Building Communal Sanitation in Uganda


This is the third in a series of eight blogs that highlight lessons from community-led sanitation practices and experiences from across SDI’s network and which exemplify our practice. The blogs will cover practical, social and financial aspects of sanitation provision for residents in low-income, primarily informal, settlements. There is no single solution that can address sanitation across the network. This series offers a “toolkit” of options that speak to a variety of contexts. This “toolkit” is grounded in the experiences and learning of the urban poor Federations which make up SDI’s network.

This blog describes the Ugandan Alliances experiences with designing, building and managing communal facilities across the country. There are no capital subsidies for sanitation in Uganda and the Alliance has attempted to build mixed-use facilities that recover some of their capital costs through usage charges. While full capital cost recovery is still some time away the units provide concrete examples of collective planning, construction, management and maintenance. They have also assisted in securing partnerships with local government and leveraging tangible benefits (e.g. land) for scaling up sanitation provision across Uganda.

By Hellen Nyamweru, Silver Michael Owere and the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda

In Uganda, 32 million people do not have access to adequate sanitation. Over 8,000 children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation in Uganda (Water Aid 2015). In numerous enumeration, profiling and mapping exercises conducted in Uganda by the SDI alliance, sanitation “gaps” characterize informal settlements. A recent slum enumeration in Bwaise, Mayinja zone for instance revealed that approximately 220 persons lacked a location to ease themselves and most of the toilets in the area were either full, out of service or in very bad state emitting a foul smell. People ease themselves in buckets and pour out the waste in open drainages at night. The lack or inadequacy of an excreta disposal system is the main cause of diseases such as diarrhoea and typhoid in the slums. UNDESA (2014) statistics indicate that about 2.5 billion people still lack improved sanitation and that 1.1 billion people still practice open defecation, (15% of the world population), the highest of this number being in sub-Saharan Africa. Sanitation should be made a global development priority.

The Ugandan SDI Alliance [National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda(NSDFU) and the support NGO-Actogether] recognise the seriousness of these facts and have been at the forefront of advocating for improved sanitation in the informal settlements of Uganda, adopting a sanitation strategy that provides improved, simple and affordable sanitation to urban poor communities. The Alliance shares a deep conviction that every human being should have access to basic sanitation in order to live a dignified life.

The Ugandan Alliance has constructed 18 Federation operated toilets in Mbale and Jinja-(Eastern Uganda), Mbarara and Kabale (Western Uganda) and in Rubaga, Kampala Central, Nakawa, Makindye and Kawempe (the five divisions of Kampala city). There are two typologies of toilet. The first category consists of two storeyed sanitation units containing toilet stances and bathrooms on the ground floor and a community hall on top floor. The structure also contains a water tank and a tap. The second category is water borne toilets with a compact digesting chamber that is filled with worms that naturally digest the waste. The toilets use a small amount of water, which is flushed before being directed to the digester.


Photo 1: Kisenyi sanitation unit. This is the biggest sanitation unit in Uganda with 13 stances (5 for men, 8 for women), one for the physically disabled, 4 for children, and a urinal. The unit also consists of a caretaker’s house, a water point, a community hall and resource centre, which doubles as an office of the Federation.


Figure 1: Uganda federation projects


Photo 2: Mbarara sanitation unit-Western Uganda


Photo 3: Mbale sanitation unit-Eastern Uganda


Photo 4: Kalimali sanitation unit -Kampala

From project inception regional Federation teams led the design, planning and construction of toilets with the guidance of the ACTogether technical arm and national NSDFU leadership.

The approach is demand-driven where communities realize the sanitation challenge and in turn initiate talks and negotiations to change the status quo. Community led approaches mean that investments are likely to be maintained and assists in ensuring that other issues are also addressed. Alliance sanitation goes beyond providing units and takes a holistic approach which includes improving people’s uptake of toilets.  NSDFU sells clean water at many toilets improving community hygiene and cutting down the distances many people have to walk to access water. Water is sold at UGX 100 per 20 litre jerry can – an affordable rate decided upon through community discussions and engagement. Federation members usually lobby the National Water and Sewerage Company (NWSCO) for a public meter as opposed to a domestic or commercial water point so as to benefit from reduced charges.  Domestic and commercial meters attract high charges because they are considered to be for private consumption. Toilet managers have to demonstrate that they will be providing water to persons in the community who live under water “stressed” conditions.  On average a family uses a maximum of three jerry cans per day, though this might rise to five or six jerry cans when they have to wash clothes and clean the house. During rainy seasons, community members collect rain water, saving a shilling or two. In different perception surveys conducted by the Ugandan SDI Alliance, communities indicate that cases of water-borne diseases have been reduced in the areas where water is sold.

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Tanzania federation undertaking training on bio-fill toilets at the Jinja Training material centre

Lessons from the toilets

Sanitation facilities have become an Alliance best practice that has been taken up by community groups and partners working on providing sanitation in urban settings. Since the establishment of the Kisenyi sanitation unit in 2004, communities in the federation have asked their local governments to provide land where they can set up public sanitation facilities. These projects also serve as catalysts of community mobilization. People living in the informal settlements are attracted to join the cause of the federation based on these public services. In Mbale for instance, the sanitation unit not only dramatically improved the sanitation situation in the settlement of Mission Cell, where no facilities previously existed, but it convinced the municipal council to award the federation a number of further contracts for sanitation units in the second phase of the Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda (TSUPU) program, funded by the World Bank to improve living conditions in informal settlements. When communities witness such happenings in their settlements, they are drawn to join the federation movement.

The projects have also demonstrated a new model for communities to access and manage services, build their skills and capacity in construction, gain employment and generate income. During the development of these sanitation facilities, project recipient federation members appoint a project management committee in charge of construction and responsible for the management of the sanitation unit. On completion, the same committee appoints a management committee responsible for running their new project.

Project management committees are trained in toilet construction and are now skilled in this field. The toilet units also employ caretakers who receive an average of UGX 150,000 each month (see fig.4 toilet breakdown). This amount depends on the monthly collection/income from the unit. For instance, when the collection is low the caretaker’s allowance is reduced so as to accommodate other expenses incurred by the unit. The UGX 150,000 allowance is the ceiling for all Uganda federation projects.  Caretakers conduct the daily activities of keeping the unit clean and collecting the user fees.


Figure 2:Project Management Committee-Construction phase




Figure 3: Project Management Committee-management phase

Federating around the issues of improving sanitation has augmented the social capital of the communities in that the community takes a collective role in changing the status quo of their settlement. Members have learnt that unity and cooperation is very important in overcoming different challenges in their communities. Women are very active in sanitation meetings and make up the greatest number in the project management committees. They are committed to improving sanitation for themselves and their children. A good example is Mukama Wakisa saving group in Jinja, Walukuba West settlement. The group is made up of 53 women who wrote a proposal to the municipal council in Jinja seeking to be awarded a grant under the Community Upgrading Fund. After their proposal was evaluated they were awarded UGX 30,000,000 to construct a four stance toilet (2 for men, 2 for ladies), 1 shower room on either side, a store and an office for the caretaker.


Walukuba West Toilet in Jinja

The Uganda alliance sanitation strategy is guided by the pillars of the federation, the most prominent being savings. The realization that UGX 100 saved daily can make a difference catalyzes the Federation movement. The federation uses savings to show commitment as well as their financial contribution to projects. They bank these savings in the local urban poor basket fund (known as SUUBI) and then approach the NGO for additional funding for a sanitation unit.

