I have no doubt the physical planning fraternity in Uganda and those who wish us well rejoiced over the news that Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area (GKMA) was heading for better and modern comprehensive planning.
The arrangement, which unfortunately is being referred to as an “extension” of Kampala, is meant to facilitate the coordinated planning and development process for Kampala, Wakiso, Mukono and Mpigi.
Uganda’s capital and its neighboring towns are already extended into one other – making Kampala appear like one big disorganized city.
From a personal and professional point of view, the GKMA idea was long overdue. Mukono, Wakiso, Kampala and Mpigi are entangled, and almost trapped in a web of spatial disgust and inefficiency ranging from traffic and transportation, housing, green open spaces, sanitation and drainage issues.
Since physical planning, as a profession and approach to city development, is still in its infancy stages and least appreciated in most developing countries, it is understandable such an advanced, smart and modern concept could be rejected even before it is clearly understood.
Has it been clearly explained to all?
The territorial factor always raises fears, particularly due to political and administrative interests, with little or no regard to the existing spatial challenges. It is, therefore, no wonder this strategy is being referred to as an “extension” of Kampala.
What all should know is that spatial planning is never about individual entities, but authorities and their neighboring regions. Regional planning, more often than not, requires effective administrative, financial and governance arrangements amongst the concerned entities.
Generally, regional planning is best practiced when there is a planning body, which in Kampala’s case would be the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area Authority.
This, according to the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) Act, should be set up to guide the metropolitan area planning. The now contentious GKMA strategy was apparently prepared in coordination and consultation with the concerned local governments and several other concerned government entities.
In the absence of the authority, it is commendable the concerned stakeholders thought of a strategy, probably as an interim plan, aimed at jointly facing and addressing the current regional and spatial challenges for efficiency and improved quality of life.
Such spatial themes as housing, employment and mobility are automatically brought together because of the aspect of daily commuting – with or without the consent of the individual urban authorities.
The concept of network cities and urban regions is known for not only stimulating growth, but also facilitating an effective and efficient process of controlled and regulated development.
Without this approach, cities realize less than they expected from their individual plans. For Kampala’s case, we have seen KCCA implement several infrastructural projects which, after a short period of time, appear like they had no major impact.
This has been mainly due to the piecemeal kind of planning, while ignoring some shared, yet important spatial factors. In relation to GKMA, we can all attest to the fact that the entities therein must jointly address the prevailing spatial challenges.
These include traffic and transportation, sanitation and drainage, housing location, utility planning, business and environmental performance, among others.
But is there mutual trust for such cooperation? Is there mutual desire to address such challenges as the quality of life continues to deteriorate due to inadequate and uncoordinated spatial planning? Is each entity satisfied with the impact of their isolated plans?
Small as it is, The Netherlands’ spatial planning has evidently been made easier and more impactful through this approach of regional/provincial planning, guided at the national level. This has fostered coordinated and efficient planning and development.
If it’s true that greater Kampala contributes 60 per cent to Uganda’s GDP, according to KCCA figures, then the need and urgency to improve the region’s efficiency and performance should be a concern to all key stakeholders.
Despite the presidential stance on the formulation of new government agencies and authorities, GKMA is one case he should consider as special. This could, as well, be done for the other regions. If the concerned regional entities are smart enough, now is the time to unite and plan jointly.
Although politics is an important and influential element in societal wellbeing, it is dangerous to politicize every other programme, even when it should be purely technical and professional.
Whoever is against the GKMA strategy is purely ignorant of its benefits, and deserves to be furnished with information. Otherwise, regional leaders should be ambassadors of such programmes.
The author is an urban and regional planning expert and lecturer at Makerere University.