I Wonder Who Will Dig Up the Northern By-pass First

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Saturday, March 6, was one of those days when I had to fit two back-to-back events either side of town to my schedule. There was a meeting somewhere in Kamwokya that was to start at 2pm and then a soccer match at Namboole Stadium from 4pm.

With just about 30 minutes to get to Namboole, I opted to use the northern by-pass. The drive was as smooth as one can’t get on any other road in Kampala these days; no traffic jams, no pot-holes, and no “contractors” blocking off parts of the road to patch up pot-holes that somehow re-emerge the very next day.

The northern by-pass had had its fair share of bad press even before its opening last year, a whole three years behind schedule, and that is unlikely to stop even now because there are still a number of unanswered questions regarding its construction. However, watching travellers drive from one part of the city to the other with ease, I can’t help but marvel at how this road is easing traffic flow in our increasingly over-crowded, over-motorised city.

Whatever could have become of Kampala if our governments had had the foresight to plan for similar roads, or – now that there is one to show us their importance – the temerity to swallow humble pie and actually plan for an additional one or two?

But even before the dream of another project of that nature is ever birthed, the authorities should keep an eye on the bird at hand.

Because Kampala is incessantly a work in progress, there are several companies digging up every other part of the city to either fix pipes or this and that cable. Trying to pinpoint which road in Kampala that has not been dug up by these companies is, like to find a road without a pot-hole, often a futile effort.

Recently, while moving past the round-about between Uganda Broadcasting Corporation, Parliament, the Serena Hotel and Crested Towers, I was shocked that one of the few roads where we seemed to have got value for money during repairs ahead of the November 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting had been dug up.

Where is Kampala City Council while all this is happening? Where is the executive? Where is parliament? Where are all the different law enforcement agencies? What are the rules that govern such activities? Or, if we don’t have laws and a government that actually work, where is the much-touted corporate social responsibility from the companies digging up our roads?

The way the northern by-pass was constructed, it seems no-body actually factored in the inevitable reality that a government agency or private company will one day need to pass pipes or underground cables across it to another side of the city.

We have sunk so low in the way we do so many things in our country. But we could at least start by setting some minimum standards somewhere, like in the decisions we make to ensure that the northern by-pass is not damaged in the way that other roads have been.

How this can be done is open to debate. But every time I drive through the northern by-pass, I dread the day I find that parts of it have been dug up — and its destruction started.

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