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The Kampala roads disaster

KCCA inspecting the Portbell road that had been in a terrible state on Feb 12, 2023. Photo: @KCCAUG

How the infrastructure in our capital city has declined to resemble that of Mogadishu after 30 years of civil war

THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | Kampala has ceased to be a city. It now looks like a war zone. The roads around the city have literally fallen apart. Potholes rule the streets. Driving from the city center to Uganda’s main seaport, Port Bell, is an excruciating experience. Many roads in the city face a similar crisis. Motor vehicles have to literally stop to get over the potholes creating intolerable traffic jams. Motorists have to change shock absorbers every month at high cost.

In many parts of Kampala, the roads resemble those of Mogadishu and Bangui, cities that have been under civil conflict with little semblance of a government for three decades. Yet ours is a country that has enjoyed a rapidly growing economy and significant investment in its road infrastructure. Therefore, before I tackle Kampala, let me give Museveni and his government their due. Actually, when traveling out of Kampala, many of Uganda’s main trunk roads are in good motorable condition. Whether one travels from Kampala to Moroto, or Kampala to Gulu, or Kampala to Busia, or Kampala to Kabale or Kasese etc., one can drive on paved roads under good motorable conditions. Even in Kampala some roads have been done.

Yet, Kampala’s (Uganda’s) roads are a far cry from the hopes of Museveni and his admirers. Worse than that, the condition of our roads is far worse than what our budgets would predict. When he came to power, President Yoweri Museveni, just like his critics today, claimed that the problems of Uganda had been caused by bad leadership, especially that of presidents Milton Obote and Idi Amin. As luck would have it, he has had 37 years in power. So, what explains the collapse of infrastructure in the capital city under his leadership? I remember my uncle telling his friend in 1986 that under Museveni, tarmac will reach everyone’s home. It is now 37 years and there are only 6,000km of paved roads in Uganda, out of a total of over 126,000km of roads. Now that is less than 5% of the total.

I think the main problem is political. The NRM has always depended on rural support for votes. Cities, especially Kampala, are not part of its social and political base. Kampala votes largely for the opposition. So, politicians from the city do not form the most powerful influence inside government. Instead, outlaying districts with rural constituencies far from Kampala hold sway over the distribution of the government budget. This means that if someone like Bobi Wine from Kampala were elected president, with his main base of support being from the city, there is a high chance we can see more focus on serving this particular electoral block.

The second problem is that Museveni personally does not appreciate the role of Kampala in the national transformation of Uganda. This is in large part because he uses political lenses to look at the city – making judgements on the rate of return on votes per a given expenditure he invests in the city. Kampala metropolitan area produces about 64% of Uganda’s GPD and 75% of total tax revenues. Therefore, to increase productivity of the economy and thereby generate more tax revenues, it is vital to improve the roads around Kampala. This is because bad roads create traffic jams which in turn kill labour productivity. Huge man hours are wasted as the most skilled Ugandans sit in traffic for three hours every day: two hours in the morning and one hour in the evening.

Kampala is what welcomes visitors to Uganda – by the investors or tourists. You cannot sell the country to foreigners when its capital is in a mess. Remember that the first impression people get of a country is largely based on first sight. Anyone visiting Uganda for the first time and having to navigate Kampala’s humps and potholes, its garbage that gets thrown all over the roads and pavements, the lack of street lighting leading to night muggings by city thugs etc. are all not reassuring to both investors and tourists. Therefore, while the president spends time abroad talking to investors to come and invest in the country, he has forgotten to do the first and basic thing: create for them a welcoming city.

The third problem of Kampala is procurement procedures in this country. In 2016 ADB gave the government of Uganda $300 million to repair and/or reconstruct some of the major roads in Kampala. KCCA tendered the roads and the contracts were awarded in 2020. It is now three years and contractors have not started work. Reason? Wheeler dealers representing contractors who lost went to the IFF, PPDA and will soon be in parliament or the courts contesting the awards. The cost of these delays is huge in terms of opportunities lost but also because government has to keep paying interest on loans that were released but have not been utilised.

For instance, the main roads to be done under this ADB loan include all Kampala Industrial Area roads – 6th, 7th, 8th and 5th streets. It also includes roads Wamala Road, Luwafu Road, Kabega Road, Mutesa 1 road, Bulange Junction, Kayemba Road, Kigala Road, Ssuna Road One and Two, Muzito Road, etc. There are also roads that are supposed to be turned into duo carriage ways such as Gaba Road, Nakawa to Port Bell, Wankulukuku to Mbuya, Sir Apollo Kagwa Road, Mukwano Road and roundabout, Sentema Road, Salama Road, Wakaliga Road, Kibuye Busega, Kasubi to Nothern Bypass, Kisasi Road, Kyebando Road, Nugema Road etc.

This single project is critical for easing traffic congestion in Kampala and improving the quality of air around the city and improving the optics. It is difficult to understand why any government would allow such a major infrastructure project to be held up in petty wrangling. In fact, this delay caused World Bank to withhold another $450 million for Kampala city roads since we have failed to utilise money given by ADB.

The UK government also gave us $320 million through Colas to redo all the broken tarmac in Kampala and the Ministry of Finance and State House have been sitting on it arguing debt ceiling. Yet Uganda needs to remove the SGR (worth $1.9 billion) from its debt list since it is unlikely to materialise anytime soon. This would bring our debt to GDP ratio down, thereby opening space for more borrowing. The bottom-line is simple but fundamental: in failing to improve Kampala City, Museveni is acting as a huge drag on the ability of Uganda to grow faster.



  1. 1.Provided the drainage system is not sorted;its a waste of resources to always temporarily fix the roads;Just look at roads in industrial area?When it floods;water has no outlet.Actually; there should have been a flyover built in that place and all those shops and warehouses relocated.
    2. I will look for a dustbin to dump the empty bottle of water i used;at times my friends just laugh at me what does does mean?Certain sections of the public look at drainage channels as garbage collection points Rajab’s wives will dump all the matooke and cassava peels in them and in the end the drainage channels are blocked so is that Government’s creation?
    3.The cost of compensating those whose land is affected by the road works is higher than the cost of building a new road in such a situation,government has to look at the cost benefit analysis of a project rather than the convenience of its citizens.How much would government have spend if Kabira country club,Hotel Africana were to be demolished to pave way for road expansion?
    4.Its only during M7’s rule that Ugandans have seen flyovers,underpass roads and suspense bridges.I cried when M7 allowed Google to use our satellite thats why we able to use a google Pin to locate places gone are the days when you would meet a stranded person to guide you to location x.
    5.The creation of new cities was a great psychological relief to those who believed in rural /urban migration;Actually when you live in Kampala and are struggling your family is more traumatized when you see how the wealthy live and spend money.
    6.Covid and the rise in the cost of living has made Ugandans sober up .You only party hard if you must,most expensive bars have closed shop men now drink from Nalongo’s bar where beer is sold at factory price.
    7.The infrastructure in the outskirts of Kampala have improved look at the Roads at Kololo Airstrip,Ntinda,Bukoto of course those who live in areas with civilized people like Nakasero,Kololo,Bugolobi Bungalows,Lubowa,Bwebajja,Entebbe near the golf course will not have issues with their roads because they respect the drainage system and its not by accident that their roads last longer.
    8. I thank government for ignoring land brokers and speculators who inflate land prices when they get wind of government ‘s development plans that’s why we build flyovers in swamps.

  2. The road contractors are demanding for their salaries.

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