Kampala traffic: Maybe we should give everyone lead car

Friday November 22 2019

Benjamin Rukwengye

Benjamin Rukwengye 

By Benjamin Rukwengye

It is kind of amusing that most Ugandans will confess to praying as part of their morning routine, yet you wouldn’t tell when you see them on the road. Sometimes it feels like the devil has taken the wheel. The worst lot are the government drivers whose favourite pastime is running motorists and pedestrians off the road – sirens and guns menacing.

Whenever I’ve had the chance to visit a new city, my go-to icebreaker is to always ask the driver about the traffic situation. Mostly, because I am often looking to contrast with Kampala and see what it is they are doing right and we aren’t. Generally, I would say we are well ahead of Lagos but far behind Kigali.
My uneducated guess is that Kampalans spend an average four hours per day, sitting in traffic. That is about two working days per week! And we are discounting the days when it rains or when the President decides to visit the city. It gets worse!

Kampala is probably one of the few cities where dwellers cannot tell with absolute certainty, how long it takes them to commute from home to work, and back. It can be 15 minutes today and two hours tomorrow. Unless you live in Kololo or have a lead car, nowhere is exempt. To understand how farcical this traffic gridlock is, take places like Ggaba, Bugolobi or Rubaga, for example; on average, it should take commuters about 10 to 15 minutes to reach the central business district. But it takes more than one hour on a good day, or more on others. Who accounts for this time?

What’s worse is that this absurdity, like street preachers who have now erected loud speakers at roundabouts, did not sneak up on us. We saw it coming. I was discussing the demise of Kabalagala [a city suburb] as the hub of Kampala’s night life with my father a few months ago, and explained that the influx of immigrants, thanks to political instability in the region, basically turned Ggaba Road into a thriving piece of the African Union.

New money created an over-inflation of rent prices and made it hard for young people to find homes. The new residents also had no use for local entertainment and set up their own bars and eateries. Now, even the ladies of the night are dwindling.
This, among other reasons, might explain why young people shifted to the east of the city, in the general direction of Ntinda/Nakawa area and greater Wakiso, away from the suburbs of Makindye and Rubaga divisions – where they grew up. The area offered affordable decent housing and land for those who somehow managed to balance the financial equation and raise enough to buy land and build homes. Inevitably, work places are also starting to shift.

You would think that the guys sitting in the city and ministry’s urban planning offices should have seen this trend based on whatever indicators they keep, and known what was to come. I joke. The obvious thing would have been to start working on a city public transport system that enables mass entry and exit, especially for high density residential areas. Instead, they probably just amassed whatever booty they could and bought land to construct homes and rental apartments in the area. And like everybody else needing convenience, acquired whatever fancy or functional aged Japanese metallic tin, to sit in Nalya and Najeera traffic at 11pm.


This government can be accused of many things, but efficiency and planning ahead aren’t one of those. Sometimes it feels like we are trying to build a spaceship when in fact the headache is a 21-kilometer stretch of tarmac called the Northern Bypass, which needs a decade to complete.
Let us assume that between Kampala and Wakiso, you have about five million people. It shouldn’t take a genius to realise that in 10 years, this number will probably double – because opportunity and access to it are only at the centre.

In the past, we have talked about the fallacy of home ownership for young people. But if you squeeze hard enough, you might find land and perhaps even manage to build anywhere as far as Mukono, Buddo, Matugga or Bugema. For your sake, hope your bosses allow you to work from home or get ready to deal with the mental and physical effects of waking up at 3am to sit in traffic for days, when you are 50. Get well soon.

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. rukwengye86@gmail.com