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Kampala city’s troubles (II)

By Joseph Bossa

Moving forward: the uneasy days ahead

A number of factors have been blamed for the unplanned state of Kampala city. The first one as we saw is the historical proximity of kibuga, the Buganda kingdom capital at Mengo, and the colonial Kampala Municipality capital and the dual control that came with it.

The mailo land tenure system of the Kampala area is also blamed for absence of planning. Aidan W. Southall and Peter C.W. Gutkind in their 1956 book entitled “Townsmen in the Making: Kampala and its suburbs” concluded that “the mailo land system, as it has evolved, puts development into the hands of those with the least capital to undertake it, and often obstructs those with more adequate resources.”

I find this explanation unsatisfactory today. It assumes that the owner of mailo or freehold land is completely unfettered in the use of his land. Mailo ownership cannot explain the almost total absence of town planning in Kampala and the abuse of areas which were formerly planned.

Why is Kololo, which is under leasehold, slowly losing one of the features of town planning, namely zoning? What explains the conversion of open communal parks, including the failed attempt to turn City Square (Constitution Square), into built up areas? Those who have lived in Kampala long enough will remember Nakasero Valley and Kitante Valley Parks. They are gone. Centenary Park was created as a public open green area but was quickly built up. An attempt to revert it to its original use has raised political temperatures in the city.

Gutkind seems to have been of the view that putting mailo land under Kampala Municipality and therefore under one planning authority would have been easier if the mailo was not in the kibuga. In other words, the sentiments associated with kibuga complicated things. That is a theory which cannot be proved or disproved.

The reasons for the absence of town planning today are more varied and run deeper than the question of land tenure. The more obvious causes for the unhappy state Kampala finds itself in can be listed.

First and foremost, not enough resources; human and financial, were ever made available to the Kampala City Planning Authority before the Greater Kampala Scheme was affected.  Historically, as today, no viable administrative structure has been put in place to carry out the planning scheme.

The planning rules were not known to the people whose land was brought under Kampala City in 1968 when the boundaries of the city were extended to include Mengo, Nakawa, Kawempe, and parts of Sabagabo. To them it was business as usual, or in today’s language, “there was no change”.

There is such lack of appreciation of the benefits of town planning that even if the funds were available, it is likely that a planning scheme would have been violently resisted. For example, the Namuwongo improvement scheme was so resented that it is alleged that its replication elsewhere had to be halted.

As for the planners and executors themselves, with independence, the African Ugandan elite replaced Europeans in the now called Kampala City. They brought to the task the same attitude of the political elite of the Buganda government. They largely led the way in breaking the town planning rules and regulations they found in place or set.

City planning maintenance should, to a big extent, be self-funding. The funds to superintend the town planning laws and provide the services that go with a planned area like street lighting and garbage collection would be expected to be raised from property rates. However, the mind-set of the people is even more hostile against property rates than town planning itself. Here are large expanses of land in villages which were suddenly brought under city administration without warning to or consultation with the residents or in any way preparing them. Besides, they see no direct benefits from paying rates. City Hall will argue that the services will come if the rates are paid. But they say they will pay the rates if the services come. It is a chicken and egg argument. What should precede the other?

Personal interest vs. public good

Planning should go side by side with public education. Ugandans should be educated about the benefits of town planning, which include the provision of accessible roads, hospitals and schools and public utilities such as water and electricity and provision of street lights and garbage collection service.

When a majority of property owners look to their personal interests first and the public good last, it is wrong to assume that the aggregate of personal interests adds to public good. But it is possible to convince the property owners that catering for public convenience while dealing with their individual pieces of land will best serve their personal interests in the long term. However, the people must have trust in those who propose the plans and they should themselves have an input in the formulation of those plans. They should have a sense of ownership of the plans.

The notion that mailo owners can do with their land whatever they want with it needs to be tackled. One of the biggest obstacles to town planning in Kampala is the subdivision of land in ever smaller parcels and without making allowance for the laying of public utilities like power lines and water pipes. In coordination with the land Office the City Authority can make it a requirement that in specific area, only plots of a particular size with road access of a given width will be approved. The subdivisions would have to follow that requirement. That would prevent land owners, without taking away their ownership, from parceling out their land anyhow. This can be akin to the requirement that the owner of a motor vehicle can only drive it on a public road if the vehicle meets certain requirements including, but not limited to, having a valid road license. The rule that building plans shall be in the same names as the owner of the land to be developed should be strictly enforced.

The City Authority, through purchase from the owners, can acquire land to construct public schools, hospitals and leisure grounds like football fields. No loss to the owners of the land would be occasioned thereby.

Kampala and beyond

If Kampala is to be properly planned, the area around it must be planned. In 1968 the boundaries of Kampala City were extended to 7 miles from the City Centre without adequate plans being made for incorporating that vast additional area. More recently were created Nansana, Kira and Mukono Municipalities. No “green belt” along the edges was created to separate the new municipalities from Kampala city boundaries. Instead Kampala was imperceptibly, but not seamlessly, extended to the outer reaches of Mukono, Kira and Nansana.

Patchwork of paths

Anyone who has travelled by air from Iganga in Busoga to Entebbe will have observed the shiny, tiny tin roof tops of different shapes below that attest to buildings covering what was formerly fertile arable land and wetlands. Trends clearly indicate that the time is not far off when the whole land mass from Iganga along the Jinja – Tororo highway to Mityana along Kampala – Mubende road and Mpigi, apart from Kakira and Lugazi sugar estates and Mabira Forest (what is left of it) will be a built up area. Construction of residential buildings might turn out to be the greatest form of environmental degradation in Uganda.

Without imposing development controls we shall end up with a Kampala surrounded by inaccessible areas. Left to their own, owners will use their land in such a way that public convenience is on a back burner. So far as physical planning goes, there is no invisible hand to even out for the public good the selfish individual pursuits. So, in the immediate environs of Kampala we are rapidly moving towards a reality of a vast patch work of paths, instead of a road network, which can be navigated by only boda bodas.

Now is the time to begin planning for every inch of our increasingly over – crowded land. Resources, both human and financial, should be put aside in order to make Kampala and its surroundings a more livable place.

However, even the best thought out plans will never be implemented unless the monster of corruption which makes enforcers allow wrong to be done for personal gain is tackled and dealt with head-on.

Joseph Bossa is the Vice President of the Uganda Peoples Congress

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