Freedom City, our mall ends 2022 in a crowd crash leaving many dead

Author: Mr Karoli Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate.

What you need to know:

The road designs at chokepoints like Busega-Mityana-Road interchange leave a lot to be desired.We need a new planning mindset, a national physical plan to plan for the big country we are about to become

Tragedy hit our community, Freedom City on the border of Kampala Capital City and its much larger surrounding Wakiso district. The four municipalities of Wakiso district, Makindye, Entebbe, Nansana and Kira are cities in their own right. Uganda at 50 million people is starting to look in some places like a country of 200 million people or more. We don’t have chains of human masses walking 30 km home, as is the case in Nairobi, city workers unable to afford a ride in a matatu walk from Kajiado County or Machakos County into the City to work. The same is the case in Addis Ababa where city workers walk home. Ugandans, rural and urban have embraced the boda-boda, a tiny versatile machine, quick, lethal, brutal and also criminal many times. For younger people it allows them to “show” up in seconds to “happen”. It seems our Freedom City, a vast expanse of concrete and its short but illustrious story became a graveyard again when the crush of the New Year’s crowd ran out to watch Fireworks. During its early days, a number of workers died when a piece of the building collapsed. The usual warnings were sounded. There was a land dispute and a resilient landlord who refused to sell out, he remains surrounded by the complex.

During the mass Covid vaccinations, Freedom City, was a massive loading bay with lines snarling around the open-air parking lot to get shots. I couldn’t get my second shot because the protocols at the time did not allow mixing of Sinovac, a low efficacy, low impact Covid shot could not be mixed with western vaccines, Pfizer, Moderna and the like. I remain partially vaccinated long after Covid is over, and accept my fate, a $60 Covid test at the airport to comply with the rules in order to fly. Sometimes I wonder how the ruthless public health machinery that enforces the Covid tests and is about to roll out another exclusion rule from public buildings misses the limitations of edifices like Freedom City.

In its early years, escalators were open and operational, possibly part of the Occupation licence in the Mall. If these were working, people wouldn’t crush to death just like that. Many cities depending on square footage have a three floor or five floor rule. Commercial buildings three stories high must have elevators or escalators and those five floors if residential must have elevators. In San Diego, California on holiday in October, I witnessed a new contraption, shopping trolleys have separate escalators.

One of the features of modern public development is the shrinking public space. Inside city limits, Lugogo, Nakivubo are losing space to commercial development. City Square has been closed to public gatherings for 17 years after it hosted a DP rally. A city businessman successfully bidded to convert it to a shopping center, and now the Judiciary is interested in it for parking to support the expanded size of the Judiciary complex at the High Court.

In Lubowa, the biggest green space, next to Quality shopping Center privately owned is now walled off after all sorts of inconsiderate neighbours turned it into a driving school and a grazing ground for cows owned by its well-heeled residents.

The children’s playground at Kamwokya was encroached upon. In Entebbe, the last news of the year after steady dissolving of the green belts is construction at Botanical Gardens. The Botanical Gardens are in a similar state.

The highway stock managed by UNRA is in a similar situation. It is under heavy population pressure, the road network- “kasota” is crumbling. After the landslides in Bundibugyo, the Fort Portal-Karugutu-Bundibugyo road is starting to grow crater sized potholes, so is Masaka-Mutukula an international highway, So is the Pakwach-Arua highway. The Mityana road scene of another deadly accident on December 30th is being rehabilitated but insufficient to carry so much traffic. The road designs at chokepoints like Busega-Mityana-Road interchange leave a lot to be desired.

We need a new planning mindset, a national physical plan to plan for the big country we are about to become.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-At-Law and an Advocate. [email protected]