With such impunity even $30b cannot deliver smart Kampala
Sunday January 08 2023
When Uganda opened the floodgate for cities a couple of years back by legislating for 20 new ones, some of us had feared that the country’s lone good old one built on seven hills was going to be neglected like the old wife of a polygamist who gets another catch. But fear not, our government is a good old polygamist who pampers the old wife when he brings a new one.
So we have entered the new year with a grand new gift to Old Lady Kampala – about $3 billion to be splashed on her in a short five years to make her smart. Can you beat that? Her new jewelry, make-up, plastic surgery and wardrobe will come in a package labelled “Smart City Project,” which uses high technology to manage assets, resources and service delivery.
The Daily Monitor reported at the beginning of the week that although the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) had planned to spend Ush7 trillion ($2 billion) on the Kampala smartening project, the more generous National Planning Authority (NPA) raised it Ush10.37 trillion (about $3 billion). So Madame Kampala isn’t about to start grumbling about those 20 upstart “slay queens” upcountry, who don’t even have decent offices for their mayors since they wed them two years back.
Daily Monitor, which interviewed the KCCA Executive Director Dorothy Kisaka, revealed that the five-year budget will facilitate the five themes to revolutionalise Kampala into a hi-tech city: “spurring economic growth, ensuring quality life, building city resilience, city governance and citizen engagements as well as institutional capacity development.”
As is our habit, hundreds of millions of dollars of the project are being borrowed abroad. Much of the funds are for roads upgrade. This is good for a capital city of three million people, which at night is as dark as a cave, and in the day is an eyesore of mostly stagnant traffic, junctions populated by beggars and nasty boda bodas generating more in-patients for the country’s hospital beds than most diseases you know, besides generously growing the coffin business by several thousand units a year and pumping soot and unburnt petrol vapour into passengers’ lungs all day long.
But a smart Kampala can easily be delivered without spending three partly borrowed billion dollars over five years. The country’s rapid descent into debt can be slowed down if the Kampala’s thinkers choose to rescue and modernise the chocking city using the available knowledge and resources.
The simple truth is that the Kampala mess is a result of abuse of law. No new laws or special budgets are needed for Uganda’s urban sanity to be restored and make way for smart processes to naturally grow, like happened in other sectors like communications, tax collection and governance.
Without belabouring the point, let’s just cite a recent matter when a parliamentary committee was informed that a smart digital system installed at high (borrowed) cost to manage land processes (titles, transfers) and link all land offices was ordered to be switched off by an official whose job was to ensure it worked, thus helping perpetuate land fraud. With such practices, even $30 billion cannot deliver a smart Kampala. It is smart mindsets and integrity that will do the trick.
If the good old CID and the public prosecutions department called in the city physical planning boss to explain the difference between the city’s plan and the reality on the ground, that would be a good place to start. If the police pulled every boda boda that is not duly licensed to carry passengers off the road until it satisfies all the requirements; if every building occupying road space was removed (at owner’s cost); if everybody who forged a land title in the city was arrested, if everyone trading without a licence was stopped; if every unworthy (taxi) minibus was pulled off the road; if every subserviced vehicle blowing black or white smoke was impounded; if every “developer” occupying public utility space got evicted; and if all premises provided parking space as required so that road space is used for traffic movement and not parking, Kampala would be open to for smart systems.
The police, prosecutors and courts are already being paid and if they did their job and rid the city of systemic criminality in 2023, there would be no need for a special $3 billion project. For, with criminality out of the equation, the city would have enough money to install the smart systems and service the infrastructure.
Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:[email protected]