By Deo Tumusiime
When the Queen Elizabeth of England visited Uganda for the Commonwealth Heads of State Meeting (CHOGM) seven years ago, Kampala was a beehive of activity.
Every department was called into action; roads, lighting, beautification, security and so on. Yes, one of the most revered leaders of our time had to be well received in an environment akin of what prevails back home!
But alas, as soon the Queen boarded the plane back to the land of our colonial masters, it was business as usual, as if Ugandans themselves don't deserve nice things! Two, three, four years down the road, the refilled potholes re-opened, the wind-powered and street lights went to sleep, and by far what remained to be seen in memory of the Queen's visit, was the white uniform of the traffic corps, their operational etiquette withstanding.
In the last few months, however, Kampala is yet again more of a construction site than the fully-fledged city we once knew of. Good sign or bad sign, may depend on which political wing one is arguing from, going by contemporary politics in Uganda! And well, since the Queen won't be returning anytime soon, one can only hope that a miracle has befallen us, being meaningful while stuff lasts! But at least, the city seems to be more hands-on on today as opposed to the cheap bickering that had become more of a trademark than an exception.
So, site or city; who cares? When Kampala was a site in 2007, I had a chance to speak to some of the road constructors and they attempted to justify why the shoddy work. Some said then, that their contract was specifically to patch up for the visitors, just as most of us do in our homes anyway! I hear-charity begins at home. Roads had been blocked, dust raised, inconveniences caused to the public, and this was forgivable since the meeting was at such a short notice! However, for heaven's sake, the city cannot perpetually be a construction site, and someone had better do something permanent. It is important for the City Authorities to knit up a comprehensive renovation roadmap, shared it with the public; and then the cordons will be quite understandable with limited interruptions.
Talking of construction site, there's quite some lack of professionalism in how some of the contractors are managing their work in as far as being mindful of road users is concerned. Some road sections are cordoned off without prior warning or alternative routes, worsening the already bad traffic situation in the city. A couple of days ago I took a stroll to town in the night around the Game Shopping Mall in Lugogo, where road works are ongoing.
To my utter dismay, I watched as up to 10 vehicles nearly crashed at a section so haphazardly cordoned off along the Lugogo Bypass. One after the other, the cars sped to join the main road, only to be suddenly surprised by an unlit roadblock. I walked to one of workers and asked him why there were no reflectors to warn drivers, but the guy seemed clueless of what ought to have been done. I have seen in some countries electronic bill boards that warn motorists of cordoned stretches several kilometers away, to enable proper planning of traffic flow. I think this approach is doable only, if Kampala city planners can take the bother to pick lessons from more developed cities.
Well, the Banyankole have a saying that "Entasiima ebur'agiha", meaning that they never appreciate, never get more. Sure, Big ups to KCCA for the plausible effort so far in terms of fixing pavements, walkways, flowers and of course the ongoing road works. How I wish they could light up the city!
Meantime, I think the glimmer of hope Kampala city is currently witnessing might have everything to do with the muting of the political impasse between City Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago and the Executive Director, Jennifer Musisi. Even if the Lord Mayor's removal may not have been judicially expedited, at least signs seem to be pointing to better returns in the aftermath. Hopefully once the dust has come down, we can have a better city in the foreseeable future.
The writer is an International Communications Consultant