KAMPALA – In part six (6) I discussed short term and medium term measures required to stimulate economic activity in the Uganda economy. In this part I continue with those activities that are dysfunctional in the economy that require corrections to make the economy more efficient and gain the benefits of growth. These activities have constrained economic growth and tend to thrive on Lack of policy, poor policy implementation and or corruption. I continue discussing selected important issues.
a) Boda-Boda and the transport system in the country
The transport sector in the country is in a crisis. Small roads everywhere in the country and now traffic management is a glaring problem especially in towns. Too many private cars, too many boda-bodas, trucks, undisciplined taxi drivers, no buses! It seems there is a disproportionate availably of vehicles to roads, seems people are wealthy and the country is poor. A reflection of tax compliance in the country. Boda-boda is very expensive but there is no alternative to them. Buses would be an alternative but too many vehicles on the road and small roads cannot allow them to ply effectively especially in Kampala! The only choice is boda boda. There is therefore need to regulate boda bodas so that we maximize the value of their presence. It has been suggested that they are kept out of downtown but what is the alternative? Improvising the efficiency of “kayoola” train in Kampala may be the medium-term solution. But that is in one area of town. Kampala may now benefit from a ring road. The bypass from Kireka to Busega through the expressway to Kajjaisi, Munyonyo and back to Kireka! Remove traffic lights.
Bus transport in Kampala and new towns should be the primary mode of transport. But very complicated for Kampala now. No roads, heavy traffic jam, yes, but still the bus system is the solution. But it starts with a planned road system. Some minimum control of boda boda. May be keep them out of the commercial district, no quick solution. Planning better roads and discipline are the key. The key lesson is that if we are to gain benefit from a transport system it should be planned. A new town with a road system with the planned means of transport rail, road? With autonomous (self-driving) vehicles now in production, we have no choice but to plan our towns and roads! Unlock the country’s economic potential.
b) Planning of our towns.
We have an opportunity that most of our towns are small trading centres and we have capacity to expand them in a planned manner. Unfortunately, we are not. They are growing slums! This has to stop, it constrains growth.
If you look at places like Nansana, Kawempe, Kireka, Namugongo for instance, in the next ten (10) years where will people pass to be able to get to Kampala? Check the traffic jam on all the small roads. Unless if we plan now we will have a problem having to put up roads in the air which we can’t afford. How about the new towns in the new districts, even the few roads there are not tarmacked and are small. It is crucial that there is planning of new administrative units including districts and towns. This should be simply in the law, especially the laws establishing towns. We have many “cities” open in July this year! Is that so? Are we ready? What are the cities plans? Is there a city with a 20 or 10 or even a 5-year plan?
All towns in the country should be planned in such a way that you have a commercial area, a recreation area, an industrial area, market area and residential areas for different categories of people. We also need cemeteries in towns! Without this, we are in for development of huge slums around the country. This is the sort of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, a huge slum. The government of Nigeria had to move away from Lagos to build a political capital in Abuja. Thank God they had the oil money. Uganda does not have that luxury.
Land should be acquired by the government for the purpose in these different towns. A mini Land Reform to gazette land around all district headquarters be done. Every district should have a well-planned town and this must be made part of the law. Today we are seeing that people are being buried on their verandahs in small towns! Plots of 50×100 feet as they are known. 10 years from now such houses many be knocked down by other people who will be building big houses as are towns expand. The law creating towns and cities must have in-built provisions for those developments otherwise we shall have huge slums as our towns.
Planning of towns is also important for purposes planning inter-district roads. Our highways should not go through towns causing problems like traffic jam. Take a case of Lyantonde, a by-pass was created but no longer meaningful. Look at the bypasses in Kampala very soon they will be like any other road. May be we have good plans but the challenge of implementation. There should be no side entrance to private homes on by passes. If we are to improve the business atmosphere, make environment for business easier, reduce cost of transport and storage, towns must be planned. Traffic jams will add to cost of doing business. This slows growth. The time to do that is now.
Burying the dead, cemeteries
As the country transforms we still have a challenge of burying our loved ones. Traditionally people burry in their ancestral homes and we have to incur a very high cost to transport bodies and mourners up country. This has to change as people move away from villages and settle in towns. They can no longer acquire land in villages because the land is getting finished. So the future lies in people being able to acquire small pieces of land in town where they build or buy houses. Such people will not have ancestral homes in the coming years. It is therefore important that we have cemeteries as part of the towns that we are planning for. It is a change in culture but it is something that will lower cost of doing business in the country. Modernization brings change. We must change.
c) Building in wetlands.
The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) has attempted to resolve this issue but what is the problem? The problem is that some of our politicians interfere in the process of environmental management. This is corruption, so we end up building in wetlands just because those who are building can call someone up or those who are building are up there and don’t listen to the enforcement agencies. The consequence is that in future the people who will reside in these areas and indeed the country at large will be distracted or disadvantaged.
