As a regular user of Kampala’s chaotic public transport system, I get to watch up close as Kampala undergoes desperately necessary construction to expand a few of our major roadways. As a regular user of twitter I watch as the official KCCA account self-congratulatorily retweets messages.
Yes, it is heartening to see a city authority actually function, after many years of primarily serving as a site for power wrangles. It is good to see roads being widened for the enormous amount of traffic that passes over them, and rowdy public commuter taxis being made to respect designated stages. Still, I have had plenty of time to ponder this on a rainy Friday evening, sitting in an unmoving taxi in the worst of Kampala’s rush hour traffic. Is this “development” enough, and who does it serve?
It does not serve me, and I am markedly more privileged than the average Ugandan, nor anyone else who spends ten productive hours a week commuting a couple of kilometres to and from work. It does not serve those our fearless leader has labelled “backward” and “foolish” for remaining in their villages. It does not serve the majority of Kampalan’s; the city’s poor, caught up in tides of urbanisation despite a formal sector that cannot support them all. Those who come to Kampala seeking a better fortune will likely not find it in our dismal job market, and when they turn to the informal sector to make ends meet, their ends will be met by KCCA enforcement whose mandate is to destroy property and livelihoods in the name of progress and development. The most poignant and egregious case of this being the death of Baby Ryan, crushed by a KCCA vehicle last month while his mother was taken into custody.
Big orange city buses sit idle in the parking lot at Namboole stadium. Approval for Pioneer Easy Bus Company was rushed through parliament because the need was obvious and at the time, brought into sharp relief at the time by the 2012 Taxi Strike. The buses served our narrow roads for less than 6 months when the company was served a massive tax bill by URA and had its assets seized. Now the buses sit idle. Who did this piece of public theatre serve? The taxi drivers who were told that they would just have to deal with the new reality? The passengers who briefly enjoyed cheaper fares while waiting in long lines for space on the extremely overcrowded buses? Did it benefit the revolving door of Pioneer Easy Bus shareholders that included relatives of ruling party insiders? Which of the many government agencies did this drama benefit; those that weighed in to put their weight behind the bus company, or weighed in to say that government should not guarantee Pioneer’s loans, or those that chose not to weigh in but then did in order to save the buses from being auctioned? Who did this circus serve? Anyone?
If you can afford to, choose to check out of the worst of Kampala’s chaotic traffic. Get out of the taxi and take a boda to your next destination, or park your car and jump on one to get to that meeting. Like the taxis, boda bodas arose unregulated out of a need and now are ubiquitous, employing tens (possibly hundreds) of thousands of men in the city. They are also the leading cause of accidents and road injures, but more importantly, they are a significant voting bloc. This is why, despite encouraging statements from KCCA, boda bodas will continue to remain unregulated in the foreseeable future; a future in which the 2016 elections loom large.
KCCA pays plenty of lip service to the idea of pro-people development. For a better city, they say. A city better for whom?