Last week Allen Kagina formally took over the reins at the Uganda National Road Authority (UNRA). She fired her first shots across the bows of the administration there, by pledging to sort out the bottle necks preventing full utilisation of road funds and banish the authority’s reputation as the paragon of corruption.
Both are tall orders. But unlike her elevation to the helm of the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), a decade ago, the scepticism surrounding her ability to perform is decidedly less.
During a press conference, she announced her plans going forward, which would include a re-evaluation of the staff component and an assessment of the authority’s processes. Like at URA, KCCA and National Water & Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) before them, a rebranding of the place – a symbolic break with its shady past, would come in handy.
The majority wish her well in her latest assignment especially since if executed well it can have a transformative effect on the entire economy and therefore a direct impact on all our lives.
"But beyond her potential impact at UNRA and her wellworn record at URA, Kagina is a front runner in a new crop of parastatal manager that is debunking the notion that we lack effective managers among our number to run our most prized assets...
During the privatisation drive of the 1990s one of the reasons put forward for selling off our public enterprises was that we did not have the managerial capacity to make them work profitably. Of course, the care taker managers did not take kindly to this description. In their defence the political situation was such that they were unable to work effectively with incessant interference from politicians.
The interference continues, what has changed though is that there are fewer public enterprises around.
While we now have a healthy crop of managers coming through the ranks in the private sector, a much leaner public sector has not been left behind.
This is a numbers game.
For every Kagina or Dr William Muhairwe there are a few dozen managers who have fallen by the wayside for incompetence or outright theft. The trick is to generate a big enough number of potential managers to provide for the inevitable attrition.
You can have all the resources in the world, but without proper management or leadership those same resources can go begging. Good managers are not born or educated in the classroom, but need good mentoring and praiseworthy predecessors to look up to and learn from. If you don’t have them at home you import them and allow them to be understudied. Kagina is part of that front runner group.
Also with a trend that begun with Muhairwe at NWSC and continued with Kagina at URA, it has been shown that a manager need not be a water engineer or a tax expert to manage their respective organisations. Charles Chapman, who was not an electrical engineer, at Umeme cemented the trend.
In fact it’s the specialists who have sunk these very organisations.
Not to discount the specialised knowledge that comes with being familiar with the core activities of an organisation, what is really needed at the top is the ability to manipulate the human and capital resources available to achieve the organisation’s goals.
The specialists have recognised this, with many of them going out to earn MBAs to back up their technical credentials.
"And finally Kagina’s recognition as a top manager but just importantly, as a woman manager, signals the acceptance of women as managers able of taking on the “tough” assignments society had decided belonged to men...
Previously women were confined to administration and personnel management, the supposed softer parts of organisations. Now there are hundreds of women waiting in the wings, straining at their reins to take over in finance, operations, legal and engineering departments all over the country.
It starts with society recognising (however grudgingly), that women can contribute effectively beyond the home. This coupled with prioritising girl education means it is only a matter of time that women are not only given the “tough” assignments but that they are actually in place to be considered on pure merit.
In Uganda it started with politics and now it is moving into the board rooms.
The girl child of today and tomorrow will have role models other than their mothers, to look up to in aspiring to greatness. And that is as it should be.
American billionaire Warren Buffett once said, “When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.”
We have our fingers crossed that Kagina can debunk yet another male created truism.