Why Uganda needs to shift her Capital City from Kampala

Why has Uganda failed to shift her capital city from Kampala to a more suitable location? We need to have a structured discussion about this and bring it to a conclusion. Why has parliament for example never interested itself in this important matter? Many countries have shifted their capital cities from one area to another due to various reasons. For instance Indonesia early this year announced that it was moving its capital from Jakarta to Nusantara because the former was no longer tenable as the capital. Jakarta is one of the world’s largest cities with traffic jams that last hours. Besides it was built in a swampy areas and some studies have consistently showed that the city has been sinking under its weight by as much as eleven inches every year. The city suffers from severe flooding and it’s feared that a big part of it could get submerged in the coming years. 

 

Time comes when a country realizes that the current capital city may not serve the purpose of a capital. When the capital becomes congested, when the country needs to decentralize services to other areas and when they realize that the old city in ‘irredeemable and unplannable’ then, most countries chose to move their capitals to a new area where they start on a fresh page as the plan a new city. A capital city should be the “sitting room” of a country and must have preferential treatment vis-à-vis other urban areas. Whereas some capitals were founded accidentally sometimes due to trading and commerce, at a given area others are established purposely and strategically. Those created purposefully have a higher chance of being well organized and more productive. 

To start with, the laws and regulations relating to Uganda’s capital city are quite vague and not forthright in defining what a capital city is and its purpose. It seems to me that the drafters of these laws took it for granted that everyone knows what a capital city is along with its functions. The Legal framework on which the Uganda’s capital derives its mandate is as good as nonexistent. Chapter two of the constitution of Uganda article five, subsection five states that “The capital of Uganda is Kampala”. It doesn’t define what a capital is. In the entire constitution, there is no word “City” neither does it mention the word urban. It only talks about urban authorities without mentioning the areas they govern. This is a serious omission. The Local Government Act is completely silent on what a capital city is. In fact it has absolutely nothing about Kampala capital city. The Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) Act defines Capital City merely as “Kampala Capital City”. It also misses to define a very important component of “Capital”. These are the three foremost pieces of legislation that would give meaning and guidance about the importance of the capital city to a country. The mere fact that all these are silent goes a long way to show how lightly this subject has been handled. If something of such significance is not given the weight it deserves in the legal structures, it would seem to me that we have not even woken up to the reality of what is expected of us. It’s therefore not surprising that the capital city of Uganda is managed and administered in laissez-fair manner that is not grounded in law. It’s thus quite important that we define what a capital city of a country is. When we understand this it shall then lead us to discuss how we need to treat the capital city. A capital city is defined as the “city or town that functions as the seat of government and administrative center”. It’s important to recognize that Kampala is not only the capital city but also serves as the commercial capital and business hub of Uganda, though this is not covered anywhere in the laws of the country too. 

Yuri Okunev one of the foremost winters on urban governance writes that a Capital City is the “backbone institution in the political and administrative structure of the state. It’s the center for managing political processes in the country but also the most important political institution that forms, reproduces and transforms statehood. Most capital cities of countries are located in the center of the country such that they can be seen as representable and accessible. Following the same trend, Kampala which is almost in the exact center of Uganda was chosen as the seat of government. This thinking is however very old fashioned especially for countries that have one large urban center which serves as the capital and commercial capital. Many countries have had to grapple with the challenge of shifting their capitals and it’s always an issue that calls for sober debate. Some of the countries that have successfully shifted their capitals thus spreading opportunities to other parts of the state include Nigeria which shifted its capital from Lagos to Abuja, Brazil moved it from the crowded city of Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia while Australia moved its capital from its glamorous city of Sydney to what is termed as “Bush City” of Canberra. Germany shifted its capital from Bonn to Berlin. These are just a few examples of countries that have has to make one of the most important decisions which has seen their economies expand beyond their capitals. Perhaps the best example of a country that has managed its question of administration is South Africa. The country divided its three arms of government and spread them to different cities and this has worked perfectly well. The central government is located in Pretoria, the legislature is in Cape Town while the judiciary is in Bloemfontein while the constitutional court is in Johannesburg. There are several countries where the official capital city is not the seat of government. Examples are Benin, Bolivia, Ivory Coast, Netherlands, among others. Other countries have multiple capitals. These include Belize, Canary Islands, Chile and Estonia. Yet other countries don’t have capitals at all for example France whose constitution doesn’t recognize any capital city. Its parliament and government (cabinet) can sit in any place as agreed upon depending on prevailing circumstances. 

The capital city of a nation ought to be treated differently from other cities and towns. It needs to have a special budget to manage its infrastructure. It should enjoy a special status since it’s the seat of government. It should have good ambiance especially in areas where government offices are located, with first class infrastructure and trees lining the sides of the road. The capital needs to have some level of sophistication that shows the seriousness of government. The environment should be conducive for workers and to feel comfortable to execute their duties efficiently. People who come to access various services should be assured of excellent service from a good ambiance. A capital city should not be only a symbol of authority of government, it should be the pride of the nation. There are several reasons why Uganda needs to shift her capital but due to lack of time and space we shall only highlight a few. Kampala has served as the capital city of Uganda since 1962 when the population was small. It was then known as the city of seven hills. It has since expanded to more than 20 hills and still growing. The population of Kampala has been increasing at a much faster rate than the infrastructure. The city is congested which makes the cost of doing business very expensive. The transport system is overwhelmed and dominated by inefficient para-transit modes which include taxis, Bodaboda and Tuktuk. The roads are narrow and colonial in set up partly due to the topography of the area which is hilly. There are no pedestrian walk ways nor bicycle lanes. The city lacks open public spaces and green areas. Most government agencies which are located within the city do not have adequate space. A case in point is Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) which is located on George Street adjacent to Central Police Station with no parking space for its clients. Another example is Ministry of Internal Affairs and Immigration Department located on Old Port bell road. People who go there to acquire passports are made to wait in the road which creates congestion and disorder. These are just a few examples of government agencies that lack conducive places to operate from. 

 

There has been a debate about the location of the new capital city in case it is to be shifted. Some people have suggested Nakasongola because of its flat nature and centrality. Where to shift the capital to would not be a problem only if we could first agree as a country on whether we need to shift it. Once we agree that shifting the capital city to somewhere else is important, then we would go ahead to discuss the best available alternatives. The challenge is that until now, we have not yet convinced ourselves that the capital city needs to change. We keep “patching up” Kampala thinking that it may look better with time. The reality is that it costs the country more to rectify Kampala city today that it would if we relocated the capital and started building a new one. The executive arm of government should as a matter of urgency initiate the process to draft a white paper to initiate the debate process. Parliament also needs to get special interest to ensure this issue is settled once and for all in the best interest of the country. This debate should be inclusive so as to get maximum support from the largest section of the citizenry. The process should be democratic, engaging and thorough. The white paper should explain the possible benefits of shifting the capital but also the likely pitfalls the country will face if Kampala remains as the capital city. I am available to offer a free service in drafting the white paper.

5 thoughts on “Why Uganda needs to shift her Capital City from Kampala”

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