Tuesday September 12 2017

No land for the dead to rest as urbanisation surges

Inspection.  The Executive Director of Kampala

Inspection. The Executive Director of Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) Jennifer Musisi touring the Jinja road world war veteran cemetery yesterday after the completion of the construction. PHOTO BY RACHEL MABALA.  

By Frederic Musisi

If you think your whole life is one big battle for some personal space of your own, just wait until you die.
In the not so distant future, for many people, finding a final resting place for them will be a real hustle and those already laid to eternal rest, the possibilities of being disturbed are very high, as urban growth patterns across the country change every other day.

The ongoing Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led commission of inquiry into land management and administration in the country heard on June 19th that a big chunk of Bukasa cemetery land, that once measured over 50 acres, owned by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) in Kira Municipality, Wakiso district, has been parceled and grabbed piece by piece.

Bukasa cemetery is currently the public burial ground for unclaimed bodies and destitute persons from the KCCA run City Mortuary. The graveyard is also supposed to serve city dwellers who don’t have anywhere to inter their beloved departed ones.

KCCA’s predecessor, KCC, once operated cemeteries at Lugogo By-pass, which was gazetted in 1972 but filled up in 1989. The eternal rest of the dead buried there was cut short in 2008 to convert the area into commercial area. The practice of relocating remains of the dead to clear land for other uses is ever growing, putting into sharp focus the poor planning by local government entities.

The Jinja Road cemetery opposite the ministry of Internal Affairs, narrowly survived reclamation, for now, although some remains were still resumed in the course of redeveloping the area. Lusazze cemetery in Lubaga division, which was used before Bukasa was created, is on the brink as well.

In the countryside, where land is presumed very available, extensive farmlands have sprung up while in some places large tracts of land lie idle—but they obviously belong to someone—which means the poor, don’t have as much access to land, especially in regions where the spirit of communal land ownership has dissipated with time.

This is worsened by the sporadic land fragmentation, escalating land prices, encroachment, population growth and its pressures and absence of succinct legal framework to enforce the use of cemeteries across the country. Matters are, further, made worse by the multi-cultural beliefs on the treatment of the dead and non-implementation of physical planning plans. As a result, with the exception of within boundaries of Kampala, everyone bury their loved ones as they see fit after all in traditional Africa ‘the dead are not dead.’

Radios and newspapers are awash with daily reports of interference with the peace of dead here and there as the land where they were rested is needed for other purposes—both private and public.
The soaring demand for land and urganisation is a problem not peculiar to only Uganda. From Hong Kong to Johannesburg to Paris to Lagos to Nairobi to New York, many city dwellers are crammed in micro-apartments that cost a fortune a month to either rent or buy, some unable to afford a good life, and similarly when they die are unable to be allotted a permanent abode.

But in Kampala, authorities say, it is the urban development, largely underlined by uncoordinated or the little thinking put into planning nearly everywhere you turn, which makes burial on land within a radius of at least 50km from the city center a “bad idea” else your eternal sleep will be cut short sooner or later.

Grave situation
It is a bad idea, especially in light of what Makerere University urban planning lecturer, Ms Amanda Ngabirano, calls “the urban sprawl” that continues to rapidly spread outwards.

A factory here, a church there, a school that way, residential areas on one side and rambling slums on another, then more factories spewing thick smokes and dirty water—the sort of arrangement that one sees everywhere they turn, Ms Ngabirano said, “if nothing is done urgently” will soon eat up the entire country. “What that means is, all surrounding burial ground will be consumed.”

“The sprawl is not going to stop because there is no way to stop it,” Ms Ngabirano told Daily Monitor. “The original planners of this country (British) sort of had a vision not just for Kampala but for all other areas where they lived, in Jinja, Fort Portal, Mbale, name it. Unfortunately the people who came after, including us, don’t seem bothered at all and if they are, are doing very little to tackle the problem.”
Then there is the growing population, she says. Every person has an expiry date and when their time comes will need some space in the ground.

Uganda’s total population, according to the 2014 national population headcount, stood at 34.9 million people; an addition of 10.7million from the 24.4million noted during the 2002 census exercise. With the estimated addition of two million children every year and with a fertility rate of about seven children per woman in rural areas, the head count is expected to surge to 102 million by 2050, according to the 2016 State of Uganda Population Report.

The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) 2007 report titled ‘Projections of demographic trends in Uganda 2007-2017’ estimated the total number of deaths to increase from 459,000 in 2007 to 531,000 in 2017. But according to the World Data Atlas, Uganda’s death rate fell gradually from 17.9 per 1,000 people in 1966 to 9.3 per 1,000 people in 2015—thanks in part to improvement in the quality of life and improvement in healthcare.
However, considering our inevitable fates (and the fact that the average life expectancy keeps fluctuating), the end result for each one of us is death.

Population growth in any measure means pressure on land. In Uganda this is manifesting mainly in land fragmentation and degradation, never mind the land mass (excluding area under inland water bodies, national claims to continental shelf, and exclusive economic zones) of 200520 square kilometres, according to the World Bank collection of development indicators.

Uganda’s urbanization is projected at 5.43 percent, which although is still very low when compared to the global trends according to the 2014 UN World Urbanisation Tends 2014, spells doom in many ways The World Bank in 2015 projected that Uganda’s urban population will increase from six million in 2013 to over 20 million in 2040.

According to the Ubos census results, Kampala’s population stood at 1.5million followed by Wakiso Municipality with a population of 0.366 million.