A good example is found in Mbale municipality where Mission Cell savings group purchased land worth UGX 5,000,000 from a community member. They then approached ACTogether to support the construction of a sanitation unit. ACTogether lobbied for additional funds (UGX 54,220,000) from SDI’s Urban Poor Fund International. The group was awarded a total of UGX 38,220,000 which they used to construct the ground floor that consists of eight stances (4 for men, 4 for women), 2 shower rooms on either side, 1 stance for the physically disabled, 1 store, a tank on the roof, and a community water stand pipe . The group is also contributing towards the completion of the second floor which will have a community hall. So far the group has paid a total of UGX 4,360,000 since July 2013. The unit began operations in June 2013

ACTogether Uganda receives many proposals from community members who desire to have toilet facilities in their settlements. These proposals have to be backed by a 20% contribution from the communities which they mobilize using their urban poor fund saving basket. The NGO mobilizes additional funding from a wide range of agencies including the Uganda government, development partners (e.g. World Bank, Cities Alliance), and private companies (e.g. Barefoot Solar, Bartle Bogle Hegarty).

The Ugandan Alliance’s sanitation intervention has served to demonstrate the capacity of the urban poor to the government and other development partners. It has exhibited the community’s ability to design projects, budget on available resources, negotiate for land, construct facilities, and craft ways of ensuring project longevity and sustainability. Communities are now equal partners – not passive beneficiaries – in development projects . In Jinja and Mbale for instance, the community has been engaged in municipal infrastructure upgrading programs including the construction of public sanitation units, waiting sheds, community drainage systems, street lights, and health centres.


Toilets in Jinja constructed by the community using TSUPU funds 

Several sanitation projects have been set up on land provided by the government and for which building commencement fees have been waived. Sanitation units in Kisenyi Mbarara, Kabale, Rubaga, and Kinawataka sit on land provided by the government. The government has also provided technical support in project design and supervision during construction to these toilets in the spirit of partnership and contributing to a common goal of improving community sanitation.


The communities are involved from the initial stages of project conception, and toilet fees are agreed upon by a general consensus. Communities have had experiences where toilet facilities provided by local government for which no fee was charged have broken down because of poor maintenance. Some of these toilets have been taken up and privatised by landlords or Parish Development Chiefs only to charge exorbitant fees, which local residents could not afford. They therefore agree on a figure which considers their pocket while ensuring the continuity of the project. All federation toilet projects in Uganda charge UGX 200 for toilet use and UGX 500 for bathroom use. This cost is lower than other public facilities (e.g. the city centre and bus park) where the charge is UGX 300 for toilets. Showering at the bus park bathrooms costs UGX 1000. Children use federation facilities free of charge.

To further subsidize on this cost, federation members running these units are exploring the subscription system where a family subscribes for toilet usage on a monthly basis paying UGX 6,000. The subscription system ensures a guaranteed source of income for the unit that can be used to maintain the facility. The names of the family members are registered with the caretaker who then provides a subscription card to the household head. The card is used by the registered family for as many times as they wish till its expiry at the end of the month. While paying these amounts at any community sanitation facility, one has to consider that the federation has to pay water bills and electricity bills while at the same time ensuring a good ambience in the facility, keeping it clean (soap and disinfectants) and providing tissue paper to the users.

Mbarara Nyamityobora Toilet Breakdown

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Fig 4: Nyamityobora toilet breakdown,Mbarara

Experience on mini-block toilets

Over the years, the Uganda federation has been thinking on how to approach the issue of limited space in relation to setting up sanitation units. Space among other factors has been one of the major hindrances to the provision of sanitation units in slums considering congestion and density. Some parts of Kampala, such as Bwaise, have a high water table that makes toilet construction an extremely expensive venture.

Through peer-to-peer exchanges, the Ugandan SDI Alliance piloted a new toilet model that uses very little space. Bio-fill toilets are water borne with a compact digesting chamber that is filled with worms that naturally digest the waste. The toilet uses a small amount of water that is flushed before being directed to the digester. The worms naturally digest the waste, reducing mass and smell. The size is ideal for crowded slum areas and can be easily raised for places with high water tables. The pit only needs to be emptied after every two years. Each stance is designed to accommodate 20 users in a day. A public toilet with four stances can therefore accommodate a maximum of 80 long calls (defecation) per day and many more short calls. Surpassing this number would mean overloading the facility that can result in the toilet breaking down. Communities are sensitised against overloading their units to avoid such costs.

Because the toilet uses only a limited amount of water, necessary water can be collected from rain tanks and supplemented with purchased water during the dry seasons, reducing maintenance costs and eliminating the cost of water and sewerage connections and bills. Water is diverted into a soak pit where it is safely filtered before draining into the ground. When the pit fills digested waste is safe for manual removal and can easily be processed to become high quality fertiliser. To implement this new technology, the engineer at ACTogether worked with an international intern from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)  to develop sanitation prototypes to be used by the communities.

1 stance biofill = $1000 (2.5 millions) 1 stance with double pit = $1200 (3 millions)
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 2 stance biofill system = $1000 (5 millions) 4 stance and 2 shower rooms biofill public toilet =$6400 (16 millions)

Four models of toilet are currently available:

  • 1 stance biofill toilet (uses worms to digest the fecal matter)
  • 2 stances with a double pit (fitted with two septic tanks)
  • 2 stance bio-fill toilet (uses worms to digest fecal matter)
  • 4 stances public toilet and 2 shower rooms (this can either be fitted with a septic tank or bio-fill technology-worms- depending on the population of the settlement. .

The double pit is advantageous in that one side of the toilet can be closed to allow decomposition. Once the manure is removed and sold that side of the toilet can be used. This rotation ensures that the facility can be used constantly.

Bio-fill units are provided to communities through a loan arrangement and require a federation savings group to deposit 20% of the total cost as a commitment fee before the construction of the unit can start. The beneficiaries then have to repay the loan in full in a matter of years depending on the type of unit. Repayment periods range between 1 and 4 years depending on the unit. In most cases, the toilet proposals are made by families saving locally. Landlords also apply for the loan and spread the cost across tenants’ monthly rentals. Once the loan has been paid to full balance the individual or the group owns the facility. Using the innovative technology of pre-cast panels, these toilets can be disassembled in case the owner or the group is relocated or in unfortunate circumstances where there are evictions. The repayments from these units are used to scale up the toilet provision process in other regions.

The alliance is set to popularize these units by spreading the idea to landlords in all of Kampala’s informal settlements. They are suitable in circumstances where there is little space and a need for limited water consumption. Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), the governing authority in Kampala, has come down hard on landlords who rent units that do not make provision for toilets and bathrooms. They have put in place stringent measures that mean closure of the rental units unless they comply.  The Alliance wishes to capitalise on this and sell bio-fill toilets, thereby revolving monies in the Urban Poor Fund while at the same time increasing toilet coverage in the slums and in turn keeping diseases such as typhoid and dysentery at bay.

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Photos showing Kitunzi market bio-fill public toilet before and after upgrading

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Wakaliga toilet in Rubaga divisions showing the state of the toilet before upgrading and after

In a perception survey conducted by the Alliance late last year, communities reported improved hygiene and clean environment as key results from the sanitation intervention. Individual beneficiaries are also enjoying odorless, clean and easy to maintain toilets in their compounds. One beneficiary shared her joy in having the new unit and how she can now host visitors with confidence in her house unlike in the past.

“I would get embarrassed every time I hosted visitors because of the filthy smell around home that would come from my old toilet, a pit latrine that kept filling now and then. With this new toilet, I don’t have to worry about all that, you can’t even tell where the toilet is located, there is no bad smell and many people are asking me where I got this toilet”

Impact and Policy

At the national level, ACTogether and NSDFU are members of the Uganda National Solid Waste Strategy committee steered by the Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development which focuses on how municipalities can manage solid waste. Presently, municipalities are preparing individual solid waste plans to feed into the National Strategy.

