The conversation at KCCA over what to do about the boda boda conundrum reveals a seeming reluctance to accept that Uganda’s capital city requires much more radical solutions.
Cycle taxis are now a culture unto Uganda, spawned off the rapid rural-urban migration of youth driven out of the villages by poverty while dazzled by the mythical promise of quick pickings in town.
It will require brave decisions to rescue the city from the sprawling morass it has become, and especially the congestion which is partly down to the lack of a regulated mass transport system. Those decisions go beyond the maddening traffic gridlock that is exacerbated by the thousands of reckless boda bodas that swarm our narrow roads.
Answers to the questions troubling the Authority will be found once we accept that there has been a long-standing political unwillingness to deal decisively with unchecked urban sprawl. Instead, politicians and big businesses have used the unwashed masses, amongst whom we find the boda boda riders and other low income inhabitants of the teeming slums, as proxies to advance their own interests.
Over the last two decades, these vested interests took Kampala hostage, resisting efforts to maintain orderly growth and expansion. At one point most city authorities were co-opted, sometimes through corruption, into schemes to violate well-laid-out zoning plans.
This is how we now have gleaming office blocks and hotels stuffed right in the middle of those leafy residential areas which were properly planned by the colonials. This is how ‘shopping arcades’ were built in the congested downtown area with provisions for parking space in their basements turned into sweatshops.
Plans to enforce boda boda-free zones are welcome but will require grit. At the last outing intended to rein-in the menace, KCCA came under attack from the well-connected interests, including certain security agencies, which are known to underwrite this rough business.
Along the way, the Authority’s vision of a modern city shall demand that it contemplates politically-sensitive large scale demolition of properties built on or around road reserves and gazetted green spaces. There will also be a need to carry out massive slum clearance because infrastructure re-ordering inevitably takes up wide spaces.