Sometimes we are preoccupied with the big things, but pay no attention to the small matters that if taken together could add up to making a significant difference. We get preoccupied with issues that we cannot do anything about, but the little things, which are within our power to change, are ignored. We are like football supporters who are experts on how to play professional football, but never kick a ball.
I have never been afraid of taking on a new project with big ambitions but every journey starts with the first small step. That first step may not amount to much and is followed by many other small steps that people may not notice, but after some time they realize that you have achieved something significant. I live on Tank Hill, and I was frustrated and ashamed of the state of Makindye with the dirt, the traffic jams, and the garbage.
It was particularly hard to get in and out of town because there were only two roads connecting us across the railway line to the Central Business District. One was the Entebbe Road, which always had a traffic jam, and the other was via the Mukwano Roundabout, which also had a long tailback. I could see that much of the problem was that the silt and garbage from the drains was piled on the sides of the road, thus making the roads narrow, and that there were numerous potholes slowing the traffic. I also noted that if a road could be made to connect 7thStreet at Maersk to the Namuwongo Rd, it would open another route direct to Bugolobi.
I inquired who was responsible for such matters and found it was the LC3 Chairman. I thought the job was not rocket science and I should apply for the position though, unfortunately, this meant fighting an election.
I fought my campaign on the basis of improving the Division, including fixing the potholes. When I became chairman one of the first things I did was to de-silt the drains, fix the potholes and collect the garbage. Finally I was also able to open up the link between 7th Street and Namuwongo Rd thus creating a route to Bugolobi. The result is that there is now rarely a traffic jam on the Namuwongo Rd. The improvement was the result of many small changes.
We don’t focus on the small things that are achievable but continue to talk endlessly about all that is wrong with the country.
Unlike Kigali, Kampala does not have an enforceable and funded city plan. There are apparently lots of plans gathering dust in the Lord Mayor’s office, but there is no agreed overall plan being implemented. There are planned improvements such as the flyovers and KIDP 2 roads, but the city is not planned, it is simply evolving organically. This means that many of the roads are very narrow such that, at certain spots, they cannot even allow two cars to pass.
Such bottlenecks exist throughout the city and if they were opened up they would relieve congestion. In some cases it would simply be a matter of installing culverts to replace the open storm drains and thus improve the width of the road. In other cases it would mean compulsory purchase of a strip of garden. The lack of legislation and a legally enforceable city plan means that most roads are not gazetted and thus KCCA is in a weak legal position, but if every narrow road was dealt with on a case by case basis, significant improvements could be made.
Clear road markings would also make a tremendous difference in terms of order and safety, but hardly any of the roads have markings. Continuous repair of storm drains would help in many instances where they have eroded and broken down; repair and replacement of streetlights makes a great difference and some work has been done on this. Most of these changes require very little money but KCCA is starved of cash and most of these small changes are not being implemented.
Another example is our care of the environment. Plastic bags were ‘banned’ but there seems to be very little sign of enforcing this ban. There are two supermarkets on Tank Hill Road – the ‘Italian’ supermarket owned by Chinese and ‘TMT’ owned by Eritreans. The Italian supermarket got rid of plastic bags and offers the biodegradable bags. TMT has the biodegradable bags but keeps them hidden under the counter, unless the customer asks for them. If enough customers made an issue of using plastic bags they would get rid of them, but while we continue to accept plastic bags, there is no pressure to change.
There are small changes, which will cumulatively make a significant impact; not only do we need to make the changes within our power, but we need to lobby for changes which public authorities are capable of making.