By Enock Musinguzi
When problems of leadership, urbanisation, climate change, and disease move into urban spaces
Africa rising’ as a concept, excites many. It has critics too. Having grown up in poverty, I generally choose measured optimism, for I believe that I have had my fair share of sadness. But I am for the Africa rising slogan. I am excited by UPDF intervening in various hotspots in the spirit of being our brothers keepers. I am inspired by the invention of M-Pesa in Kenya. I am inspired by Kigali’s orderliness and the light rail in Addis Ababa. I am warmed by KCCA’s baby steps today. There are many and better examples one can quote. However, it is also clear that Africa needs stronger, more visionary and fast-paced performance to fit this slogan.
Africa is expected to be home to 25% of the global population by 2050 and close to 40% by 2100. Most of these will migrate to cities in search of opportunities- scarce even now, leaving over 80% of our youths as consumers without production. If we are not to become one large slum, Africa needs to show better leadership in planning for this population surge. Without jobs and affordable housing, I don’t know how Kampala will look like when Uganda population hits 100 million in not so long a period, as projected. Yet, we are struggling even now.
Whenever it rains, the cleaning efforts my admired leader, Jennifer Musisi, is implementing are put to immediate shame. Dirt hidden-away in the slums of Katanga, Kasokoso etc. are brought to the city centre, as if to remind all of us that those areas deserve better. The power of Mother Nature brings to the fore, the dirt we normally choose to hide away from many eyes. With time, it can only get worse if nothing is done, as climate change intensifies, more rains are expected and cholera and other water borne diseases will spread like wild fire. The need for equitable development can’t be over-emphasised.
Kigali’s concept of Umuganda has borne fruits. I have never understood why Kampala thinks that we can sanitise meaningfully without total Kampala residents’ involvement. Why KCCA leadership has no mettle to apply what is working in Kigali is beyond my small mind.
The second challenge is that of emerging diseases, especially the chronic non-communicable diseases. Cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity are ailing and killing more and more people in Africa as diets and lifestyles change, mainly due to urbanisation and globalisation. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that these medical conditions are usually not properly diagnosed until very late. Poor access to proper medical care and lack of equipment means horrible diagnosis and many preventable deaths.
Lack of physical activity and diet have been closely associated with these conditions and in other parts of the world, populations are increasingly getting aware and responding accordingly. In Africa, and Uganda specifically, KCCA and other towns lack the basic infrastructure for residents to exercise. Roads, even new ones are constructed without walkways; we have no public spaces to go to for exercise where you won’t get mugged and/or raped. In our inaction, we continue meanwhile to lose and mourn as important people and many more of a lower stature, die unreported. Africa needs to act on this new threat.
We all agree that to create housing structures for the millions of Ugandans and Africa today and many more tomorrow, we will need more sources of wood. Trees have many functions beyond beauty. The cost of wood on a building is already prohibitively high. Tree planting is something we should have started yesterday. Yet, we continue to lose even the current forest cover at an alarming rate. How shall we build affordable housing for our burgeoning population, how will they cook, how shall we reduce carbon emissions without tree-cover? Again, Africans are hoping for a miracle here, as I see no serious effort geared at taming this problem.
Africa has able-bodied youthful population that can be called into action like tree-planting in selected/gazetted areas. In Uganda, the resources spent on efforts like patriotism clubs, crime preventers and questionable cadre courses can all be pooled to sustain one national youths force that can and should be deployed into national efforts like tree-planting, public buildings renovations and painting, road-marking, community-water points desilting and cleaning etc.- a sort of functional National Youth Service. If there is anything happening on this front to address this existential threat, it surely has not come to my knowledge.
As one gets to different parts of the world and discovers that a neutral country like Switzerland still requires all its citizen to do military training in order to serve and help create and maintain public good, when you discover that in Norway, police will get you in for not following the traffic lights as a pedestrian in the name of creating functional systems and when you get to learn that Obote and Amin sacrificed, in spite of the small resource-envelope Uganda had as young nation, to get Uganda foreign missions in Geneva, Paris, New York, London, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam high-end locations in those cities, one question repeatedly starts to linger. You question whether the current leaders in most of our African countries see these existential threats and are fit-for-purpose. I begin to question the Africa rising dogma, albeit grudgingly.
Given the above, for Africa to truly rise, we will need strong leaders, who are inspired enough to shift the hard stuff in spite of the next election. Our future is more threatened by our adoption of dysfunctional, and fruitless, democracies than it is threatened by visionary iron-fisted regimes. The problem is that democratic principles require decision to be participatory. I don’t know, therefore, how such a decision will be arrived at since ‘steady hands’ have become increasingly fewer at the helm. More and more people simply look for the numbers to deliver the next election.
If the way Kasokoso slum residents reacted and pushed organised urban development from NHCC, is anything to go by, we all should surely be ready to adopt Kasokoso living in the whole of Kampala and Uganda. After all, when Kasokoso is full, who says that the residents will not descend onto Jennifer Musisi’s open spaces with “Occupy KCCA spaces” slogans. To properly nourish and house her population and respond to urbanisation and climate change, Africa will need firmer hands to respond to these existential questions. Unfortunately, these firm hands tend not be ‘democratic’ in our emerging societies.
Enock Musinguzi is the Country Representative and SUN Business Network Coordinator