Every picture tells a story

Last week Sunday I took a walk around Bole area. I decided it was time for some exercise and took off. Seeing the city on foot is a total different experience than from behind the steering wheel. I was amazed again by all the construction going on and now took the opportunity to walk in and out of some of the buildings, café’s, shops, hotel lobbies and restaurants. Some of the buildings and facades look quite attractive indeed while a construction is still in progress, leaving hills of sand, gravel and selected materials on the road to navigate around.

Every now and then though my senses were disturbed by a foul smell. Curious where it came from I focused my attention more on the ground level. Within a short distance this is what I came across:


This is the state of many of the manholes and inlets of main sewage lines that are constructed in the city. What do we notice and what can we learn from this?

From a macro planning point of view we may accept that it is a good idea to supply the city with an integrated sewage system, meant to allow the effective discharge of liquid waste. Where things seem to go wrong is in the design and in the construction of the works.


The design of the inlets allows openings that are far too big for only sewage to pass through. Instead all sorts of solid waste are flushed, swept or deliberately thrown into the system, causing it to be clogged, blocking the flow in the pipes, no matter how wide they are. As a result, waste floats to the surface instead, causing all kinds of health hazards and the foul smell which is beginning to become a common feature of the city. It exposes children and residents to disease and inconvenience. Last year, I overheard visitors to an international conference, many of which we are now proud to host and organize in the capital of Africa, saying: “This city smells.”

Moving on, the middle picture shows a gaping manhole without a lit. Either the construction is not completed yet or the lit has been deliberately removed for whatever reason. Many times, the lit of manholes is also broken. The danger it exposes by-passers to is real and it is a fact that every month dozens of people fall into an open manhole, more especially in the night. Serious injuries are not uncommon.

Left open long enough and it results in the situation of the third picture on the right. The function of the manhole completely changed and it has now become a solid waste dumping site.

I can add many more pictures and examples but I guess I made my point.

What can we learn from this in terms of doing business?

As I mentioned above, from a longer and wider city planning point of view the idea to lay down a citywide sewage network is good. When done well it will keep the city clean and reduce health hazards from more than one point of view. It is in the design and after that the construction where things go wrong. The design does not serve the real purpose effectively and the quality of the construction leaves much to be desired, noting the many manhole covers that are lying around broken.

Then there is the awareness or better the lack of awareness of the general public that does not seem to care about what the function of the infrastructure is and instead abuses the system for another purpose, namely dumping solid waste in a system that is meant for liquid waste. People just don’t seem to care, just as long they get rid of their waste.

We already saw that there are serious health hazard consequences and there are serious financial consequences as well. Badly constructed infrastructure needs to be replaced and entire sewage lines need to be dug up sometimes to clean it of all the solid waste that found its way into the system. Value of property will also be negatively affected I imagine when there is a foul smell all around and when sewage floods the streets and roads as it cannot find its way through the system.

Surprisingly though, I see new roads being built and in spite of what we see in other neighbourhoods, the same faulty designs and constructions are repeated. Quite unnecessary if you ask me. It should not be too difficult to improve the design and the quality of the construction and raise the public’s awareness. The city will be much more attractive; money will be saved and disease will be prevented. The capital city of Africa deserves it, I believe.