There is excitement about the creation of new cities. This is understandable because of the anticipated benefits that come along with living in a city.
However, declaration of a city in itself does not bring along the much-anticipated benefits. It is rather the planning and developments associated with a city that create an environment conducive enough for everyone gain profitably.
Since the commencement of the Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructure Development (USMID) Program in 2013, leaders from the 14 program municipalities have been agitating for elevation of their municipalities to cities.
It is not surprising therefore, that the declaration has been received with excitement. Indeed over the five-year program period, there has been clear improvement in the institutional capacity and infrastructure development in the USMID municipalities.
Therefore, elevation of 9 out of 14 of the program municipalities to cities is welcome and is a testimony that these municipalities have improved their institutional capacity and service delivery.
But to manage a city is different and much more demanding than running municipalities. That’s why it is imperative for those who will be in charge of the newly elevated municipalities to change their management strategies and plans if they are to reap from the abundant benefits that a city status can attain.
The first change that must happen is, for municipality leaders to change their mind-set. Cities are built to make people happy and comfortable to live in. Each city must have one single vision that will be at the centre of every strategy or action they intend to pursue.
City leaders need to come to terms with some hard facts about management of their respective cities. They must understand that running a city is a lot more costly and rigorous than running a municipality; city life is fast and cities are open to all including investors, the youths many of whom are in search of jobs, criminals, fraudsters - all of whom must be managed.
Under the USMID program, the 5 municipalities of Arua, Fort Portal, Gulu, Jinja and Fort Portal which are to be elevated to city status in July 2020 have received about Shs 187 billion between them over the five year period 2014 – 2018 for both infrastructure development and institutional capacity strengthening.
There are obvious visible improvements in infrastructure especially rehabilitated roads, street lighting and urban greening. However, considering the geographical boundaries of the proposed cities, resources of this magnitude are just a drop in the ocean.
With these resources, hardly any municipality has managed to upgrade more than 10% of its road network. Even the highly resourced and performing ones like Gulu have managed to improve less than 20km of roads.
The resources that will be required for cities infrastructure development are enormous and therefore both proposed cities and central government must develop strategies of how to source for funding for infrastructure development.
They must equally identify sources of revenue for maintaining the improved infrastructure. Municipalities must transit with strategies on how to raise resources and importantly on how to maximize city status benefits from the available resources.
This is possible only if the upcoming city managers and their overseers-central government have clearly crafted strategies for the transition and eventually the masterplans for the cities. The key considerations that must be made in order to have great cities include the following:
- All developments must be planned. Planned development is the backbone of all activities taking place in the city and is responsible for their functioning.
- Cities must be built for people and not vehicles or buildings. The ultimate purpose of having a city is to provide comfort, security, safety and utility to its residents.
- Cities must be efficient and avoid wastage as wastages increase the cost of living in an urban area. Increased efficiency helps in providing a higher population holding capacity.
- Cities must have a unique identity and character. Every city must offer something unique which other cities cannot provide. These may be magnificent buildings, green areas, open spaces, pedestrian friendly, transportation system, architectural heritage, tourism, etc. All the 9 proposed cities have something unique that can attract opportunities and income.
- Cities must prepare for rapid growth and must be flexible. Growth is an indispensable part of cities and what is more important is how this growth is accommodated and deal with. A city should be ready to provide space to new entrants while absorbing its natural population growth.
- Effective administration. Everything else will be useless if there is no robust administration of the city. The proposed municipalities must therefore recruit competent managers/administrators to take up the city challenge. City administrators must have a good understanding of how cities work and what needs to be done to solve the ever increasing challenges. Having a good team of city administrators is a must for a city to survive and flourish.
As municipalities celebrate their elevation to cities, it is important that all relevant stakeholders ponder on the cities they wish to have and start sooner rather than later to strategize on how to transition and manage them to the required high standards.
The author is the USMID program coordinator