Why Kampala continues to grapple with increasing urban poor

Sunday December 2 2018

Cooking. Residents of Go Down Zone in

Cooking. Residents of Go Down Zone in Industrial Area prepare meals for locals. The sanitation standard of the area is wanting. PHOTO BY EDGAR R. BATTE 

By Edgar R. Batte

The sound of Akon’s Ghetto bellows from a makeshift salon, put together with timber fragments of a fading shade of soft green, and nails.
In there, a barber, in his 20s, and a customer compete against the loud music to have a conversation.
The thudding sound of music has gotten a girl of about six years next door dancing as she bathes in a basin, hardly a metre away from the entrance of a temporary house structured out of old iron sheets.

Her younger brother cheers her on as he washes clothes. They have a spectator in a friend squatting and nodding his head to the rhythm of the song. He is manning a grocery stall with countable tomatoes, onions, two carrots and cinnamon, which are covered in dust.

As the barber runs the shaving machine over a client’s head, he uses a shoe brush, which has visibly lost most of the spikes. Overhead, in the corner, is an old fan blowing out wind with a rickety sound.
With the wind, hair finds its way on the outside. A metre away from the salon is a temporary eatery where a woman stirs boiling millet porridge in a big saucepan. When one of her customers complains about her serving millet with some hair from the salon, she reprimands the barber, who lowers the music for a minute to hear her remind him about buying a curtain that can help contain the waste from his barbershop.

He sheepishly smiles and turns the volumes up. “Abo be bantu baffe,” (these are my residents), George Kakule, Local Council (LC) 1 chairman of Go Down Zone, in Kisugu, murmurs as he leads me on.
Here, the urban poor call home where housing in temporary, put together using concrete, mud, reeds and tree branches, woven with banana fibres and nylon strings.
With urban centres attracting many people, plans for their livelihood are not certain, which has partly given rise to slums as cheaper settlements for the urban poor.

As such Kampala is dotted with many slums that stand side by side with more developed neighbourhood, for example Go Down Zone is situated below Muyenga, lower Naguru below the affluent upper Naguru and more.
Kakule explains that residents of Go Down Zone are mainly people who work as watchmen in the central business district, prostitutes who line Kampala’s streets in anticipation of customers, street vendors and criminals too.

Roofing and some floors in such places are largely of multi-coloured iron sheets, most likely collected from different building sites in more developed neighbourhoods of Muyenga, Bugolobi, Kansanga and within the industrial area.
A one-roomed house in Go Down Zone, like it is in Bwaise, will cost you Shs20,000 tops. But that is for space enough to sleep, with no toilet, water supply or electricity.

There is a dingy channel that splits Go Down Zone into two, running besides the railway line along which many of the residents walk to the Kampala City centre to offer menial labour as a source of livelihood.
The channel is blotted with plastic water and soda bottles, a cocktail of dirty algae bubbles, human, animal and food waste that exude an uncomfortable stench. Not everyone is bothered by the garbage and putrid smell from the channel and many more that snake through houses and shops.

Kakule says cases of diarrhoea, dysentery are common in the zone. Some self-help projects have been set up and non-governmental organisations have undertaken to sensitise locals about the need for hygiene but not many pay much attention to health calls.
Children openly urinate in the channels while others play in it, posing health risks to them. Locals pass time drinking beer and local brew as well as eating meals besides the channel.

A 2015 report titled ‘Promoting Green Urban Development in African Cities: Kampala, Uganda Urban Environmental Profile’ estimates that 40 per cent of Kampala’s population lives in informal settlements predominately developed near wetlands throughout the city, without basic infrastructure such as water services, storm drainage, sewage treatment and solid waste collection.
It notes that the densely populated informal settlements are a consequence of the rapid urbanisation the city has experienced for decades, making Kampala the second fastest-growing city in Eastern Africa.

Mr Peter Kaujju, the head of public and corporate affairs at Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), says the city produces 1,500 tonnes of garbage. The council can only manage to dispose of between 40 per cent and 50 per cent of that.
According to KCCA, about 80 per cent of this garbage is organic matter, which makes it very bulky to handle.
The city covers 189 square kilometres, or 73 square miles. Of this land covers 176 square kilometres or 68 square miles. Water covers 13 square kilometres.

In her notes of the KCCA strategic plan 2014/15-2018/19, the authority’s executive director, Jennifer Musisi, observes that even with achievements, there are still challenges of social, economic, infrastructure and environmental degradation that have overshadowed Kampala’s immense potential.

“The onus is now upon us to transform Kampala to the city of the future; a vibrant, attractive and sustainable city. A city that is able to guarantee livelihood and prosperity to its residents and all stakeholders while being mindful of the future,” Ms Musisi explains.

