Someone help us sort out Kampala traffic!

Yesterday I spent three hours in traffic getting back home to Gayaza from Kampala road. Needless to say, this is a stressful journey which makes formal working life quite unpleasant. I have tried to solve this problem at an individual level by utilizing my time in traffic productively by listening to audiobooks and podcasts. However, some problems need systematic solutions beyond the individual.

This traffic problem in the most productive part of the country should be of national concern to policymakers. Kampala and the surrounding areas of Entebbe, Wakiso, Mukono, and Jinja generate over 80% of the economic value in this country. This means that the people who work here are largely responsible for the spurring economic development of this nation. So it makes no sense to hold the most productive society in four hours of traffic on a daily basis. The powers that be can leverage this time for more productive purposes by investing in better infrastructure to ease the physical movement of this working class.

Someone argued that this working class in urban centers votes for the opposition and that is why they have been neglected. I would like to argue that this same working class contributes 80% of government revenues and therefore effectively sustains the ruling government. In business, you focus on your cash cow and you do everything to make the cash cow even more productive.

I have a few ideas to help ease traffic flow around Kampala. I hope someone who has the power to solve this problem reads this article and does something about it.

1. We need to work on the existing roads. I have noticed that traffic flow really slows down as motorists navigate potholes. Fixing potholes is not rocket science and does not require too much cash. KCCA can set up a dedicated engineering division and provide them with the equipment and materials needed. Then you allocate an engineer for each road and work out an incentive program to ensure roads are fixed. Then publish a list of all roads with their respective engineers and phone contacts and let the public assist with monitoring. This is a simple solution that does not require a lot of budget. Next, we expand all key roads leading out of the city. Instead of two lanes, we do four lanes. This will greatly increase the flow of traffic. Think of it like a hose pipe. A bigger hose pipe delivers more water compared to a smaller one. Then we tarmac all the smaller alternative roads. Most motorists prefer the main roads because they are tarmacked. So we all end up crowding on the same road which causes too much jam. Then we signalize key junctions. Traffic usually builds up around junctions. Traffic lights have been shown to reduce jams greatly. Then we fix the drainage. Whenever it rains the city comes to a standstill. Working on the drainage will help. Of course, we need to strategically allocate more funds toward infrastructure around Kampala. This is not a political decision. It is an economic decision that benefits all of us.

2. Next we tackle driver behavior. A lot of traffic jam is caused by errant drivers who don’t obey the traffic rules. This is a simple discipline problem that is easy to solve. Human beings are driven by pain and pleasure. So we simply make breaking the rules more painful through strict enforcement of traffic rules by police. Now we need to incentivize the police to do their job. The cash collected from traffic fines should go directly to improve police welfare in terms of accommodation, cheap loans, etc. Police can actually generate billions from issuing and collecting traffic fines. Police can set up an automatic ticket-issuing system using smart cameras and then automatically deduct cash from the mobile money account attached to the car. Then we publicly shame errant drivers on social media and public TV. This will significantly reduce bad behavior on the roads. 

3. Now we fix public transport. A bus carrying 30 people to town causes less traffic compared with 30 small cars. So we introduce more buses on the road. We can give some incentives for people bringing in buses like tax waivers, dedicated lanes, and parking, etc. We can also encourage people to use alternative means of transport like bicycles and walking. So you need dedicated bicycle and walking lanes. Now, these things are very easy to do. This is not rocket science and everyone benefits so no one should fight such projects if you involve everyone and explain things clearly.

4. Then we have to systematically decongest Kampala. We don’t all have to live and work around Kampala. Most activity around town revolves around government and commercial centers. So we strategically move some government agencies out of Kampala. For instance, we take parliament to Jinja, the cabinet to Entebbe, the Ministry of Trade to Gulu, and the Ministry of Tourism to Karamoja. This kind of move has the added benefit of bolstering economic activity in remote areas. It can also generate a lot of political goodwill for the government. We can also make it expensive to access the center of town using a personal car by introducing a surcharge. 

5. Finally we improve institutional collaboration. Now fixing Kampala’s traffic problem is not a very simple matter as I have suggested. There are very many powerful actors who can individually derail the best-laid plans. This is just a matter of leadership. Someone has to deliberately bring all actors into one room and explain the opportunity at hand. Yes, traffic is a problem but also a huge opportunity for everyone. The key actors involved are KCCA + Political Leadership + Ministry of works + Ministry of Finance + Ministry of Kampala + Police + District leadership + Ministry of Local Government. The KCCA Executive Director could take up leadership of such a team. The way you lead such a team is by understanding each stakeholder’s interest and catering to it. The government wants more taxes which they can get by allowing people to work instead of sitting in jam. Police want improved welfare which they can get by enforcing traffic rules. The politicians want more votes which they can get by fixing the roads, collecting rubbish, and lighting the streets. The technocrats want job security which they can get through increased budget allocation to fix the roads. The public wants less traffic which they can have by following traffic rules. So you see it is a win-win for everyone involved. This team can form a powerful lobby group that can mobilize more funds for Kampala from the central government and other donors.

So I hope that someone influential reads this article and is triggered to improve the traffic situation around Kampala. The business case is clear. Increased productivity and revenues for everyone in the country. This is something that can be done!

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