On June 24, a perimeter wall at Lohana High School in Old Kampala collapsed, killing six street children.
The school head teacher, Mr John Bosco Mutebi, would later reveal that although the school had applied for a demolition permit from Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), the latter had delayed to approve it.
The incident attracted public ire, with majority accusing the city authority of failure to enforce physical planning standards to ensure a safer city.
The city authority’s Directorate of Physical Planning is mandated under Section 46 of the 2010 KCCA Act to ensure proper planning of the city.
However, in some places, there are incompatible land uses, which not only suffocate businesses but also pose a danger to people living around them. In others, residential buildings, lodges, churches, markets and schools are crowded in the same place, which at times results in clashes.
In downtown Kampala, for instance, Namirembe Road alone has at least three bus terminals and a taxi park, all operating in the same place.
Besides, the current breakdown in the city’s public transport system makes planning difficult. The poor transport system is augmented with multiple illegal taxi and boda boda stages on nearly all city roads and streets, triggering traffic jam.
For instance, the World Bank reports states that while the existing roads in Kampala were constructed in 1960s to accommodate only 100,000 vehicles per day, there are about 400,000 vehicles, which use Kampala roads every day. Besides, of the 2,100km of Kampala roads, only 500kms are tarmacked.
The city’s transport system is privately managed and insufficient to accommodate the city population. Apparently, KCCA is stuck with a transport master plan for the entire metropolitan area because they don’t have funds to implement it.
The sprawling urban population also continues to cause pressure on the already limited land space. The 2014 National Population and Housing Census put Kampala’s resident population at 1.5 million people. A 2017 World Bank report projected that Kampala’s population will be 12 million people by 2050.
KCCA’s acting executive director Andrew Kitaka says the uncoordinated planning emerged because the previous structural plans for Kampala were not adhered to.
Mr Kitaka also attributes the breakdown in the city’s planning to political interference, which he says has compelled the city to grow up organically, adding that the authority is trying to reorganise the city.
Mr Samuel Mabala, an urban planning expert, says while government made structural plans for Kampala in the 1970s, they never bore any fruit because of political turmoil.
However, he argues that although Kampala City Council (KCC) made subsequent physical development plans for Kampala in 1994, it did not do much because illegal developments had already sprouted.
He also notes the fact that the 1994 Kampala City’s structural plan came at a time when there was already a population sprawl which had started advancing towards the metropolitan area yet it was not incorporated in the city plan.
In 2013, the National Physical Planning Board approved Kampala’s Physical Development Plan. The plan was meant to streamline the city’s planning and bolster economic growth.
Officials from KCCA’s technical team, who prefer anonymity, say the plan has not been fully implemented because of limited funding. This, they say, is likely to leave many parts of the city unplanned.
However, Mr Mabala faults KCCA for taking a snail-pace implementation of the law, which he says has led to establishment of illegal developments in the city.
“If the area has been planned for residential buildings and you are bringing in a shopping mall or church, you must apply to authorities for change of use. In other words, there are legal provisions but the only problem is that we have failed to implement them hence uncoordinated planning. A city worth its name should have the mechanism to monitor everything that takes place on every inch of land in the city,” he says.
Mr Mabala argues that the State must strengthen KCCA’s institutional structures in terms of human resource and finances to manage the planning function.
The bigger picture
For effective planning, Mr Mabala argues that Kampala city’s physical development planning should not be confined within KCCA but rather be expanded to the Greater Kampala areas of Wakiso, Mpigi and Mukono because many developments are taking place there yet they impact on people living in Kampala.
According to the 2016 UN Urban features as obtained from Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos), Kampala is larger than any Ugandan city. The next largest cities all have a population below 400,000 people.
The next largest urban centre is Nansana, followed by Kira and then Makindye Ssabagabo which are all within Greater Kampala.
While Greater Kampala represents about 10 per cent of Uganda’s population, it contributes more than a third of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This implies that for the Greater Kampala municipalities to attain economic growth, there must be coordinated planning.
The mayor of Kira Municipality, Mr Julius Mutebi Nsubuga, agrees having a physical development plan for the entire metropolitan area will do away with challenges such as transport, solid waste and flooding which the municipalities are currently grappling with.
The municipalities in Greater Kampala, Mr Mutebi says, do not have capacity to enforce physical planning because of poor funding.
He attributes the failure of a coordinated physical plan to politics, saying that although mayors have previously proposed the same, politicians, especially in Kampala, do not like the idea.
“If we were coordinated, we could have the capacity to attract big investors. Besides, if we had roads running through the entire Greater Kampala, there wouldn’t be traffic jam,” Mr Mutebi says.
Section 21 of the KCCA Act, 2010 stipulates that there shall be the Metropolitan Physical Planning Authority to handle and address planning issues within the capital city and the neighbouring districts of Wakiso, Mukono and Mpigi.
But authorities say the stalled approval of the planning authority by government has crippled service delivery. It is also important to note that for the last eight years, KCCA has been operating on a shoe-string budget, which officials at City Hall say affects planning in its entirety.
For instance, in the 2019/20 budget, the physical planning directorate was allocated only Shs3.31b of the overall budget of Shs371b. The low budget is further worsened by shortage of staff across all the five city divisions.
Experts suggest way forward
Mr Samuel Mabala, an expert, says there must be a central coordinating authority to manage services in the Greater Kampala. This, he argues, can be done by amending the current KCCA Act so as to have the Greater Kampala Authority to be in charge of planning for the whole area instead of leaving it to municipalities.
“There are services which must be metro-wide. There are roads which run through Kampala to other municipalities in the metropolitan, which must be under the metro-wide authority. Issues to do with waste management, public transport and water should not be a municipality but rather a metropolitan matter,” he says. Asked how KCCA intends to reorganise the city, KCCA acting ED Andrew Kitaka says they have made a new structural plan, which aims at coordinated planning and also rectify the errors which were previously done.
“There is going to be a detailed neighborhood plan and it is basically looking at an area at a micro level. The physical development plan or structural plan is the macro one. We shall have to do the micro, looking at how these particular areas will look like and we have started piloting some areas because we got some money from the European Union to do some detailed plan for certain areas in the city,” he says. Kawempe Division mayor Emmanuel Sserunjogi says: “Government must devise means of linking landlords in slum areas to potential investors so that they can develop the land and share proceeds because the city authority is financially incapable of redeveloping slums across the city.”