first, let’s focus our irritation on the urban planners


AFTER a three-hour journey covering ten kilometres of a tarmac road last week, I was sufficiently incensed at one group of people in particular, and hereby call for our national attention to be turned straight onto them.

See, there is no way we should be suffering with this phenomenon that links specific and predictable factors to the creation of the heavy traffic that disrupts so many lives in so many ways.

We all know when it is going to rain and we all know when schools are in or out. Rain and other weather patterns are regularly made available to us by way of the internet via mobile phones and computers.

For those still living in the past, every night there are television news bulletins that even show us graphics of raindrops, as if to accommodate those within our society who are so dim-witted they cannot recognise the four letter word ‘rain’.

As for school holiday schedules, those could be harder to identify if one doesn’t have a child resident in a boarding school. But for all the irritation they cause road users, surely we should do what I do and keep checking with parents of these children to mark the dates when they will be thronging the roads to take pilao and Minute Maid juice on visitation dates, or to pick them up for holidays.

My three hour trip last week almost put me in trouble but the person I was going to meet was also delayed, and so we agreed to change our meeting time and venue.

That day school hadn’t yet broken out but I presume most parents had whipped out their extra cars a few days early in order to test their suitability for ferrying teenagers back for the holidays.

This coincided with a rainstorm of significantly heavier proportions than normal suddenly erupting mid-afternoon and trapping us in gridlocks created by the stupidity and selfishness of road-users who couldn’t see or think beyond the number plate immediately in front of them.

A really bad traffic jam – in a photo taken from bloomberg.com and, luckily, NOT in Kampala

Many others suffered worse. My friend, Matthew Lorika, got caught in the horrendous traffic en route to a business meeting along Jinja Road that he couldn’t miss otherwise a large crop upcountry would have suffered.

Assessing the heavy Jinja Road traffic and the rainstorm looming above, he ditched his car and hopped onto a boda-boda so he could get to his destination quickly, finish business and return before the downpour. The traffic was so bad that even the boda-boda got caught in it!

He made his trip and presentation of his sample for processing and export, but had to hang around for hours waiting for the rain and traffic to clear.

In those traffic jam situations I normally join everybody else in giving way to Ambulances and every time I think to myself how unlikely it is that the sufferers inside them will make it to hospital in time to recover.

And last week I considered who those occupants might be, going through many professions. Some made me smile – like if taxi drivers could ever go on one of those life-saving rides, would they thereafter be more considerate about parking in a way that blocks traffic flow? That almost had me giggling with glee at the possibility.

But not as much as the thought of what would happen if Urban Planners were caught in life-threatening situations, put into an Ambulance, and then found the traffic so bad they couldn’t make it to the hospital on time.

That got me thinking a bit more. Who are these Urban Planners, in Kampala or Uganda?

Because I haven’t studied it professionally I had to google the phrase ‘Urban Planning’ and found it defined as: “a technical and political process concerned with the development and design of land use and the built environment, including air, water, and the infrastructure passing into and out of urban areas, such as transportation, communications, and distribution networks.”

I can only presume that we have such people employed in our central and local governments because I see it is available for study at University level in Uganda. While other institutions offer related courses, Makerere University lists a ‘Bachelors Degree in Urban Planning’ as well as a ‘Masters of Science in Urban Planning and Design’!

So where are the people who study these things? Where did they find jobs? And if the people who took those jobs in places like Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) and all districts simply didn’t study for their jobs professionally, then we need the Police and Inspector General of Government and other forces to flush them out of office.

Surely the least these Urban Planners could do for us would be to announce when traffic will be heavier because of school schedules, so that we make conscious decisions to stay out of it? But no – they didn’t study any of this in school at any level, obviously.

Which makes me wonder what THEY do when caught in that traffic? Are they not irritated by it all? Or are they the ones speeding through with Ambulances and convoys with pseudo-strobe lights?

Do our Urban Planners own the fuel companies that benefit so much from the time we spend idling and crawling in traffic jams?

One way or another, there is something not right, so while the IGG and Police work out how to deal with this, since as road-users we can’t check for the weather forecast or school schedules or change our selfish driving habits, I propose a bridging solution:

Let’s give Urban Planners special number plate markers like the ones of ministers, so we can see them on the road. And let’s create some reverse sirens and strobe-lighting so that when they approach we make them stay at the very back of any line of motor vehicles they meet.

