Friday, March 30, 2007

Uganda Needs a Public Transport Authority

‘UTODA Prepares for CHOGM’ was a headline in The New Vision of March 27th and that is the only part of the story I read. I have learnt not to go any further with stories of UTODA in the newspapers. Many times announcements are made by this unpopular private public service provider and the newspapers are kind enough to publish them only for them to turn out to be hollow. So now, to me at least, UTODA is like the proverbial little boy who cried ‘wolf!’.

I believe that the organisation lacks a professional public relations mechanism within its operations. Someone once wrote that it should be applauded for employing a big number of musomo gwalema (personnel with little or no education). There is, however, absolutely no reason why UTODA should exhibit that in the way it is run. All of this would be solved if government formed a autonomous Public Transport Authority. The President has said that we should stop chasing demand and start planning for it instead. I believe that this should be the same in the public transport sector. The Licencing Board of the Department of Transport has its bureaucratic limitations, whose most evident product is the quality of taxis, their drivers and conductors and the setting of fares. Autonomous authorities have plugged similar weaknesses in other sectors especially when it comes to ensuring that policies are implemented.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Whether we keep Mabira gazetted or not, Uganda remains at the very bottom of the global warming food chain. Even before the suggested degazetting, we have been experiencing the negative effects of climate change in Uganda for decades now. The world is now at the other end of something that started about two hundred years ago with the industrialisation in Europe and later North America. Uganda is not responsible for the global climate change we witness today. Two hundred years ago our biggest contribution to global carbon emissions was through cooking and making decorative accessories, spears and arrows. Our ecosystem is still richer than the ones in countries we look up to as the most progressive and powerful and run to for kyeeyo and environmental conferences.

Why are we then still the most vulnerable to climate change? We have a rich ecosystem; only ten percent of our homes have electricity, about the same have vehicles and we do not own fleets of ships or airplanes. So why is Uganda getting a worse ‘climatic bloody nose’ than those with nationwide electricity coverage and more planes than our buses? In short, Uganda is not contributing significantly to global warming. It is the world’s economic powers that are doing it. We, however, do not hear that there is hunger there and yet, with our rich ecosystem that attracts tourists, we have already sounded the alarm that the enemy is in our backyard.

The reason for our situation, with our eco-faithfulness, is that we are poor. We are rooted at the bottom of every development indicator from literacy to mortality to attracting investment to wearing shoes. Because of this, we even have no say on what the world needs to do to improve the climate situation. Nobody listens to us because we are a poor and small country whose significance in world affairs is of one that is tolerated. China and Brazil have at some point almost told their critics to go to hell when they questioned their environmental credentials. They remain some of those most courted by investors and tourists. They have attained a level where the agricultural policies in other countries barely affect their economies, unlike Uganda. They are instead in the league of those that affect others with their domestic policies. When Brazil started using her sugarcane to make bio-fuel, in Uganda sugar prices skyrocketed and even became political. The same happened in Mexico when the US started making fuel out its corn making the price of the staple fajitas too high for our fellow third-worlders.

Is it not ironic that you can judge the poor and the rich, states and people, by how much carbon they contribute to the environment? The poor pollute less and the rich are a catastrophe and yet everybody, even the loudest environmentalist, wants to be and stay rich! Uganda needs to get rich to fight for the environment globally, not just at home where there will be little impact. We need to integrate with our neighbours, produce and export more and create jobs. Studies show that soon we shall be loosing more to global warming than we have got in foreign aid ironically from those that are responsible for our doomed destiny. I do not hear us threatening to boycott their aid, products and consultants. Our destiny and legacy lie in our ability to transform our country and propel it to prosperity. If we do not want our people to get hungry, let us start making them rich. Only then can they be positioned to ward off the effects of global warming. Maybe given changing the use of Mabira is not such a bad idea at all, if we look at it more pragmatically and with less sentiment and sensationalism. Yes, it comes with negative effects which, however, can be mitigated by all of us taking the necessary steps nationally and globally, and from our homes to our workplaces. I hope we can debate these more in the near future.