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Beyond planning, ban car imports!

by Lesotho Times

carsIn the last week’s Lesotho Times (October 3 2013) Scrutator, the fanatical girl from Qacha cried foul over the state of our traffic flow in Maseru City.

Her main concern had to do with the amount of time one spends in the traffic when commuting from home to work and vice versa. She mentioned something to do with town planning or lack thereof.

The fact is that our capital city has changed into a traffic nightmare due to either too many cars or too narrow roads or a combination of both.

According to Scru, these cars even compete and battle to park on our roads, hahahahahaha!

Let’s face it Scru; the solution not only lies in proper town planning. The problem is much more institutional than it has to do with urban design.

If you don’t agree with me, just check the Maseru Development Plan and its CBD West Local Plan.

Those are the best structural plans we ever had in this country, though I can’t encourage the continuance of structure planning in Lesotho.

My argument then, ngoanana oa Qacha, is as follows. We have to build proper and working institutions in this country, whether it is planning, development or enforcement institutions; they should work and be seen as working. We need those to rectify our traffic catastrophe.

First; we just need to acknowledge the problem. There’s nothing we can do if we can’t even acknowledge that we are sitting on a ticking traffic bomb, it might explode and wreck havoc.

If you drive along the densely traffic populated Kingsway and some motorcade wails a siren behind you, where do you go? I really don’t know.

All the stakeholders should acknowledge that we have too many cars on our very narrow roads.

Second; we need a very strong policy making government to see that we have come to a stage where it has to take a decision of banning the importation of cars and introducing some kind of carbon tax.

This would discourage us from importing more and more greenhouse gas emitting devices we call cars.

We have seen through the years that the government always allocates less capital expenditure. That might show that the government doesn’t have enough resources to use in widening our roads.

So let’s live with the fact and take drastic (even if unpopular) measures to curb this problem. This would even go a long way into committing to our global obligation of reducing our contribution to global warming.

My third point is about improving our public transport system.

This would be a very good solution to prevent the private vehicles on our roads. If the public transport operators, government and the public can join hands to make our public transport system effective, efficient, safe and reliable, the people would always opt to use it other than drive themselves to work. This would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Then comes the town planners and land use managers.

If they would plan our settlements in a coherent and accessible way allowing easy flow of public transport, then we wouldn’t drive.

Last, the notion of integrated development planning should be promoted and legislated by the current government as the long term answer to our overall urban and rural problems; especially urban ones.

Development planning should be done in the most strategic, coherent, holistic, integrated and participatory way. It should include all development role players like the government, private sector, civil society and the communities.

It should be spearheaded by the ministries of development planning and local government.

The local government physical planners (and land use planners/managers) and the development planning economic planners should be the facilitators and midwives of the development process.

While addressing the Maseru City Dialogue in 2008, Professor Clement Leduka encouraged planners (and the planning system) to facilitate development other than hindering it.

That’s what’s at the core of the idp notion; facilitation of development process to be long term other than focusing on projects which are by nature short term and piecemeal.

I therefore urge the ministries of local government, development planning and transport and public works (together with all stakeholders; private, public and civil society) to urgently meet and try and fix the mess that Maseru (and other major urban centres) traffic flow is becoming. Proper traffic flow needs the decision making capacity that is beyond widening our roads.

By the way, we need to build proper functioning institutions coupled with a political will and participatory mind set to exorcise this demon from our roads. God bless Lesotho! God bless Basotho. Viva! Planning! Viva!

l Kelebone Lekunya is a town and regional planning student 

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