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.

ideas are harder to destroy than bricks, steel, concrete and mortar


Benedicto Kiwanuka - independent.co.ug
The late Benedicto Kagimu Kiwanuka (Photo from http://www.independent.co.ug)

Dear Uganda,

Please let’s drop this fixation on Real Estate as a sign of prosperity, presence and relevance?

Besides our awkward daily focus on buying land as an investment, and erecting properties as a way of storing our variously-acquired gains, this week we have read numerous stories about the residential home of the late esteemed Benedicto Kagimu Kiwanuka (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benedicto_Kiwanuka), Uganda’s first Chief Minister, President of the Democratic Party, and first black/African/indigenous Chief Justice, being razed to the ground.

Most things about this story are as painful as they are wrong, but the ones that hit hardest are the ones that appear to define us as a nation.

I’m not going to mention his family members because there are numerous articles about that situation that need no repeating here, but that one must share with one’s own children in lieu of the traditional ‘I curse you’ statement. (http://www.monitor.co.ug/Magazines/PeoplePower/Ben-Kiwanuka-was-an-astute-politician/689844-1492508-bfx33jz/index.html & https://skaheru.com/2012/09/29/ambassador-peter-maurice-kagimu-kiwanuka-kiri-wa-nnaku/ and even http://williamkituuka.blogspot.com/2011/12/exclusive-interview-with-his-excellency.html).

The people speaking up in outrage are numerous – including both Government and Opposition officials. Reading their statements in media reports so far convinces one that they are clearly being misquoted.

Benedicto Kiwanuka’s house was razed to the ground and does not exist any more. It was razed to the ground and the photos being published are all of the cleared ground – no rubble.

Minister General Jeje Odongo is quoted, for instance, saying: ““Government got concerned about what is happening here. At first, we thought it was a private family issue until we learnt that the house had been demolished. This is a historic site; it is here that the people who fought for our independence lived. Ben Kiwanuka’s name is historic, his house is monumental, it belongs to Uganda, government cannot simply watch.”

This is exactly what the Government did. Or maybe not, since it happened without their knowledge and we can therefore argue that they did not actually “watch”.

The Kampala Metropolitan Police Officer, Luke Oweyesigire, “said they got to know about the matter when the area chairperson took the late Kiwanuka’s old cars to Wakaliga Police Station.”

Not BEFORE it happened.

And according to Daily Monitor: “(DP President Nobert) Mao said if it was like in other countries, the home would be made a historical site given his legacy.”

Which other countries?

In organised countries that one would presume he would be talking about, this conversation wouldn’t be happening 46 (forty six) years after the great man’s death!

It is disturbing that this issue had to first get to the media before both Government and Opposition leaders knew about it. Is our entire political class really so far removed from people on the ground that a house so seemingly significant can be demolished without ANYONE raising a red flag right here in Kampala City?

Officially, don’t we have laws and regulations governing the alteration or, worse, demolition of property? Surely a local government authority is supposed to issue a permit and assign a cross-functional group of people to ensure the work is done properly – security, architecture, safety and legality all being catered for?

I’ve seen that the Kampala Capital City Authority, in whose jurisdiction this former house once stood, has Demolition Permit Applications online (here), so why wasn’t the Police aware? What about the KCCA Councillors, some of whom one would expect to belong to DP and, therefore, to give a damn about this?

On behalf of the DP, Deputy Secretary General Gerald Blacks Siranda reportedly acknowledged that the Party only learnt of this through the media. Just like Gen. Odongo, this must be malicious reporting on the part of the journalists, because there is no way a politician can say such a thing about an occurrence in his stronghold constituency.

Siranda should clarify that he was misquoted rather than appear to have told the world that DP is so out of touch with voters that…

But it gets worse when he is quoted as saying,

“As an institution, we are devastated and believe that what happened is trying to wash away the memory and image of Ben Kiwanuka; you can take away his home and body but cannot take away his history and contribution to the country.”

UGANDA, PLEASE!

Please let’s stop equating ‘LEGACY’ to ‘WEALTH’ and ‘PROPERTY’?!

As Uganda’s first Chief Minister and first black/African/indigenous Chief Justice Benedicto Kiwanuka’s legacy cannot be just that house!

It won’t even be the one that Nobert Mao announced in May last year was going to be built in Benedicto Kiwanuka’s honour – the construction of which was supposed to begin in July 2017 and that must have started but without too much fanfare amongst the general public…(I read that here: http://allafrica.com/stories/201705290434.html)

The legacy of an intellectual revolutionary like Benedicto Kiwanuka should be in our hearts and minds, as absorbed through consuming his writings and memoirs, and hearing renditions of his speeches and public statements made by erudite professors and scholars of law and politics.

