WHEN Kampala City Council (KCC) and the Government fixed dilapidated street lights in preparation for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) last year, residents cheered. The days of a dark city were over, or so they thought.
Michael Mwambu, an electrical engineer, who has been studying in India for five years says: â€œWatching the city enveloped in total darkness does not only elucidate the â€˜Dark Continentâ€™ tag given to Africa but a bad image for the country.
â€œWhen KCC fixed the lights during CHOGM, it was gratifying. I felt things were getting better and Kampala was becoming new and modern, especially for those who transact business at night.â€
Many of the lights situated in Nakawa, Queenâ€™s Way, Nakasero, Wandegeya, Ntinda and Bugolobi, that had not been functional for a very long time came back to life. The sight of Kampala at night was a marvel.
But one year after CHOGM, Mwambuâ€™s joy is gone because the city is dark again. Poles with no lights, bulbs that are long dead and poles lying against buildings or lying on the ground instead of being upright, are all he sees.
From Kyambogo to Kampala Road, from City Hall to Queensâ€™s Way, the streets have gone dark again. This leaves residents pondering: What happened to the few lights that were fixed? When will KCC fix the street light problem for good? What is the cost of having a dark city?
Herbert Semakula, the KCC public relations officer, agrees that some parts of the city are dark but the problem is not KCC.
â€œThere is a shortage of funds. The money we operate with is hardly enough to fix street lights allover the city,â€ he says.
Simon Muhumuza, the principal public relations officer, says the Government gave KCC sh20b to fix the light problem but this was not enough.
â€œWe fixed many lights. But we were not given the money to maintain the lights,â€ he adds.
He says KCC has about 3,000 street lights but the cost of putting up the lights and powering them is beyond their budget.
â€œWe spend about sh3m to put up one light, let alone the cost of maintainance. We also pay a huge power bill to the tune of sh150m annually,â€ Muhumuza says.
KCC estimate that they need about 10,000 lights and poles to light the whole city.
â€œTo do this, we need about sh35b to put up the lights and sh4b to maintain them annually. This is a lot of money but it is the cost of having a modern city,â€ he says. Semakula stressed that despite the problem of money, the public is also contributing to a dark city.
â€œWe have careless citizens who do not value public property. Many of the lights have either been stolen or destroyed,â€ Semakula says.
A KCC electrician who preferred anonymity does not spare his colleagues on this issue.
â€œThe people working on street lights are paid peanuts. Because these lights are expensive, some of our colleagues are conniving with thieves to sell them off,â€ he says.
Semakula denies this saying they have never registered such cases. He says load shedding is contributing to the dark city.
â€œWe have discovered that whenever there is power rationing, many of the lights go off. Street lights require a lot of power to function,â€ he explains.
Eng Alex Mugalula of UMEME agrees but says KCC has failed to enforce the law effectively. â€œHow many times have you heard them prosecuting the culprits? They are either not patrolling the lights to keep them safe or giving the culprits light sentences.
â€œMany of the street lights are rehabilitated, but they never last. There is lack of maintenance by City Hall,â€ Mugalula says.
But Muhumuza says: â€œKCC spends about sh400,000 annually to maintain each light. It has been tough because the Government does not prioritise street lights and we have to think of other ways to maintain them.â€
The absence of lights in some spots in the city has of recent increased crime.
â€œDark areas in the city have been harbouring criminals. In September, many people were attacked by iron bar-wielding criminals hiding in dark spots. KCC should help us to fix the lights so that we can fight crime effectively,â€ says Moses Okello, a police officer at Wandegeya Police Station.
Okello says fixing street lights will not only reduce crime but also make the city beautiful.
But how can the problem of street lighting be solved?
Muhumuza says paying taxes due to KCC promptly will help.
â€œEverybody, including the Government, must pay taxes they owe to KCC. The public owes us sh40b which if paid, would have the whole city illuminated.â€
He adds that the Government should start prioritising city lights in the annual budget.
â€œWe have been sending proposals to the Government to prioritise street lighting, but our pleas have never been responded to.â€
Semakula adds: â€œOur law enforcement officers are working vigilantly around the city. We have arrested and prosecuted some people but this requires community cooperation. We are sensitising the public to help us arrest the thieves.â€
Muhumuza explains that they have privatised maintenance of the lights. â€œWe have also contracted private companies to maintain these lights and in turn they can advertise their products on the poles. They are to be reviewed at the end of the year and if they do well, they will continue.â€
Eng Mwambu advises that to have an ever illuminated city, KCC should install a generator to run the street lights. â€œOur country is plagued by the problem of power rationing. To avoid this, they should install their own generators to power street lights.â€
But despite the above measures and suggestions, Mwambu, who is aware of the laxity in implementing projects in Uganda, is doubtful if the problem of street lights will ever be solved.
â€œWe have good plans on paper but there is bureaucracy and lack of will to implement them. Even if we had all the money, if there is no follow-up, these plans will be swept under the carpet,â€ he says.
Darkness engulfing post-CHOGM Kampala: Who is to blame?