The New School & Makerere University Partner with Communities on Urban Studio in Uganda

by James Tayler

Urban Studio Uganda - Makarare

By Mara Forbes, SDI Intern, The New School, New York


“The municipality was very impressed with the report because it truly acknowledges the truth on the ground and the Town Clerk repeatedly mentioned that they would use this tool to ensure that services reach the community.” 

Sarah Nandudu, Federation Member, Jinja


“This [enumeration] report is an opportunity to make demands for quantity and quality of services. If someone denies basic services, they need to be held accountable.” 

Community Development Officer (CDO) of Arua


The four-month SDI/Makerere University Urban Studio project has come to a successful close. On July 5, Makerere and New School students along with Federation members traveled to Arua, Kabale, Jinja, Mbale, and Mbarara to deliver the final published Enumeration Reports to the municipalities.

As discussed in earlier posts, through partnerships, negotiations, and precedent setting projects, federations have attempted to create new spaces in which community knowledge can influence development decisions. The Urban Studio partnership is one example of how these new knowledge regimes are being developed. As part of the studio, students from Makerere University accompanied federation members into the informal settlements of 5 Ugandan municipalities to learn about the challenges faced by slum dwellers and the ways in which the federation is combating the lack of information available for planning in such places. At Makerere University and in the municipalities, the federation members became ‘community professors’ teaching the students the importance of knowing their communities through different community-driven data collection methods and processes.

The Makerere students, in conjunction with New School graduate students, cleaned the federation’s enumeration data and disaggregated it at the settlement level. They then used the data to compile easy-to-understand reports to be presented back to the community and municipalities. The enumeration reports are designed to be used as tools by community members to negotiate and lobby with government for more responsive urban interventions and partnerships. The reports fill a major gap in the urban sector, giving up-to-date and comprehensive data on the informal settlements which make up around 60% of Ugandan cities.

The reports present enumeration data on issues of education, income and savings, tenure status, land ownership, and access to services such as water, sanitation, and electricity within the informal settlements. The data was collected by the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda and its partners in 2011 as part of a national slum upgrading agenda being spearheaded by the Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development. With these reports the slum dwellers now have concrete information on the informal settlements in which they live. They have ownership of the information because they collected it themselves, and they have the organizational capacity to ensure the reports are used as tools for negotiation and planning.

In July 2012, the final reports were launched in each municipality. At the launches both community and municipal officials praised the reports. Approximately 100 federation members attended the enumeration launch in Arua and the Deputy Mayor and CDO represented the municipality. The event kicked off with songs from the community about savings and empowerment. The regional chairman of the federation, CDO, and Deputy Mayor all gave speeches commending the community and students for their work and urging the community to use this report to hold government accountable. The Deputy Mayor stated that “it is now time for top leadership to bend down and start cooperating with the community and this report is a tool that will make it easier to address issues and problems faced in the settlements, such as cholera.” The Deputy Mayor officially endorsed the report and promised the council would start using it immediately for budgeting and planning.

Urban Studio Uganda - Makarare

In Jinja both the Town Clerk and Deputy Mayor attended the launch. Like the Aura officials, the municipal representatives expressed gratitude to the federation and the students for their contribution towards a better understanding of the urban situation in Jinja municipality. They expressed that the reports would be used to start planning for toilet and water projects within the communities highlighted in the report to be particularly underserved. The Town Clerk pointed out that the report not only shows the challenges faced by the community but also the strengths and what the community is doing well. According to federation member Sarah Nandudu, “the municipality was very impressed with the report because it truly acknowledges the truth on the ground and the Town Clerk repeatedly mentioned that they would use this tool to ensure that services reach the community.” The Municipality was also impressed by how the federation had already used the information they collected to negotiate for sanitation interventions.

In Kabale, federation members emphasized the importance of settlement-level data and commended the students for accurately presenting their enumeration information. The Deputy Mayor promised to review the report thoroughly and endorse. “Before the federation came to Kabale, we had undermined the issue of slums in our municipality and we thought ‘they’ should go back to where they came from but this enumeration exercise enlightened us and we have to include slum dwellers in our plans” said the Deputy Mayor. Federation member Sarah Nambozo, who attended the Kabale launch, explained that “the report showcases information gathered by the community and the municipality must use the report to incorporate community challenges into the budgeting and planning process.” In fact, the municipality is already using the report to identify projects that can be implemented within the Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor Fund (TSUPU) program.

A municipal strike in Mbale meant that most municipal officials were unable to attend the enumeration report launch. However, the Regional District Commissioner (RDC) and Assistant Town Clerk represented local council and the LCIII of Industrial Division, represented the mayor. Each acknowledged that the enumeration report “not only shows the challenges faced by the community, but also the opportunities that exist within the slums.” The enumeration report was later signed by the Mayor who expressed eagerness to use the report as a planning tool.  Semanda Twaha bin Musa, the regional chairman of the Mbale federation, said “the event went marvelously and was very successful.” He described how excited the federation was at the event because of the work they had done and how it had produced a report that was recognized and praised by the municipality. He said that, “because of the report, the municipality now respects the community because it shows the quality of work the community is capable of.”

The reports were also highly praised in Mbarara. The Deputy Mayor was impressed with the work of the community and how well the report depicts what is happening on the ground. The CDO was also present and highlighted the issues of sanitation and water as areas that need more attention from the municipality as revealed by the report. The Deputy Mayor officially endorsed the report by signing it during the launch and agreed to use it in future planning and budgeting at the municipal level. The CDO challenged the community to use the report as a way to define the roles of the community and municipality and to work together to identify possible development projects. Federation member Brian Manzi explained that because of the report, the town council is already identifying settlements that are in need of water and sanitation units. The CDO hailed the Mbarara slum dwellers for the role they are playing in the slum upgrading campaign and told members who attended the launch to try and get copies of the enumeration report and find the role they will able to engage themselves in towards the development of Mbarara.

Critically, the enumeration reports and the community gathered data they contain must slay ‘alive.’ The reports are not automatically useful and will not, on their own, improve service delivery and targeting of programs and projects. The communities that compiled them must continue to use the information to guide negotiation, partnership formation, planning, budgeting, and advocacy.

Much was learned during the Urban Studio. Through the cleaning and analysis of the federation’s enumeration data, both Makerere and New School students gained a deeper understanding of the realities faced by Ugandan slum dwellers, which they discovered are unique to each settlement. They learned that understanding these realities is integral to inclusive and effective planning and that authentic community involvement must be central to collect accurate information in slums.

Federation members deepened their capacity to generate information and to engage with the traditional institutions of knowledge production in a very different manner. The municipal councils have witnessed the capacity of communities to drive applied urban research and make local academia more relevant to domestic demand.

Stay tuned for a full report of the entire SDI/Makere Urban Studio to be posted soon.

To read the previous studio blogs posts follow this link: