Africa, Politics

A brief look: Promises, potholes and modern Uganda’s first white politician

By Simon Allison 4 August 2011

Ian Clarke is no ordinary Ugandan politician. For a start, he’s not Ugandan nor is he aligned to any political party. Oh, and he’s white. The Irishman, who has made Uganda his home for the past 20 years, is two months into his first term as mayor of one of Kampala’s five municipalities. He was elected in a landslide in May, after a campaign which involved absolutely no pictures of him dressed as Rambo (the favoured campaign tactic of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni) but lots of promises of basic urban development, like implementing sewage and garbage collection, installing effective drainage to prevent flooding and repairing potholes. By SIMON ALLISON.

“The potholes are a metaphor for Uganda and for the state of Kampala,” Clarke told AFP. “If we can demonstrate that we can overcome the potholes and keep our streets clean then we can show that things can change.”

Clarke, a physician by training, arrived in Uganda in 1987 as part of an Anglican mission, and went on to establish one of Kampala’s top hospitals. He said he spent $50,000 on his campaign, and wanted to try his hand at local politics because it’s the area where the most visible, immediate difference to the lives of people can be made; and because he was tired of writing about the problems in his column in Uganda’s New Vision without being able to see any visible improvements. But Clarke’s found unravelling Kampala’s tangled bureacracy more difficult than he expected. “This now is tough, but every little bit done is at least something that wasn’t done before,” he said.

Despite initial concerns that people would not welcome an  “mzungu” (white person) into the political arena, the size of his victory over the incumbent shows that his colour is not a bar to political participation. Some say his colour helped, playing to perceptions that white politicians are less corrupt. But not everyone was happy – least of all his opponents in the elections, who labelled him with the pejorative “ghost”.

Ghost or not, someone has to fix Kampala’s potholes, and Ian Clarke might just be the man for the job. DM


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Photo: Dr Ian Clarke with Rose Nanyonga, his adopted daughter New Vision.

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"Take a chance, won't you? Knock down the fences which divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison you. Reach out. Freedom lies just on the other side." ~ Thurgood Marshall

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