As I write now with the rising of waters on Lake Victoria, the houses in in swampy areas in Kampala have been flooded including beautiful expensive houses simply because people built in areas where they are not allowed to build! It is reported that over the years, the country had lost 570,000 hectares of wetlands! We must enforce the law and here top politicians have a moral responsibility. Messing up wetlands is contributing negatively to the environment and increasing cost of doing business.
Wetlands help in waste disposal, blocking them interferes with that process. It costs over US$1million annually to treat water in Kampala because of this problem. It also affects climate change reducing sustainable development. Uganda has a combination of disasters that should make it wake up. The locust invasion, the rising water levels of Lake Victoria and the Coronavirus pandemic. When added to the glaring poverty, it calls for review of our policies to support growth. Environmental protection policy is one such. The time is now.
d) Farming in forests.
Every country needs to have a planned forest for its development. I believe Uganda has a forest development plan (Forest Policy 2001). But it is common that ordinary people in various villages go out and start cutting the forests and settle and farm in them. Attempts to get them out are met with resistance and bribes. We are killing our future by cutting down forests. We need the political will and moral responsibility to enforce the issue of wetland and the issue of settling in forests. It is reported that Uganda loses 200,000 hectares of forest annually! This is partly due to an increasing population and illegal tree felling. It is estimated that at this rate, Uganda will not have forests in 40 years. This is altering farming patterns in the country as climate change sets in. This has to stop, if we don’t, we are destroying our future. We contribute to environmental degradation or kill the wood/furniture industry. Our development cannot be sustainable with encroaching on forests!
One of the reasons that we are depleting our forests is the usage of charcoal. Charcoal is used in urban areas by the large number of homes. 20% of the population is in urban areas and only 60% of the population have access to electricity. but even within that group not all of them use electricity because of the nature of our food. Our food, especially matooke, is very expensive to cook. Good meal of matooke takes 6 hours to cook! 6 hours of burning energy, this is very luxurious for poor people. We must find an alternative to charcoal, the easiest would be gas. How do you popularize gas to be used as energy for home? There is bio gas and the gas supplied by the oil companies. If electricity is expensive then we must try gas but not charcoal. There is need for a plan to replace charcoal as a source of energy for cooking in people’s homes, its expensive, it contributes to environmental degradation and is not sustainable. We must be on the drawing board.
e) Illegal structures in towns
Many structures in our towns especially in wetlands and slums in urban areas are illegal. Yes, it is true that we have been used to building our small huts without any body’s authority. But today people know there is the law and construct at night with the convenience of city authorities. Part of is attributed to corruption, the other is our culture of being a non-litigious society. Who will sue you for simply putting up a building!
The main challenge though is corruption. Many buildings in towns are built in illegal areas with “permission” from “officials”. They build in road reserves, parking and recreation area! This has contributed to small roads in our towns, traffic jams and even heavy human traffic in areas where it should not. These are issues that impact on development, future generations are disadvantaged by illegal actions. Most times these structures interfere with functioning of other economic activities in the town.
Kampala no longer has green areas any more, no parks, no recreation areas. Kids that want to play games use streets or any vacant plots! This cannot be development. Sidewalks in Kampala have also been built in! The traffic jam and in appropriate buildings are constraints to growth.
f) Growing Slums
Every City, every town, every village, has those who are wealthy with beautiful houses and those who are not so wealthy and those who don’t have the privilege of having good houses. However for towns this should be planned. Unfortunately it is not. Even Muyenga in Kampala, an area for wealthy people, is often referred to as the Rich Man’s slum for planlessness.
As Urbanization increases, people move to towns and consequence is that those that cannot afford proper housing, build make-shift houses where they stay. This is a result of corruption or lack of policy. I think Kasokoso is one such. I recall many years back when Ntege Ssebagala was Mayor of kampala, we talked about Kasokoso, it hadn’t developed then, today Kasokoso is a huge slum, and you cannot get people out of that slum. Many people had also constructed permanent houses in the Railway reserve under the watch of city council officials! They were removed about 3 years ago and they made noise!
Slums have unique problem during times like this of the Coronavirus, it is difficult to enforce social distancing as people in “mizigo” share bathrooms, toilets and cooking space. They cannot be locked into houses because many have no windows and are dark during the day! The Coronavirus pandemic is a good lesson for the country. It is important that proper location for different income groups is planned for everybody in towns. It is important that markets are taken out of towns so that slums are reduced in towns. Once demarcated government should build decent facilities for them including schools, markets, hospitals, recreation and other facilities.
Visiting South Africa you find the designated slum areas, they look horrible indeed given South Africa’s wealth, but they are in one place. As we plan our towns, it is important to plan for low cost housing areas, it is important to enforce planning in towns, It is important to provide services, transport, schools, and health among others. The key to this is a Mini Land Reform which I have recommended elsewhere. Government must gazette land for urban development as it creates new districts and towns. It is a decision that must be taken if the country is to realize development and minimize growth constraints.
The writer, Prof. Waswa Balunywa, is the Principal of Makerere University Business School