Thursday March 6 2014

Urban communities in state of near collapse

By Karoli Ssemogerere

Kampala, Uganda’s capital city, is on the mend, if not rise. Bathed in a new law that transferred administration of the city to the central government and a hybrid administrative structure that ring-fenced politicians to a part-time council or authority, the new Kampala is a new model that, depending on its success or failure, will be replicated in one form or another in the rest of the country.
The growth of Kampala has been well documented. First, from an urban area to a municipality and then city status in 1962 when it absorbed the African townships surrounding of Kawempe, Katwe and Nakawa. It became a district later to look like the rest of the 32 districts in the country before becoming a government agency or authority in 2011.

Many cities grow from a dominant activity, commerce, government, port or higher education, or a combination of all of these thus creating a need for concerted planning, management of collective services like garbage collection and common security. Kampala’s rise is a bit different. It grew from a de-facto situation. It was the King’s Capital. The first dominant religious faiths - Catholics, Protestants and Muslims - quickly turned it into the nerve centres of their operations partly because the King of Buganda made it a precondition for their operations in his kingdom.

When commerce attracted Asians, they quickly found space in the central business district. Government, unlike many other cities, came later from Entebbe, the first capital. Government was never the first dominant activity. The 1962 Constitution limited its activities to one square mile from the city centre. As Kampala grew, its rise enclosed semi-autonomous communities that owned hereditary land converted into mailo grants by the 1900 Agreement; official estates owned by the Kabaka and other notables in Buganda. Early significant institutions in Kampala like Makerere University were established on these estates.

In the countless bedroom communities based upon the newfound prosperity that came from the rise of Kampala, locals sub-divided their holdings into residential homes with a very light government footprint. Very few of the 1,200km that form Kampala’s networks or its 100 parishes proceeded from a master plan. It took government more than 40 years to update the 1962 Master Plan to cover Kampala’s five urban parishes.
Land tenure in Kampala has always complicated centralised planning. Government-issued freehold has never accounted for more than 20 per cent of Kampala’s total surface land area. Mailo accounts for more than 60 per cent of surface land area. Fragmented land tenure has premised itself in fragmentation in almost everything else: land allocation, development, development rights, and access to city services. Each time the city has attempted to offer services like mass transport, these can only be offered on someone else’s real estate.

The collapsed Pioneer city bus services planned their operations on roads owned by the Uganda National Roads Authority because the city’s own feeder road network is too feeble and in a state of near collapse. If the bus or PSV can make a turn off the main road, it is likely to easily fall in a ditch or a wetland where most of Kampala’s low income communities live.
Outside the veneer of sweeping streets, something which by now should have graduated into mechanical methods, industries migrated from Jinja and Kampala’s industrial area into the remaining swathes of communal lands in Kampala. The first targets were wetlands that filter underground water, but the first obvious targets were locations proximate to the former railway lines that turns south-west after the Central Railway Station. Power generators sought locations close to these new industries where the two combine to pollute the city mostly by night. It is no longer a secret that smog has successfully clouded Kampala’s skyline all hours of the day. A few sensitive respiratory illness cases have began wearing breathing masks.

Curiously, the nation’s political leadership has stopped commissioning ‘private’ development landmarks. New malls and commercial developments are located in wetlands, green belts, children’s parks, etc. One of these development colossuses sits smack centre in a sewage disposal area opposite a national water and sewerage facility. Besides them are crumbling businesses. It is a known fact that the ‘big people’ inspect these developments at night; it is the only serene time that the big men and women can inspect their riches in peace. In the mailo sections of the city, 50X100 has graduated into 20X10; tenements have occupied every available space. What used to be gravel grade roads are disintegrating into factories of dust. The famous kaveera is now not only used to prepare food, it is the most important tool of conveying human waste.

There are a few pockets of serenity working independently of the city. Munyonyo has its own garbage collection service as are a few other neighbourhoods but these mostly house the super-crème of society. For every Munyonyo are countless aging neighbourhoods falling into a permanent state of disrepair.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate.