In part three (3) I discussed short term and medium term measures required to stimulate economic activity in the Uganda economy. In this part I continue with those activities that are dysfunctional in the economy that require corrections to make the economy more efficient and gain the benefits of growth. These activities have constrained economic growth and tend to thrive on Lack of policy, poor policy implementation and or corruption. I continue discussing selected important issues.
a) Boda-Boda and the transport system in the country
The transport sector in the country is in a crisis. Small roads everywhere in the country and now traffic management is a glaring problem especially in towns. Too many private cars, too many boda-bodas, trucks, undisciplined taxi drivers, no buses! It seems there is a disproportionate availably of vehicles to roads, seems people are wealthy and the country is poor. A reflection of tax compliance in the country. Boda-boda is very expensive but there is no alternative to them. Buses would be an alternative but too many vehicles on the road and small roads cannot allow them to ply effectively especially in Kampala! The only choice is boda boda. There is therefore need to regulate boda bodas so that we maximize the value of their presence. It has been suggested that they are kept out of downtown but what is the alternative? Improvising the efficiency of “kayoola” train in Kampala may be the medium-term solution. But that is in one area of town. Kampala may now benefit from a ring road. The bypass from Kireka to Busega through the expressway to Kajjaisi, Munyonyo and back to Kireka! Remove traffic lights.
Bus transport in Kampala and new towns should be the primary mode of transport. But very complicated for Kampala now. No roads, heavy traffic jam, yes, but still the bus system is the solution. But it starts with a planned road system. Some minimum control of boda boda. May be keep them out of the commercial district, no quick solution. Planning better roads and discipline are the key. The key lesson is that if we are to gain benefit from a transport system it should be planned. A new town with a road system with the planned means of transport rail, road? With autonomous (self-driving) vehicles now in production, we have no choice but to plan our towns and roads! Unlock the country’s economic potential.
b) Planning of our towns.
We have an opportunity that most of our towns are small trading centres and we have capacity to expand them in a planned manner. Unfortunately, we are not. They are growing slums! This has to stop, it constrains growth.
If you look at places like Nansana, Kawempe, Kireka, Namugongo for instance, in the next ten (10) years where will people pass to be able to get to Kampala? Check the traffic jam on all the small roads. Unless if we plan now we will have a problem having to put up roads in the air which we can’t afford. How about the new towns in the new districts, even the few roads there are not tarmacked and are small. It is crucial that there is planning of new administrative units including districts and towns. This should be simply in the law, especially the laws establishing towns. We have many “cities” open in July this year! Is that so? Are we ready? What are the cities plans? Is there a city with a 20 or 10 or even a 5 year plan?
All towns in the country should be planned in such a way that you have a commercial area, a recreation area, an industrial area, market area and residential areas for different categories of people. We also need cemeteries in towns! Without this, we are in for development of huge slums around the country. This is the sort of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, a huge slum. The government of Nigeria had to move away from Lagos to build a political capital in Abuja. Thank God they had the oil money. Uganda does not have that luxury.
Land should be acquired by government for the purpose in these different towns. A mini Land Reform to gazette land around all district headquarters be done. Every district should have a well-planned town and this must be made part of the law. Today we are seeing that people are being buried on their verandahs in small towns! Plots of 50×100 feet as they are known. 10 years from now such houses many be knocked down by other people who will be building big houses as are towns expand. The law creating towns and cities must have in-built provisions for those developments otherwise we shall have huge slums as our towns.
Planning of towns is also important for purposes planning inter-district roads. Our highways should not go through towns causing problems like traffic jam. Take a case of Lyantonde, a by-pass was created but no longer meaningful. Look at the bypasses in Kampala very soon they will be like any other road. May be we have good plans but the challenge of implementation. There should be no side entrance to private homes on by passes. If we are to improve the business atmosphere, make environment for business easier, reduce cost of transport and storage, towns must be planned. Traffic jams will add to cost of doing business. This slows growth. The time to do that is now.
Burying the dead, cemeteries
As the country transforms we still have a challenge of burying our loved ones. Traditionally people burry in their ancestral homes and we have to incur a very high cost to transport bodies and mourners up country. This has to change as people move away from villages and settle in towns. They can no longer acquire land in villages because the land is getting finished. So the future lies in people being able to acquire small pieces of land in town where they build or buy houses. Such people will not have ancestral homes in the coming years. It is therefore important that we have cemeteries as part of the towns that we are planning for. It is a change in culture but it is something that will lower cost of doing business in the country. Modernization brings change. We must change.
c) Building in wetlands.
The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) has attempted to resolve this issue but what is the problem? The problem is that some of our politicians interfere in the process of environmental management. This is corruption, so we end up building in wetlands just because those who are building can call someone up or those who are building are up there and don’t listen to the enforcement agencies. The consequence is that in future the people who will reside in these areas and indeed the country at large will be distracted or disadvantaged.
As I write now with the rising of waters on Lake Victoria, the houses in in swampy areas in Kampala have been flooded including beautiful expensive houses simply because people built in areas where they are not allowed to build! It is reported that over the years, the country had lost 570,000 hectares of wetlands! We must enforce the law and here top politicians have a moral responsibility. Messing up wetlands is contributing negatively to the environment and increasing cost of doing business.
Wetlands help in waste disposal, blocking them interferes with that process. It costs over US$1million annually to treat water in Kampala because of this problem. It also affects climate change reducing sustainable development. Uganda has a combination of disasters that should make it wake up. The locust invasion, the rising water levels of Lake Victoria and the Coronavirus pandemic. When added to the glaring poverty, it calls for review of our policies to support growth. Environmental protection policy is one such. The time is now.
d) Farming in forests.
Every country needs to have a planned forest for its development. I believe Uganda has a forest development plan (Forest Policy 2001). But it is common that ordinary people in various villages go out and start cutting the forests and settle and farm in them. Attempts to get them out are met with resistance and bribes. We are killing our future by cutting down forests. We need the political will and moral responsibility to enforce the issue of wetland and the issue of settling in forests. It is reported that Uganda loses 200,000 hectares of forest annually! This is partly due to an increasing population and illegal tree felling. It is estimated that at this rate, Uganda will not have forests in 40 years. This is altering farming patterns in the country as climate change sets in. This has to stop, if we don’t, we are destroying our future. We contribute to environmental degradation or kill the wood/furniture industry. Our development cannot be sustainable with encroaching on forests!
One of the reasons that we are depleting our forests is the usage of charcoal. Charcoal is used in urban areas by the large number of homes. 20% of the population is in urban areas and only 60% of the population have access to electricity. but even within that group not all of them use electricity because of the nature of our food. Our food, especially matooke, is very expensive to cook. Good meal of matooke takes 6 hours to cook! 6 hours of burning energy, this is very luxurious for poor people. We must find an alternative to charcoal, the easiest would be gas. How do you popularize gas to be used as energy for home? There is bio gas and the gas supplied by the oil companies. If electricity is expensive then we must try gas but not charcoal. There is need for a plan to replace charcoal as a source of energy for cooking in people’s homes, its expensive, it contributes to environmental degradation and is not sustainable. We must be on the drawing board.
e) Illegal structures in towns
Many structures in our towns especially in wetlands and slums in urban areas are illegal. Yes, it is true that we have been used to building our small huts without any body’s authority. But today people know there is the law and construct at night with the convenience of city authorities. Part of is attributed to corruption, the other is our culture of being a non-litigious society. Who will sue you for simply putting up a building!
The main challenge though is corruption. Many buildings in towns are built in illegal areas with “permission” from “officials”. They build in road reserves, parking and recreation area! This has contributed to small roads in our towns, traffic jams and even heavy human traffic in areas where it should not. These are issues that impact on development, future generations are disadvantaged by illegal actions. Most times these structures interfere with functioning of other economic activities in the town.
Kampala no longer has green areas any more, no parks, no recreation areas. Kids that want to play games use streets or any vacant plots! This cannot be development. Sidewalks in Kampala have also been built in! The traffic jam and in appropriate buildings are constraints to growth.
f) Growing Slums
Every City, every town, every village, has those who are wealthy with beautiful houses and those who are not so wealthy and those who don’t have the privilege of having good houses. However for towns this should be planned. Unfortunately it is not. Even Muyenga in Kampala, an area for wealthy people, is often referred to as the Rich Man’s slum for planlessness.
