An Irishman, Dr. Ian Clarke, elected to office in Makindye, Uganda

Posted March 4, 2011 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Featured ~ 5,293 views


By By Barry Malone | Reuters | Kampala ~ An Irish doctor, whose opponents mockingly referred to him as a white “ghost”, on Thursday became the first ever foreigner elected to political office in Uganda.

Ian Clarke, 59, who grew up on a farm in Northern Ireland and came to Uganda as a missionary at the tail end of a bloody civil war, won more than double the votes of his nearest rival to head one of the capital Kampala’s poorest district councils.

“I realised that some other candidates were trying to stir up the race card and the colonial thing, saying outlandish stuff,” he told Reuters in a thick Irish brogue, little diluted by 23 years in Africa.

“But there was an understanding that I’d been here a long time and had started a lot of social programs. I wasn’t running for the good of my health.”

The well-connected physician decided to throw his hat in the ring after a few years writing a newspaper column in which he would regularly attack politicians for their corruption and for not investing in basic services.

“I could either be a talking head or I could do something.”

Having campaigned to improve basic local services, Clarke will for the next five years serve as chairman of Makindye – one of the largest of Kampala’s five district councils.

“I didn’t care that he was not born here,” Florence Mugisha, a 22-year-old hairdresser, told Reuters in her one-chair salon, housed in a tin shack. “Our politicians just wanted to get rich, so now let him try.”


Clarke is well known in Kampala as the well-off owner of the city’s flashiest private hospital that looms large over a small slum. His business portfolio also features an air ambulance service and a nursing school.

Some of the seven politicians who vied for the post tried to use his wealth against him, Clarke says, spreading rumours he was planning to have the slum razed so he could build a private airstrip. Few local people, it seems, believed the stories.

“Look at that,” said taxi driver, Ernest Kezeela, pointing up at the hospital building. “I voted for him because he does not need money from politics. He has already started cleaning the area, building toilets. He is Ugandan now.”

Some say the man who earned the clan name “Busulwa” during six years working in villages ravaged by war and the brutal rule of Idi Amin, was given a boost by a perception that a white politician would be less corrupt.

“I certainly didn’t campaign on that,” Clarke says. “The fact that I was a muzungu (a white) was part of the package. I think if I was some random white guy I would have been laughed out the place. It was different because I have a track record.”

Corruption is rife in Uganda and the local elections were marked by claims newly re-elected President Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement was buying votes.

Opposition politicians were also accused of luring voters with free food and drink.

“People came to my rallies and demanded, ‘Where’s my soda?’“ said Clarke who stood as an independent candidate.

“I would say, ‘Well, do you want five years of someone building latrines and having the refuse collected and fixing the potholes or do you want something for your stomach for five minutes? They answered with their votes.” – Reuters

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Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.


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