I find myself writing these words from the heart of Bududa, my birthplace in Eastern Uganda. Nestled in the foothills of the majestic Mount Elgon, Bududa lies just an hour's drive from Mbale City, the second-largest city in Uganda after the capital, Kampala.
As the rainy season slowly draws to a close, the treacherous road conditions serve as a poignant reminder of the challenges this region faces. Bududa boasts fertile grounds, but the capricious rains have been known to unleash their wrath in recent years, resulting in catastrophic landslides, flash floods, and even earthquakes. Nevertheless, the resilience of the Bududa village endures, restoring its characteristic green foothills, adorned with vast banana plantations, coffee crops, and towering eucalyptus trees that seem to stretch beyond the horizon. To the North East, Mount Elgon stands as an awe-inspiring sentinel, an extinct volcanic giant reaching over 14,000 feet, marking the border with Kenya and forming part of the iconic Rift Valley.
However, it's not just the breath-taking landscape that captures my attention; it's the people of Bududa that truly steal the show. The Bagisu tribe, part of the Bamasaba culture, is renowned globally for their export of arabica coffee and various banana varieties, some of which you might even find in a Sainsbury's store in Chiswick. Travel further afield to Hounslow, and you'll encounter the green cooking banana, the staple in a Bagisu diet commonly known in East African cultures as Matoke.
Matoke is cultivated year-round and plays a pivotal role in the local economy. Every week, thousands of villagers, predominantly women, embark on a journey to the market, carrying bunches of bananas atop their heads. At the market, they haggle with registered commercial buyers who carefully inspect the quality and size of the banana stalks before making an offer, typically around 20,000 Ugandan Shillings (£5) per stalk. This hard-earned money serves various purposes, from covering school fees, transportation costs, and medical expenses in the long term, to immediate necessities like meat, rice, and sugar.
I couldn't help but be moved by an elderly woman's interaction with a commercial buyer at the market. She exuded regal composure, yet her determination was unmistakable. She had likely conducted these negotiations throughout her lifetime. She reminded me of my grandmother, who used to take me along on similar trips more than three decades ago. After selling her produce, she'd send me to fetch a bar of soap, while my cousin would be dispatched to the butcher for a cut of meat. Week after week, we were there, trading goods in this thriving local economy. As this old lady secured her desired price, a quiet smile crept onto her face and she tucked the money neatly under her dress, filling me with a profound sense of satisfaction—a local economy in motion.
The market buzzed with energy, teeming with traders offering a plethora of produce and goods, including mobile phones and even radios. Now I know why I have an intrinsic attraction to our Flower and Cheese markets back in Chiswick.
In Bududa, as in Hounslow, the local government's role is to maintain roads and public places. Admittedly, the Bududa council efforts in road maintenance and cleanliness leave room for improvement—universal challenges, it seems. I was tempted to initiate a litter-picking session, if time had allowed!
Returning my focus to South West London, I am filled with a profound sense humility. That people of Chiswick have put their faith in me as their representative. The opportunity to serve has given be a new perspective in reconnecting to my roots. I feel even more blessed knowing where I have come from and where I could have ended up if things worked out a little differently. Although I left the village as a 10-year-old, I am convinced that my worldview is inexorably tied to my upbringing in Bududa. I found myself retracing my steps; the same paths I trod as a child. I understand now why, despite my trials and challenges of growing up poor in a mud hat, I still hold a sense of pride in myself and a sense respect for my elders. I have always been drawn to close-knit communities. I understand now, why I have always wanted to see people getting on and working together for a common cause. These are the values that I saw in Bududa and in within families of my 6 foster care placements in Hounslow, Chiswick and Richmond. I feel that I embody the age-old adage that it takes a village to raise a child—except in my case, it took two villages: Bududa and the entirety stretch of South West London.
My return to Bududa was not merely for family reunions; it was also a call to action to give back and support my village. I've committed to helping repair the road to our corner of the village called Bukirimwa. The road is 2.3km dirt road that has been ruined by rainfall and lack of maintenance. I am told that if it is fixed, more people from Bukirimwa would be able to take their good to the market even on a wet day, adding to prosperity of the entire community. Other projects are in the pipeline, but for now, my focus must return to the London Mayoral Elections on Thursday, May 2nd.
Chiswick, South West London
Mayor’s share of council tax has soared by a staggering 70.8% since 2017
South West London as community has supported me throughout my upbringing. I arrived here in the summer 1993 just after my 12th birthday. My father had arrived to London five years with my step mother. They were fleeing the political repercussions of a long drawn out civil war that engulfed Uganda in the late 70’s and the early 80’s. My father was once a hero of the civil war, by virtue of being one of former president Milton Obote’s returning men from exile in Tanzania. He helped liberate Uganda, from the Edi Amin regime and momentary restored the old president back to high office. During that tumultuous period, Uganda saw six Heads of State in span of six years. Political arrest, torture and killing became the norm.
