Pros and Cons of “Africanisation” in Kampala
In August, Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, will be celebrating 50 years since it was designated a Black Man’s City after President Idi Amin exiled approximately 80,000 primarily Indians who controlled the country’s economy then and formed roughly one percent of the country’s population. It was dubbed “Africanisation.”
While these Indian families are obviously preparing to honor the golden jubilee of their departure in the far-flung countries where they went to, settled, and succeeded in the UK and Canada, Kampala has also this year been attempting, for the umpteenth time, to seem like a respectable contemporary metropolis. Following the August 1972 expulsions, the city sank into a chaotic mess with every new year, as instability in the planning, transport, and commerce sectors became the norm.
In February, the federal government which took over the administration of the capital city 12 years ago from the elected (Kampala District-City) local government, physically evicted the hawkers and street sellers who had been part of Kampala’s existence for half a century.
Over the years, the city authorities have made repeated efforts to remove merchants from the streets in vain. Even when the city authorities have erected markets or restored old ones in different areas, the sellers remain on the streets.
However, this time, a mix of police and municipal enforcement teams brutally swept them off the streets, detaining and prosecuting any who ignored the commands. For many years, vending in Kampala was considered a poor man’s quest for survival in an urban jungle, and the change in governing structure a decade ago was expected to improve the vendors’ working conditions or at least reduce systemic corruption and streamline service delivery by the city authorities.
Politicians and technocrats stated that the raw force being utilized in the eviction of vendors would not produce the intended outcomes since they were a mere reflection of the people.
A majority of the population in Kampala live hand-to-mouth and maintain the city’s street vendors and hawkers’ commerce. Those who purchase from vendors are usually regular people who walk everywhere in search of daily wage employment since they have little money for transit and do not buy food in bulk.
Between the street sellers and the informal public transit, Kampala is one vast quagmire suffering from continual human and vehicle congestion.
In 2010, a Ministry of Works feasibility study on decongesting the city’s metropolitan region was recommended in the National Transport Master plan. Studies on the Kampala Bus Rapid Transit were carried out and proposed high-capacity buses, high trip frequencies, and decreased junction waits to enable smooth passage of traffic. Nothing much came out of it.
The city’s public transit is still a disaster, and there are no fast answers. Bus firms such as Pioneer folded before take-off, partially because they could not compete with taxis and Boda Bodas.
To date, Kampala lacks a systematic and dependable transit infrastructure or network. A typical commuter spends up to 20 hours a week in traffic. Too many automobiles are still flowing into the central business center, fighting for small roadways with Boda Bodas, pedestrians, and street sellers and hawkers.
Kampala, whose original architecture was largely influenced by the Indians who built it under the colonial rule of Captain Lugard in 1890, retained the same face for 82 years until the rural-urban migration of the 70s and 80s brought in more and diverse Ugandans, who put pressure on all city infrastructure that has hardly improved over the years. It was a developing issue.
Former vice president Dr. Specioza Kazibwe informed parliament some 30 years ago that the regular obstruction of the city drainage system was a consequence of dietary disparities between native Ugandans and the immigrant Indians for whom the city was planned.
She continued, using her qualifications as a health expert, that the digestive waste of a normal Ugandan was six times higher than that of a typical Indian, therefore imposing tremendous strain on the sewage system. She may have exaggerated, but other traditional behaviors and attitudes have clearly played a role in making Kampala a horrible place to live in.
While some economists say that street selling offers a substantial form of livelihood for the jobless young and the lower class, some consider them a nuisance and define their presence as the “urbanization of those without capital,” according to World Bank statistics.
In1990, when Kampala was marking its centenary, the city and the country were too broke to throw a party, so the city management under Lord Mayor Christopher Iga, designated some five acres for preservation as green space near the city center and named it Centenary Park, for future generations to have some breathing space from whatever developments the future brought. But within a decade, Centenary Park had become an unattractive slum of frantic economic activity.
This is symptomatic of the physical planning disarray – or lack of it – that Kampala is caught in. But there is no scarcity of good ideas, that are nonetheless only uttered and not realized.
There is for example the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area planning organization that is cited from time to time and appears in certain World Bank papers. The GKMA primarily consists of the three districts of Wakiso, Mukono, and the central Kampala district city. The region has more than 6.7 million inhabitants.
Decongesting Kampala will be all the simpler by combining the ancient kingdom routes in Wakiso and Mukono, which ring Kampala city.
And the whole eastern side of these regions is all Lake Victoria, which would enable inexpensive and free maritime travel linking Masaka, Entebbe, Kampala, and Jinja towns. So, many “ifs” in Kampala’s growth and physical planning tale. But for now, one of Kampala’s claims to fame is as one of the world’s most polluted cities, frequently in the top six. Pollution kills around 60,000 individuals in the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area every year, compared with COVID-19, which killed 3,000 in two years.
The vehicle pollution in Kampala is a tale for another day since the city is quickly running out of room to absorb the stationary rolling stock.
Last Monday, the police revealed that they are stuck with 5,015 Boda Bodas seized from wayward riders over the last year.
The owners have “refused” to claim them by evidence of documentation and paying the fee. So while Kampala observes the golden jubilee of its Africanisation, you don’t want to imagine what harm a fire during rush hour might cause in Kampala.