Friday February 21 2014

Do something about the bleak lives of new urban immigrants

By Augustine Ruzindana

This week, I am continuing with last week’s theme of the inevitability of the migration of most people from the rural to the urban areas within the next few decades. This migration takes many forms. There are those who go to school and eventually find employment, build homes and raise their families in the urban areas.

Their children know the origin of their parents and once in a while they are taken to their rural homes but never develop any attachment to the rural roots of their parents, even if they may speak their mother tongue. The parents and offspring may smoothly integrate within the urban middle class while, in as much as possible, they maintain their rural cultural customs and rituals of marriage, diet etc.

There is, however, a larger group of migrants who move to the urban areas in search of a better life but without possessing the necessary skills to fulfil their big plans for a decent life within urban society. Usually, they first go to the areas where people from the same place already live and through the connections of these earlier arrivals, they find ways of survival - sometimes in the most deprived and most precarious forms of existence. These are the ones who are, every now and then, chased from street to street where they try to earn a living or whose shanty living quarters are demolished, sometimes while they are away toiling or job-hunting.

In most cases, the areas where they live have no electricity, water or sanitation facilities. The lucky ones are seen in markets selling small heaps of foodstuff or other merchandise or carrying stuff bought by the better-off earlier arrivals or expatriate residents. The children of this latter under class may be seen carrying small jerrycans of water while other children are attending school.

Even when they regret having gone to the city, they either have no means to return to the village or they are ashamed of going back as failures. This class is generally not catered for in the official plans for urban areas. It is these people who are generally ignored or maltreated as undesirables and this is the greatest mistake made by virtually all the rulers in Africa.

Some years back, I lived in Nairobi and sometimes I took early flights from Entebbe arriving in Nairobi about 6am in the morning. On my way to where I lived, I used to take Mbagathi Way connecting to Ngong Road and at that hour along that road, you meet a spectacle of an endless continuous stream of thousands of people walking to work, moving at great speed as if their life depends on whatever lies at the end of their journey. In the evening, you see a similar movement in the opposite direction but at a more relaxed speed as if in dread of what is at the other end.

In Kampala, at about the same hour you see similar streams of people walking along the railway line from the Mukono-Kireka side or from the Kyengera-Kibuye side. Others walk along the main roads into town or to various markets and taxi parks/stages.

A few years ago, there were wide sparsely populated areas between Kampala and Entebbe; between Kampala and Mukono; between Kampala and Nansana/Wakiso but now all these areas are densely populated in a very unplanned manner. Around Nairobi, Dar es Salaam or any other African city, the scenery is the same. The authorities in Africa need to take cognisance of this influx of people to cities for they have been warned about what awaits them by the Arab Spring upheavals.

Mr Ruzindana is a former IGG and former MP.