“I am not afraid of anything when I have my people supporting me.”
My name is Mohammad Younus Nawandish.
I am 54 and I have lived in Kabul for 35 years. Two years ago President Karzai selected me to be Mayor of Kabul. I never wanted to be the Mayor, I always wanted to be a teacher. For a while I taught at the university in the Faculty of Engineering. For me there is nothing more joyful than to teach, but I think it was my destiny to become Mayor.
The work we do at Kabul Municipality is similar to that of municipalities around the world. We provide public services to our citizens – things like building roads, bridges, green spaces and collecting rubbish. Of course the situation here is a bit different, with suicide attacks and explosions – but these can happen in any country, I don’t worry about it at all. The people of Kabul see me walking through the city all the time, sometimes I walk 15 km in a day. We don’t even have concrete blast walls at the department like the other government offices. I get questioned about whether I get scared late at night but I hear people saying ‘Long live the Mayor of Kabul’. I tell them I am not afraid of anything when I have my people supporting me.
They do support me, citizens of Kabul have always hoped their city will be beautiful and clean with tarmac roads, lights and parks. We have been making good progress but we are working in a city where we need to start from the beginning and build everything again. Added to this is the problem of the growing population – in 2007 it was two million, now it’s five million and I think it will reach eight million soon. The city produces so much rubbish, it’s a big problem to move and recycle it. Every day we take 2,300 cubic metres out of the city. The roads aren’t designed for so many cars either, the traffic department tells me that there are 300 more cars in the city every day – and no one obeys the traffic laws.
It’s not impossible to develop the city; I have realised we can do any task, because we are serious about it. The first thing I did when I became Mayor is write a plan with 23 sections. The Mayor’s office has always had a bad reputation for corruption and this is in the first section of my plan. We are making a serious fight against corruption. We have definitely made changes, I can’t judge myself but the people can speak about the changes I have made in the last two years. I have planted over 1.5 million trees, and put tarmac on hundreds of roads. We have built six bridges in two years – throughout the whole history of Kabul only eight other bridges have been built. Normally a bridge takes nine months to build; I built one in 22 days. When I announced it nobody believed it, they said ‘oh the mayor has started exaggerating’. But it was true, it took 22 days; I am very determined. A few days ago, when we were building a canal the workers were complaining that they were too cold and there were problems making it difficult to dig. I told them ‘We will work with shovels if we can’t use diggers. And if there are no shovels we will buy teaspoons, but we will dig this canal.’ Nothing is impossible to me and we have to do the work.
So I have made many improvements, the department now has internet and we have bought new machinery worth $20 million. The only thing that I don’t have at Kabul municipality is time. I work late into the night; I have to stay at work until everything is done. My children are asleep when I get home. Through two years and two weeks I have hardly slept. I’m not going to say how much I earn – you know what they say, ‘Don’t ask a woman her age, and don’t ask a man his salary’, but I can tell you I earned a lot more at my last job as Deputy Minister of water and energy.
I think it is worth it when I see the gratitude Afghan people show about our work. This position is the best place to serve the people of Afghanistan.