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KCCA, set up an Innovation Centre

By James Wire Lunghabo

Added 13th February 2015 03:28 PM

It''s now close to four years of the Madam Jennifer Musisi led administration at City Hall in Kampala. A lot has happened during this period. For a city that was found in an acute state, various quick fix measures were taken to stop it''s continued s

It''s now close to four years of the Madam Jennifer Musisi led administration at City Hall in Kampala. A lot has happened during this period. For a city that was found in an acute state, various quick fix measures were taken to stop it''s continued s

By James Wire

It's now close to four years of the Madam Jennifer Musisi led administration at City Hall in Kampala. A lot has happened during this period. For a city that was found in an acute state, various quick fix measures were taken to stop it's continued slide into the abyss.
 
Critics were mainly riled by the fact that most of the interventions being made were not well thought through and had no backing of an integrated master plan for the City. However, just like a doctor will carry out rapid interventions for a patient that has been admitted after years of neglect, Kampala City needed a similar approach initially.
 
The team at City hall has done its best and even initial skeptics have been converted. In a press release on its website, the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) acknowledges thus; ... Kampala’s transformation will also depend on what citizens are willing to contribute, and sacrifice. As long as the citizens do not participate in improving Kampala, the improvements can only be limited to what KCCA as one institution can do.
 
In Biology, we have the concepts of Inbreeding and Crossbreeding. Most of what has happened in the transformation of the city has been a result of in-bred ideas, research, learnings from other cities and some consultation here and there from a few private practitioners. This has worked but now that the patient (Kampala City) is out of coma and regaining consciousness, a lot more is needed. The goodwill from the inhabitants has increased and many have ideas galore to help contribute to the growth of this city. What is lacking is a formal arrangement to tap into these ideas and abilities. Such a move will create a cross breeding framework that can see the Authority benefit from local expertise. 
 
Kampala city is still riddled with challenges like; Traffic Management, Street Lighting, Public Transportation, Tax Collection, Garbage Management, Roads Maintenance, Schools Administration, Street and House Addressing, Drainage among others. 
 
 
 
The same City has lots of professionals who can contribute towards locally bred solutions in any of these areas. I recall three years ago when a group of Makerere University students designed a software system that could help KCCA manage the issuance of monthly stickers for the Public Service Vehicles (Taxis). After sharing their ideas with the team at KCCA, they were given a cold response. To their dismay, months after this encounter, they were shocked to find that the Authority had implemented a similar solution. Shortly after that, word was rife in the media that KCCA had purchased a software solution to manage the Taxis for Ushs 7 Billion (Approx US$ 2.5 Million). My repeated requests for more information from the Public Relations Officer yielded no response. 
 
Lately there is a tendency of Copy-Pasting solutions from other cities without proper due diligence. A case in point is the much touted trial of Solar Street lights as stated in the KCCA Ministerial Statement 2014/15; KCCA is currently piloting solar lighting on Kabakanjagala, Nsambya and Mbogo roads. So far, the results are impressive. Use of solar energy will low power cost and address the aging infrastructure challenges. KCCA intends to rollout solar street lights through a combination of PPPs and on new road construction. The challenge of vandalism will still be major. 
 
A quick analysis of planned expenditures in this financial year on some items raises issues of concern. The authority plans as follows;
Maintenance of Street and Traffic Lights (2014/15) – Ushs 1.8 Billion (Approx US$ 630,000)
Electricity for Street and Traffic Lights (2014/15) – Ushs 1 Billion (Approx US$ 350,000)
ICT Landscaping and Survey Software (2014/15) – Ushs 73 Million (Approx US$ 25,000)
 
These costs may seem small for a city of Kampala's nature but that is a deceptive conclusion if you consider that it doesn't have more than five installed and functional traffic lights as well as having less than 10% of its roads with functional street lights. From the grapevine, the Authority is planning to reconstruct the Traffic Lights at three junctions which include Wandegeya and Nakawa at a cost of almost 1 Billion (Approx US$ 350,000) each. Staff in the Authority when asked why they can't use local resources and people to design these traffic lights state that on the local market there is no capacity to set up modern smart systems that aren't reliant entirely on old technology like capacitors.
 
This mindset riled me because for how long shall we have Government institutions claiming that the local capacity is incapable of meeting their requirements? This has been the same story since the 1990s to justify the use of foreign contractors. Eventually it led to the emergence of local businessmen who have specialised in arranging international consortia to bid for local Government work. The nation as a result has failed to realise the much needed skills transfer as there is no requirement for Local Content in the implementation. One may say that the PPDA Act has now been revised to mandate this but we all know that it is a lame duck.
 
 
KCCA with its kind of stewardship is a breath of fresh air in the Government institutions and I propose that they immediately start off by setting up an Innovation Centre that is multi-pronged. They can publicise the challenges that they have and thus give opportunity to Ugandans to innovate and design solutions to these challenges. Some of these solutions may not be perfect from day one but with sustained support, they can be the foundation of larger and much better solutions ten years down the road. The Authority should be able to fund this Innovation Centre with at least Ushs 1 Billion ( Approx US$ 350,000) annually for the start and increase this with time if it indeed considers local innovation as a cornerstone to the city's future.
 
With local participation and use of resources, we can for example easily see the cost of the Traffic Lights installation per junction drop from Ushs 1 Billion ( Approx US$ 350,000) to as low as Ushs 200 Million (Approx US$ 70,000) since most of that cost goes into paying for the intellectual property and taxes (in case of importation). What I am not too sure about is if the Procurement Department of KCCA would welcome such a trend in expenditure. 
 
The Solar Street Lighting doesn't need to be the result of some Good Will handout from the Chinese Government. There are Ugandans with the ability to design decent Solar solutions whose innovative potential can be tapped into. Being home grown, these very innovators can then address some of the other latent challenges like security of these systems (a fear that was noted in the ministerial statement).
 
Being a public institution, KCCA needs to follow the cue set by the National IT Authority (NITA-U). Spending public funds on entirely proprietary software solutions is not recommended lately simply because the state ends up mortgaging itself to the private company that developed the software. Software procurement should start considering the use of Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) where possible and keep increasing its footprint. This will not only reduce on the financial expenditure but also guarantee the participation of local developers in solutions for the City Authority.
 
The KCCA Innovation Centre should then tap into other already existing Innovation hubs that are littered all over the city and harness the potential that is currently in place. Research and Development is key for any society that wants to make significant headway in development. Simply waiting for solutions to be dropped onto our laurels will deny us the opportunity to harness our environment in the most appropriate way.
 
Over to you Madam Jennifer and Team at City Hall.
 
 
Email: lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com
Twitter: @wirejames

It''s now close to four years of the Madam Jennifer Musisi led administration at City Hall in Kampala. A lot has happened during this period. For a city that was found in an acute state, various quick fix measures were taken to stop it''s continued s

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