As Urbanization increases, people move to towns and consequence is that those that cannot afford proper housing, build make-shift houses where they stay. This is a result of corruption or lack of policy. I think Kasokoso is one such. I recall many years back when Ntege Ssebagala was Mayor of kampala, we talked about Kasokoso, it hadn’t developed then, today Kasokoso is a huge slum, and you cannot get people out of that slum. Many people had also constructed permanent houses in the Railway reserve under the watch of city council officials! They were removed about 3 years ago and they made noise!
Slums have unique problem during times like this of the Coronavirus, it is difficult to enforce social distancing as people in “mizigo” share bathrooms, toilets and cooking space. They cannot be locked into houses because many have no windows and are dark during the day! The Coronavirus pandemic is a good lesson for the country. It is important that proper location for different income groups is planned for everybody in towns. It is important that markets are taken out of towns so that slums are reduced in towns. Once demarcated government should build decent facilities for them including schools, markets, hospitals, recreation and other facilities.
Visiting South Africa you find the designated slum areas, they look horrible indeed given South Africa’s wealth, but they are in one place. As we plan our towns, it is important to plan for low cost housing areas, it is important to enforce planning in towns, It is important to provide services, transport, schools, and health among others. The key to this is a Mini Land Reform which I have recommended elsewhere. Government must gazette land for urban development as it creates new districts and towns. It is a decision that must be taken if the country is to realize development and minimize growth constraints.
g) Widening Road reserves
One of the bottlenecks to economic transformation is absence of infrastructure. A lot has been done in recent years. In 1986 paved roads in Uganda were about 600 Kilometers. Today these stand at over 7000 kilometers! A lot has been achieved. But there are other challenges. Uganda has a policy of having road reserves and indeed these have been demarcated and gazzetted up to 2019, the reserve was 15 meters and increased to 40 meters. Tanzania is 60 meters. However, these road reserves are not sufficient for the future if you look 10-20 years from now. If our towns develop which they will, there will be need to be interconnected. Even the traffic for goods especially the internal one hoping that the railway would be in place. We will need bigger roads so that we avoid accidents and jam on the roads. It is therefore important that the country, (Parliament) now makes a law that increases the widening of roads especially towards towns.
Let us learn from other countries experiences as you approach towns you need wider Roads three – four lanes each side. This is very important otherwise the illegal structures and slums are growing to block access to towns and indeed these towns will remain Slums unless if we have a better plans now. Some of the towns are easier to do right now because there is no such development there. Government should initiate road reserves to be widened especially to accommodate more traffic. The consequences of not doing this will be traffic jams and inefficiency in the economic system of in the country. This is a constraint to and slows down growth.
h) The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR)
This has been on for a long time and because we have not be able to afford as a country, little progress has been made. Given the cost, we must think of alternatives. Uganda has unexploited iron ore, I believe that the government of Uganda could negotiate a batter trade with a company, Chinese, European, whatever it is, to exploit the iron ore. Part of the proceeds would go to building the SGR. There are over 260 million tons of iron ore in the country. It is worth US$ 15.6billion (estimate). The SGR is reported to cost an estimated US$ 12.8billion to cover 1,724 kilometers. Deal.
This railway is very urgent as the President indicated in one of his submissions recently that we don’t need all these lorries on the road. The lorries create a problem on the roads, they spoil roads, they cause traffic jams and accidents. Besides using lorries to ferry goods from Mombasa, Kenya to Uganda is very costly. It costs US$ 1500 per 40 feet by container on rail compared to US$3500 for a 40 feet container by road. It is important that the standard Gauge railway is built even if we do it in phases. Phase one should be Malaba to Kampala, this is very urgent, it will save the roads, it will ease traffic, it will also reduce on the cost of bringing goods into the town and the cost of road maintenance. I am sure there is a solution to this huge task. Decision must be made now.
i) Tourism, Exploiting the Source of the Nile
Tourism is a low hanging fruit for Uganda. It needs no sophistication and is a major earner of forex for the country. Uganda has failed to exploit the Source of the Nile as an international tourist attraction. I believe that if this was done the country would reap tremendous benefits from having an International attraction. There is only one Nile River in the world! The longest river in the world starts in Uganda! No doubt, this is an attraction. But the actual site of the source is in a pathetic state. We have eyes to see the money but we don’t see it.
It is true that right now many of our visitors have been coming to see the animals in the national parks, the gorillas and wish to thank the Ugandan Tourism Board and the Ministry and the local operators. They have put in a lot of effort. However, government needs to quickly put money in to the Source of the Nile and other tourism facilities and market them.
