Oh Kampala, Kampala, the city that wasted 10 years on a status

Thursday April 08 2021

Our rich citizens have to sit stationary in expensive cars for hours, stuck in traffic jam. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA


One advantage Uganda’s poor enjoy is being spared the pain of being rich in a mismanaged city. Yes, the misery of deprivation is not as harsh as the pain of being stuck with expensive things which get rendered useless in a messy environment.

The Holy Book talks of putting pearls in a pig’s nose. The natives of Kampala talk of washing clothes clean then spreading them on mud to dry. Having a few really wealthy friends plus many somehow rich acquaintances, I know the daily pain our rich folk endure to live and work in Kampala, and you shouldn’t envy them. To be rich in Kampala is like being served a seven course banquet on a table pitched in a stinky garbage dump.

You work so hard (even if you are a thief, you steal so hard), to acquire some comforts not just as a reward to yourself but to also ease your working life. Is it fair to fail to make use of your costly acquisitions and suffer like the poor masses who didn’t work as hard as you did?

You import a 2020 model Range, drive out of your gate to go work two miles away, and sit two hours in a traffic jam like a fool! Not fair.

I grieve for Kampala today because this year it marks a decade of becoming an “Authority”. If the people running Kampala Capital City Authority remember this milestone anniversary, it would be interesting to read or hear their report accounting to the world because a capital city is international space which owes mankind minimum level of operating standards especially if it hankers for tourists and investors.

To make Kampala work, Parliament debated for days until the city was accorded “Authority” status in 2010. Previously, Kampala was just another district accused of being run by incompetent local councillors.


Now Ugandan “intellectuals” like ridiculing education curriculum designers who “imposed” on our children North American Geography — the Prairies, St Lawrence Seaway, the Maize Triangle, The Tennessee Valley Authority. Yes, the vast Tennessee Valley in the mighty USA which was so underdeveloped only 80 years ago and the TVA was created to get the millions of Americans out of a backward existence.

Surely what is so bad about a country struggling to reach middle income status learning how America executed a development programme to attain its enviable wealthy and super power status?

If America is far away and we don’t like it, we have Tanzania next door, whose recently departed John Pombe Magufuli oversaw rapid physical transformation without excessive borrowing.

Before they write their authoritative report of Authority’s Decade, listing revenue growing a hundred times and hundreds of millions of dollars they have added to the national debt, the managers of KCCA who have been fidgeting with transforming Kampala over the past 10 years should visit Dar es Salaam to see what has been achieved in five years.

They don’t have to copy things but to understand why certain things were done. Instead of building a multi-billion bridge for example, KCCA can build ferry landings to connect Entebbe, Kampala and Jinja which are close by water.

In particular, KCCA bosses should study the transport system in Dar es Salaam that allows buses to run smoothly. Buses? Possibly most KCCA managers had not come to Kampala or to the world by the mid1970s and so never saw a working bus system. But even Ethiopia’s Nobel laureate leader Abiy Ahmed, was only born in August 1976, so youth in Africa shouldn’t be an excuse for not knowing.

Meantime, our rich citizens have to sit stationary in expensive cars for hours, stuck in traffic jam. Now they are told air conditioning is bad in Covid-19 times, so they lower their widows, only to let it heavily polluted air, six times dirtier than the World Health Organization permissible levels, thanks to exhausts from the one million jalopies Uganda’s poor drive.

And besides the many matatus, six of which are replaceable by one bus; there are half a million boda bodas — 90 of which are replaceable by one bus — also pumping half burnt gas into the lungs of our rich people, punishing them for having worked hard.

I would also have recommended a visit to Kenya’s Nairobi-Thika superhighway, but the same people who don’t want us to talk about North American projects might accuse me of praising neighbours instead of Kampala. So, happy 10th Authority Anniversary, dear Kampala!

Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail: [email protected]