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National reputation management – why state of Kampala roads matters beyond the asphalt

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Author: Raymond Mugisha. PHOTO/FILE

I am not a “city-born”, as those that came to be, in and around Kampala, are referred to. I find my comfort more in the countryside than in the capital. I am a country boy, if you may. My consistent stay in Kampala only began with the necessity to attend University at Makerere. As well, I am a routine, and regular, driver on the highway to my village. Village is where I enjoy to dwell.

I must report that from Kampala to my village, I do not know reportable potholes along the highway, around which I must swerve to continue my race. I therefore believe that paved Ugandan highways are generally in good state. I can imagine that even with a compromised vehicle suspension system, one driving on Ugandan highways may miss the warning from their vehicle – at least as far as the clanging that emanates from a broken car suspension is concerned. The story around Kampala city is different. In numerous places, one must be mindful of the road surface one is driving on. One simply has no choice.

The status of infrastructure, such as the road network, in a country’s main capital is critical beyond its commonly appreciated primary function. There is something called national reputation, and infrastructure in a country’s capital plays a critical role around it.

In general management, reputation may be defined as the collective perception, held by stakeholders, of an organization's performance, conduct, and trustworthiness in delivering quality products or services, managing environmental impacts responsibly, safeguarding information security, and effectively managing risks to achieve stakeholder satisfaction and confidence.

The set of stakeholders can be diverse. Sometimes an organization may be conscious of a stakeholder’s relevance, but also the organization may be clueless about relevance of a stakeholder, until something sparks. Such stakeholders may include prospective customers scanning an organization from a distance, potential investors considering where to drop their capital, and others. The overall perception that stakeholders hold of an organization is not based on only facts and truths. It may as well be driven by wrong assumptions, outright lies and rumors, blackmail and other influences including ignorance of stakeholders. It is up to the organization to manage this whole package for own good.

As one would imagine, unlike an organization, a country has numerous stakeholders, spread across the world. It may also be easy to realize that a country’s capital serves as a national status symbol. The reputation of the capital city therefore significantly impacts the perception that stakeholders hold of the entire country. This is regardless of what the state of affairs is, away from the city itself. As such, the state of Kampala roads, which get significant display on social media reaching beyond the borders of the country, carries importance beyond the users’ comfort to be derived from the layers of paving needed to straighten the city roads out.

A capital city of high reputation can influence attraction of foreign investment, business and skilled professionals, and consequently drive economic growth and innovation for the country. The reverse is true.

With regard to tourism and cultural exchange, a reputable capital city can attract tourists, cultural enthusiasts, and even students from around the world to attend the country’s institutions of learning. Revenues from tourism and cultural exchange programs contribute positively to a country’s economy. In the long run, cultural exchanges can also enhance a country’s goodwill across the nations of the world.

A shining city can be a source of cultural, political, and economic influence. It generates soft-power which can shape global perceptions, values, and preferences in favor of the country's interests and objectives. This can sound far-fetched until moments for decisions such as hosting international events manifest. Relatedly, a reputable city can also instill national pride and identity in a country’s citizenry. This may influence patriotism and social cohesion. I have visited cities, not so distant from our own, where host citizens insist to near the point of compelling me to visit certain locations of their capitals. They beam with pride when they drive me around.

A country with a respected capital city commands a solid platform to engage with the rest of the world, lead initiatives, and contribute to global solutions for shared challenges such as climate change, security, and public health. The reverse is true.

Just in case what I am saying is not yet understood, let me summarize it this way. When the return on investment in paved road network is being considered, paved surface length for Kampala roads should be counted thrice per unit distance, in comparison to the smart asphalt running through my village. This is because the roads in the country’s capital city serve the primary purpose that roads elsewhere in the country do, and then much more.

Raymond is a Chartered Risk Analyst and risk management consultant