The government is obliged to find solutions for ensuring access to water and sanitation for all but the high population and the pressure of urbanization makes this difficult. At best, the state has been able to supplement these efforts by providing land, funds and the technical support necessary to establish sanitation units.

Communities have proven their potential to manage capital projects. This has also attracted international recognition, a case in point being the awarding of funds to community groups in Jinja and Mbale to put up community toilets under the Cities Alliance/World Bank funded TSUPU program worth UGX 150,000,000. To date thirteen toilets have been built under this programme ( 8 in Jinja and 5 in Mbale)

The Ugandan Alliance believes the journey towards adequate sanitation and water is still long but we take pride in being active change agents on this agenda. Community services provided by the federation allow those who cannot access these facilities to access sanitation and water through their own means, a clear demonstration of active citizenship.

Kenyan Federation Undertakes Strategic Planning

**Cross-posted from the Muungano blog.**

By Alice Slverdik and Shadrack Mbaka

Muungano wa Wanavijiji, the Kenyan federation, began a pioneering Strategic Planning process last November, with leaders from across Kenya sharing their personal histories with the federation and developing a shared vision for the future. At a 3-day workshop in Nakuru, participants discussed how to continue strengthening Muungano and how to achieve improved shelter, services, and visibility for the urban poor. This is the first time that Muungano has spearheaded its own 5-year Strategic Plan, and the process will expand next year with broader participation from members nationwide.

Rashid Mutua, Muungano was Wanavijiji National Chairman said, “We seek this forum to enable the federation to draft a strategic plan to support fellow slum dwellers to re-work their vision and mission in the urban development sphere and we look forward to having healthy reflections and an inclusive participation process.”

Facilitated by staff from Uganda’s support NGO ACTogether, the workshop provided the opportunity to learn from the Ugandan experiences and to reflect upon Muungano’s diverse paths. Both new and old leaders shared their journeys with Muungano, which helped reveal the federation’s multiple changes over time. Leaders differed widely in their initial experiences with Muungano: some emphasized land and housing, others sought to improve services or markets, and still others focused on advocacy. Shifting from anti-eviction campaigns in the 1990s to a broader, long-term vision, Muungano has constantly evolved and emerged as a confident movement that is eager to tackle ever greater challenges.

Jack Makau of Slum Dwellers International, who also doubled up as a process facilitator, expressed a positive course for the federation, “This has been a dream for the federation. This strategic planning process offers a platform for the federation to discuss its intended plans and indeed it is a blessing that we are seated together to have a voice of reason. Settlements have dynamics; donors may have varied opinions of informal settlements based on their augmented priorities. But in my own opinion, settlements are amazing, especially in their manifestations. The urban poor are housing half of cities’ populations. The urban dwellers are the problems and also the solution. This opportunity has presented itself for the federation to be the solution seekers”.

Participants take a gallery walk of some of the priority objectives that participants have proposed for the federation to consider in its strategic plan.

During the workshop, leaders engaged in vigorous debates over Muungano’s future and began developing a range of innovative strategies. Participants discussed key policy priorities, how to mentor new Muungano leaders, and the need for engaging with county governments (including leveraging funds via ongoing devolution reforms). Additionally, the leaders helped draft new vision and mission statements for Muungano, reflecting thoughtfully on core values and affirming their commitment to inclusive urban development. During future sessions, Muungano members will refine these statements and craft specific milestones, work-plans, and strategies for the next 5 years.

More than just a priority-setting exercise, the session also helped reinvigorate the federation’s spirit and uncovered vital new ideas. Participants gained useful lessons from Uganda, such as the importance of creating innovative organizational structures and documenting community processes. The planning process itself was also deeply affirming and inspiring for all who participated. ”The process was so captivating, so inclusive, I value it as a precious thing that we will be able to safeguard and protect for the rest of our lives,” said Erickson Sunday of Kisumu. With its path-breaking Strategic Plan, Muungano will create additional opportunities for shared reflection and growth as this dynamic movement continually redefines its future.


Know Your City: Reflections from the Kampala Learning Centre

Kampala, Uganda

By Skye Dobson, ACTogether Uganda 

Last year as part of an external review of SDI, the staff of ACTogether Uganda and members of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) were asked to consider a continuum from 1 to 10, on which being a “model builder or catalyst” was at one end and being an “operator for citywide upgrading” was at the other. The point was not that one was better or for us to move from one (model builder) to the other (implementer), but to understand the ultimate aim of our work so we can find the most strategic ways to get there. The discussion that followed was revealing. It was clear there were mixed feelings in the community and even the NGO staff when it came to situating our present work and future goals on this continuum.  

After challenging themselves to resist proprietary claims to projects, approaches, and information, the local team concluded that in order to achieve scale the primary goal is to set precedents and catalyze more inclusive urban development. To do this, the Uganda federation and support NGO, will need to capitalize on their comparative advantage as a mass movement of slum dwellers and partner and push others toward pro-poor development – not seek to implement all the projects itself. 

Personally, I was satisfied by the conclusion of the team as I had been nervous for some time that as we move to a city-wide slum upgrading agenda – increasingly defined and measured by projects – we risk losing focus on the community organizing that has distinguished SDI from so many other urban development actors. This year I feel assured this is the right approach in the Uganda context. Some recent developments have given concrete indications that the so-called “soft” investments of SDI are beginning to have a “hard” impact on city planning in Uganda, while staying true to the priorities, principles, and strengths of the slum dweller federation. 

At the end of last year ACTogether and the NSDFU began profiling and mapping slums in Kampala.  We identified 62 slum settlements and conducted profiling in each and every one in order to gather data on land tenure, services, housing, and livelihoods etc. The verification process will be complete in March 2014 and the final report will be produced in April.  This is the first time city-wide slum profiling has been conducted in Kampala and the opportunity for ACTogether and the federation to engage in the formulation and implementation of city plans is significant. 

As part of an effort by the city to improve sanitation access for the urban poor, the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) recruited Fichtner Water and Transportation GMbH consultants to conduct a feasibility study on 20 urban poor parishes in Kampala. Thanks to lobbying and advocacy in 2013, ACTogether and the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda were invited to sit on the steering committee for the project – the only NGO/community representatives to do so. The international consultants were concerned by the lack of current information on slums. Official population data is 12 years old, gathered during the 2002 census, and it became clear to them that this had resulted in a serious underestimation of the present scale of slum coverage and a failure to understand the population shifts that have taken place as a result of eviction or displacement.

When ACTogether and the NSDFU presented their information from the city-wide profiling, the consultants immediately recognized its value. It was the first time the information gathered by Ugandan slum dwellers had been appreciated on such a highly technical and immediately practical level. The consultants requested we share our slums map so they could overlay it with maps from KCCA and NWSC in order to generate agreement on the extent of slum settlement and prioritize the areas of operation for the project. It was clear this was a concrete opportunity for the information the federation had gathered to influence planning for the whole city and target planned improvements to service delivery to the most vulnerable.

In Map 1, below, you can see the map produced by KCCA in 2010, showing 31 slums (in yellow). This is the most recent map available from the city authority. Map 2 was produced by ACTogether and NSDFU and shows the 62 slums (in orange) mapped in 2014.

Map 1. KCCA Identified Slums (From Kampala Physical Development Plan)

KCCA Slum Map

Map 2. ACTogether and NSDFU Slums (2014)

Federation Slum Map

The consultants used these two maps and another from National Water’s Urban Poor Unit to produce the following map (Map 3) to propose a consensus on slum coverage. The green areas are only confirmed by one source (mostly ACTogether/NSDFU) as part of the recent profiling work – highlighting what we believe to be a critical lack of recognition for the scope of slum coverage in the city.

