feel that there has been a very big gap which he created within the leadership of Kampala who he should be working with because they are stakeholders.
In the ten years, he has been in parliament, he has never held village meetings to consult, even at parish level – we have 20 parishes – he has never held a meeting to consult. He has abandoned his electorates and this has affected the wananchi in many ways like service delivery.
Kampala is beyond the city; we have people in ghettos like Kamwokya who need services. Kamwokya has a very big population of people who work and live there. But they don’t have a single health centre 2 there.
As an incoming MP for Kampala Central, what legislative challenges is your constituency facing that you will address once you become MP?
My theme is a developed city that is not compromising its residents. We want a city that is developing without compromising its people. You say that you want Kampala to develop but you don’t want boda boda there. Without boda bodas people who work as boda doda riders and us who use them get affected. Why wouldn’t the city physical planners put up walkways and cycling lanes instead of chasing away people.
At the legislative level, we have found a challenge given our structures and approach in this country. The laws come from up to down. When the laws are passed and implementers come to implement these laws, we have always found friction with the people; we have seen fights in the streets.
The implementers of the laws who are probably the bureaucrats have had a hard time implementing the laws that have been passed by the house. The laws are not favoring Ugandans but then it takes you the lack of consultation by leaders who must get feedback from the people. There is no stakeholder participation.
There is something wrong with our policymakers. They are so detached from the reality on the ground. There is no consultative and participatory leadership and this is what I am bringing to Kampala Central, as an MP. You engage the boda boda people, they have ideas which are good, but they are not consulted but rather mistreated.
Land grabbing is rampant in Kampala because the price of land shot up and land doesn’t expand. As an MP, I will have a desk handling land issues in my constituency office. That desk will be used to sensitize people about owning land, lease ownership and how to renew a release. People are losing land because the lease ends when they are not aware of. Someone is on the land owned by their grandfather whose lease was 90 years but they don’t know now that it elapsed and the land grabbers are there looking at it.
What other plans in your work plan do you have for the electorates in Kampala Central?
Yes, I have a very good work plan. For example, in the area of empowering young people. We started the Poor Youth Empowerment Services with a SACCO that we are going to register.
I promised my people that in the first year in parliament, I am going to dedicate my salary to the SACCO. With that salary, we can help people with startups and those who have been working but need capital.
We have people from all walks of life and their dream and hope is in Kampala; we will find opportunities for them. You find people in the streets looking for jobs; we need to skill them.
What sort of relationship will you have with other leaders especially those from the opposition?
They are not just opposition politicians, they are leaders. But I should have restrictions on how I relate with them on a political side of thing but when the opportunity comes and an MP say from NUP (National Unity Platform) from Malaba, a border town, and this man has a supply deal from Kenya and wants a supplier from Kampala, then we can work together because this benefits my people. On issues that requires a party position, then I can consult with my party. In party multi-party politics, you must consult your party.
In the recent past, there has been a deterioration of education and sports in Kampala schools, especially in public schools, as MP, what are your plans to curb this before it slumps to low levels?
The education issues and challenges are addressed in my manifesto. It is true and worrying that education standards in Kampala have fallen down. Academically, standards have gone down. We no longer see the mighty Nakasero Primary School, the Kitantes leading.
This has also gone into sports; in football we had Kibuli and in boxing we knew Kololo. At the end of the day, it takes you back to implementers who have never approached KCCA to get answers. You will find that is about poor remuneration for teachers among other issues that I will pay attention to as an MP.
And the tourism sector, what are your plans considering that is your area of expertise?
If we have tourism developed in Kampala, we shall have sustainability of our attractions and then we shall earn money. Kampala has so many tourist attractions like the independence monument and others. We need to develop and promote them.
For example, every day you pass by the independent monument, but what value do you attach to it yet we celebrate Independence Day on 9th October every year and no one goes? We can create jobs around these attractions.
We shall to do festivals – we had the Kampala Festival; we might not revive it but we can do themed ones. I want to come into that area because I know it is money we are missing. Kampala has many hotels; they need business deals and offer jobs.