Where are the books about him written by all the elderly politicians who were young men alongside him back in the days when he was leading Uganda to Independence and self-rule? Where are the memoirs of the people that took cover in the mental trenches and exchanged political fire with the mighty colonialists and triumphed?

At the very least, let’s have some compilations of the papers delivered at the annual Benedicto Kiwanuka lectures that were launched back in 2011 since when I, personally, can’t recall many more. Someone, not his unfortunate son, but someone should take all those compilations to the Uganda Museum so that they can be installed on the bookshelves of the Uganda Society, lazima!

We should stop thinking about putting up a monument on Ben Kiwanuka street – which is non-existant even if it sounds likely. Nobody should even suggest establishing a Benedicto Kiwanuka section at the Law Development Centre or the Uganda Law Society buildings.

Those who have studied law in Uganda might have heard a lot more about Benedicto Kiwanuka during the academic lectures there since he was so influential in Uganda. I suspect that if you stop any lawyer and ask them to tell you about Benedicto Kiwanuka they will effuse greatly about his ideals and knowledge.

Try it.

These lawyers might even have – each of them – a secret copy of an anthology containing all the tens of thousands of theses and dissertations that addressed Benedicto Kiwanuka’s work.

Ask them.

If none of this exists, and we are going to lament over a house that is razed to the ground without even thinking about what condition it was in the day before demolition began then, again, we are being unfortunately defined as a nation.

Seriously speaking: WE ALL need to write more books and organise our thoughts, ideas and value systems for posterity. Ideas are harder to destroy and last much longer than steel and concrete, brick and mortar.

urban planners in kampala, please HELP?!


From redpepper.co.ug - Bukoto-Heights-Apartments
Bukoto Heights Apartments (Photo from http://www.redpepper.co.ug)

Dear Urban Planners and People In Charge of decisions such as which buildings of what type go where and how, Please HELP? The only way we can stop begging you to help is if you implement the stuff you went to school to learn.

I haven’t been to those schools or gone through the academic process you did, so I can’t say for sure that you are taught these things in those official forums; since I presume you live and work in places like Kampala, I hope that you share the pain most of us do.

Having just resumed driving my own vehicle last weekend, I was unprepared for the entire experience of getting from one place to another in one emotionally sound piece – and I can only blame the urban planning people.

To start with, leaving home was more difficult because there are yet MORE apartment blocks going up in the area where I reside. This means that there are MORE motor vehicles being parked in the neighborhoods there overnight, and needing to leave in the mornings for life. It also means that there are MORE motor vehicles visiting the neighborhoods during the day, and occasionally MORE celebrations during the day.

It is paragraphs such as the above that I would assume get written down in text books and notes of people studying urban planning. See, some of the buildings contain apartments with three bedrooms, for instance, which means that they will probably be occupied by a family. That family, in an upscale neighborhood, will almost certainly consist of two adults both gainfully employed in busy jobs that will require them to have a different car each.

When urban planners and those people who approve construction projects don’t take that into consideration and therefore demand that the investors in these apartment blocks create sufficient parking space, we end up having our already narrow neighborhood roads crammed with cars parked by the roadside.

Because the already narrow roads don’t have pavements or sidewalks, pedestrians walk weaving through the roadside cars and suddenly pop up in front of you on the road as you carefully drive through trying to avoid scratching cars on either side. Luckily, you are incapable of driving at speeds that could occasion vehicular bloodshed, but the anguish of avoiding said bloodshed tends to pile up.

By the time you leave the residential area and make it onto the main roads, therefore, you cannot be in a mellow frame of mind, and that makes you less prepared to deal with the discourtesy of your fellow motor vehicle operators. The rapid accumulation of motor vehicles at specific points of the road necessitates the deployment of traffic officers to create a semblance of order but they are normally as lacking in humour as you, the drivers, are.

One can’t blame them as much as the urban planners, whose fault at this point is the failure to increase the number of road connections from point to point in order to ease the flow of traffic. Where I reside, for instance, there are only three roads leading to the main roads, but many others that are called “Closes” because they close up at the gates of private residences.

These residences, urban legend has it, are mostly illegal – having been constructed smack in the middle of a road that should connect to other roads as the urban plans indicate.

The urban plans probably include some maps and should be in the custody of the urban planning people who would, under normal circumstances, take the necessary corrective action so that life is made easier for all Ugandans. I cannot explain why it doesn’t happen, which is why I go about my business as normally as last weekend when I went through this anguish to visit a relative on the other side of town.

En route to my destination I stopped over at a supermarket to pick up a small gift and was directed to the basement parking of the so-called Mall housing the supermarket. As I descended into the dark pit of the building I switched my car lights on and noticed that many of the pillars holding the building up were chipped at the edges.

