By Denis Jjuuko
A friend who lives 11km away from the Kampala central business district (CBD) recently left her home at 6.30am for office. She had planned to work half day so she could attend her neighbour’s funeral at 2.00pm. Three hours letter, she was still battling Kampala’s traffic, many kilometres away from her destination. So she called office and returned home, arriving past midday. For half a day, she was on the road — wasting her time and fuel.
It now takes on average two hours for people who live about 15km away from the CBD to get to work because of vehicular traffic. On bad days, it takes three hours or more like for my friend.
So somebody who lives and works in greater Kampala now loses on average four hours everyday in traffic jams and a significant amount of money. That is also creating a burden on our health since Kampala is now the 28th most polluted city in the world according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The pollution is from the 16-year old vehicles we gladly import into the country.
Although the Kampala City Capital Authority (KCCA) has tried to turn Kampala into a multiple-traffic light city to the extent of putting unnecessary ones around Makerere University, there is need to do more. Greater Kampala (Kampala, Wakiso, Mukono, Mpigi, Luwero, Mityana) contributes probably the biggest percentage to the country’s economy. Therefore, the traffic gridlock affects the economy in many ways.
There is no serious investor who will spend two hours covering just 15km who will want to set up anything serious here. They will prefer to invest somewhere else. It is very hard for anybody who is seriously involved in any business to avoid Kampala. All government ministries and agencies, big companies, hospitals, international airport and financial institutions are in Kampala. Even when you import a car and pay all the taxes before the vehicle arrives in the country, the guys at Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) insist that you pick up the number plates from Nakawa. I have never understood why a number plate must be picked up in Kampala and not at the border post where URA has offices.
There is need to focus on Kampala’s infrastructure if the economy is to grow because traffic jams are sending serious investors away and significantly reducing the productivity of the city’s residents. You cannot spend two hours in traffic and then have the energy to do anything else. If you wake up at 5.00am or 4.00am so you can be in office at 8.00am, that itself creates its own problems. First, there is a risk of being kidnapped by some goons. Secondly, you wouldn’t have had enough sleep. Lack of sleep is a very big health hazard yet people now arrive home past 10.00pm and are up by 4.00am.You can live for many days without food or water, but it is difficult to do so without sleep.
So as the government plans to spend more money on infrastructure especially roads in the new financial year, a significant part of it should go to those in greater Kampala. The city actually needs more flyovers than traffic lights at junctions. And definitely wider roads. Look at the Namugongo-Sseeta Road, it was graded ahead of Pope Francis’ visit in 2015 but it is too narrow that traffic is today bumper to bumper. I think instead of turning it into a bitumen road, they should have paid off people first to ensure a freeway could be built.
Roads connecting to almost all major towns in Uganda have been built. They now just need to be maintained. We can leave the connections to sub counties for now and solve the problems in Kampala. In fact, sometimes when I drive upcountry using some of these new roads, I can spend 20-30 minutes without seeing any car. Of course one can argue that the road will lead to the growth of these towns in 10 years time, but in Kampala, we are already out of time.
We have Lake Victoria. Putting a modern public boat that can ply the Jinja-Entebbe route could significantly reduce traffic as we wait for the Jinja Expressway. A modern boat that is comfortable would leave Jinja, stop in Mukono, Port Bell/Luzira, Gaba, Munyonyo, Lutembe/Namulanda, Abayita Ababiri, and Entebbe/Airport. The time one takes from Entebbe to Jinja would be cut by many hours. Today, you need almost a whole day to drive from Jinja to Entebbe — a distance of just 120km. Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) should also cut down on the time needed to make roads. It is now 14 years since the construction of the Kampala Northern Bypass started and works are ongoing. It covers only 21kms. Today, the contractor is busy erecting overhead footpaths instead of intersections that would clear traffic in the city.
Lastly, our human resources people should allow some staff to work from anywhere. A lot of people who go to offices today perform tasks that don’t necessarily need to be in office including endless meetings that could easily be held through conference calls. A conference call is actually cheaper — you buy no samosas for anybody. A lot of people the world over now have, for example, personal assistants who live and work in different countries. These PAs do their work online. A university lecturer doesn’t need to be in class everyday. They can teach online and meet students twice or thrice a semester. A journalist doesn’t need to report to the newsroom and clock in and so are actually human resource officers themselves. Going to office once every two weeks is enough. But most bosses think one is working if they clock in at 8.00am and clock out at 5.00pm. This can help eliminate clock-watchers and get staff to focus on output and thereby reduce traffic in the city.
The author is a media consultant and businessman. email@example.com
**Internet photo of Kampala traffic