Since returning from a trip to Kampala I have been struggling to find something profound to say about the growth of African cities. The capital of Uganda has an estimated 2 million inhabitants. I was lucky enough to view the city from the air descending to land at Entebbe airport on a cloudy Sunday afternoon. I also travelled to eastern Uganda on the main road to the Kenyan border passing close to the medium sized town of Jinja, which is famous for a dam and hydro-electric installations on the Nile, where the river flows northwards from Lake Victoria. It is around 80 kilometres from Kampala to Jinja and the road is solid with crawling traffic, mostly oil trucks and container wagons hauling to and from Mombasa on the Indian Ocean, as well as four wheel cruisers and sugar cane lorries and all manner of motorbikes.
I thought it might be fun to take some ’photos of the urban sprawl and the dense traffic in and around Kampala, but it wasn’t possible to get a good angle. Anyway, I preferred to get some pictures of vegetation and the hilly landscapes of the east. The urban landscapes are not very attractive. The ugliness of unplanned settlements with open drains, piles of waste, tumbledown houses covered with brightly painted adverts for mobile telephones, tangles of electric cables and dirty kids playing by the roadside astounds me. I stared from the window of our car at the scenes of urbanization gotten out of control, wondering how a traffic planner would go about sorting out the mess of congestion and chaos. I marvelled at the patience and tolerance of the workers packed into thousands of miserable mini-vans on their daily commutes.
The world’s cities are growing fast, more and more people are abandoning their rural lifestyles in search of urban delights. There are jobs in the towns and cities, plus bright lights, entertainment, the prospect of opportunities and partners far from the big skies above the fields and huts in remote villages. As migration analysts would say, there are push and pull factors. So Kampala is like a giant magnet pulling people from the surrounding countryside. And I guess once you’re sucked in to playing urban survival games, there’s no turning back!
Even in Kampala there are green spaces, such as around the restaurant at the Villa Kololo where I stayed for four nights.