A car emerging from the basement made it clear why. Within seconds I found myself in a panic because the departing vehicle turned a millisecond too early and was suddenly stuck in position, as was I because of another vehicle behind mine, and another behind that one, all causing a fresh traffic jam from the road into the basement of the building!

I’m certain that in our minds we all bore colourful thoughts about the urban planning people who approved the plans that created a basement with pillars placed so close to each other and the walls. The fellow in the departing car, though, became the most aggrieved when his car chipped off another bit of the edge of the pillar as he tried to make his escape from the dungeon.

Some of this would have been avoided, I’m sure, if the urban planners had considered the nature of the tenants and users of such buildings before approving plans; if each and every one of the tenant shops in that building had one car parked in the basement full-time, then the hundreds of shoppers driving in would always be squeezing their cars in between the spaces left over and against walls and pillars.

That’s another reason the urban planners need to revisit those lessons about public transportation systems and how they fit into the arrangement of buildings in towns and cities. Malls placed in locations far removed from where mass transport stops exist will most certainly be used by car owners – otherwise how are people to carry their shopping home?!

HELP US, we beg you, and revisit all your learnings from school?

raise those hawkers respectfully to major economic heights


street-hawkers-in-kampala-ityafrica-net
Photo from http://www.emmasadventuresinuganda.wordpress.com/tag/icye/

SINCE I was much younger I have found engagements with street hawkers entertaining in many ways. Along the way I have graduated from comical time-wasting banter to what I hope is a more useful sort of interaction.

I distinctly recall one incident in about 1993 at a place called Hakuna Matata in Bukoto, when one of us – Gary Samuel, we called him, called a hawker over and asked: “Olina…bino?” (‘Do you have…these?’) and gestured with his palm held out flat and slicing into the air sharply.

The hawker, arms full of plastics and mostly light kitchen utensils, had no clue what Gary was asking about but tried guessing. Knives? No. Spoons? No. Brushes? No. Brooms? No.

Everything he was vending was in full view, in his hands and slung over his shoulder and back.

And with each guess, Gary insisted with more animation and sharper gestures shooting higher into he air: “Bino! Bino! (Luganda for ‘These’) Things that go like this (Shooting gesture high into the air). Bino!

We all joined in on the guessing game but none of us could get it right. I could see the hawker losing hope of making a sale, and felt sorry for him when I realized how much direct sunshine he was absorbing. If he had started his journey somewhere in Kikuubo and had his time wasted like this at every bar and pork joint he stopped at but in exchange for a small tip, he would be a millionaire.

He was still guessing in the hope that he would make a sale, while the rest of us who were seated in the shade and having a drink were already fed up with the game. We insisted that Gary put a stop to it and he finally stated what he was asking for:

Olina…amabaati (‘Do you have IRON ROOFING SHEETS?!’)”

Laughter ensued, and the crestfallen hawker sauntered off. Some of us felt bad about it, and I can’t lose the memory of that, and other times when hawkers got asked for DSTV dishes, tractor tyres and other such ridiculous items.

I have tried to make amends over the years in various ways, mostly by showing this cadre of Ugandan entrepreneur a lot more respect and courtesy than they usually receive; for instance, I don’t swat them off when they approach me at traffic lights or in heavy traffic. Instead, I politely smile and mouth a “No, thank you.”

Their stigma is hard to appreciate – imagine being a hawker and finding the sign “Hawkers Not Permitted Here” on every door you walk past even when you are not vending your wares.

Recently, my change of policy towards hawkers has led to interventions of a different kind.

I am keenly aware that the Kampala Capital City Authority Act (2010) Section 3 of Part A, gives KCCA the responsibility to “Prohibit, restrict, regulate or license (a) the sale or hawking of wares or the erection of stalls on any street…”

Because of that, I am rarely eager to exchange money for wares from hawkers, but there is some other support they can benefit from, as one Robert Mwesize reminded me last Friday.

He was vending soft cuddly toys, normally called Teddy Bears, in Ntinda. He hesitated at us because he didn’t think a random group of men fitted in his categorization of sure-deal clients.

We called him over anyway and quickly bought a couple of his second-hand Bears so we could have a conversation with him.

At first, he was reluctant to give us his second name, which gave us the opportunity to explain to him why he needed to do so to increase his sales over time. Then we told him that since he only sold Teddy Bears, as he confessed, he had chosen to specialise and now needed to brand himself as the Teddy Bear guy.

So we took his number (0751266921) and saved it as Robert Mwesize Teddy Bear. I offered him my number but he didn’t see the relevance till I explained that if he built up a customer database he could make regular sales to repeat clients by direct marketing.