Map 3: Confirmed Slum Areas, Kampala (Fichtner 2014)

Confirmed Slum Areas

As a result of this information, priority areas for the project were altered to reflect on the ground realities  – a big achievement for the federation. The consultants were able to advise government that the scope needed to be expanded to 40 parishes and that administrative boundaries were not sufficient to identify slums, as some parishes are comprised of informal and formal settlement. The development of the feasibility study rests on conceptual guidelines including: “placing the communities at the center of the decision framework with a view to improve the quality and sustainability of services and reduce costs.” ACTogether and the NSDFU have demonstrated their relevance to this process and eagerly anticipate slum dwellers being part of the decision framework in a way that is unprecedented in Uganda.

Last month ACTogether and the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda were contacted by KCCA’s Strategic Planning Department requesting us to support them to gather the most recent information on slums to assist with the formulation of the Kampala Five Year City Strategic Plan, which will include a slum redevelopment component. This month we will present to the Management Committee of KCCA and present a draft MOU for partnership that will enable us to leverage our data to achieve significantly more substantial partnership between slum dwellers and the city – especially as the city embarks upon the precinct physical development planning process for implementation of the Master Plan (2012). 

Here in the Uganda learning center it is clear that Knowing Your City is the critical fist step in planning for your city. The comparative advantages of slum dweller communities to Know Their City is obvious and gaining recognition from an increasing number of state and non-state actors at a very practical level. In Uganda the federation and ACTogether are increasingly finding a balance between technical and community knowledge, recognizing that both are necessary and the challenge is to find creative combinations of community and expert knowledge and practice. As the federation and government learn from each other and adapt their strategies accordingly we truly see a movement toward collaborative planning. As Watson (2014) suggests, this kind of partnership goes beyond merely the debates required to shape plans, and extends community participation into the realm of delivery, implementation and management.


Report from the 9th East African Hub Meeting

East African Hub Meeting

The 9th East African Hub Meeting was held from 24th-28th June 2013 in Jinja, Uganda. Approximately seventy-eight people from Kenya, Tanzania, and the host country, Uganda, participated in the conference. Mr. Hassan Kiberu, National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) Chairman, opened the conference, and, along with a few supporters, remained Master of Ceremony for the duration of the meeting. The purpose of the quarterly Hub meetings are to bring the three countries in the East African community together to learn from and reflect on one another’s experiences and challenges, as well as to improve and grow the federation in a sustainable way throughout the region. The key issues discussed included the importance of partnerships symbolized by the conference’s theme: “Enhancing Partnerships for Effective Governance and Improved Service Delivery.” Partnerships came up frequently and often passionately as a topic of discussion, underscoring their necessity in the work of conference attendees. It was noted that this was the first Hub to integrate all development process stakeholders. This could be observed directly through a Municipal Development Forum (MDF) meeting held during the conference, in which ministry officials, town clerks, MDF members and slum dwellers all participated. This was a good learning opportunity for all countries to see how “bringing all the stakeholders into one room” can affect the development process. Other key issues included discussions of the federation’s growth and projects in the different countries and how to learn from their process and results, and continued urbanization throughout the region and its implications for development and the urban poor.

Click here to see the full report on Hub Meeting activities and action points. 

Project Diary: Kalimali Sanitation Unit, Uganda

Kalimali Sanitation Unit, Uganda

**Cross posted from the ACTogether Blog**

By Fiona Nshemerirwe, ACTogether Uganda

Kalimali zone, where the federation’s sanitation unit is located, is one of the five zones in Bwaise III parish in Kawempe municipality.  The zone is home to approximately 277 residents and it covers approximately 4 acres of land which is owned by the kabaka.

The project began with community enumerations during which each house was allocated a unique number agreed upon by the community enumeration team. The community, lead by their LC1 chairman Mr. Musisi, took the lead in sensitizing the community about the sanitation project and the need to gather information about their settlement. 

Kalimali Sanitation Unit, Uganda

Through their weekly meetings the savings group discussed the management of the project, where to store the tools, who the various members of the PMC are and voted a chairperson of the PMC Ms. Nankinga. 

One of the group members offered a piece of her land to the group to establish the community toilet facility. An agreement was made between the land owner and the NSDFU to enable planning and give the community ownership of the facility.

The community looked at the architectural plans for the sanitation unit building and discussed it in detail together with the ACTogether engineer, Mr. Waiswa Kakaire. Specifically keen on the issue of water (one of the biggest challenges in Bwaise), the design was appreciated because of the provision of a water tank at the top. It was, however, suggested that a care takers room be included in the design.

Kalimali Sanitation Unit, Uganda

Thursday 7 February 2013

In the wake of dawn at 7am on Thursday, the federation leaders in Kawempe, the LC1 chairman for Kalimali zone Mr. Musisi, community members form Kalimali saving scheme, officers from ACTogther and SDI and Diana Mitlin of IIED stormed the town clerk’s office in Kawempe municipality with building plans in hand to be submitted for approval. Sure enough the town clerk was filled with awe at the seriousness of the community about changing the sanitation situation in their community. The technical team, composed of the health officer and the municipal engineer, joined the town clerk and a meeting commenced.

The federation presented the project to the team and explained why this is very important to them according to their findings from the enumerations they had conducted in the settlement. The technical team, impressed by the presentations, appreciated the plans and pledged full support to the initiative. The town clerk assured the community that technical support will be availed free of charge to support the project

Kalimali Sanitation Unit, Uganda

Friday 8 March 2013

It’s time to build! On the 8th of March 2013, the community in Kalimali was all set to commence construction works on their Sanitation Unit. It is safe to say that Women’s Day was celebrated as the day construction work commenced. With the Project Management Committee (PMC) already in place, a meeting was held to assign the roles to the different members: clearing the heap of garbage off the site, demolishing the existing structure of the old pit latrine and members of the procurement committee set off to purchase materials needed.

Kalimali Sanitation Unit, Uganda

Friday 15 March 2013

Construction work begins! More than 10 women and men from the Kalimali savings group turned up to start digging the foundation and moving materials to the site. Despite rainy conditions and slippery grounds, the community worked to ensure that the ground level was set, the bricks were laid and materials were on site. Bwaise being the “floods hub,” the foundation had to be extra strong with lots of marrum, hard core and iron bars to ensure stability of the sanitation block.

More to come as the project continues! 

Improving Sanitation in Kinawataka Market, Uganda

Kinawataka Facility

By Greg Bachmayer, SDI Secretariat 


This report is intended to document and share aspects of a collaborative project between Slum / Shack Dwellers International (SDI) and the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU). 

The project’s aim was to construct an ablution facility and a community facility / centre in Kinawataka market, Kampala, Uganda. For this, an architect from SDI, Greg Bachmayer, worked in the office of NSDFU from May – June 2012 to help with cost reductions and design improvements. 

Hopefully this report weill communicate in plain terms the technical and social processes that these projects go through and what they intend to achieve. 

Kinawataka Facility


Community members of Kinawataka, a slum in Kampala, took it upon themselves to upgrade the living standards in their neighbourhood. In the process, they formed a federation, enlisted members who worked and saved together to achieve their common goals.

After having performed an enumeration of their area, mapping structures, surveying the demographics, people’s incomes and other relevant data they had enough to make informed decisions.

Kinawataka Facility

This enumeration of Nakawa in 2011, revealed that Kinawataka has over 1,500 families with only 40% of these having access to sanitation. With that in mind, the federation leaders decided that it was imperative that a public sanitation facility be built to service these needs, prompting this project.

An ablution facility would be built that would benefit at least 600 households, and on top would be a community facility that the federation could use as an office.


Kinawataka is a suburb/region, within Kampala, sitting roughly 6.3 km to the north east of the CBD. The are has a mix of residential, commercial and industrial uses.

