It is raining cities in Uganda. On July 1, there were scientific celebrations across the country as the long-awaited day for the inauguration of seven cities finally came. Of course, the cities are created by politicians and so they are ‘‘balanced’.’’The country has four regions and now each region has two cities – how democratic!
The central region already had Kampala to which Masaka, 128 kilometres south of the national capital, was added. The eastern region was given Jinja City and Mbale City. The northern got Arua City and Gulu City while the West bagged Mbarara City and Fort Portal City.
The awarding of cities comes after four decades of district multiplication, during which we have managed to increase the districts of Uganda by seven times from 19 when the military government fell in 1979 to 135 in 2019. Of course, the size of Uganda did not increase, and the population only grew by three times.
The major reasons for splitting the districts by seven times – besides the rhetorical “taking services nearer to the people” – was to appease tribal feelings of ethnic communities in cosmopolitan multicultural districts that sought to be separated and get districts of their own. In Tororo near the Kenya border, a man grabbed a live rat, chewed and swallowed the squeaking mammal right in front of President Yoweri Museveni at a public function to protest his tribe’s not having a district of its own.
Under the decentralisation policy, districts take on more roles previously played by the central government, which includes public service employment by the district service commission, and the fight for jobs along tribal lines can be nasty.
Like Dalton’s discovery of the atom based on the reasoning that if you keep subdividing a particle, you reach a stage when you cannot split it any further and the indivisible smallest unit was named the atom, a time came when the districts of Uganda became indivisible so we stopped at 135 ‘atomic’ districts that could not be split any further.
Now we have entered the brilliant era of awarding city status to our little towns. And as a nationalist, I have to defend the glory of our new cities to the hilt. I know that world over that besides a high population concentration bigger than a town’s, a city is identified by its extensive development of transport, housing, sanitation, communication and utility systems that are more sophisticated than those of a town’s.
Soon open 5G wi-fi will be part of a city’s definition. But we don’t care if you choose to denigrate out news cities with their few streets and barely existing utilities. We know about those things and already have them spiritually, with plans to get them physically as soon as possible.
Many youthful Ugandans today believe in the prosperity gospel. If you park your nice car near a church these days and on coming back to you find a young man or woman holding onto it and fervently claiming ownership, kindly do not interrupt. It is a serious prayer session. The young man or woman will yell that it is their car, that they claim it, that they take it. Allow the claimant a few minutes, they will calm down, open their eyes and walk away.
We middle-aged and elderly Ugandans are claiming our cities. Please don’t interrupt us with your definitions of cities. We know them but we are claiming them now, then we shall work towards them.
I particularly liked the new mayor of the new Fort Portal city in the mid-west. (The new cities’ leaderships were instituted by simply promoting the councils of the municipalities that were turned into cities, and these will hold office till elections are held next year.) The new Fort Portal mayor set a lofty but very realistic target for his team. He announced that they are going to green their new city, being a tourism city, by planting trees. This does not require any foreign loan or central government grant. There is no shortage of indigenous tree seedlings and all that is needed is to pick them from forests and plant them.
Who says his six other counterparts won’t also come up with realistic but transformational targets? Let us just wait and see.