Case and Materials

The “Garbage Lady” Cleans Up Kampala: Turning Quick Wins Into Lasting Change

  • Authors Lisa Cox, Jorrit de Jong
Overhead view of Kampala, Uganda

Last Updated

Innovation, Strategic Leadership and Management



Deputy Executive Director of the Kampala Capital City Authority Judith Tumusiime was tasked with transforming her city—ranked the “dirtiest capital in East and Central Africa”—into a cleaner, healthier, more habitable place to live. She notched some early wins by improving the solid waste management system, but after a few years, progress stalled when she encountered resistance to garbage collection fees.

Tumusiime’s experiences make a compelling case study for other municipal leaders. How did she navigate the tensions between limited resources, political pressures, and the need to deliver essential services to residents?

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In 2011, at the newly formed Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), Judith Tumusiime, an impassioned technocrat who prided herself on operating outside of politics, was charged with transforming a “filthy city” to a clean, habitable, and healthy one. Early in her tenure, she was able to vastly improve Kampala’s solid waste management (SWM) system by creating efficiencies, increasing accountability, and bringing her technical know-how to a team that held little expertise. But by 2015, after several years of strong momentum, Tumusiime felt that her progress was stalling, and she faced political challenges around creating a sustainable SWM system. More specifically, her team was grossly overextended and needed to assign some of its SWM responsibilities to private contractors through an innovative public-private partnership (PPP). To ensure that the PPP was viable, Tumusiime strongly believed that all residents, no matter their income, needed to pay fees for garbage collection.

However, the federal and local elections were approaching in February 2016, and politicians had told their constituents that they would not allow garbage collection fees, leaving Tumusiime with little support for her long-term vision. She was faced with a challenge: she could either dive into a political world that she had never wanted anything to do with to see if she could achieve radical change, or she could continue to make tweaks that might achieve short-term, small improvements at a slow — and even halting — pace.

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Learning Objectives

This case study can be used to support a class discussion around one or more of the learning objectives listed below, depending on whether you want to focus on a policy issue, a strategic challenge, a leadership dilemma, or on multiple objectives:

Policy issue focus: operating basic services in a developing city.

  • Help participants understand the specific policy challenges associated with managing basic services in a developing city, specifically where you have a large, complicated problem, scarce resources (e.g., an understaffed department and under-trained staff), and you must contend with a highly charged political environment marred by corruption.

Strategic challenge focus: gaining the support you need around improving processes and convincing stakeholders that the status quo (e.g., a dirty city) is more concerning than the innovation (i.e., charging garbage collection fees to all city residents).

  • Introduce a typology of approaches to improve and innovate a response to such problems; for example, around pricing, performance management, and logistics. (This objective may be particularly suited for an urban policy course.)
  • Help participants think critically and creatively about generating the capacity and support to produce strategic outcomes using the Strategic Triangle as a tool.
  • Help participants imagine strategic alternatives to the ones in the case and apply that thinking to their own challenges.

Leadership dilemma focus: as a leader, understanding how to approach the personal decision of whether you should stay in your position or move on, as related to your leadership values.

  • Help participants name and assess leadership values, such as personal values (e.g., integrity), professional values (e.g., being effective), and public service values (e.g., helping city residents lead healthy lives).
  • Help participants reflect on the collision of certain leadership values, especially when the situation requires you to make trade-offs among your values.

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