Kinawataka Facility

The site for this facility is a market place in Kinawataka. The Federation leaders have plans to eventually upgrade the whole market place but this was thought to be done in stages. For the time being, they have demolished part of the market place where they want the toilet block to go.

The site is set back off busy Kinawatake Road, which is lined with small businesses setback roughly 20 meters from an active railway line. Behind these shops is where many families reside.

Work done to date

A design had been done by an outsourced architect, who provided the following design (see plans below). As the documents show, there is no reference to any site details. A similar design, by the same architect, was almost complete in Jinja. The first task assigned was how the cost of this design could be reduced.

Kinawataka Facility

Cost Reductions

The first thing done in looking at reducing costs was going through the existing design and looking at itemized costs of various components. The components, which added extra and large costs unnecessarily, included the pitched roof, cast in-situ concrete staircase, window frames and metal balustrades. All of these could be replaced with alternatives made from cheaper sourced materials and labour.

Window frames could be replaced with brick/breezeblock screens and polycarbonate sheeting.

Pitched roof could be replaced with a raked roof

Steel balustrades could be replaced with brick walls.

Cast in-situ staircase could be replaced with a precast concrete system developed and used extensively in East Africa

Kinawataka Facility

These discussions were facilitated by an in-house engineer with extensive experience in local building and costing. This is uncommon in most affiliates but demonstrates the capacity to significantly strengthen the technical capacity of other similar organisations.

Council Involvement

The local Council in Nakawa agreed to provide assistance with this project. Before works could proceed, a contract needed to be signed between the Council, the Federation, and SDI regarding the terms and conditions for assistance. In this contract, it was agreed that SDI would provide 60% of the funding in the form of a loan, repaid at an interest rate of 8%. The Council would provide 20% of project costs (land and technical assistance), the community provides 20% (cash and labour) and a 60% loan from SDI’s Urban Poor Fund International. 


When the mayor’s deputies read through the contract they were alarmed by this, claiming that they had not known this money would be “loaned” and thought it would be a donation. The initial reaction was that they couldn’t agree to these terms.

It took a 2 hour meeting to sufficiently explain that the “loan” would create a revolving fund, meaning that the money never returned to SDI. When the money is fully repaid, the money would go towards another community and facilitate the construction of a similar project. The money would not be repaid by approaching individual community members and requesting payment in the form of a tax, but rather achieved through charging individuals a small amount to use the facilities. This business model would then allow several facilities to be built in a more sustainable way than the previous model of donating the whole amount and only building a single building.

Inflation in Uganda sits at roughly 18%, so with an interest rate of 8%, this “loan” is actually free money, depreciating at a rate of 16% every year (assuming this rate of inflation continues). Thus the fund will eventually be worn away in time. 

Once this was all understood, it was agreed that Council needed to get its legal council to go over the details, but in short, the project had the Mayor’s blessing. SDI was given an informal green-light to proceed with the project.

Site Visit

A visit to the site revealed that the drawings produced by the previous architect were too big for the area. Significant planning and scale changes were required to make this building work with the immediate context. Other issues which were raised by this included the topography of the site as there is a significant slope with varying levels. The drawings provided had no reference to any levels at all.


Typical procedure would be to get a formal survey done of the site, including topography, trees (height + radius), building footprints, roof ridges and any other significant landscape features.

In this case, there were various political aspects pushing this project and they needed to build the facility as quickly as possible. To put this in perspective, the site visit was on the 5 May and the federation wanted to have the first floor built by 28 May. Two weeks… A lot would need to be decided on site as it was built.


Kinawataka Facility

Taking into consideration the discussions in replacing components, changes in site proportions and also looking at making the building more aesthetically pleasing, a redesign was done.

In short, the planning remained almost the same, except that the accessible toilet was made bigger (to meet then Ugandan standards) and 2 cubicles were removed to accommodate the downscaling in size.

Kinawataka Facility

A combination of brick screens and polycarbonate sheeting were used on the ground floor to create a more cost friendly opening whilst using a visual language on slits in the building fabric. This was also applied on the level 1 balcony to create a screen and a courtyard effect. The bottom half would remain as exposed brick (savings on rendering) whilst only the top half would be rendered and painted white, standing out as a civic point of reference in a landscape of single storey shacks.

Kinawataka Facility

The windows on the top floor would be made from locally made breezeblocks with a fly screen backing and a small eave to prevent water getting in.  This would help constant ventilation and shading without compromising security.

The raked roof would also maximize the amount of water the building could harvest. Storing the water tank on the first floor balcony placed it close to the gutter and allowed gravity to apply the water pressure to re-use this in the toilets.

Work in Progress

Kinawataka Facility Kinawataka Facility


To access the full report, please click here


10 Years of Okwegatta: A Milestone in Uganda

10 Years of Okwegatta

By Skye Dobson, SDI Secretariat (Uganda)

On 12/12/12 the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) celebrated its 10th Anniversary. From a few savings groups in Kisenyi, the federation has spread over the last decade across Kampala, to Arua in the north, Mbale and Jinja in the east, to Kabale and Mbarara in the west. The federation is now comprised of over 38,000 slum dwellers and approximately 500 savings groups. NSDFU and its support NGO ACTogether Uganda decided it was important to mark this milestone and bring together members and partners for a very special event that would serve as a time not only for celebration, but reflection and mobilization.

Planning began in November. NSDFU members and ACTogether staff decided to approach Uganda’s most famous artist, Bobi Wine, known affectionately as the “Ghetto President.” They asked Bobi whether he would be interested in helping Uganda’s slum dwellers to celebrate the event and generate publicity for the work of the federation. At the meeting NSDFU member, Katana Goretti, who hails from the same slum as Bobi Wine – Kamwoyka – explained the work of the federation, its history, and its hopes for the future. ACTogether and SDI explained the larger movement to which the NSDFU is part. Bobi listened intently and asked many questions about federation work before informing the group he was honored to be approached and would work with ACTogether and the NSDFU to put on a historic event. He instructed his management team – Angry Management, led by the tireless Lawrence Labeja – to give full support. It was decided that a free concert for slum dwellers would be the grand finale of the anniversary celebrations.

NSDFU was committed to ensuring the event be more than a mere celebration. One of the most frequent pleas of federation groups is to gain access to markets for their goods. It was decided the event would provide such a space. With Christmas a mere two weeks after the event, the timing for a huge slum dweller’s income generating activity market was right. A Savers’ Convention and SUUBI (Urban Poor Fund) sensitization drive would also be held on the day. Housing and sanitation models would be displayed, and donor and government partners would be invited to attend. The event would also provide the perfect space to launch the Federation’s book, 10 Years of Okwegatta: A History of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda Narrated by Members. In the book, member stories are transcribed to tell the history of federation work, federation regions, federation slum upgrading and livelihood projects, as well as federation achievements and challenges. The book can be viewed at this link: www.knowyourcity.info

 At the November National Executive Council (NEC) meeting members were briefed on their respective roles and responsibilities. The logistics involved in hosting such an event were managed with ease by the well-organized federation. Each region was charged with coordinating the savings groups in their networks, arranging transport for members, providing lists of those wishing to participate in the livelihood market, and producing t-shirts to sell, and making a banner to show who they are. The federation in Kampala searched for a venue for the big day. The NSDFU was keen to host the event in Kampala Central, where the federation began, and it was decided that the most cost efficient option for such a huge crowd was Old Kampala Secondary School. The school has two huge football fields and the management agreed (special thanks to Mr. Okumu) to give the federation free use of tables and benches for the exhibition, and toilets on the day. Once the venue was set, the advertising began.

