• Authored By: Regean Mugume
25 Mar 2024

The quality of roads is critical for any country’s development agenda. It impacts not only the quality of life of its citizens but also its productivity. Better roads can facilitate increases in household income and consumption. Specifically, better roads reduce transport costs for firms and individuals to access product and labour markets. Furthermore, agricultural farms’ profitability improves with easier access to input and product markets.

However, the pronounced decline of the Kampala road system, plagued by potholes, dust, and poor drainage seems to point to a leadership crisis–one that has no clue of the significance of quality infrastructure to a capital city. Kampala is critical because i accounts for 75 percent of the national revenue collection and 64 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Simply put, the country’s wealth is generated here in the capital. Why then have we allowed the city’s roads to degenerate to this level? Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) indicates that limited funding has resulted in only 600km (about 29 percent) of the City’s road system being primarily paved or tarmacked out of a total length of 2100 km. Most of the paved roads in Kampala, totaling 360km, are over 35 years old and have undergone multiple patching and repairs. A well-paved road will require reconstruction after 15 – 20 years.

KCCA receives about Shs25 billion annually instead of the needed Shs100 billion required to maintain the roads effectively. Upgrading roads has a great impact on the local economy. When new roads are paved in Kampala suburbs, roadside businesses spring up, land value goes up, enabling the real estate industry to flourish and creating more jobs for land valuers, surveyors, brokers, and other real estate professionals.

When road infrastructure is in a state of disrepair, it causes drainage systems to become blocked, resulting in increased flooding during the rainy seasons. This hinders investment in real estate and other businesses, shrinks the creation of jobs, forces businesses to relocate, and discourages foreign investments in the city.

A vehicle navigates through a severely deteriorated and flooded city road

Relatedly, the poor state of roads also greatly affects the country’s tourism sector, given that Kampala city is the face of Uganda Most foreigners will have the first and lasting impression of bad roads as the general situation across the country. Improving national productivity would necessitate a disproportionate focus on Kampala, given its contribution to the national resource envelope. The International Growth Centre (IGC) research shows that potholes, which contribute to congestion, are estimated to cost Shs2.1 trillion, equivalent to 7 percent of Uganda’s GDP annually.

Workers in Kampala, on average, lose 52 days’ worth of work time annually due to traffic congestion, which is assumed to have increased because of the current poor state of the city roads. Poor roads also affect the health of citizens, consequently undermining their productivity at work. The Global Quality Report 2021 ranks Kampala City as Africa’s fifth most polluted City, with an average pollution of 26.1, about 5 times higher than the World Health Organization’s recommended safety standards.

Unpaved, dusty, and potholed roads are likely to increase exposure to deadly respiratory diseases such as lung cancer, strokes, heart attacks, and chest pain among Kampala city residents. Research shows that air pollution, mostly in urban areas, causes 43 percent of deaths in Uganda from strokes and heart diseases. Notably, people living in urban centres are more likely (13 percent to present signs of asthma than their counterparts in rural areas (9 percent).

Whereas it is apparent that the government has a narrower fiscal space, delay in remedying the state of roads have serious implications. First, the government’s failure to address potholes in Kampala takes away people’s savings as they dip into their pockets for frequent car repairs. It will also probably trigger a surge in food prices due to high transportation costs of produce, disproportionately affecting the urban poor and worsening poverty levels.

Third, poor roads will lower the incentive for highly needed investments in the real estate industry. With the deteriorating drainage system, the city will experience prolonged flooding as the rainy season approaches. The incidence of respiratory diseases is likely to increase among the Kampala dwellers, affecting their productivity. No one wins in a city whose roads look like potato gardens. Government must get to work and fix the city infrastructure–a taxpayers’ prayer.

The article was published in Daily Monitor on Thursday, March 14, 2024 

Feature photo credit/Daily Monitor

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