Source of the Nile, along with the Express way from Kampala to Jinja should be priority. Encourage and support small airlines to bring passengers from Entebbe to Jinja. By road it takes somebody about 7-8 hours to get from Entebbe to Jinja. Whereas if there was a connecting flight from Entebbe to Jinja the transfer time would be about 2-3 hours and somebody is in the hotel safely. From Jinja, tourist can go West, North and North East by air. It saves their time.
Government should also support development of the banks of the Nile River. It should acquire land and avail it to developers for hotel construction and other leisure activities. A good source of the Nile facility without hotels will be futile. Another Mini Land Reform. The private sector is willing to do it but government must provide enabling law and enabling atmosphere for this to happen. There are various wealth people in the country who can do this all they need is government support and be able to do it. It is surprising that the Madhvan’s who own hotels around the world including Chobe and Para Safari Lodges in Uganda have no hotel in Jinja which is their home.
Tourism is a low hanging fruit for the country and the foreigners who come here don’t need sophisticated facilities. Many tourists operators can do much better if there is an enabling atmosphere for this operate. Tourism may be one of the most affected industries by the Coronavirus. Recovery will be slow since tourists come from abroad. It therefore needs more intensive planning and funding.
j) Minerals Development
Most African governments have got Ministries or Departments to license foreign companies to exploit minerals. International capital will look around for minerals. These minerals are used by developed countries in their various processes and products. We have no use for minerals in Africa because we are not developed. What we do is that we give concessions to these companies and we earn some little tax!
The reason is that we do not have capacity to exploit and sell or use these minerals ourselves simply because, we are not developed and we haven’t paid attention to science. It is important that we develop academic programmes in these various minerals areas so that we understand them. We should promote science education to create demand. Then we should also establish companies that can mine these minerals. This is part of reforms government must make. There are various experiences in various places, South Africa, Botswana, Malaysia and other countries who have been able to mine minerals in the country and have benefited much more than having simply foreign investors
There is right now a rush in the country to secure licenses to mine Uganda’s variety of minerals. A number of investors prospecting for the various minerals in Uganda have been around. I know that the Busoga region is known to be very rich in various minerals but who has capacity to exploit them? So instead we shall issue licenses to foreign companies and the country will not benefit. This is something that requires detailed study to understand what it is and be able to exploit it. A country on path to growth understands its resources and plans how it will exploit them. Take no loans to develop minerals. Our minerals policy does not support development. We license and wait for tax and close the deal.
k) Building a National Identity.
I have elsewhere referred to the fact that all attempts to have our young people in an ideological training is always assumed to be training people in socialism, this is unfortunate. Many countries have got National Service Programmes. The Americans have the Corporation for National and Community Services (CNCS) which has the Peace Corps and the military. This service is mandatory. I remember this was also introduced by Obote in Obote l period and of course there was a push that Obote was introducing communism and this was abandoned. NRM pushed Kyakwanzi, it was also abandoned.
Countries need to have national pride and a national identity. Of course, we are a little problem because of the East African community. We want to push a federation among the countries. Today many Europeans are proud to be Europeans, but I believe this doesn’t remove the national identity as Germans, as French, as Belgians who also have a unique language that they speak. So the East African Community is not an issue. We should be East Africans first, then Ugandans! Tall order but it can be planned.
For the country to develop we must have a national identity, we must have national pride. Americans are very proud of their flag, their national anthem and their country. You will find that invariably Ugandans don’t even know their national anthem! You will be disappointed that many Ugandans, like many other Africans would prefer to live abroad because they think it is better. Of course it is, but that is not your country. Create conditions in your country which you can enjoy. Abroad cannot be better when you have your own country unless if you have gone there for political reasons. No wonder Africans are dying in the Mediterranean Sea as the small boats capsize in they attempt to get to Europe.
So, it is crucial that we have a national identity and we have maybe 1-2 months training for young people completing ‘O’ level. Government should arrange different camps across the country and young people be trained in being Ugandan, being proud to be Ugandans. Be proud of our culture. The issues of upholding culture are crucial, the issues of corruption, the issues of loving the country all these issues can be discussed in the building a national identity. Buy Uganda, Build Uganda policy cannot work without national pride.
To be continued in part five (5)
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