10 Years of Okwegatta

10 Years of Okwegatta

Flyers were produced and Angry Management arranged for truck drives which would announce the event and the work of the federation over a loud speaker from the back of a truck as it drove through the slums of Kampala. Federation member and aspiring DJ, “DJ X” from Makindye, took the microphone and did a fabulous job of inviting all slum dwellers to attend the NSDFU’s anniversary. Cloth banners were also hung by the Angry Management team around Kampala’s slums to raise awareness (shown below). Pioneer Easy Buses – Kampala’s city-wide bus company – showed advertisements for the event on the televisions in all buses.

10 Years of Okwegatta

Uganda’s national newspaper, the New Vision, was approached to continue its work to raise awareness for issues facing slum dwellers. With support from the South African Trust the New Vision dedicated a significant amount of space in its papers in 2012 to highlighting the work of Ugandans to improve living conditions in the country’s slums.  It also trained journalists in community engagement and identification of change makers in slums. During the feature, the NSDFU was profiled twice in full-page color articles. The articles can be viewed at the following link:

NSDFU and ACTogether asked the New Vision to announce the winner of the Ugandans Making a Difference urban feature at the event, provide advertisements for the event free of charge, and compile a full page color write up following the event. The New Vision was also requested to provide a cash sponsorship of UGX 8,500,000 (USD $3,400). The New Vision Group eagerly agreed and special thanks must be extended to Ben Opolot, John Eremu, Cathy Mwesigwa, and Daniel Komunda. Following discussions with New Vision, ACTogether staff member Helen Nyamweru and newly appointed board member, Dr. Steven Mukiibi, were asked to sit on the panel which choose the winners. An article about the competition can be viewed at the following link:

On the 11th of December members from the furthest municipalities from Kampala began their journey. Members from Arua (approximately 480km from Kampala) and Kabale (approximately 420km from Kampala) had a long journey to make. NSDFU members agreed that no regions would be provided accommodation support for the event, as the costs would become too great resulting in fewer members being able to attend. Arua region decided it would still come the day before and members would sleep in the community hall of the Kisenyi III federation sanitation unit. The unit was the first NSDFU project in Uganda and there could not have been a better way for it to be used on the anniversary! Members slept on the floor, in hallways, and in chairs. Some members took it upon themselves to ‘guard’ the others and report that the federation members were in high spirits despite the cramped conditions.

Though the event did not officially start until 2pm, members came to the site early to help set up. Groups with tent and chair rental projects were asked to bring them to the event and erect them early before the anit-terrorism unit arrived to conduct a sweep. Pepsi Cola agreed to provided tents, chairs, and 2,500 free sodas in sponsorship of the event. Nile Breweries agreed to supply tents. Barefoot Solar generously decided their sponsorship contribution would be to outfit one of the federation’s sanitation units with solar power in 2013. Pioneer Buses – Kampala’s city-wide bus system – offered free promotion of the NSDFU anniversary on all its buses and social media, while Record TV also provided free coverage. Individual donors Heather Gardiner, Christine and Tiree Dobson, and Caroline Power also provided sponsorship support.    

Each region selected 10 ushers. These members were charged with all the logistical responsibilities involved with setting up and clearing up their income generating activity and project displays. Regional ushers were allocated tags (shown below) so they could be easily identified by security personal. It should be noted that security was a very serious concern for the federation and the authorities. In the lead up to the event, NSDFU member Lubega Edirss and NSDFU chairman Hassan Kiberu did an exceptional job securing permission to host and secure the event from the Inspector General of Police, the Kampala Metropolitan Police, the District Police Commissioner, the Kampala Capital City Authority, and the Anti-terrorism Authority. Securing such support required endless trips to these offices and Lubega now boasts of having the phone number of every high-level security officer in the country!

10 Years of Okwegatta

All 11 regions of the federation were allocated a space to exhibit and sell their goods. Some of the livelihood projects included: candles, liquid soap, clothes, beads, bags, briquettes, shoes, jewelry, grass mats, baskets, amaranth products, bread, donuts, cookies, soaps, mushrooms, clay stoves and more. The vast majority of these projects were initiated and are managed by women. 

Approximately 70% of all NSDFU members are women and they constituted the bulk of those in attendance on the day. The groups reported good sales on the day both from fellow members and guests. In addition, members moved to their fellow savings groups for ideas and contacts during the day so they can test the income generating activities of fellow members in their own settlements.

10 Years of Okwegatta

NSDFU is planning to create more regional livelihood projects in 2013 following the success of the Nakawa Region Candle Project in which numerous candle-making groups came together to form a regional alliance. Networking the project groups regionally means they can fulfill larger orders and access larger markets. Since the event, the Nakawa candle makers have been asked to fill another large bulk order. Members are exploring other regional projects through contacts made at the event and groups they learned of in the 10 Years of Okwegatta book. 

The book and the exhibition at the anniversary highlight the incredible array of skills to be found in the NSDFU and also the power of collective action toward livelihood improvement. The savings groups in the federation extend small loans for livelihood projects and their organizational capacity allows them to grow their businesses, account for their monies, and diversify their products as they learn from fellow slum dwellers in the network. The partnerships the federation forges with municipal councils helps these groups get access to the Ugandan Government’s Community-Driven Development (CDD) funds owing to their demonstrable capacity to manage such funds effectively. 

No NSDFU event would be complete without singing and dancing. Many groups in the federation have singing or drama groups, which raise awareness for federation rituals and in many cases also generate income for groups when they are hired for functions. Each region was asked to prepare a performance for the anniversary celebration. The performances were so colorful and inspired and a delight for fellow federation members and guests to witness. The groups performed songs and plays about savings, women’s empowerment, and lifting oneself out of poverty. 

10 Years of Okwegatta

They performed in the traditional style of their region highlighting the great diversity of culture within the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda. The Bakiga from Kabale performed the Ekizino Royal Dance, full of vigorous stamping and jumping. The Lugbara from Arua were painted in the traditional style and performed a thrilling local dance. The Baganda people from Kampala peformed the ever-delightful Bakisiimba, traditionally performed for the Kabaka (King), while the Basoga from Jinja, the Bagisu from Mbale, and the Banyankole from Mbarara delighted with songs, plays, and dances from their respective cultures.

As mentioned, members decided the event would also provide the perfect space for a massive SUUBI sensitization effort and savings drive. SUUBI is Uganda’s Urban Poor Fund, which was established in 2010. It has extended loans for housing, sanitation units, and livelihood projects to federation groups throughout Uganda. SUUBI is designed as a basket fund to which the urban poor, their partners in government, and donor agencies contribute. The unique element of SUUBI is that is a fund that the urban poor control themselves. The monies that their small daily savings and organizational capacity leverage are directed to projects the members prioritize, design, and implement themselves.

At the event federation leaders explained the function of SUUBI and members were encouraged to save to SUUBI that very day. There was a competition for SUUBI savings, with the winner receiving a 10 million shilling loan for a community slum-upgrading project. On the day, members saved over 3,400,000 shillings (USD $1,400) and DFCU Bank – in which the SUUBI account is held – was invited to participate in the verification and banking of member savings on the day. 

10 Years of Okwegatta

Chairman, Hassan Kiberu, announced the savings of each region and declared Arua region the winner. Members from Arua saved, on average, close to 4,000 shillings (USD $1.60) per person. At this announcement Arua region came running onto the main field waving their pink saving books, dancing and ululating with excitement!! The win was consistent with Arua’s history as the federation region with the strongest daily and SUUBI savings. Since returning to Arua, the members decided to use the loan to construct a sanitation unit – a project prioritized following community conducted enumerations (slum surveys) – and have already negotiated for land in Arua municipality. 

