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How to change Kampala (Part 1)

By Andrew M. Mwenda

The innovations KCCA needs to finance the redevelopment of the city from its own resources

On April 19, Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) held a public dialogue on their plans to improve our city. I was honoured to be the main speaker even though my knowledge of city planning, administration and management is scanty. But like every observant person living in a city and suffering from, but enjoying, many of its problems and opportunities, there is an experience I could talk about.


For example, Kampala has grown into a very dirty and disorganised city: streets are chocking with motor vehicle traffic, polythene bags and plastic bottles litter every street, garbage goes uncollected for weeks, potholes fill our roads, green areas have grown into sprawling bushes, publics parks have been turned into concrete, most street and traffic lights don’t work, vendors stalk every street, hawkers hold every block, utility companies dig trenches in the streets that go unfilled for months, when it rains roads turn into rivers or lakes  – the list is endless. Although these are the problems we suffer daily, they are symptoms of a much wider problem – the problem of lack of planning, of poor revenue mobilisation and of politics.

Up until 1967, Kampala used to constitute the current Central Business District (CBD), old Kampala, Kololo, Nakasero, Bugolobi and Port Bell. These areas were planned. When kingdoms were abolished in 1967, areas that had been under Mengo (Rubaga, Kawempe, Nakawa and Makindye) divisions were transferred to become part of the city. These areas had not yet been planned. In 1968, government produced the Kampala Redevelopment Master Plan integrating these areas into the plan of the city. It was supposed to be implemented alongside the Third Five Year Development Plan whose commencement date was 1971. Sadly, that year Idi Amin took power and the implementation of the plan died.

Amin’s take over set in motion a process of internal institutional deterioration in Uganda, initially slow but gaining pace in the late seventies to early eighties and gaining full momentum in the 1990s till today. Increasingly, developers would put up buildings without following city rules or would bribe city officials to twist the rules in their favour. Thus, road reserves in suburbs were ignored. Areas previously planned for drainage were disregarded and developed. Public parks were sold to developers. Many buildings in the CBD were built without parking. As the city has grown, so has been the pressure on its infrastructure – which has remained unchanged. For example, today, many residential houses have turned into office premises and thereby generating high traffic in areas originally meant for low traffic.

Consequently, Kampala has been growing haphazardly, turning many areas like Makindye, Mutungo, Bukoto, Ntinda, Naguru, Muyenga and Buziga into rich people’s slums. It has also allowed people to build in wetlands (often blocking drainage systems) and in road reserves (hence narrow streets). But this also means that Kampala’s dysfunctions are backed by a large army of people with a vested interest in their perpetuation – rich and poor. Vendors with kiosks and stalls are as determined as the rich (with buildings) to stay in road reserves and wetlands; hawkers don’t want to quit the streets, boda bodas don’t want to leave the CBD and bureaucrats who steal money meant for garbage collection in the city want to hold onto their privileges too. These are the militants who will resist reform.

For KCCA to overcome these problems, it needs to develop a new master plan for the city and mobilise revenues to finance it. Developing a master plan is easy. KCCA can hire the best consultants to write such plan. The challenge will be how to implement it within the context of our highly polarised, sometimes mindless politics. To implement a master-plan will need revenues. There is a mentality in Uganda that for every fiscal shortage we must go to someone else – the government or the donors. Yet KCCA can mobilise US$ 1billion if they invested heavily in building capacity for its mobilisation. However, to generate such revenues will demand ruffling many feathers. And that is where politics rears its ugly head.

The major source of revenues for most cities is property rates, trading licenses, parking fees, leases on land, market dues, charges on bill boards etc. KCCA’s Executive Director, Jennifer Musisi, will need to convince President Yoweri Museveni to withdraw the directive that property rates should not be paid on owner-occupied houses. This directive has allowed people to claim to be living in houses they are actually renting. It is very difficult to establish whether someone is living in their own house or not because they can collude with their tenants.

The essence of property rates is to allow the city administration to provide public services to neighbourhoods. These services are provided to everyone regardless of whether they live in their own house or they rent it. Secondly, to effectively collect property rates, KCCA needs to map every street and every plot and give it a name and a number. This allows them to develop a database of all houses in the city from which to collect property rates. To do this well, it also needs to work with the Land Registry and Uganda Revenue Authority to establish the owners of the different houses.

KCCA also needs to rigorously insist on the registration of every business in the city: taxis, boda bodas, barber shops, supermarkets, kiosks, salons, garages, shops, restaurants, law firms, consultancies etc. This will generate revenues in form of trading licenses. Today, I suspect (arbitrarily) over 80 percent of all those who do business in Kampala do not have trading licenses. KCCA also needs to extend its parking charges beyond the CBD to the rest of the city. It also needs to introduce a congestion tax for motor vehicles entering the CBD. Here it will kill two birds with one stone; it will reduce the number of vehicles congesting the city while collecting fees from those who are willing to pay the high price to enjoy the privilege.

To implement any or all these suggestion will displease many people. Any attempt at such reforms will create political tensions and how to navigate them to realise success is Musisi’s biggest challenge, a subject I will return to next week.

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