By Mutabazi Sam Stewart
The Uganda government elevated seven municipalities to city status on 1st July 2020. The new cities are Jinja, Mabrara, Fortportal, Masaka, Mbale, Gulu, and Arua. Uganda therefore has eight cities in total including the capital city, Kampala. In the coming years, government will create eight more cities bringing the total number to sixteen. This is an opportunity to plan these cities so that they can grow into model urban areas in the region. The country has had only one city since it became a nation and the capital has been choking on congestion and inadequate infrastructure to match the growing population. Kampala has acted as the commercial, administrative, residential and capital city of Uganda since independence in 1962. The population of Kampala has been steadily increasing. At independence, Kampala had a population of 165,000 people, the same number of people in Mbarara and Gulu currently. Kampala today has a growth rate of 5% per anum and is expected to have a population of seven million by the year 2035. Currently the city has a population of 3.2 Million people
Government should not stop at declaring the seven new cities but must take lead in holding their arm and helping them to make baby steps and guiding them to grow into sustainable metropolis. Although city authorities have the principal responsibility of planning the new cities, the central government must provide overall guidance and ensure that resources allocated are put to good use in addition to helping the to make implementable plans, strategies and development frameworks. There is need for better coordination among government entities including ministries, departments and agencies in managing and guiding the new cities. The relationship between the central government and the new cities need to be well defined. No side should usurp the role of the other, but also the drafting and implementation of physical plans should be in conformity with the national plans and aspirations.
The creation of new cities presents challenges and opportunities. They could become a blessing if government prepares them adequately and directs them towards a better trajectory. Though Uganda is fast urbanizing, most of the country operate in a rural fashion because of appearance and the way of life of its people. Both urban and rural areas have a lot in common. Urbanization is important for development if well-handled because urban areas have immense opportunities and services such as better infrastructure, banks, Schools, recreation facilities etc. Although population increase is a major driver of urbanization, it’s not enough to guarantee better urban development. In fact, high population growth could seriously compromise meaningful urban development because, urban growth must match urban infrastructure and services.
For urban development to be sustainable, Uganda must emphasize urban planning as a core function of coherent urban expansion. Cities must not be allowed to sprout without due guidance. Physical planning cannot be overemphasized for the new cities. They need to get it right from the onset. Planning should be short, medium and long term where cities will set goals to determine where they want to go in the coming years. The first thing the new cities need to do is to come up with land-use plans and determine which activities will be carried out when and where within the city. Additionally, new cities must emphasize greening as a priority as well as open public spaces and leisure parks. A city that doesn’t have enough greenery within its confines will not be an attractive city and nether will it be sustainable. Cities should have Master plans which should guide the overall space utilization for maximum benefit. They should come up with comprehensive transport plans because a mobility forms the most important lifeline of any progressive city. The road network within the city ought to be thought about prior such that and new infrastructure fits within the existing transit lines for maximum transport efficiency. Cities should design comprehensive drainage systems that will carry away storm water to gazzeted areas such as wetlands in the most efficient manner to avoid flooding and poor sanitation. Furthermore, Cities should have waste management plans for better disposition of garbage and space should be identified where a landfill will be located. The ideal landfill station not be too near the city but again not too far away to avoid transporting challenges. The land fill should also not be too near residential areas. Cities should preferably, start in earnest to look for ways and means of recycling the waste by engaging the private sector as a means of protecting the environment and keeping the area around the landfill clean and unpolluted.
The private sector is a powerful shaper of cities. Nevertheless it has to be guided and coordinated by, .authorities in their investment decisions. Increasingly, the private sector provides critical infrastructure in cities including buildings and commerce itself. There is therefore need for continued engagement between the business community and city authorities to build trust and as a strong foundation for better service delivery. In Uganda’s case, people in the city need about only five basic things which are largely provide by authorities. These are:
§ Good public transport services
§ Good roads
§ Affordable housing
§ Schools, universities and colleges
§ Health care services
§ Leisure parks, recreation centers and playgrounds
§ Water and Electricity
City authorities need to work with opinion leaders and business people for mutual relationships and harmonious implementation of prgrammes.
Internationally, there are fundamental principles that cities must adhere to if they are to make meaningful progress and become prosperous and suitable. They need to work around the following objectives
§ Increase productivity of the city
§ Advance sustainability of natural and built environment
§ Enhance livability by urban design and cultural activities
§ Protecting and enhancing natural ecosystems
§ Encourage mixed use development of housing
§ Work towards a compact functional city and avoid sprawl
§ Manage easy and timely mobility of people and goods
There is need for greater coordination of activities between the central government, cities and the private sector. Also, government must ensure that the new cities plan to accommodate future population growth through adequate planning and appropriate investment in infrastructure. Lastly there is need for government to come up with a policy document that guide public and private investment in cities, articulating how the cities will metamorphose from informal urban outfits to glamorous cosmopolitans that meet the needs of the people and the country’s urban growth aspirations. If the new cities adopt these measures, they are likely to become productive and competitive both regionally and internationally.