In the lead up to the event, federation members, led by Robert Kakinda, Vicky Nakibuuka, and the ACTogether engineer, Waiswa Kakaire, constructed models of the sanitation units being built by the federation and a low-cost, multi-storeyed house model. The models were exceptionally detailed and Robert Kakinda spent the day explaining the designs and costs to guests and federation members. These models helped visitors to appreciate the kinds of projects SUUBI makes possible thanks to the exceptional organizational capacity of the NSDFU members. The models helped demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of federation projects and the fact that good design can reduce cost and simplify the construction process so that slum dwellers can build for themselves. At present, the NSDFU has one housing project in Jinja, an sanitation unit projects in Kisenyi, Kinawataka and Bwaise in Kampala, as well as Mbale, Jinja, and Mbarara. The sanitation units are double-story and house a community hall on the top floor which is used to host regional federation meetings and rent out for income generation. The sanitation facilities, including toilets and showers, are for men and women and have provisions for the disabled.

10 Years of Okwegatta

The guest of honor, State Minster of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Rosemary Najjemba officially opened the event and spoke to those gathered about the work of the Ministry. She praised the efforts of the federation and encouraged them to continue to work hard and resist the temptations of corruption as they grow. Robert Kakinda and Sarah Nandudu explained the models to the Minister, who asked many questions and then signed the NSDFU message board with the following message: “I would like to see cities without slums therefore I support the NSDFU!”

The federations travelled with many of their municipal council partners. Mbale municipality came with the Mayor as did Nakawa Region. Many regions came with councilors, and Arua came with its Community Development Officer. One member, Sarah Kiyimba, told me, “sometimes municipal council representatives – and even members – don’t really believe the federation has so many members and does so much work, but at the event they really saw.” Mbarara region even made a sanitation unit model out of cake (shown below)! The cake was auctioned off by the Mayor of Nakawa to raise funds for the completion of the unit in Mbarara. The total raised was UGX 230,000 (USD $92).

10 Years of Okwegatta

Bobi Wine arrived at about 4pm to greet the federation and whip up excitement for the concert to come. Bobi Wine was also presented with an award by New Vision for the work he has done in Kamwoyka to improve drainage and sanitation. His car, with its “Ghetto” number plates was parked at the entrance of the school, much to the delight of passers by.

In the evening Bobi performed a free show in front of thousands of screaming slum dwellers. He spoke of the ingenuity to be found in the ghettos of Uganda and the potential within each and every person in attendance. He spoke of his own rise from a slum dweller to an international superstar. Bobi sang live, with a full band, and his opening acts were members of the Firebase Crew. Joining him for the main show, was fellow Ugandan sensation Nubian Lee.

10 Years of Okwegatta

10 Years of Okwegatta

The NSDFU and ACTogether know that the challenge in 2013 is for the slum dweller movement in Uganda to consolidate the impressive gains made in the past 10 years (to build an autonomous urban poor movement, raise awareness for the issues faced by slum dwellers, begin to work at city-scale, improve sanitation, become an established learning center in the SDI network, achieve national recognition, create an urban poor fund, and promote good governance and womens’ empowerment) and intensify the leveraging of slum dweller social and political capital for greater improvements to the lives of the urban poor.

To see a fun video of the event, please view this link:


Starting with Sanitation: New Approaches to Slum Upgrading in Uganda

Sanitation unit in Jinja


**Cross-posted from the ACTogether Blog**

By Skye Dobson & Frederick Mugisha, SDI Secretariat & ACTogether Uganda

In Jinja, a municipality in Uganda’s South-East, slum dwellers are setting a precedent for upgrading and expanding sanitation infrastructure in the country’s slums. The Uganda Slum Dwellers Federation has pursued a number of community-centered steps for changing the status quo.

First, the Federation completed an enumeration in 2010 to determine need. The enumeration revealed 82.5% of Jinja slum residents do not have access to a toilet in their compound and 95% do not have access to water on their compound.  The Federation’s profiling activities revealed the vast majority of residents must purchase water from privately owned water points at an average of 100 shillings per jerrican. The profiling also revealed that many of the municipality’s sewer systems failed long ago, leaving residents no option but to relieve themselves in the bush or the lake.

The enumeration revealed especially vulnerable sections of Jinja. One section that was particularly underserved was Rubaga Market. The community in and around Rubaga market only had one dilapidated public toilet that was unsanitary and unsafe. Most residents preferred to go in a bush or walk to an adjacent settlement to find facilities. This reality contributes to the staggering number of children who die in Uganda from diarrhoeal diseases – some 26,000 under five each year.

Second, the Federation approached the local community and market authorities to discuss a solution. The Federation is acutely aware that sanitation projects undertaken by NGOs, governments, or CBOs alone are rarely sustained and/or scaled up and they thus seek to foster partnerships between local authorities and the community to ensure projects are targeted and maintained efficiently.

For its part, the Federation was prepared to contribute member savings to the project. This represents a key signifier of urban poor’s commitment to the project, desire for the project, and capacity to contribute financially toward slum upgrading. A particularly interesting component of this project is that the community contribution – some 15 million Ugandan Shillings (almost US$6,000) was sourced from member repayments on another Uganda Slum Dwellers Federation project – a housing project in Jinja. This exciting development highlights the scalability of Federation slum upgrading projects through revolving finance.

The municipality, impressed by the information collected by the Federation and the financial contribution it mobilized, agreed to supply land for the sanitation unit to be constructed. The contribution of the municipality is another key ingredient to scalable and sustainable slum upgrading.

One of the most exciting things about the project is that it could provide a working model for how communities and local authorities can work together to improve access to water and sanitation infrastructure. The Federation hopes that this will make it an attractive partner to private companies, donors, and municipal governments throughout the country.  The Federation has seen such a phenomenon in India, where the Indian Slum Dweller Federation works with partners to provide sanitation services to the urban poor at tremendous scale. The hope to emulate this success right here in Uganda.

Thirdly, the sanitation unit will provide much more than simply hygienic benefits. On the second floor of the unit, the Federation will construct a community hall and office space for the Federation. This space can be used to generate income that will help to repay the loans taken to complete the project and thereby start a new pool of funds that can be used for other upgrading initiatives. The Federation is confident in the success of the model, as it is based on a sanitation unit they constructed in Kampala in 2004. This unit has been maintained to impeccable standards by the Federation, still generates income, and it still being used for Federation meetings, activities, and business.

And lastly, the Federation is using innovative low-cost building technologies that are gaining increased recognition and promise to reduce the cost of slum upgrading in Uganda. Jinja Municipal Council was initially skeptical about the use of laadis and T-beams in the construction of multi-storied structures and this delayed the approval of building plans. However, after consultation and sensitization on the matter, the Council has come to appreciate the technology so much that it is now directing other groups to visit the site and learn more about the technology’s benefits.

Sanitation unit in Jinja

SDI Coordinators Visit Uganda Alliance

**Cross-posted from ACTogether Blog** 

By ACTogether Uganda

On the 12th of July a delegation of Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI) coordinators arrived in Uganda. All three ladies are Federation members. Rose Molokoane, from South Africa, who is also the Vice President of SDI, was joined by Mphatso Njunga from Malawi, and Sheila Magara from Zimbabwe. The visitors came to see the latest progress in the Uganda Federation and share lessons from abroad.

Meeting with the World Bank

The three coordinators only had a short amount of time to spend in Uganda, so they proceeded straight from the airport to the World Bank offices to meet with Mr. Martin Onyach-Olaa, Senior Urban Specialist. Also in attendance, were members of the Uganda Slum Dwellers Federation and their support NGO, ACTogether.

The visit to the World Bank was timely, as Mr. Martin Onyach-Olaa had spent the previous week visiting the Federation in Jinja and Mbale. He was tremendously impressed with the work of the slum dwellers. For a full account of his visit please consult our previous blog entitled “The World Bank Visits the Uganda Federation.”