By the late 1980s my father, was fed up with being arrested and being thrown to jail depending on who was the Head of State. He left the country with my stepmother and her two-year-old son, my brother Moses. At this point I had only met my father once. I recall, he came back to our village in Bududa for few days where I had the chance to meet him. I was around four years old.
I met him once again in 1990 in Kenya, when he returned following the deaths of my mother and grandfather in February and July of that year. Again, it was brief. He had claimed asylum in London as a refuge with his young family. I would join him three years after our last meeting Kenya.
That was my journey to South West London. The experience of arriving to a new country with its unique customs and practices is something many Londoners have had to through. Data shows from the university of oxford study estimated that nearly 15% of the UK population is made up of first-generation immigrants born outside the country. In the year ending June 2021, about half of the UK’s foreign- born population (48% in total) were residing in London and the South East.
That’s why I reject the claims that London is not a welcoming city. It certainly welcomed many of the people I know including my father. Although, I only lived with my family for just over a year before I was taken into foster care, I still pay homage to my father for bringing me here. I went to a local comprehensive school, where I struggled with language barrier among other things. But I never felt Isolated; South West London was just another village. Slightly bigger with more lights, electricity and running water, but a village, nonetheless. Where teachers cared, where good manners mattered and where freedom and respect for private property was ingrained. That's why I want to be the voice of those forgotten by the current Mayor, advocating for victims of crime, motorists unfairly treated, and those burdened by the Mayor's financial mishandling.
The consequences of having a London Mayor like Sadiq Khan have come at a hefty price for Londoners. The latest updates from City Hall suggest an 8.6% increase in the Mayor's precept (a London-wide Council Tax set by the Mayor, in addition to normal council tax).
Under Sadiq Khan's mayoralty, his share of council tax has soared by a staggering 70.8% since 2017. To put it in concrete terms, an average Band D household, which paid £276.00 for the Mayor's precept in 2017, will now be expected to pay £471.40 in the new financial year. While the rate of inflation remains below 4% and is declining, the cost of Sadiq Khan's portion of council tax for Londoners will be more than twice the rate of inflation.
It is crucial to note that the London Mayor wields an annual budget of £21 billion. Residents rightfully ask: where is he allocating this substantial sum? It appears he is oblivious to the fact that millions of Londoners are diligently budgeting for their travel, food, and energy expenses. Hardworking Londoners, pensioners, and small business owners yearn for a supportive and compassionate Mayor—someone who will alleviate their financial burdens, not compound them.
Conservative Assembly Members at City Hall, including our Mayoral candidate, Susan Hall AM, have consistently implored Sadiq Khan to freeze the Mayor's precept, yet he persists in his refusal. It is evident that London needs a Mayor who understands the importance of sound financial management, someone who prioritizes the well-being of marginalized Londoners over bolstering their own PR spending.
I aspire to be the voice of residents in Hounslow, Kingston, and Richmond at City Hall, working alongside the next Mayor of London, Susan Hall, to reduce City Hall spending and leave more money in Londoners' pockets each month.
One lesson I have gleaned during my six years as a Councillor, is the importance of staying attuned to the concerns and priorities of the community you serve. This is precisely what a Mayor ought to do. I have worked alongside Susan Hall long enough to recognise her unwavering commitment to slashing waste and bureaucracy, relieving the financial strain on the least fortunate, who bear the brunt of high taxes.
These taxes, coupled with the millions generated from motoring fines, are a direct result of financial mismanagement within Transport for London (TfL). London's transport network is drowning in a £14 billion debt, necessitating over £6 billion in taxpayer bailouts. The Metropolitan Police find themselves in a similar predicament, perpetually requesting more funds from the government while haemorrhaging millions on overtime and a failed recruitment strategy. Crime in London is spiralling out of control, with a 31% increase in thefts, a 43% surge in sexual offenses, and a 58% rise in robberies.
Sadiq Khan treats Londoners as a bottomless cash machine while deflecting responsibility onto the government. As the Police and Crime Commissioner for London, he has expanded the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to Richmond, Hounslow, and Kingston, padding his coffers. However, even his own experts concede that the improvement in air quality has been marginal.
This expansion has placed an undue burden on working families who cannot afford to replace their vehicles at a moment's notice. Overall, this undemocratic exploitation of the least well-off is projected to generate over £300 million in its first year.
We are calling for the immediate repeal of this expansion when London elects Susan Hall and me to City Hall. Together, we will champion the values of prudent financial management, putting the needs of marginalized Londoners first, and ensuring that our city thrives in a spirit of unity and prosperity.