Monday, 17 April 2017

Amolatar: The ideal site for a hypothetical future capital of Uganda? Why not?

Recently, Equatorial Guinea officially moved its capital from Malabo, a city on an island some distance off that country's continental territory, to a purpose built city deep in the interior of the mainland.

The new capital is called Djibloho, or Oyala, depending on what you happen to be reading or watching at the time. I guess they will figure out what name to stick with once they have turned on all the lights, the streets have been cleared of construction debris and the common people have started moving in.

Until then the new capital is a city in the middle of dense equatorial rain forest adorned with all the facilities you'd expect from an unaccountable leader with millions of petrodollars to spend on a pet project.

However, I am getting carried away. This post is not about Equatorial Guinea's new capital.

However, it is while reading about Djibloho and watching YouTube videos of its new fancy hotels and golf courses that I started thinking about something that has been on my mind for some years now.

And this is it.

If Uganda were ever to build a new capital, where would the ideal site for such a city be?

I have been thinking about this question for a while now and the I turn the issue over in my head, the more I think the small northern district of Amolatar might just be the ideal site.

Why Amolatar you might ask? I have my reasons but I will get to those in a short while.

First, some background.

The idea of building a new capital has been around for decades but it has remained just that- an idea.

Over the last few years, Kampala has become more congested and has practically run out of room to expand. Any attempts at widening the roads or creating any kind of major infrastructure are fraught with all manner of headaches.

This is largely because when Kampala was first conceived and planned as a modern city in the early 1900s. It was meant to cater primarily for a ruling British elite and an Asian business class.

Therefore, the parts of the city where these two classes of people lived were well planned with paved roads, good drainage, functioning sewer systems and all that. The rest of the city was just given the most basic amenities. In fact, up to this day the majority of Kampala's residents still do not have proper sewerage systems in their neighbourhoods

At independence in 1962, Kampala's infrastructure and public amenities were suited to comfortably cater for a population of about 100,000 people

The immediate post-independence government went some way in creating and implementing a structural plan that was intended to address the needs of the majority of the city's people.

However, most of these plans were abandoned in the years of political instability throughout the 70s and 80s and even that which was working at independence fell into disrepair and a lot of the public infrastructure crumbled.

Anyway, fast forward through all that and right now the  permanent population of the Kampala is around 1.8 million while the day time population (including the metropolitan population can be as high as 5 million). Yet the infrastructure, roads, sewerage system, etc has changed little from the 1960s.

As the population increased and the demands to plan for a city that is both the commercial, industrial, and administrative hub of the country grew, some people started toying around with the idea of building a new capital.

This idea has been popular in some circles but no moves have ever been made to seriously discuss it and see how feasible it is.

In 2015, parliament gave its approval for the creation of this new capital-citing all of the reasons I have given and a few more. This news created some buzz for a while but it soon died down.


However, like I mentioned, the idea of a new capital comes up every now and then there never seems to be any consensus on where this city ought to be. But for some time now the preferred site has been Nakasongola district, the northern most district of Buganda and of the Central region.

Nakasongola has its pros like being sparsely populated, hence having lots of land for construction and future expansion of the capital.

Its location as the northern most district of the central region puts in roughly in a more central position in the country than Kampala is.

Nakasongola generally flat and sparsely populated, which is always a good thing when building planned cities. This gives the planners more to work with and fewer issues of displacement to deal with.

The district also borders lake Kyoga, which would provide a much needed source of water for the city.

Also, it is close to Kiryandongo, which is the site of the Karuma dam, which will be the biggest Hydropower dam in Uganda when it is completed in a few years time..So electricity will not be an issue.

However, despite all the advantages Nakasongola has, I personally believe Amolatar would be a better site for different technical and, most importantly, political reasons.

Why Amolatar?
First of all Amolatar is separated from Nakasongola by only around 8 kilometeres of lake Kyoga, at the narrowest crossing point. This means it is just as central as Nakasongola is, despite technically being in Northern Uganda

In fact I believe Amolatar is a more central site being roughly equidistant east-west, north and south from Uganda's borders.