Figures by World Population Review, indicate that Kampala had a population of 1.35 million as of 2016. Notably, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), estimates that more than half of the world’s population now live in urban areas.

It projects that by 2050, that figure will have risen to 6.5 billion people – two-thirds of all humanity. Additionally, it observes that the rapid growth of cities in the developing world, coupled with increasing rural to urban migration, has led to a boom in mega-cities, with extreme poverty often concentrated in urban spaces, which leaves national and city governments to struggle to accommodate the rising population in these areas.

United Nations Resident Coordinator in Uganda Rosa Malango observes that urbanisation requires particular attention if these shared goals are to be fully achieved.
She explains: “It is evident that Uganda’s population is growing. As it does, we are beginning to see more people migrating to urban centres. According to the recent national census report, the urban growth rate is very high at 5.3 per cent annually.”

Character traits
Character traits of urban poor are similar. In Bwaise, 54-year-old Teopista Nakirunda sells snacks - pancakes, groundnuts stashed in dusty, translucent polythene bags. On the side, she sells banana peelings to cattle farmers.
She has been a resident of the slum since 1992 when her husband, Fred Lubega, passed on. Lubega served as a warder in Uganda Prisons and when he died, she took on the responsibility of looking after their son and five daughters.
The family resides in a semi-permanent shelter put together using old iron sheets fastened with wood and nails. It is low and when it rains, she will not have a comfortable night. They have to stay up to save their property from being destroyed by the rains.

The family doesn’t have much; a bed, utensil stand, shoes, and beddings. Both Nakirunda and Kaswabuli have no idea what the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are all about. The explanation that they are an intergovernmental set of aspiration goals with 169 targets, spearheaded by the United Nations doesn’t draw much interest in the slum dwellers.
“But how can government help me live a better life,” she asks in Luganda, a widely spoken language in Uganda. SDG 11 seeks to help people like her. It seeks to ‘Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’.
The rapid growth of cities in the developing world, coupled with increasing rural to urban migration, has led to a boom in mega-cities.

UN’s Malango observes that between the two recent census periods, the urban population increased by 33 percentage points above the growth of the national population.
Speaking at the launch of the UN-Habitat Country Programme Document for Uganda recently. Malongo explained that the reasons for this concentration include a large youth population yearning for urban settings.

While there is a potential to tap from Uganda’s youth, the urban population boom could pose massive development challenges, not least in terms of unemployment, reversing the gains achieved so far, if not managed in an integrated fashion.
KCCA’s Kaujju says the authority is targeting youth for employment opportunities under the concrete yard project.
“The project will provide some 1,000 youth with employment opportunities to produce culverts and pavers to enhance their skills and knowledge,” he says.

Under the National Planning Authority (NPA), government is planning to set up urban industrial areas as a way of attracting employment opportunities for urban dwellers. Globally, 828 million people live in slums today and the number keeps rising.
Mr Tony Muhumuza, the UNDP national economist, observes that with the increasing urbanisation of world so is the pressure on natural resources.

A lone toilet facility serves the community of an approximated 20,000 people in Go Down zone. “We have to empty the toilet almost every month. It is difficult collecting Shs160,000 from residents to bring an emptier but we are glad that open defecation has significantly reduced. We also sensitise locals about the dangers that can culminate from the bad practice, like diseases,” explains Muhamudu Lumaay, Go Down Zone’s sanitation and hygiene chairman.

But as rural-urban migration continues, the challenges migrants face and those they pose to settlements are immense, and in Kampala actual solutions are yet to accommodate the larger composition of urban poor.

Report
Population and settlements: A 2015 report titled ‘Promoting Green Urban Development in African Cities: Kampala, Uganda Urban Environmental Profile’ estimates that 40 per cent of Kampala’s population lives in informal settlements predominately developed near wetlands throughout the city, without basic infrastructure such as water services, storm drainage, sewage treatment and solid waste collection.
It notes that the densely populated informal settlements are a consequence of the rapid urbanisation the city has experienced for decades, making Kampala the second fastest-growing city in Eastern Africa.

UNDP report
1.35 million. Figures by World Population Review indicate that Kampala had a population of 1.35 million as of 2016. Notably, United Nations Development Programme, estimates that more than half of the world’s population now live in urban areas. It projects that by 2050, that figure will have risen to 6.5 billion people – two-thirds of all humanity.
Rapid growth. Additionally, it observes that the rapid growth of cities in the developing world, coupled with increasing rural to urban migration, has led to a boom in mega-cities with extreme poverty often concentrated in urban spaces, which leaves national and city governments to struggle to accommodate the rising population in these areas.

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