Potholes in Kampala and the way Uganda is run

Julius Bwesigye

What you need to know:

  • ‘‘ A governance system that is truly accountable to its citizens is very enticing” 

In the recent past, the state of our roads has been a key public policy concern. Several citizens have shared pictures of potholes in various sizes, shapes and locations. There’s one pothole that has been around for several years located in front of the main gate at the Law Development Centre (LDC) in Kampala. The approach used by the local authorities to manage it demonstrates several public policy concerns and perhaps reveal the key failures in our general public policy framework. 

At the start of this year, a Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) road maintenance team came in to fix the said pothole. This team was instructive and I believed that the pothole was going to be fixed in a sustainable manner. My hopes were purely misguided; the workers had only carried ordinary soil as the key material to be used to fill the pothole.
At the start, they cleaned and collected all the dust around this pothole and deposited the same into the drainage channel at the same place. This was proceeded by filling and compressing ordinary soil as a measure to fix it.

Their approach demonstrates several public policy concerns. In the first instance, an acute deficit in planning and lack of foresight. To plan on fuelling tractors, compressors, and the allowances to several workers on site for almost half a day to fill ordinary soil in the pothole. In pouring dust and other pebbles in the nearby drainage channel, a new problem was generated; flooding and further degeneration of that particular road.

The issue at LDC is a singular one, but it is a microcosm of public policy failures that we have experienced as a country and such call for our concern despite our race, tribe, political belief and creed. For the last 10 years, roads and other infrastructures have taken a great share of our budget. This year alone, we need more than Shs5 trillion to be able to complete the ongoing road projects. 

This is a simple piece about the roads; a candid analysis of our electricity infrastructure, bridges, railway system, schools, and hospitals are suffering a much more severe fate. The long-term consequences of this failure are; a huge and unmanageable public debt burden. Once nations have borrowed, they should spend on long-term and sustainable projects. There should not be public expenditure out of luxury. 

King Julius Caesar, a Roman military leader, incurred a huge public debt in favour of a robust infrastructural network. Under his reign, the Roman Empire was earmarked by a distinct and excellent road network and huge public mansions. The citizens were heavily taxed to be able to repay the public debts, but every citizen that paid tax did so with a grateful soul.
A governance system that is truly accountable to its citizens is very enticing. It can be equated to a new marriage. The bride cannot fail to serve tea to the groom. The most painful thing is to pay taxes and immediately after, you meet a high ranking officer being driven around the pothole city in a powerful SUV so that the potholes don’t hurt his or her back.
Why should our public policy be centred on treating symptoms other than dealing with the key problems? Why should we approach our poor health system by resorting to foreign treatment for our political elites? Why can’t we have a ban on foreign medical treatments for all top officials, including the President, so as to encourage them to invest in our national systems? The pothole at LDC would be fixed if the top leadership of KCCA and the minister of Works were using an ordinary solon car whose shock absorbers cannot avoid the tremor that it causes to our lives on a daily basis.

Mr Julius Bwesigye is a lawyer and a public policy advocate