Owning Our Urban Future: The Case of Kampala City

TitleOwning Our Urban Future: The Case of Kampala City
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsStewart-Wilson, G, Sewankambo, N, Muwanga, N, Kasimbazi, E, Musuya, T, Droruga, N, Mwadime, R, Eriki, P, Muyonga-Namayengo, F

Uganda is currently in the early stages of a profound transition from a predominantly rural society to an urban society. While the capital city, Kampala, continues to dominate economic and political life in Uganda, a number of regional hubs are quickly emerging across the country. As infrastructural linkages between these urban nodes improve, the process will accelerate. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), 7.4 million Ugandans, or approximately 21% of the population, currently live in urban areas. By 2040, that number is expected to increase to 20 million urban residents. Increasing urban populations predominantly result in the physical growth of built-up areas, either vertically or horizontally. Urbanization, however, also denotes a more profound socio-political restructuring, as communities come to terms with the implications of this demographic shift. Identities, values, land use, and patterns of organization all change in response. Uganda is thus at the beginning stages of a profound and irreversible demographic shift that will change many aspects of our culture, economy, and political system.The process of urbanization can create both economic and welfare benefits. Urban areas are generally more productive, earn higher incomes, and have better quality of life than rural areas. These economic and welfare benefits, however, are not inevitable. Building effective cities is a policy-intensive process. Urban governance requires layers of coordination and cooperation between public investment in infrastructure, private investment in productive capital, and family investment in housing. Furthermore, the density of human activity that defines urban agglomeration produces many negative externalities. Without sufficiently robust governance, rapid urbanization quickly outstrips a society’s ability to provide sufficient housing, employment, infrastructure, and basic services.The question at the heart of the urbanization process is therefore one of governance. Urban areas can help stimulate national development, but successful implementation of appropriate policies requires a coherent governance system. Governance refers to both formal and informal processes by which governments and a range of stakeholders—such as business associations, civil society, and private citizens—work together to align their interests in decisions about how to plan, finance, and manage urban space. The decisions of individual urban actors are sequential, so that in the absence of strong and coherent governance the evolution of cities is unlikely to be efficient, neither in terms of economic productivity nor welfare. A city is a complex collection of many actors, and the underlying problem is how they fit together as a whole.Urbanization and the resulting challenges to service delivery in Uganda are intimately tied to the historicity of urban governance in the country. In pre-colonial Uganda, the royal capitals of Buganda, Bunyoro, Ankole, Toro, and Busoga were the only population agglomerations that could be said to have some kind of urban character. It was not until the British Crown, with its overriding economic imperative, took control of the colonial administration in 1894 that new urban centres focused on commerce began to emerge. Under the colonial system, British administrators and South Asian traders were given preferential occupancy rights in cities. As an essentially alien concept, Uganda’s urban system has never really met the needs of the majority African population.The capital city, Kampala, is the country’s primate city, providing a connection to the wider globalized world, and contributing disproportionately to economic growth and job creation. A number of key patterns from the historicity of urban governance in Kampala persist today. First, the city was never intended for a large and diverse population. A small, relatively wealthy elite held ownership over all governance processes, and directed development of the city to their own benefit. Second, the colonial administration was not accountable to local populations. The city was never intended to meet the needs of local populations, and incorporating accountability mechanisms into the governance system seemed unnecessary. Third, governance of Kampala’s development was from the beginning divided between the colonial township and the indigenous city, with little alignment between the two. Fourth, the inclusion of indigenous Africans in governance processes was rarely a consideration. Today, insufficient ownership, accountability, alignment, and inclusion persist as major impediments to effective governance in Kampala.To address these challenges of effective urban governance, the Uganda National Academy of Sciences (UNAS) convened an expert committee to produce a consensus study on the burgeoning urban transformation affecting the country. The consensus study expert committee identified a range of crucial urban sectors, and documented the underlying influence of ownership, accountability, alignment, and inclusion on their governance. Focusing primarily on Kampala, the expert committee identified the following sectors that offer key challenges and opportunities for effective governance: institutional arrangements, transportation systems, land use, water and sanitation, and health and nutrition. These sectors were selected to extract common lessons related to urban governance while simultaneously providing specific and action-oriented recommendations for reform.A city’s institutional arrangement provides the context under which governance occurs. In the case of Kampala, the history of decentralization exacerbated existing centre-local political tensions and contributed to years of vertically divided authority and institutional paralysis. The establishment of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) as a central government agency helped to resolve some of these tensions and streamline service delivery. However, opaque language in the 2010 KCCA Act creates overlapping roles and responsibilities in the institutional arrangement of Kampala. In part because of these overlapping roles and responsibilities, there is insufficient communication between the political and administrative wings of KCCA. Finally, there is minimal available academic literature on the institutional arrangements of emerging urban centres in Uganda, making it difficult to directly apply the lessons learned from Kampala.

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