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The rescue of the remaining and the creation of new recreational parks within Kampala should focus on two zones: valleys and hilltops. The former is a physical necessity; wetlands with frequent flooding make developments either costly (if they are done properly), or hazardous (if not).

Sparing the hilltops from further privatisation is more of an Urban Design issue.

In a recent Monitor article, Mr Frank Matovu, an Architect in the Urban Planning and Land Management Department at KCC, was quoted as saying that further sub-divisions of Kampala’s hilltops threaten their very existence. “Nakasero hills should be covered by trees but people are sub-dividing the original plots and structural developments are coming up thus most of the trees are being cut.”

It is good to hear that, for once, a KCC official actually states that Kampala’s hilltops should be covered by trees. Surely, that is a brand new policy. Or what happened here:

Naguru Hill, Kampala

Refering to the practical aspects on how to handle public green spaces, the article further quotes Mr Matovu as saying that “it is better to let everybody know them and give it’s management to private individuals who should work under close supervision of the concerned authorities. The private developer can then come up with a few income generating activities within the public space and impose a fee on them to help him pay his bills.”

While principally there is nothing wrong with private management of public spaces, the “close supervision of the concerned authorities” will never take place if Mr Matovu has his own organisation in mind. If KCC is running the show, we end up with Kisementi Gardens (two tiny triangular pieces of lawn, cut into two by a petrol station = the private developer); or Centenary ‘Park’ – a bit of green littered with uncompleted shopping malls and restaurants.

All of this is spiced by KCC’s idiotic fence-obsession. A public space – whether publicly or privately managed and financed – DOES NOT REQUIRE ANY FENCES. What is public about a caged area? Are we in England? Why don’t we allow people to walk through a park where and when they want to? And what on earth do the traffic islands around Clock Tower need fences for?

As argued before, Kampala’s South faces a structural accessibility problem. While the North has a three-layered system of ringroads surrounding the city centre, the South has pretty much none. This leads to all traffic using Entebbe Road and subsequently getting stuck at Clock Tower.

What is needed in the longer term is a mirroring of the three northern semi-circles.

Ring 1: Connects Clock Tower and Wandegeya be means of ‘Canal Street‘, a dual carriageway on top of Nakivubo Channel.

Ring 2: Serving as the equivalent to Lugogo Bypass, this Southern Ringroad starts at Lugogo Shopping Mall, passes through Muyenga, Kansanga, Makindye, Natete, Mengo and finally ends at Wandegeya junction.

Ring 3: The Northern Bypass is currently being completed and is due to be opened this year. It is likely to have a major impact on central Kampala because all heavy-duty through-traffic will be able to avoid the city. At a much later stage, the same should happen to the South (click to enlarge):

Proposed Southern Bypass, Kampala

Similar to the Northern Bypass, most of this road will be on a new alignment. It commences at Mandela Stadium, passes Kireka, Mbuya and Bugolobi to their South and crosses the swamp towards Muyenga. It swings around Bukasa before joining Gaba Road North-West of Bunga. It then continues to Munyonyo, crosses the swamp and follows an existing road towards Lubowa. In Kajjansi the bypass crosses Entebbe Road. From there, it runs through the valleys until it joins Masaka Road and subsequently the Northern Bypass in Busega.

Dr Kiggungu Amin Tamale is an Urban Planner, a consultant with the Uganda Management Institute and a Makerere University lecturer. He also is the acting president of the Uganda Public Transport Users Association (UPTUA) – (yes, it exists!). In a recent Observer article – ‘We can return sanity on our roads‘ – he analyses Kampala’s traffic mess.

He argues that currently ‘in Kampala, about 23,813 man-hours are lost each day by commuters due to traffic jam and the lack of an efficient transport system’ and that Kampala therefore needs to be turned into a public transport-dependent city (as opposed to the current car-dependency). The introduction of a well-regulated public transport system would not only have a positive economic impact because people don’t waste half of their day in traffic jams, it is also likely to save energy and significantly enhance the city’s living quality.

The extra-terrestrial example of Curitiba shows that this can be achieved in the context of a developing nation, without massive infrastructural investments. It needs a) intelligent leadership; and b) a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.

The first one, I don’t know.

The second is achieved by identifying five or so corridors in and out of the city centre and turn them into arterial roads. Their road reserves need to be widened in order to make room for a dual carriageway and bus-only lanes in either direction. Because, as Dr Kiggundu Amin Tamale observes,

Another failure relates to the regulation of mixed traffic – that is, boda boda (motorcycles), bicycles, private cars, trucks and mini-buses, all using the same road – in Kampala. Due to this muddled policy of mixed traffic, transport services in most parts of the city continue to be poor and inadequate, especially during peak hour periods.

Proposed express road layout

This is how a well-functioning arterial road could look like. At its centre, it has a green strip, nicely maintained and lined with trees. Then comes a dual carriageway used by private transport. The next lane is the Express Bus lane, separated from the main road by another green strip. Then comes the Boda Boda and Bicycle lane. Last is a pedestrian walkway. (Open drainage channels that can only be crossed deploying impala-like acrobatics are nowhere to be seen. In fact they are hidden underneath the pedestrian walkway.)

