Kampala — our city of floods, jam, idiotic politics, and more

Sunday June 23 2019

Bernard Tabaire

Bernard Tabaire 

By Bernard Tabaire

Floods paralyse Kampala City.
Heavy rains paralyse Kampala.
Kampala floods cut off roads.
Motorists stuck in traffic as floods ravage Kampala.
Kampala floods after downpour.
Heavy rains cause flooding all over Kampala.
This may sound like (bad) poetry to some, but it is not. Far from it, even if life imitates art quite frequently.

One rain cycle after another and the media headlines, as can be read in italics above, return with virtually no change in wording. Even the most creative headline writers have been bludgeoned to numbness. The story is the same. It is very repetitive.
The rains fall on Kampala. Potholes spring up or get wider and deeper. The sides of the streets get eaten up more. Trash piles up. Traffic jam gets 100 times worse. The floods colonise swathes of territory. A few people get killed.

The rains are here once again. Despite the city authority’s breathless announcement in January 2017 that Kampala would be floods-free by 2019, nothing has changed. It is all talk.
The hills, almost all of them built up haphazardly, ensure that the run-off, always looking for a path of least resistance, continues to pack a punch roaring down the valleys.

In the valleys, the impatient water finds nowhere to go. The wetlands won’t absorb the gush because we have built on them, haphazardly to boot. The pathways, where they exist, get quickly overwhelmed because we have littered them and cut off their carrying capacity.
For decades, we look on. For decades, we have a government. The leaders lead by example — grabbing pieces of wetland and building on them. They and their relatives and cronies and build next to water channels and no one touches them. City authorities, until recently, were happier giving away green spaces to private developers, whose noble idea of progress is to pave away the greenery.

The mess the rains expose mirrors the everyday mess of Kampala. People build in road reserves and that is okay because they have power, are friends of the powerful, or are voters.
One politician wept when Kampala city authorities cleared the Kabalagala junction of informal structures. He wept in public. I am hearing that soon we will have the place sorted with traffic lights and stuff. I am so keeping hope alive. To keep well in Kampala, you got to keep hope alive. That is if you do not live in Bwaise.

The heartbeat of the entire state machinery resides in Kampala — a fast-growing slum city of four million daytime hustlers and nearly two million night-time residents — yet the ghastly situation persists. I can’t wrap my mind around it. There must be something everyone, like President Museveni and Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, gets that I do not. How can millions live in this filth and it is okay? How?
And when elections come, we somehow go to vote. To what end? This tragic nonsense beggars belief.
I understand politicians, opportunist and devoid of courage as they are, like to get votes by any means necessary. But I honestly thought that because they live in Kampala, a modicum of self-interest would compel them to negotiate (if not impose) order.


It cannot be that hard to enforce traffic rules and zoning and building regulations. Boda boda riders vote, but they too would benefit from orderliness. The vendors too. The market people too. Any politician worth warm spit should be able to explain this stuff. Politics cannot be about pandering to stupidity January to December.
Good thing, it seems, the politics of stupid, as the Americans would say, are catching up with the small-minded people in Parliament. I read in the newspaper the other day that there is consensus across party lines to fix flooding in Kampala. The short-sighted ones finally see it. Maybe there is hope.

Yes, politics is complicated. Yes, running a country like Uganda is hard. But there is zero reason why we should wilfully, maybe ignorantly, maybe both, make things worse for ourselves.
Business as usual means more floods in Kampala. It means the new cities being created out of trading centres will suffer an even worse fate. That is the tragedy of the idiotic path we are on.
And if the headlines are embarrassing in their regularity, they will not change unless the leaders provide leadership. Where are those leaders?

Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.