For every person living or working in or around Kampala, traffic jam is a serious concern. The worries of missing appointments or arriving late for work affect every Kampala dweller. The costs of congestion, including reduced productivity, are well known.
Traffic jam is not peculiar to Kampala. Many modern cities - New York, Beijing, London, Johannesburg and Nairobi - face traffic congestion challenge.
Research has shown that constructing more roads or widening the existing ones does not solve the problem of traffic jam. Although it is a global challenge for most urban centres, still Kampala’s traffic chaos could have been avoided if planers had taken a holistic approach to address the root causes:
First, Uganda suffers from the “Kampalarisation” of everything. Unlike other countries that develop different cities for commerce, trade and social services, in Uganda, nearly centre - commerce, quality services, airport, ministries’ headquarters, etc, - are all established in and around Kampala City.
According to findings by USAID published in November 2017, Kampala and the south-central region account for an outsized portion of the national GDP. When everything is concentrated in an area, the result is that everyone will go there to look for opportunities hence the congestion.
The question to policy makers is: Why not develop other parts of the country so that people can access opportunities and services away from the centre? This requires a deliberate government policy to develop regional urban areas as commercial hubs through directing investment to those areas. Once regional balance is attained, a trader from Nebbi need not to come to Kampala to purchase merchandise as they would buy the same in Arua Town.
In neighbouring Kenya, there are other cities such as Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret, Naivasha, Nakuru and Lamu where citizens can go to seek opportunities without necessarily going to Nairobi. It is possible for Uganda to also develop municipalities such as Arua, Gulu, Mbarara, Soroti, Jinja and Mbale into regional commercial hubs.
Headquarters of some government and private entities should be relocated to regional urban municipalities. A good example is South Africa, where the headquarters of the Executive is located in Pretoria, Parliament sits in Cape Town and the judiciary headquarters is located in Bloemfontein, the capital of Free State.
Policy makers in Uganda should plan for affordable public transport system in Kampala. Buses would reduce the number of taxis and boda bodas that congest the city. A railway network should also be developed to provide affordable transport. This can reduce the number of people who drive private cars to the city.