Traffic congestion continues to be one of the major concerns in Kampala and the Greater Kampala metropolitan area, imposing significant delays in travel, economic losses, loss of man-hours that would have been used efficiently, and accidents that sometimes result in permanent injuries and death.
Kampala’s transportation system is mostly dominated by a mix of private vehicles, taxis (matatu), motorcycles, and heavy-duty vehicles due to shortage of public transport means. This, coupled with the ever-growing city population and poor traffic control methods, has cumulated effects of this unending traffic congestion in the city.
Sustainable Development Goal No. 11 aims at making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. However, studies have shown that traffic congestion in Kampala continues to have socio-economic implications such as increase in travel costs of commuters, noise or air pollution, substantial health effects like heart attacks, stress and fatigue, decreased mental satisfaction which in turn influence the productivity of the city’s workforce, not overlooking the challenge traffic jam poses to proper and sustainable planning and development of the GKMA, among others.
According to the UNHABITAT report, 24,000 man-hours are lost each day by commuters in Kampala due to traffic congestion. Labor productivity is a key dimension of economic performance and an essential driver of development, yet Kampala loses approximately 52 days of labor per year due to traffic jam. Kampala has one of the fastest growing city populations in Africa, at 4.1 per cent.
It can only mean that if the traffic congestion trend is not disrupted, its impact on Uganda’s economy will be on an upward trend. Urbanization contributes to better economic outcomes, but if not well harnessed, the reverse can be true.
From a regional perspective, Kampala lies along the northern corridor, East Africa’s important transport and logistics corridor that runs from Mombasa in Kenya through Uganda to Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of the Congo. This, therefore, means that traffic congestion in the city makes Kampala one of the bottlenecks to transport and logistics on the Northern Corridor, affecting not only Uganda but the EAC at large.
These challenges suggest that efforts need to be made to find a lasting solution to this traffic menace. As such, Japan International Cooperation (JICA) and Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) launched a technical corporation named “The project for capacity enhancement of KCCA in management of traffic flow in Kampala City,” in 2015 which, among other things, proposed the use of a smart traffic system “MODERATO”, a Japanese area- wide traffic control system that was found to be suited to Kampala’s road pattern.
This was followed by a grant aid project – “The project for improvement of traffic control in Kampala city” whose groundbreaking ceremony was officiated in November, 2022. The project shall go beyond facilitating the construction of the traffic control center, but will also improve 27 traffic junctions by signalization and removal of five critical roundabouts in the city.
The project is the first of its kind in the region, and will serve as a model for other cities to leverage technology twinned with infrastructure development for more safe, efficient and sustainable service delivery systems and, in doing so, propel Kampala towards the achievement of a smart-city status.
It is worth noting that infrastructure and technology alone cannot combat the challenges of traffic congestion in Kampala without good discipline of road users. Also to note is that the Christmas season that we are heading into, has in the past been characterized by fatalities on both urban and trunk roads.
As the government and partners put the right infrastructure and systems in place, citizens also need to play their part by respecting traffic regulations and safeguarding the infrastructure put in place.
The author is chief representative, JICA Uganda Office