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The problem of Kampala is largely the law

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Added 3rd June 2016 11:45 AM

The city still exhibits features of both planning area alongside traditional non-planned development

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The city still exhibits features of both planning area alongside traditional non-planned development

By Prof. Augustus Nuwagaba 

Of recent, a lot of water has flown under the bridge regarding the sanity in Kampala City. The city has witnessed street battles between street vendors and Kampala Capital City Authorities.

There has been political turbulence with a lion’s share experienced by the street vendors who are struggling to eke out a living in a harsh urban economic environment. Kampala township was created in 1803. It is a duo city.

This is because since time immemorial, Kampala has developed on a two-dimensional strand vis; the planning area and the traditional non-planned area.

The first Physical Plan for Kampala was drawn based on what is referred to as Simpson’s 1912 recommendations. Around this period, Simpson, a British Urban Economist was tasked by the colonial government to provide spatial advice on the development of Kampala.

This resulted into Simpson’s report that divided Kampala into 3 major zones namely: i) Kololo which was planned for the settlement of the colonial state officials ii) Parts of Kamwokya and Kira Road which were cadastrated for the Indian Business Community and the Northern parts of Kawempe, Kawara, Bwaise and Kanyaanya which were layed out as the “Sceptic Fringe”.

Actually, the parts of Kira Road and Kamwokya were to act as Buffer between the high class colonial settlement and the Northern corridor “sceptic fringe” for “security” from disease vectors such as mosquitoes and others.

It is apparent that all subsequent Physical Plans for Kampala, the 1st being in 1968 and the recent being in 1974, did not realize these structural contradictions. This duo-dimension has been maintained since independence up to now.What Simpson did not realize is that the so called sceptic fringe dwellers were definitely the deprived rank and file and they eke out their daily living in the central Business district largely engaged in the informal economy.

Therefore, they have to interact with the central business area as this represents the heat of economic activity.

The implication of the duo-character of Kampala city was exacerbated by the land tenure system which provided a multiplicity of tenurial patterns with absolute ownership rights.

According to Article 237 (Republic of Uganda 1995), land in Uganda is vested in private citizens in accordance with existing tenure systems namely: Customary, Freehold, Mailo and Public leasehold.

Some attempts were made in subsequent laws (Town and County Planning Act 1969, Public Health Act 1964) to streamline planned development but all these have encountered significant challenges.

The city still exhibits features of both planning area (modern orderly development) alongside traditional non-planned development (slum settlements) even without basic facilities and characterized by haphazard industrial and business enterprise development. 

The problem in Kampala city has been worsened by the geopolitical dynamics where the urban economy seems to have suffocated the urban poor who ironically perceive the urban enclaves as areas of “milk and honey”.

The urban areas in Uganda just like in many other areas in Africa continue to experience migration spiral where the urbanizing populations largely from deprived rural areas) “live on hope” that things in the city, though bleak at the moment, may later improve.

It is actually this perception that keeps the rather very poor and vulnerable urban dwellers in slum settlements (without basic sanitation, lack of jobs) continue to survive amidst what one would call demeaning conditions.

Paradoxically, the urban political class has realized the plight of the urban poor and have taken advantage of their sheer numbers. These have exploited their (the poor’s) predicament by identifying with their plight and offering to solve their problems once they are elected into urban political offices.

The urban management functionaries have however played into the hands of this complex and symbiotic urban body politique by continuing to implement the obsolete laws and regulations of enforcing urban development sometimes based on obnoxious and untenable development models as espoused by the colonial state.

Examples here include: enforcing high standards of building regulations, chasing away of street vendors and other informal sector operatives, cutting crops in urban areas (out-law of urban agriculture and other informal sector activities which ironically employ over 75% of urban population). 

The worst scenario has been the battles of street vendors and Kampala Capital City Authorities and the highest tensions have manifested during the electioneering period. This is because the urban dwellers know that their “highest value” is in this period!

They are not very much bothered with laws and regulations of urban development. They are instead more concerned with their day-to-day livelihood. And there has not been sensitisation and sufficient constructive engagement between urban managers and urban dwellers to explain the advantages of orderly development or available opportunities in urban economy.

The urban managers have employed a “police” stance which has occasioned hostilities between the urban dwellers and city managers.

So, the most pertinent issue is how do you deal with this symbiotic relationship between urban vulnerable population, the urban political class and the need for orderly urban development? It is important for urban technical management to recognize “who they are planning the city for”?

From the simple principles of “cybernetics”, it should be noted that a city is like a human being which is made up of different parts that all function for the wellbeing of the whole body. Similarly, all individuals in a city like Kampala are critical components for the healthy functioning of the city.

The implication is that any malfunction of one component will affect the whole body. The solution for unleashing sanity in Kampala is to streamline the law that governs the development of the city.

Secondly, for sanity to prevail in Kampala city, the technical management function must recognize and appreciate whom they are planning the city for.

If that question is not adequately answered, it will remain a nightmare for technical managers in the city to be frustrated, yet, for the seemingly good work done in implementing various investments and developments in the city.

The writing is clear on the wall. 

The writer is a development consultant

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