A building in Kisenyi, Kampala City, collapsed today. Many are still trapped in the rubble and mostly dead. While its still too early to establish the cause of the collapse, I can still offer my predictions. I teach Construction Technology at Makerere University. I also recently completed the construction of a 5 floor building located about 400 meters away from the site of the collapse. So, you can trust my predictions.
No building collapse happens because of a single reason. It is normally a set of reasons that occur at the same time. It is certainly the case with this Kisenyi building that belonged to a popular businessman in Kampala.
1. Developer character. A developer that discounts the value of professionals and abuses professional guidance. True, even birds build their own nests. But you’re not birds.
2. A blind trust in readymix concrete. Readymix concrete is made for the European market where labour cost is expensive and material cost is cheap. As a consequence, the Europeans, Japanese and Americans don’t mind adding chemicals into their concrete to make it pumpable, self-compacting, set retarding, viscous stable, immune to bleeding and ultra-high performance. These chemicals cost money and demand a certain professional character that our hardware businessmen don’t have. The pressure to return on the high technology investment push suppliers to adulterate concrete and supply a poor grade. Ignorantly, many Ugandans think a smooth finish means good quality. Strong concrete is a matter of knowledge.
3. Poor synchronization of construction processes and poor understanding of material behaviour. When structural engineers design structures, they focus on how the structure will perform in its environment when it’s in use. They trust that the developer will hire a competent team to manage the complex processes of construction. The construction process involves loads that a contractor must plan for. A building under construction carries materials, equipment and human beings. These are loads on an unfinished building that need to be supported by false works, form work and shoring until the building elements have matured to support themselves and the imposed loads. This calls for a deeper understanding of material behavior and construction technology.
4. Lastly, corruption. When all the requirements of the regulator can be answered with money, buildings will continue to collapse. Its surprising that the tools of the industry 4.0 are resisted in regulating our construction industry because an inefficient system provides opportunities for corruption.
Like I always say, in Africa, if it doesn’t collapse at the construction stage, it probably wont collapse in its first 30 years.
The writer, is a Civil Engineer, Industrialist, Cement and Concrete Expert, Eng. Contract Specialist, & International Consultant