Mr. Onyach-Olaa emphasized the centrality of slum dwellers to the urban development agenda. He made it clear that no strategy for urban development in Uganda can solely focus on the 40% of residents who live in formal settlements. Without the mobilization, organization, and participation of the 60%, urban development strategies are bound to fail. He lamented the fact that urban centers used to be the places where Uganda’s best infrastructure was found. Today, however, it is the opposite: “In an urban setting you will be met with potholes,” he said.

As the key body responsible for monitoring implementation of the preparatory phase of the Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda (TSUPU) program, the World Bank was heartened to see how well the Federation has fulfilled its responsibility as part of the program. As the implementation phase of the project commences, the World Bank is encouraging the Ugandan Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development to prioritize the first tranche of TSUPU funding to the Community Upgrading Fund, as he is confident that the Federation is mobilized and waiting.

The visiting coordinators expressed their appreciation that Mr. Onyach-Olaa took the time to visit the Federation and see, first-hand, its work.  “Many in other countries don’t leave their offices and just talk about the community from the office,” said Sheila Magara. Rose spoke about SDI’s history of interaction with the Bank and how difficult it has been for them to understand the SDI-approach. The World Bank, she said, thought working with communities was too risky and insisted that it was their mandate to work with governments.

With time, however, seeing encouraged believing. The Bank first came to appreciate the Federation’s approach in India. The Indian Federation proved that community managed sanitation projects can be more efficient and better able to achieve city-wide scale impact than public or private sectors approaches. Rose made it clear that Mr. Onyach-Olaa’s visit was the first step in the seeing-is-believing process and indeed it was clear what an impact his visit had had. “Talking around a table is not so useful,” said Rose, “I can tell a nice story without anything behind me.”

The parties discussed the critical importance of the enumeration and mapping work the communities have been engaged in and its relevance to urban planning processes. Mr. Onyach-Olaa asked that the Federation present their findings to the Bank, which will encourage MoLHUD to utilize it to strengthen the urban situational analysis that was commissioned to prepare the national urban policy. The SDI coordinators agreed that this is an important next step.

The meeting concluded with all parties agreeing on the importance of continued partnership as their respective goals overlap considerably. Each party can bring unique capabilities and capacity to the urban development sector and, as such, should work in collaboration and ensure their work is complementary and builds the systems and institutions necessary for development to be sustainable.

Meeting at the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development

Following lunch, the SDI coordinators, Uganda Slum Dwellers Federation members, and ACTogether staff ventured to the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development. Having just passed through election season, there are now a host of new Ministers to sensitize about the work of the Federation and the commitments made by their predecessors. The new ministers were given a newsletter highlighting the Federation’s latest activities and achievements.

A staunch ally of the Federation, the Commissioner for Urban Development Mr. Samuel Mbala, chaired the meeting. He welcomed the guests by detailing the strong partnership his office has forged with the Federation. He then introduced the new Minister of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development and the new Minister for Urban Development to the visitors.

 Introductions were followed by remarks from Pradip Kuria, the chairman of ACTogether’s board of directors.   Mr. Kuria thanked the Ministry for its partnership thus far, and urged the newly elected ministers to sustain the efforts of their predecessors. Following a summary of ACTogether’s work, Mr. Kuria asked Rose to make some follow up remarks.

Rose commented on the necessity of introducing the Federation and its work to the new ministers. “We wanted to introduce ourselves and our work so the partnership with your Ministry contributes seamlessly.” She then brought up the commitments made by the former Minister in order to put pressure on him to abide by the promises made before he left office. “We hope we will not disappoint each other,” Rose concluded.

Both new ministers promised they would not let the Federation down. The Minister for Lands, Housing, and Urban Development said that his Ministry will strongly support such initiatives. “As a Government we don’t have the capacity to deliver all that is required alone,” but, he remarked, working in collaboration with each other the two parties can achieve much. The Minister’s request was that ACTogether submit its work plan to the Ministry so that an active partnership can be negotiated. He congratulated the Federation on its savings methodology as, he contends, it is “essential to sustainable development… Those who are not ready to save cannot push themselves forward,” he said. Critically, he promised that the previous Minister’s commitment to provide land to the Federation would be taken care of – as would the shilling-for-shilling contribution to Suubi promise. The Federation will need to continue to apply pressure to ensure these are more than just empty pledges.

Rose challenged the Ministry to honor its commitment as SDI is prepared to contribute more to Uganda’s urban poor funds if there are concrete pledges from the government to invest in the Federation.

Pradip encouraged the Minister to visit the Federation’s local projects and programs and to participate in international exchanges to see the impressive achievements that have been possible in international Federations that have forged strong partnerships with their governments.


Journey to Jinja

On their second and final day in Uganda the coordinators traveled to Jinja to – among other things – visit the region’s latest project – a sanitation unit and community resource center in Rubaga market. The Federation was able to negotiate for a small piece of land in the market from the Jinja Municipal Council. This was an impressive feat given the fact they have already been allocated land from the council for the Kawama housing project.

The land upon which the project will be built had been occupied by a dilapidated toilet block that no longer functioned, leaving the local population with few sanitary options. Indeed, when the SDI coordinators asked to be taken to the nearest toilet they had to take a rather long walk to a nearby guesthouse. These toilets were only available to visitors because Federation members from Northern Uganda were staying there.

The Federation came together with the management of the Rubaga market and decided to work towards a solution for the lack of sanitation (for a detailed article about Jinja’s sanitation concerns please refer to the article entitled “Water and Sanitation Concerns in Jinja’s Slums”). Thanks to repayments coming in from the Kawama housing project, the Federation is able to access most of the required capital to complete the project. They will use the same technologies being employed in Kawama and will use a design similar to a unit the Federation constructed in Kisenyi, Kampala.

The design consists of a ground floor for toilets and showers and an upper floor for a community center. The community center will be used for Federation meetings and income generating activities. Because the Federation will manage the sanitation unit, there is far less chance that he toilets will fall into disrepair. This is because the Federation community has itself decided that the toilets and necessary and have organized a project management committee that will manage maintenance of the facilities. The toilets in Kisenyi are impeccably clean and in excellent condition years after the project was launched by the Federation.

A second reason for the Jinja trip was the SDI coordinators’ desire to attend the regional Federation leaders’ meeting. At this meeting leaders from each of the Federation’s 8 regions came to Jinja to present their monthly reports. The meeting was an excellent opportunity for the visitors to learn of the latest achievements and challenges facing the Federation. The meeting was also attended by Mpummude’s Assistant Town Clerk, who has been most supportive of the Federation’s agenda.

Rose encouraged the leaders to place greater emphasis on the role of collectors and treasurers as they are the backbone of the Federation. She argued that it is impossible to have a strong Federation without strong, committed, and skilled collectors and treasurers. She also urged the groups not to imitate the projects of other regions, but to think carefully about the projects they think would be most beneficial to their communities.

Kawama Housing Project

The last stop on the Jinja trip was the Kawama Housing Project in Mpumudde. Upon arrival the SDI coordinators were greeted with songs and dances from the local women. They were also greeted by 6 brand new, community-constructed houses. The houses represent the first tranche of the project and the coordinators were also able to see the preparations being made for the second tranche of 30 units (for the latest updates on the Kawama Housing Project please visit the page devoted to it on this website).

The coordinators heard from the 6 beneficiaries of the first houses and the 30 beneficiaries selected for the new block.  The 30 were selected owing to their status as the poorest members of the community. Though this represents a significant challenge in terms of financial viability, it is consistent with the Federation’s mission to uplift the poorest members of the community. These beneficiaries – mostly women – have already begun planning for their repayments with assistance from the community and ACTogether.

The coordinators were shown around the site, introduced to the beneficiaries, informed of the project management processes, and shown how building materials are made by federation members.