All the men in the group, we told him, had wives, girlfriends, daughters and other female interactions that they needed Teddy Bears for. Besides, we explained, if you vended these wares and told these customers that they would make good gifts to hand in as they got home late that night…

His eyes lit up as the brief conversation developed. We even suggested to him that he should spend more time studying the soft, cuddly toys and figuring out a way of making some of his own.

Surely that is possible, isn’t it? Yes, he responded in a low tone of voice as he studied his wares more closely.

We left it there, but I have his number if you are in the market for a Teddy Bear, and high hopes that one day Robert Mwesize will be the owner of a factory manufacturing Teddy Bears somewhere in Kampala, or at least operating a slick distribution system of soft toys to a growing customer base.

Shiyaya Coupon Book Advert FINAL.001

the coffee stain on the neat, snazzy shirt of the village mall


If you’ve seen me on an ordinary morning you will notice one of many coffee thermos mugs I leave home with. One day last week I realised late in the morning that the thermos mug had leaked a little bit and stained my shirt.

The shirt in question is a neat number I bought at far less than it would appear to cost, and therefore gets special attention when I open the wardrobe door. I had an important meeting to attend that day and that shirt had therefore left its hanger.

On noticing the coffee stain my spirits fell momentarily, but the meeting was nigh so I soldiered on, adopting an awkward posture with my elbow on the table for the duration. For the rest of that day I ensured all interaction with serious but impressionable people ranged from strictly unavoidable to none at all.

See, if the coffee stain had appeared on one of my ordinary shirts then I would probably not have noticed it at all, let alone adjusted posture or schedule to hide the fact. I only felt squarely uncomfortable because the shirt in question was the type even a moderate Sapeur would more than glance at, immediately thinking of ways to add colourful accessories.

To a serious person that day, spotting a coffee stain on that shirt would have made them think me to be quite careless, shabby and even immature. What kind of adult fails to control a coffee mug for the short distance between the table and his lips?

The stain came to mind this week when, for about the fourth week running, I walked to the Luthuli Avenue entrance of the Village Mall in Bugolobi and found that it was STILL not fully operational because of a small flood of unnatural water from a burst pipe or clogged sewer nearby.

IMG_4281.JPG
The open drain as seen on May 11, 2017 (Photo: Simon Kaheru)

When I first saw this mini-flood there was a line of cars trying to get into the Mall and being re-routed to other entrances. A few days later some authorities had dug up the neat paving blocks at that point, to check what was happening.

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The pavers neatly stacked by the side, thanks to the neat-minded authorities in charge of this (Photo: Simon Kaheru)

Weeks later, the dug-up paving stones were still piled up to one side, and there was a gaping hole in the ground filled up with water and revealing the innards of the road. Confounded drivers were still rolling up to gain access, and puzzled security guards were still routing them to other entrances with that “What can’t you see?” attitude.

I stopped and asked the askaris how it was possible for this to be happening here, at an upmarket Mall in the capital city, in an otherwise wealthy neighbourhood. Undeveloped land in Bugolobi goes for about US$1million an acre. You pay Ushs10,000 for 300mls of coffee at that Mall, and meals are an average of Ushs25,000 a plate and their french fries travel on aeroplanes to get here. They even have shoes that cost Ushs2million a pair (two shoes only) and their pizzas were endorsed by a Cabinet Minister, no less!

And yet for more than a month this Mall can suffer a gaping hole in the ground filling up with extremely unhygienic water and other substances. The thought that a housefly taking an afternoon dip in the dark pool of water swilling about in that hole could thereafter alight onto the edge of my coffee mug at the nearby cafes, or onto the fork conveying food into my mouth was discouraging.

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The swimming pool used by houseflies and other germs en route to your plate or coffee mug (Photo: Simon Kaheru)

Of course the people leaving the Mall after buying Ushs2million pairs of shoes would be doing so in while driving sleek cars but even splashing through the muddy seepage should certainly make them feel awkward.

But the askaris reported that there had been no angry gatherings of proponents of tourism, health, environmental management, urban management or even mere customers of the Mall, all protesting this ongoing state of affairs.

They couldn’t confirm which officials were responsible for fixing the problem but said “they” had visited and taken the pavers apart after the flooding had started, but had not been back since. I established from elsewhere that the people at the KCCA had taken responsibility and had promised to fix it.

The problem, it would appear, is mostly to do with storm waters and a clogged drainage system. But instead of fixing the problem urgently, for some reason we are all waiting for the heavy rains to come to an end first.

This is what is causing the stain on the neat shirt of Bugolobi’s most prime commercial location, making you think: “What kind of careless, shabby, immature adult fails to control a coffee mug for the short distance between the table and his lips?”