Five tips for making **it happen in local government offices


What is it that makes local government offices in Uganda come to a grinding halt? Why does it take so long to make anything happen? When Wakonye Kenwa group started fighting for these alcohol laws two years ago, I thought it must be lack of political will, or corruption. While these things certainly exist, I’ve come to believe its frequently a more banal, boring problem.

Why Local government staff and politicians have a tendency to act like tortoises:

  • They are obsessed with following ‘correct procedure,’ yet there are often no logical, functioning procedures to follow
  • Staff in lower positions are unmotivated, dis-empowered. They receive low pay, and no one assigns them meaningful work then follows them up on it. Why wouldn’t you sit there reading the paper waiting for the lunch break?
  • Those in higher positions think they the only ones capable of making decisions, so don’t delegate. Accordingly, they have too much work, and only do what is forced in front of them, or what will accrue them personal benefit/kudos.

Why do I bring all this up now? Despite having a great practical plan for destroying over 300 boxes of illegal alcohol sachets, we were told it can’t happen until the Chief Magistrate has given a court order for their destruction. This means that the Chief Administrative Officer (the CAO, entertainingly pronounced ‘the cow’) has to write a letter requesting the court order. Left alone, these few steps could take months. Let me introduce you to my 5 top tips for making such things happen faster:

  1. Always go yourself. Unless something is done in front of you, it probably will not be done. Go to the office and see them yourself. Take other work to do, you could be waiting for hours. First I went to see the deputy ‘cow,’ then I went to see the chief magistrate.
  2. Be an entertaining diversion Most people in offices are bored most of the time. Make your visit entertaining, and they are more likely to give you what you want, and welcome you back. In Uganda, that’s not too hard. Smile, be confident, expressive, find out their personal interests. The deputy CAO loved talking about food. His secretary likes cats and complaining that I don’t have children. The Chief Magistrate was curious to know if Te Reo Maori has any similarities to Acholi. Run with it.
  3. Do everything for them. Make it easy or they won’t bother. Most people here dislike typing and fiddling with USBs and printers. Come with a draft pre-prepared. If they want more control, offer to type into your laptop as they dictate, then get it put on their letter head, formatted in their usual style. Having you as an additional passing secretary will make them feel important.
  4. Create the impression of procedural legitimacy Go prepared with any documentation under the sun you could possibly need, stamped and letter headed by the most important person you can! Sound so confident that they never doubt that this is the correct next step.
  5. Win over the secretary. A good relationship with the secretary will save you a lot of time. Firstly, you can ring to ascertain the whereabouts of their boss. Second, if they trust you they can give you their letter-head so you can come with fully pre-pared letter. Win.

Voila, a chief magistrates letter assuring district officials that they have full rights to burn illegal products without procuring a court order!

This entry was posted in alcohol, community organizing, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Five tips for making **it happen in local government offices

  1. Dorothy Bhanabhai says:

    Nice insight and advice

  2. Sharyn Laing says:

    Brilliant Tessa. Sales 101… look after the gatekeeper, identify and form relationships with all stakeholders, identify and work with the key decision maker, ensure paperwork is current, correct and available, identify and gain agreement on what a positive outcome looks like, visit decision makers in person, ask for a result, close the loop. Sounds like my job!

  3. dltovey says:

    Tess, your most interesting ‘reflections’ on the latest of the Wakonye Kenwa group’s fight for the alcohol laws has been absolutely riveting reading. I have been sitting on the edge of my chair waiting for next ‘edition’. You write well. This is a book material! Much love and prayers,


    *2/20 Glengarry Road, *

    *Glen Eden,*

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    *Ph +64 (0)95287773*

    Ma te aroha o te Atua ka manaakitia koe. May the love of God be with you.

  4. Ray says:

    Well done Tessa. You are a force to be reckoned with.

    • ntlaing says:

      Thanks for the encouragement Ray 🙂 Sometimes, sometimes….I’ll write about it soon, but we are currently lacking a critical ingredient for the next step and I just haven’t be able to crack it yet… Love to you and Jean xx

  5. Pingback: Worth waiting in ‘hell’ | Ugandapanda

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