Sarah Nandudu: Communication for the 23rd Session of UNHRC on the Human Rights Approach to Participation of Persons Living in Poverty

by James Tayler

Communication from Sarah Nandudu

Vice Chairperson of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda


Sarah Nandudu

Sarah Nandudu, Vice Chairperson of the NSDFU, was asked to participate in the 23rd session of the UNHRC in order to assist the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights to prepare a report on the human rights approach to participation of persons living in poverty in decisions that affect their lives. Unfortunately due to travel complications, Sarah was unable to travel to the meeting, but this was her communication on the objectives of the report which will be considered by the relevant parties.

To me it is an obvious thing that many people living in poverty have not been to school. A person who has not been to school has trouble being heard. You find it difficult to express yourself. You have trouble accessing the information you need to speak about. Secondly, poor people in most cases do not have where they belong. Meaning that someone stays in a place, like a slum, and they have trouble accessing their leaders. They are looked at as people who don’t matter in the community. Nobody minds about them or thinks they have something valuable to add.

They think we are just the ones that cause havoc and dirty the city. Another issue is that policy makers, when they are carrying out their policy issues they will always consult those they think that know most – the elites – and they forget about the people and they are therefore deprived of their voice. Also, when the policies are made they are not disseminated or explained to the poor people. First they are written in a language the poor and uneducated people cannot understand and they are not explained to the people so they cannot engage in discussion about them. Much as they have put in those policies no one is there to interpret the policies to the poor. Then the policies remain in books, but not in action. If people are included in the policy making process they can understand and then the policies can be implemented. Uganda is said to have the biggest gap between good policy and bad implementation and this can be a reason for that.

There is also a difference between participating in design and implementation. I will give you an example from TSUPU (Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda). Sometimes the poor are consulted in identifying issues, but not in implementation of solutions. This deprives me of my right to own the interventions. In TSUPU we identified projects we needed in our communities and we wanted to implement them but the council said no they need the implementation to follow policies that we don’t know and use professionals that are registered and approved.

When it comes to evaluation, communities cannot evaluate or monitor what they did not understand in the first place. This leaves room for corruption because the beneficiaries who are supposed to provide some checks and balances are left out. As a poor person, the opportunity to sit with your local leaders and air out issues concerning your community is not there. This is often because the leaders think they know best.

We can also generate employment if we increase participation. There is a lot of upgrading work that can be done by the community itself. When you include the community you can make the price of work lower, you can upgrade the settlement, and also help by providing jobs. I can give an example of Jinja – where I am from – where we as slum dwellers secured a piece of land from the municipality. We constructed a sanitation unit with bathrooms, toilets, and a community hall. We did the construction ourselves and when you compare the cost of our unit with theirs you see that the thing they created was only half of what we did for the same cost. This to me shows that the community should be involved in all steps of the process.

We need to create awareness in our communities to appreciate they are poor but they can come out of poverty. Because of what has been going on previously, people think that a municipal council is a place where poor people cannot go. People didn’t know they had a right to go to the municipal council and be heard. They didn’t have the information to know who they should speak to and why they would ever hear from them. That makes them feel small and fear. This also applies to meetings at places like the UN and World Bank.

But as part of the federation they have now known they have a right to speak and they don’t need an elder or a politician to speak for them. As much as they are poor, they know what they want. They build their capacity through savings and organizing themselves and the council is coming to know that these slum dwellers care about their community and can help to improve it.

For us in Jinja our recognition came after we carried out enumerations. The enumeration was not only for us, but for all people in Jinja. We did the enumeration in conjunction with them and they started recognizing our presence and that we could do something. After we made the report it was evident that we had captured the true picture of what was on the ground. This made them respect us more than they had. We began to start afresh and work together.

Now we have municipal development forums. Here, the slum dwellers sit together with the municipal officials and others to discuss issues facing the communities. At these forums communities can speak out and be heard. Previously to meet the Mayor or Town Clerk was a tug of ropes, but now we all sit at a round table – poor, rich, educated or not – and discuss development. We hope as this process goes on it will make a better way of living and improve the way policies are made. We even have a national urban forum where the slum dwellers can even sit with Ministers and discuss their issues. This process is just a new process, but it needs to be more than just sitting and talking. Already we have got slum dwellers to sit on the municipal planning and budgeting committee, which is a good step toward making sure the participation has results.

Without coming together as a federation in the SDI family, nobody would know us. But, as a group, we can announce we are present and we can do things, we have been able to be heard. And now, as an individual I can bring all the information from the federation and I speak for them and they speak for me. Now there is a very big achievement that I have been selected to sit on the CUF board and now even the Town Clerk cannot approve a project for slum dwellers without me on behalf of our slum communities.

If you don’t involve the communities in planning, and implementing, and evaluating your interventions people will not take you seriously and your projects wont get done.

I thank the UN for seeking the representation of slum dwellers at your meeting and I am very sorry I could not attend.