Every 1.5km or so, there are Bus stops. Wherever they occur, a paved strip marks a pedestrian crossing. An arterial road is not a highway; therefore, the necessary separation of functions has to be carried out in such a way that it doesn’t disintegrate the city by creating unsurmountable barriers.

The total road width amounts to 32 metres. Currently, Jinja Road seems to be Kampala’s only road that is wide enough to cater for such a road design without any large-scale demolition.

All others require intelligent leadership.

Leonie Rhode is a German Landscape Architect and Environmental Planner whose Masters Thesis is a study about Kampala’s green areas (or whatever is left of it). She spent quite some time over here researching the matter and was smart enough to keep her video camera running (if the clip below doesn’t work, watch it on Youtube):

If you can download rather large documents, you can read a well-written summary of her Thesis (PDF, 5.5 Mb).

Kampalas Greens title page

Even though Leonie is currently investing her energy into an urbanistic project in Transylvania she is still following the developments in Kampala and even promised to contribute some articles to kampala.ver in the future.

In case anyone wants to discuss her stuff, post your comments below, it’s likely she’ll come back and respond.

In its latest issue, The Independent reports that ‘a municipal council in Eastern Uganda is considering levying a tax on owners of grass thatched houses in a bid to improve on the standard of living in the municipality. Mbale Municipal Council Town Clerk, Daniel Christopher Kawesi says this decision will expand the revenue base or compel owners to sell the plots to those who can afford to put up better structures’.

Thatched roofs of Mihingo Lodge (Lake Mburo NP) and Le Chateau Restaurant (Kampala)

Better structures? They don’t know what they are talking about. However, their view is shared by our friends from Kampala City Council. The latter, too, believe that grass thatched roofs are a thing of the past and a sign of underdevelopment and poverty. They don’t want to see them around town and special permissions need to be obtained (i.e. paid for).

The truth is, a high-quality grass thatched roof – built to the right angle and thickness and chemically treated to be non-flammable – is indeed a rather expensive affair. It is not at all a sign of poverty, but of entrepreneurial spirit: most foreigners love those roofs and prefer to wine and dine under one of them (while most Ugandans prefer to live under fake tiles). They are expensive – up to 90$ per square meter – and require regular maintenance but seem to pay off. Most upcountry lodges have them (e.g. Mihingo Lodge/Lake Mburo NP), and a few hotels and restaurants around town (e.g. Le Chateau Restaurant/Nsambya). I only have seen one private residence in Kampala – of course expat-owned.

To get back to Mbale, if I was the Municipal Council Town Clerk and thus in charge of a town that to the best of my knowledge hasn’t got a single decent hotel on offer: I’d pretty much suggest the opposite.

Kampala’s North is blessed with a system of three circular roads sparing motorists from ever passing through the city centre: Yusuf Lule Road, Lugogo Bypass/Kira Road and the new Northern Bypass.

No such luxury is provided to the South since those roads effectively form three semi-circles ending on the Bombo-Kampala-Jinja Road barrier.

So let’s accomplish them.

Circle 1 is simply (and, yes, expensively) completed by introducing Canal Street, a lid on top of Nakivubo Channel creating a dual carriageway between Clock Tower and Wandegeya.

Circle 2 takes us on a slightly longer journey:

Proposed Southern Ringroad, Kampala

It starts out at Kampala’s most lethal junction – outside Game, where Lugogo Bypass meets Jinja Road. On a new link to Bugolobi that cuts across the greenfield site between Umeme and the Rugby Club we reach Old Port Bell Road which we briefly join before turning right onto 5th Street. We stay on that road until we reach Maersk. 140m of a new road take us across the railway tracks.

We turn left onto Kisugu Road (the one passing International Hospital at the lower side). We more or less follow that road through the Namuwongo mess, all the way to Muyenga. Just before the road takes us around Monkey Hill to Bukasa, we turn right. We go straight up towards Tank Hill Road which we cross somewhere below Hotel International. At this point, a few metres of new road will be needed in order to join Kiwafu Road (Muyenga Bypass) – this is the road that passes Heritage School and ends in Kansanga.

We cross Gaba Road near Didi’s World and dip straight down into the Rainbow School swamp. Up the hill until we meet Buziga Road where we turn right. We follow this road all the way to Central Military Intelligence in Makindye where we turn right. At Makindye roundabout we continue straight, now on Masaka Road where we stay for a little more than a kilometre. A piece of a new road takes us across to Kabaka’s Lake. We join Nabunya Road which takes us up to Mengo. A little bit of readjusting (i.e. demolition) will enable us to reach Sentema Road which takes us down to one of Kampala’ most underrated streets: Mutesa I Road (starts off opposite Fufa House on Natete Road and is in a terrible condition). This road leads us straight to the end of our 17km trip around Kampala: Mutesa I Road turns into Makerere Hill Road and ends at Wandegeya junction.

95% of this suggested corridor uses existing roads but of course in large parts road reserves have been ignored and would need to be enforced. It’s Kampala’s Number One disease to disrespect public space by banging buildings and boundary walls into it. Only a very strong administration and a lot of political will (and compensation money) could move this city ahead.

Which is why this post is in the Dream On category.