A day of Contrasts – Ugandan Slum to Dubai airport

This blog may seem more incoherent than most! I am writing it in Dubai Airport in the middle of the night after 2 beers but I wanted to record the impressions of the day that I have had.

I am currently sitting surrounded by (but not buying!) the usual duty free offers of expensive water to imbibe or put on the skin and selected gadgetry which is probably cheaper in Comet but which someone must feel the need to buy. Who incidentally buys a suitcase in an airport when presumably you already have one.!

12 hours ago I was visiting some of the most appalling poverty have ever seen. I was being shown round his district (Gbaa) by the Mayor, Dr. Ian Clarke. Ian is the only white Mayor in East Africa but hails originally from Northern Ireland where he still has family. He has been the Mayor for only two years after having committed his life to Uganda as a GP some 25 years ago. Gbaa is an area of about 450,000 people which is a second tier council within Kampala the Country’s Capital.

He first showed us the fish landing stage on Lake Victoria which is connected to a fish and general food market. The conditions were to say the least squalid but Ian outlined his plans for improving it including the provision for the first time of toilets (no do NOT ask what they do now)

We saw where they were smoking Nile Perch and Talapia. Where they sold wood and charcoal and a whole range of products. Ian was well known. Shouts of Mayor and Chair went up as we walked around. Would that the adulation was as great for me in my patch!

But things must be worse elsewhere. A part of the fish market was devoted to rolling up and smoking fish skins. These were not considered edible in Uganda so they were being exported to DRC. There was even more peculiar traffic. Large fish skeletons and heads were being brought in from processing factories where the fillets had been taken off for freezing and sending to Europe. They were then being smoked again for export to DRC.

We then visited one of the illegal slums which had been built. It was built on a swamp and the smell was atrocious. Livestock lived cheek by jowl with people and cholera was waiting to happen. Even in the area there was hope. Micro businesses and a ‘cinema’ which was going to show ‘Lord of the Rings’. We visited two illegal dumps. On the first the very poor were picking over the dumpings of the poor. On the second about 50 of Ian’s staff were doing a magnificent clean up.

Ian explained how since he has been elected he was concentrating on some very basic issues but making sure that they were delivered. Cleaning gullies, filling pot holes, upgrading roads,installing toilets, removing rubbish are his day to day priorities. We visited one of his clinics where people ar given proper medical support including free circumcisions. No I was not tempted – thank you for asking!

I believe most Councillors are order worked,underpaid and under appreciated but the work that Mayor Clarke and his team were doing was absolutely amazing. Ian and an Australian Mayor and I Were in complete agreement about the need for

Strong day to day delivery
Big picture vision for our area
The involvement of people in design making.

Of course Ian’s problems were far greater than anything that Felicity or I could imagine dealing with but the principles of our working were the same – keeping our areas clean, safe and well managed. Ian was also having to do it in an area where corruption, bureaucracy and incompetence were manifest.

Mayor Clarke I salute you as I salute all your colleagues in Africa who struggle against the odds to bring decent services and decent lives to millions of poor and starving people. This week the EU has announced plans to engage directly with local councils such as yours. I am determined to do my best to ensure that your council gets some of that. I am equally determined to play my part in ensuring that there is a much greater understanding of the needs of Africa in the corridors of power in the West.

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. UK representative on UCLG Finance Committee, Executive Bureau and World Council. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperon on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and three grandchildren.
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