In the ongoing online activism led by satirist Jimmy Spire Ssentongo, the potholes of Kampala, in April, received ample airtime; trending with the hashtag #KampalaPotholeExhibition.
Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), to its credit, did not fire back with condescending noises, stony silences or personal attacks, but actually acknowledged that Kampala’s roads are long past their expiry date.
The KCCA executive director (ED) highlighted inadequate funding as the main sponsor of Kampala’s gnarling potholes. As the hashtag waned, President Yoweri Museveni directed the ministry of Finance to release Shs 6 billion for KCCA’s road rehabilitation.
Is the lack of money at the heart of Kampala’s potholes? Is this it?
So effective was the hashtag that even the First Son and Presidential Advisor General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, whose warrior heart is set on inheriting the presidency, got in on the action.
On May 10, the four-star general, decked out in civilian garb, toured some show-stopping potholes. Alongside a small attentive coterie of KCCA executives, Kainerugaba, in one picture pointed markedly at an extremely hard-to-miss pothole.
The potholes of Kampala need no pointing. You see them; you slow down or stop. You organize your life around them. Kainerugaba, according to the Daily Monitor, asked KCCA to work closely with the Special Forces Command (SFC) civil works department.
The SFC spokesperson, brimming with confidence, said, “SFC has a fully-fledged engineering regiment, together with the bigger UPDF Engineering brigade. They are going to rehabilitate and reconstruct all roads and work on the poor drainage at a low cost... the job is achievable... not a difficult job for SFC.”
The SFC, whose mission is to develop and operate a powerful versatile special operations force unique to the Ugandan way of war, and responsive to the requirements of the army and the country, has joined the war against Kampala’s potholes. Could the SFC’s tactical ‘Ugandan way of war’ defeat Kampala’s belligerent potholes? Is this it?
Kampala’s potholes are a tangible metaphor for the eyesore that the capital city is. The list of challenges facing Kampala rivals the length of Museveni’s presidency. A moment of silence for the fountain of honour who, in the evening of his regime, is at odds with the man in the mirror demanding functionality from a dysfunctional system of governance.
On April 9, Museveni issued a directive regarding Kampala and other towns. Museveni narrated, “Whenever I drive around Kampala and in some upcountry towns, I notice piles of rubbish (Kasasiro) scattered around in the open. This is not acceptable and, within six months, must end.”
Sounding quite fed up with all things kasasiro, he continued, “Within a year, every urban authority must ensure that there is a plan for recycling that waste so that the dumping sites do not become mountains of rubbish.”
It is wonderful, almost intoxicating, when the vexation of the leaders collides with the long suffering of the led. At that collision point, hope skips delightedly. Is this it?
As Ugandans yearn for a capital city they can hold up with pride, the Latin adage, which translates to “If you want peace, prepare for war,” is telling on how to reset Kampala. The road is long and arduous. Good intentions, empty populist sloganeering and patchwork fixes are not enough.
What is IT then? How do we unravel Kampala’s challenges?
Fortunately, foras, Kampala can be studied and is being studied!
In a prestigious American university is a study program dedicated to understanding how cities work or do not work, and the impact on the quality of life for the residents of cities.
The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative (BHCLI) hosted by Harvard University has since 2017 worked with over 450 mayors and 2,000 senior city officials from 524 cities worldwide. The program website reveals BHCLI has produced research and developed new curricula and tools to help city leaders solve real-world problems.
Dear reader, no need to reinvent the wheel in seeking answers for Kampala. One of the BHCLI case studies is our dear beloved capital city of vibes and potholes - Kampala.
Titled, “Pressing the Right Buttons Jennifer Musisi for New City Leadership,” the case study explores Musisi’s tenure as KCCA ED. The case study puts students in Musisi’s shoes and imagines how they would have responded.
In 2011, Museveni appointed Musisi to take on Kampala. The first KCCA ED, Musisi had a magic wand - presidential favour. Fast-forward, she soon became a fixture in the media as she pushed and pulled at the muck in Kampala. She stepped on many toes, and shook many tables in her mission to reimage Kampala.
Five months into the job, Musisi told New Vision, “It has taken about forty years for this city to degenerate to the level where it is. It would be unrealistic to expect a turnaround over a short period. It is going to take some pain on the part of the dwellers. There are many wrong buttons, but we’ll just keep pressing them.”
Things seemed to work until the 2016 elections came calling. Lauded by those who yearned for a sanitized city, her methods earned her scorn from lower-income earners who bore the brunt of her approach. Their scorn was sweet music to the ears of populist politicians.
For her good deeds, Kampala, which has long been an opposition bastion, shredded the regime further. The presidential favour, that magical flying carpet beneath Musisi’s feet, self-destructed. Under the lumbering yellow bus, Musisi went. In 2018, Musisi resigned.
As the Kampala potholes trended in April, netizens joked that Kampala did not do right by Musisi. If she failed even with her magical carpet, what does success look like, how much pain will success entail?
In January 2019, local media reported that Musisi had joined BHCLI as the first City Leader in Residence. In seeking answers to the obstinate questions besieging Kampala, we should consider dissecting Musisi’s case study at BHCLI. Might this be it?
Maybe, Musisi will put in a good word for our potholes and us.
The writer is a tayaad muzzukulu