What you need to know:
- The issue: Urban planning.
- Our view: The authorities must be shaken out of that costly complicity, held to account and asked to show more than politically-correct token interventions targeting the urban poor in areas like Lubigi.
Uganda’s capital is in peril, facing citywide flooding which we must attribute to a conspiracy of greed between our politicians and technocrats.
Kampala and the surrounding metropolis would probably have kept the waters within manageable limits if public-spirited men and women had won the argument, made years ago, against illegal human settlement; questionable ‘development’ and unregulated urban sprawl.
Unfortunately, that forward-looking viewpoint was lost and, as a consequence, the degradation of Kampala’s natural environment was ruthless, hence the paralysing floods witnessed on Wednesday.
The unfolding catastrophe is representative of an intentional failure of available checks. Once those checks were compromised, encroachment on Kampala’s water catchment areas by so-called developers ensued and resulted in the rain-induced flooding we are contending with today. We must re-discover the city’s development masterplan which zoned off green areas. Natural storm water evacuation channels that were blocked by arcades, apartment blocks and hotels should be re-opened.
Road reserves that were eaten up by the greed of ‘developers’ must be reclaimed to create room for the construction of proper storm water drains.
We got to this point because the technocrats chose to feed off the chaos. They stopped enforcing the rules, while the politicians looked at the disastrous situation and instead saw an opportunity to exploit it for political gain.
The city is swamped because the politicians are unwilling to risk the political fall-out from the necessary mass evictions we must now contemplate. Zoning rules, long buried under the weight of graft, should be recovered from those who reportedly use them for self-gain; extorting bribes to approve building plans in eco-sensitive areas.
In the midst of the feeding frenzy, our environment authority seems to be preoccupied with rationalising the illegal dumping of murram in wetlands. The authorities must be shaken out of that costly complicity, held to account and asked to show more than politically-correct token interventions targeting the urban poor in areas like Lubigi. It would be interesting to find out if the authorities have any recollection of the grandstanding which accompanied announcements about Kampala’s Drainage Master Plan. First conceived two decades ago in 2003, and upgraded seven years later in 2017, there was a grand plan to improve drainage systems in Kampala so as to reduce the frequency of flooding.
Then, as now, the received wisdom was that city flooding was due to increased [and reckless] urbanisation and development. All too sadly, that lofty ambition seems like a faint and distant memory today.
Now, courageous men and women must take decisive remedial action, including tearing down every bit of illegal construction. Similar action was taken in Nairobi at the turn of the last decade by Kenya’s late president Mwai Kibaki (RIP). Kampala must follow that very good example.