Champion of Local Democracy: Jenifer Wakhugu
"My mother used to be a rural woman with no exposure, but in the last 30 years she was able to join the local political leadership as a woman councillor at the district level and her life drastically changed. This inspired me to support any efforts that promote local democracy and women’s economic empowerment." We are honered to present Jenifer Wakhugu, in our series of personal portraits of people who are playing a significant role in the development of local democracy where they live.
Dr. Jenifer Bukokhe Wakhugu has been working closely with ICLD for five years, representing the UN Capital Development Fund. Together with ICLD, the UNCDF implements the International Training Programme on Municipal Financing in South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
This is her own story:
I was born on 6th July 1970 to Mr and Mrs Peter Kisebee in the remote rural slopes of Mt. Elgon in Manafwa District, close to the Uganda – Kenya border. Born into a polygamous family, I had a very humble upbringing where subsistance farming was the main source of livelihood. Jenifer began her education at Lirima Primary School.
Her leadership ability started to manifest at a young age, as she was appointed health prefect at her school.
I loved my role as health prefect because I could give punishments such as picking rubbish around the school or sweeping of classrooms, to those whose legs were not clean. Thereafter, I joined secondary school at Magale S.S.S which is in the same area. Though it may sound strange to many that I never stepped foot in Mbale Town until I went to high school, it is quite common that most girls from my village are born, complete primary school, get married in the same rural area and never reach the nearest town - and so the cycle continues with their children. I however broke this cycle and took the opportunity to advance my education. I was the first female University graduate in 1994 from my clan, village and sub-county, the first with a master’s degree in 1998 and the first PHD holder in 2008.
I am also passionate about children and children’s rights. I love to see more children go to school, especially girls. I have been married for 26 years to an Anglican priest and we have 4 children.
Working with Local Democracy
I would describe myself as a very hard working and determined person that cannot be diverted from my set mission or goal. I’m very easy to associate with, very energetic, outgoing, a strategic thinker, and planner, and I especially love to inspire the girl child.
Jenifer worked for many years with civil society organizations promoting the rights of children to participation, development and survival, before joining the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF).
I saw that even young children could identify community problems, come up with possible solutions and implement them. 15 years ago, children below the age of 6 from one of the slum areas in Kampala identified a problem of child abuse in their community which included parents administering harsh punishments, sending children to grocery shops late at night, etc. One of the solutions was for these little children to educate the parents on how they felt about child abuse and they decided to do this by creating drawings. Each of them drew pictures and were given a chance during the community meetings to express their opinions. This brought a total transformation in the local democracy at community level and the participation of children.
ICLD has a joint partnership with UNCDF which focuses on building capacities of local government officials to improve effectiveness and efficiency in service delivery at the local level. I manage the programme on UNCDF’s side, which is responsible for the mentoring the participants of the training by providing national mentors, monitoring the development and implementation of the change projects, and institutional anchorage of the change projects within the local government institutions. We have had a very smooth collaboration and partnership, which has lasted for close to 10 years, with the first years very much focused on strengthening the foundations for local democracy, decentralization and local economic development. This was later refined to include interventions on gender mainstreaming in local government business. Since the local government sector is very dynamic more topics have become of interest and focus such as climate change/environmental protection, participation, LG financing etc.
It has been very inspiring and interesting because the course is designed and delivered through various methods/approaches that promote adult learning. Over 100 participants have benefited from this training, the exposure and lessons learned from the Swedish phase. The countries that have benefited include Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and previously Rwanda.
What would you say are the toughest challenges you currently face?
The major challenge is financing catalytic projects that have great impact on the lives of the community members, particularly projects that promote women’s economic empowerment.
In your line of work, where do you see yourself in say, five years?
I see my career developing and probably going back to an international job. I also see a lot of resources mobilized in order to address local development challenges.