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.infohttps://sdinet.org/media/upload/documents/10YearsofOwegatta_opt.pdf

 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: http://www.newvision.co.ug/mobile/Detail.aspx?NewsID=635886&CatID=434

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: http://www.newvision.co.ug/news/638028-vision-group-unveils-slum-project-winners.html

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: https://sdinet.org/videos/103/