Key models that Kampala needs to consider to manage its urban sprawl

Kampala experiences heavy traffic in the city due to rapid population growth. Shutterstock

Metropolitan areas in less developed countries can provide the foundation for economic growth for the whole country . But many face major challenges because local government jurisdictions don’t coincide with the boundaries of the economic region. This happens when cities grow beyond their administrative boundaries, often as a result of urban sprawl.

Uganda’s capital Kampala is a good example. The city was originally planned for a population of 150,000 people. It now spans an area that includes the surrounding districts of Mpigi, Mukono, and Wakiso with about 4 million people working in the city itself.

The challenge is how to plan, deliver and finance services when multiple jurisdictions are involved. Administrative fragmentation means that it’s difficult to coordinate service delivery and formulate coherent public policy for the metropolitan area.

What’s needed are appropriate political and administrative structures to ensure citizens’ preferences can be heard, adequate services are delivered, at the same time that regional issues can be addressed.

Metropolitan Issues in Greater Kampala

The Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area suffers from planning and policy dissonance. This is because of overlaps between the city authority and surrounding local government districts.

The City of Kampala itself is managed by the Kampala Capital City Authority which is a national government ministry. The surrounding districts are managed as local governments and coordinated by the Ministry of Local Government .

This leads to challenges in planning, financing, and coordination of service delivery, particularly when it comes to transport and waste management.

About half of the 4 million people living in what makes up the greater Kampala area live and work in the city’s core. The other half commute into the centre of the city and return to home at night.

These commuting patterns mean that public transport has to also be coordinated across administrative boundaries.

And from a financing perspective, it’s more efficient as well as equitable to share costs and revenues across the metropolitan area.

Different cities, different models

There’s a wide spectrum of governance structures in cities around the world. These range from being very fragmented and informal to highly consolidated and formal.

For example Los Angeles has a fragmented structure made up of 200 cities and 5 county governments. But Cape Town in South Africa has a highly centralised one tier structure.

Both models have pros and cons.

For example, fragmented structures allow for stronger local autonomy and responsiveness. But they are unable to adequately address spill overs of services or coordinate service delivery across municipal boundaries. A more consolidated structure can address these issues.

The problem is that consolidated models require local structures to cede their autonomy to one central authority. This isn’t always politically feasible.

Some countries have adopted structures with two separate tiers – an upper tier and a second tier. The upper tier is responsible for services and policies that affect the whole region. This would, for example, include transportation and planning how to use land. The second tier is responsible for local services.

Barcelona in Spain and Manchester in the UK are run this way.

The benefits of a two-tier structure are that it can better coordinate services and address spill overs at the upper tier. It can simultaneously maintain a degree of local autonomy at the lower tier. The downside is that, given the possible duplication of services, the model could be less efficient and possibly costlier to implement than a one-tier authority.

Another model involves local authorities within a metropolitan area setting up a special purpose body to deliver select services, such as transportation or waste collection, within a specified geographic area. A dedicated revenue stream such as user fees is usually part of the model.

The problem with this approach is that it’s difficult to coordinate policies across various sectors: for example planning transport with power supplies.

And special purpose districts, such as transportation districts in the US, have been shown to be less accessible and less accountable to citizens.

Perhaps the most common form of metropolitan governance relies on voluntary cooperation to provide individual services. In the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area, for example, there is voluntary cooperation between the city authority and the surrounding districts on solid waste management and on water and power supply.

Although voluntary cooperation can be a suitable short-term arrangement, the lack of legal protection of a more formalised system can, in the longer term, get in the way of providing stable services.

Balancing act

Metropolitan areas are key to the economic prosperity of their countries. This is because urban areas, if managed well, will increase productivity and economic growth. To ensure these benefits can be realised and cities are liveable, suitable metropolitan governance structures must be put in place. These must balance regional and local interests, and ensure adequate planning, coordination, and service delivery throughout the metropolitan area.

Kampala would do well to develop an approach that suits its needs – metropolitan governance models need to be context specific. To balance regional and local interests and given the existing administrative structures in a city, a two-tier model might be an interesting place to start.