The game of numbers in regional politics and urban planning

My picture of the week was from Tanzania taken at a Chama Cha Mapinduzi political rally showing their candidate John Pombe Magufuli doing push ups in a show of his physical strength. It was a subtle jab aimed at his challenger Edward Lowassa who is much older and probably unable to pull off the same feat without getting his doctors nervous.

My picture of the week was from Tanzania taken at a Chama Cha Mapinduzi political rally showing their candidate John Pombe Magufuli doing push ups in a show of his physical strength. It was a subtle jab aimed at his challenger Edward Lowassa who is much older and probably unable to pull off the same feat without getting his doctors nervous.

I have seen Uganda’s President, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni also doing push ups on a number of occasions to prove what many have often called his ‘stamina.’ I wonder where we got this idea that every once in a while our leaders should give us a random show of masculinity or physical strength. And shall we at some point graduate to the Vladmir Putin level of shirtless displays of toned bodies?

Away from the push ups, political events are still largely judged by the size of the crowds and not what was said. Recently when Kenya’s opposition coalition held an event in Nairobi, some of the messages that were going round clearly stated that people should attend so that they don’t ‘shame Raila Odinga aka Baba.

In Tanzania, the politicians have devised another trick of getting the crowd size to swell up. Besides the ferrying of supporters from one rally to another, big name artists are hired to sing to the crowds so a political rally doubles up as a free music concert.

I can therefore conclude that politicians always do all they can to draw huge crowds to mirror a sense of popularity. What angers me is that once we elect them, then we endure five years of the same politicians chasing us off the roads with their escort vehicles because they are always late and in a hurry and the rest of us aren’t.

We often miss the irony in all this since our roads are congested because those folks in huge Land Cruisers led by police escort cars are not doing enough to deal with congestion that commuters have to live with daily. I have spent the largest part of my life in Kampala but many times the traffic jams almost make me want to seek asylum in a far off Caribbean Island.

Often times I find myself immobilised by a traffic jam in Kampala and all I have to do is sit and think of random things as I inhale all sorts of exhaust fumes from second hand Japanese cars or even new Volkswagen cars as we now know.

When the thinking stops, I reach for my phone and scroll through the Twitter timeline. Here the glossy pictures of Addis Ababa’s light rail train and the big capacity blue buses for the Dar es Salaam Rapid Transport (DART) system taunt me into anger. Our cities are growing at very fast rates and the thinking processes of our leaders and urban planners often fail to keep pace.

The Tanzanians have shipped in several huge buses and created special lanes for them in order to tackle their traffic mess. I know it is not easy to have special bus lanes everywhere but you have to commend the Tanzanians.

Kigali has also gone in for bigger capacity buses but the challenge is that they often get stuck in traffic leaving commuters at the mercy of their legs as they stand in queues for hours. Dedicated bus lanes or simply giving buses priority during rush hours would see more people moved faster and even more abandoning their cars for public transport. After all the only trusted urban transport plans are the ones that get private car owners onto public transport.

The idea of a light rail by the Ethiopians is a very commendable one that other East African countries ought to copy. Unfortunately this would require sorting out our energy mess first and looking at the power shortages faced by Kigali, Kampala or Dar I think prayers may have to come in as well.

In the meantime we need better roads, bigger roads or simply better usage of the roads we have. Street parking should be limited because it serves no major purpose besides narrowing already narrow roads. I believe things like shopping malls should be closer to residential areas than the central business district.

Kampala and Kigali could also do with some green public parks as opposed to just green spaces as we see on Google Maps. I prefer seeing a random fellow doing push ups in the park than a politician who will then get into his car and push me off the road.

 

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