Just like Nakasongola, the topography of Amolatar is also mostly flat making it equally ideal for large scale construction.

The district is surrounded by water on 3 sides, by Lake Kwania to the West and Lake Kyoga to the South and East.

This means it has more water than Nakasongola and it  also receives more rainfall on average than Nakasongola, which is largely dry.

Now the fact that Amolatar is surrounded by water on 3 sides can be viewed as a disadvantage in that it makes it slightly harder to access from Kampala and other southern areas.

However, I think this is not that big an issue and it can be easily overcome with some clever road linkages.

It also offers a chance to build a bridge that connects the northern and southern halves of Uganda. This bridge could run from Zengebe in Nakasongola to Namasale in Amolatar. This is  an ideal crossing point and in fact there is already a ferry plying that route

This bridge will be costly to build but I believe that it would pay for itself in a short while when the capital is established and settled.

Besides it would be an ideal chance to have a grand infrastructural project that will in itself be a major landmark or iconic structure-a Ugandan equivalent of San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge or Lagos's 3rd mainland bridge.

Besides, Lake Kyoga is a shallow lake so I am guessing it might not actually be that much of an engineering feat to build a bridge across it.

I could go on and on trying to give technical justifications for why I think Amolatar would be Ideal for a new capital but these are not really the most important. At the end of the day my main reasons for favouring Amolatar are mostly political.

Having the administrative capital of Uganda in northern Uganda would be a big boost towards developing the region and going some distance in correcting the historical concentration of development projects and economic activity in the "Bantu areas" south of Lake Kyoga.

The greater northern region has suffered decades of neglect, to varying degrees, since colonial times and this was compounded by a two decade long war waged against the Lords Resistance Army that meant the region remained stagnant while most of the country was slowly moving forward.

Therefore, having a capital in the region will almost certainly stimulate development and provision of services for the people of the area and in the process create some kind of north-south equilibrium

I also believe that on some level a capital city in northern Uganda will help draw the people of the north and south closer and go some way in fostering national unity. Not least because of the interactions and inevitable migration to the city but also because things that happen around the capital or centres of power, like parliament tend to attract nationwide attention-this would draw attention to the issues of the area.

Besides if the capital were to be built in Nakasongola, this would not only mean that the two most important cities in the country were in the south but it would also mean having both these cities in Buganda. Knowing my Ugandan people's obsession with regional balance, this might not go down too well

Furthermore, on the same day that parliament approved the creation of a new capital, it also approved the establishment of the four regional cities of Arua, Gulu, Mbale, and Mbarara and the designation of five strategic cities, including  Hoima (as a centre for the oil and gas sector), Fort Portal (as a tourism city), Moroto (for mining development) and Nakasongola and Jinja (as industrial cities).

This means Nakasongola will still be developed as an industrial city and having the administrative capital just across lake Kyoga would raise the potential for so many positive linkages that I cannot begin to enumerate here.

Also that bridge discussed earlier would become a lot more necessary.

From my point of view there is more to gain for the country if  quiet sleepy Amolatar was made the future capital of Uganda.

Leaving Kampala to concentrate on growing its profile as the true heartbeat and engine of growth for Uganda by developing it as a hub for finance, transport, education, entertainment etc can only be advantageous

Granted, a lot of what I have just said is just theorizing and hypothesizing with very little in the way of concrete examples on how these ideas can be put into action. After all, I am not an urban planner, neither am I a civil engineer and my knowledge of Amolatar is very basic, having ever only just passed through the district once a few years ago.

There might be some real insurmountable reasons I am unaware of as to why Amolatar is not ideal for a future capital and some would argue that Kampala's congestion can be best dealt with by developing the other urban centres to take some pressure off the city.

However, Like I said earlier there is more to my reasons for recommending Amolatar than purely technical pros and cons and the more I think about it the more shifting the capital to a new city in Amolatar appears to be an idea worth considering.

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