The government is planning to build a modern city on an expansive piece of virgin land in Karuma, some 300 kilometres north of Kampala, according to senior bureaucrats.
The project would initially cost $4.6 million (about Shs12b) over three years, Urban Development assistant commissioner Joseph Pade said on Thursday, basing on a preliminary budget. “We have come up with a concept paper looking at the necessary issues at the planning stage, he said, “These include infrastructure, the physical development plan, a city development strategy, an environmental impact assessment report and a support programme for the whole project.”
The idea of a well-planned, new city likely to relieve blighted Kampala was mooted in 2010 during a meeting between President Museveni and the then UN HABITAT executive director, Ms Anna Tibaijuka.
Ms Tibaijuka at the time flew over the site while on an assessment tour and later spoke to residents to acclimatise herself with local conditions, and expressed the view that Karuma would be one of the world’s “best planned” cities.
UN HABITAT is to offer yet unspecified assistance to Uganda in the construction of the new city, according to details of high-level talks involving Junior Urban Development Minister Urban Tibamanya and his Housing counterpart, Mr Michael Werikhe.
A technical evaluation team from the ministry said it picked Karuma, which is geographically more central, because of its “strategic location” and potential to grow into a viable and self-sustaining city.
The area is sparsely-populated and on the edge of Murchison Falls Park, underlining its high tourism riches; it straddles along River Nile near a site where government plans to build a 600-megawatt hydro-dam; and, is within proximity of satellite towns such as Kigumba, Pakwach, Nebbi, Gulu and Lira.
Money to lift the project off the ground has not been secured, although a structure plan for the proposed city is ready.
Mr Vincent Byendaimira, the acting commissioner for Land Use Planning in the Ministry of Urban Development, said the government is sourcing funding for the project, both locally and internationally.
He said: “We are looking at a number of (financing) possibilities, but I understand the Ministry of Lands is writing a proposal which will be presented to the Ministry of Finance, which will do the job for sourcing funds.”
It is not clear if the planned Karuma city on Gulu Highway would serve as Uganda’s alternative commercial or political capital, as has long been argued by sections of the public depressed by Kampala’s impregnable physical planning problems. Acquisition of the land for public works would require government compensating owners.
Atubo’s letter to Museveni
The delay in execution of the project prompted former Lands Minister Omara Atubo to write to President Museveni at the end of last year, reminding him of urgency to implement it. “I wish to emphasise that this is a project of great importance and use, which was blessed by Your Excellency, and should not just be forgotten,” he wrote, adding: “The purpose of this letter is to request you to re-activate this project and to have the Karuma Falls City legalised and planned.”
The Physical Planning Act requires planning authorities to display structure or detailed schemes for urban areas to enable the public to make remarks or suggest changes to the blue-print regarding siting of different landuse activities.
State House attributed the lull in execution of the Karuma project to Ms Tibaijuka’s exit from UN HABITAT. “Before any action could be taken, madam Tibairuka left,” deputy Presidential Press Secretary Lindah Nabusayi told this newspaper.
Ms Nabusayi, while quoting the President’s Principal Private Secretary Mary Amajo, said Uganda’s High Commissioner to Kenya Angelina Wapakhabulo has now been assigned to follow up the matter with UN HABITAT regional office in Nairobi.
A meeting has also been scheduled between the President and former minister Atubo, whose former constituency constitutes part of the area earmarked for upgrade to city status.
UN HABITAT was unable to respond to our email enquiries about the subject.