Kampala’s growth rate of 5.6 percent is largely influenced by rural-urban migration resulting in increased demand for employment, land for housing, social services and infrastructure that have stirred altitudinal urban development. As satellite cities springing up all over become denser and land becomes increasingly more precious, why waste it on cemeteries or family/clan land for the dead.

Already, for majority city dwellers, finding a piece of land to build a house does not come that easy and so is [and will be] securing a final resting place. As a result, the KCCA deputy director for Public Health, Dr Daniel Okello, told this newspaper, this makes death very expensive” and “in such a way some people abandon their dead at the City Mortuary.”

“On a weekly basis we handle [dispose-of] at least 10 unclaimed bodies, and some of these it is possible to imagine are abandoned by relatives who don’t have anywhere to take them,” Dr Okello said, adding that and with the wayward urbanisation, it is possible some people cannot bury anywhere or it is very expensive to travel up country.

The Wakiso district chairman, Matia Lwanga Bwanika, in a separate interview, said that at the current district’s exponential growth rate where “development is superseding planning it won’t be long before people have to look elsewhere to bury dead or many of those who are buried there will have to exhumed and relocated somewhere else.”

About 15 years ago when Kampala was the only city Wakiso looked a village, Mr Bwanika explained, “right now unless you are blind but what is happening is not something that was even planned for.”

Mr Bwanika, expressed frustration about government foot-dragging to elevate Wakiso into a city status “which would give us more powers to prevent some of the things we see happening now yet in the next ten years will have to be reversed.” For example, he said, that currently under the Local Government Act (under which they supervise) the district cannot stop people from burying in any area they see fit “although it risky.”

“Even if we put up a district cemetery for public burial, under the current law we cannot enforce anyone to abide by it” yet KCCA has powers to bar anyone not to bury anywhere in respect to the changing city plans, Mr Bwanika argued. “Truth of matter is Wakiso no longer qualifies as a village.”]

KCCA, under the city ordinance on public health, cemetery and burial rules, does not allow burial in the city other than gazzatted places and maintains right to approve or stop any private burial depending on the city’s future plans.

Returning to whence you came

Finding space for burying the dead is not an entirely new problem. Ancient Romans figured out the idea of building tombs.
Today, more countries Israel and Brazil are going up instead, building vertical cemeteries that are essentially high-rise buildings and for either.

Uganda at the time of Independence had about 17 districts and the British colonialists in charge of planning ensured that notwithstanding the traditional practices with treatment of the dead (burial), each of available district unit had a public cemetery.

And for long these cemeteries served the purpose until when the creation of more districts started—from 34 1991 now about 122 districts—and then land became a precious than ever before to the extent that cemetery land has fallen prey to land sharks around the country.

State minister for local government Jenipher Namuyangu, admits that “it is indeed a crisis”as a result of poor planning but which government plans to address under the Physical Planning Act, 2010, which is being reviewed.

“It is not only the cemeteries or about people being mindful where they bury, everything in our planning is wrong and I am glad you are raising the issue because clearly not far from now it will be a real mess,”Ms Namuyangu said, you find a mosque here, a discotheque there, a residential area that side “it is something we are really concerned about but as you know these are things we have to change work on step by step.”

The minister also admitted that the creation of more districts has created a scenario where some don’t have public cemeteries but trouble is also that in the “typical” Ugandan context, people still cherish their traditions of burying their departed beloved ones behind family homes or where other descendants are [were] laid.

In multi-cultural Uganda (with more than 50 different tribes) as is in several African countries, burial as a ritual is deeply rooted in the cultural beliefs and traditions, never mind how religion dispensed on the continent two centuries ago by Muslim and Christian missionaries is deeply rooted. Not even the widespread modernity, borrowed from Europe/America, that changes every day has so far succeeded watering down some of these traditions.

In America, Europe and some parts of Asia, which are already grappling with shrinking space and the death industry is a lucrative one; communities bury their dead at designated public cemeteries. Countries such as Belgium, Singapore, and Germany offer graves in cemeteries for free – but only for the first 20 or so years. Thereafter, families can either pay to keep them (often on a rental basis) or the graves are recycled. In India and China, two countries with the world’s largest population and with acute space shortage, several communities embrace cremations.

In Britain, once nearby cemeteries are full, the remains/bodies have to be exhumed and relocated somewhere far away. To confront the shortage in burial grounds, the British parliament in 2007 passed a law allowing authorities to dig up graves at least 75 years old to make way for new ones.

The obvious alternative to being buried is cremation. But an official at one of the funeral companies, who requested for anonymity, argued that Ugandans—both Christians and Muslims—and believe in judgment day (second coming of Jesus), “who would want their bodies incinerated?”

The official likewise admitted that it won’t be long before shortage for burial ground sets it, but the main problem is “our [African] cultural attachment to the dead.”
“We have crematorium in Uganda but is majorly used by Asians and whites. It is a mindset problem.”

Rwanda is among the few African countries that have since moved from the old customs, and public cemeteries are well kept as they widely used. In Uganda, the other put off with many local government cemeteries, is they are not well kept and can easily be mistaken for idle bush.

The only renovated public cemeteries are the four World War cemeteries in Jinja, Entebbe, Kampala and Tororo, where mainly Africans and [some Whites] who had served with the King’s African Rifles (KAR) and died in the course of defending the interests of Great Britain during the two World Wars are rested.
These are properties of the Commonwealth Graves Commission, which also funds for their periodic makeover.

The UN-Habitat reckoned in 2010 that, the major new challenges of the 21st century are rapid urbanization and climate change. By all means, as Ugandan urban planners remain overwhelmingly focused on the living; perhaps it’s about time start thinking about life after death as well.

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