KAMPALA, UGANDA - In the past few months, Kampala has quietly been making serious environmental reforms.
The banning of plastic bags, introduced in 2009 but quashed under the lobbying of manufacturing groups, has made a successful comeback. The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) started pushing for a reinstitution of the ban earlier this year. A date was set, and as April 15 closed in, people openly wondered whether the ban might work this time.
One day before the ban went into effect, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda met with manufacturers and traders and announced he had postponed the ban. Tom Okurut, NEMA's executive director, said his agency waited for but did not receive official notice of the postponement from Rugunda, so it proceeded with plans for the ban.
"Maybe the prime minister cannot suspend a law like that," he said.
In any event, the ban on the plastic bags took effect, and it has found wide support in the community. NEMA plans to expand the ban around the countryside within a year.
Not far from the NEMA offices, another environmental reform quietly re-emerged: the Pioneer Easy Bus.
Mass transit made its way to Kampala in 2012, but after the transit company failed to pay taxes, the buses were yanked off the streets and parked at a stadium.
Last week, Kampala Capital City Authority officials posted pictures of the Pioneer buses trying out new routes, causing a storm on social media. The tax debt has been cleared, and the buses will resume routes the first week of May.
KCCA landscaper Mary Karoma said the authority wants to continue to improve the city with green spaces and pedestrian-only sections of town. But she said public transportation is necessary for these plans to work.
"I think it is possible if you could show alternatives," she said. " ... If you are coming in with this green approach, as we call it, I suppose people will be asking, 'Where do we put the car? And what do we replace the car with?' So we kind to need to do it together. So public transport comes in, a green approach comes in and things are sort of done. ... It is possible that we can try and achieve that — that is the dream."
Although the city still has a long way to go in driving down pollution, residents of Kampala can see their city improving. And it is this proof of progress that is likely to aid future environmental initiatives within the country.