If we can just pile up all our traffic irritation onto this one group of people, it will most certainly be a beginning to getting them to solve this issue. If.

One thought on “first, let’s focus our irritation on the urban planners

  1. We read with a lot of interest Mr. Simon Kaheru’s piece, “Do we have urban planners” of Thursday, May 16, 2019 while traveling to western Uganda and debated in transit but with great shock. Whilst Mr. Kaheru attempts to highlight one of several challenges of urbanization – traffic jams – in Uganda, he also brings out an invisible anger that consumes a lot of people in our towns and cities everyday. But that is not the subject of this response. As an urban planner, I am constrained, although reluctantly, to shade some light on the role of urban planning and the urban planner in society. Related is a philosophical ardent advanced by my co-author who from wide travel also supports my thinking and adds that environment is the best teacher!

    I preface this response with a well-known phenomenon of the relationship we have with our General Practitioners (GP) as patients. When you are unwell and consult your GP who provides advice and a prescription of medication, you often comply or do not. Most often in some parts of East Africa my colleague Dominic Byarugaba asserts that some cultures first consult their spirits before consulting GP! In the event that you do not comply with the GP’s advice, the consequences you suffer do not necessarily imply that there are no GPs, or even that the GP you consulted is incompetent. This all goes with whether you contend and adhere to take the medication as per the GP’s directive; but mostly few people follow the directives and they do rarely do they follow the right timing as we all know that time factor is not an issue in this part of the globe. Moreover, when the ailment recurs, even worsens, and on your way back to the GP a social commentator such as Mr. Kaheru meets you and wonders loudly, “Do we have doctors?” it does not mean we have incompetent doctors. This completely explains that it is never correct to judge the case of your daughter before her husband narrates his own side of the story. The example of how well we consider and comply with our GP’s advice captures the conundrum of traffic jams in Kampala that Mr. Kaheru seeks to unravel. Although a good attempt, he fails to capture or even mention the complexity and nuances in the relationships between urban planning, urban planners and traffic jams in Kampala. A quick question what was the population when most of the Kampala city roads were planned and how fast has fast trucking population increase and necessities related been unionized?

    I am sure my colleagues at the Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA), the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) and other bodies, like the GP, provide the required professional advice, however, what happens to the advice remains out of their control. Just like the GP’s advice to the patient that does not comply and the subsequent recurrence or even aggravation of sickness, so it is with urban planning, urban planners, and the traffic jams in Kampala. The corollary being that with the current regime of professional advice, it is possible to minimize the traffic jams in Kampala. Sometimes this does not work, but not because there are no urban planners. Another comparison would be a good snap short on Mbarara Municipality where drivers at times park in the middle of the road and carry out meetings causing terrible traffic jam, is this also related to Mr. Kaheru’s assertion?

    Mr. Kaheru must be applauded for his honesty regarding urban planning. As a profession, urban planners should not leave the public to the mercies of Google. Mr. Kaheru’s comment throws the gauntlet to the urban planners’ doorstep. We should rise to the occasion and educate the public on urban planning and role of urban planners in society. Comments such as provided by this newspaper column are one of many platforms for such endeavors. If well harnessed, the public will not only appreciate the value of urban planning, but will also actively participate in ensuring that they enjoy the fruits of urban planning. In principle there are many models of solving problems such as traffic jams, clogged and congested central business districts in towns and cities with high population like Indonesia, China, Nairobi, Cairo, Addis Ababa, Cape Town and Johannesburg to mention but a few and these scenarios should not stop planners from advancing case specific models that are interlinked with cultural norms, behavior, historical attributes and cosmopolitan composition so as to ably make an ever lasting solution to what has become a common scene globally. It is intrinsically appropriate that planners get the most peaceful place to able to plan for all forms of society understanding particularly in cities where rural urban migration has no restrictions to people and the mix up immediately distorts the planning and eventually planners and managers of the cities in question are either blamed, professionals are questioned and the rest of the service users are not either blamed or questions! Imagine the level of texting while driving and phone call answering while driving and the mess it causes in relation to concentration? Laws prescribed the rationale but over time there has been a degenerate and deliberate trend which all us must question by asking why?

    Grace Nyonyintono Lubaale, PhD is a registered urban planner in private practice based in Nairobi. glubaale@gmail.com and Dominic Byarugaba is an environment lover also based in Nairobi.

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