Putting slums in Kabale on the map


By Skye Dobson, SDI secretariat

On July 4th, 2011 an international delegation set off to Kabale in Uganda’s South-West. The group consisted of slum dwellers, support-NGO staff, and a government official from Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Uganda. The Zimbabwean team consisted of Sharon and Samukelisiwe from the Federation, and Takutzwa from their support-NGO. The Malawian team consisted of Loveliness and Fainess from the Federation, Patrick from the support-NGO, and Costly Chanza, Director of Physical Planning from Blantyre. From Uganda, Federation member, Kakinda, was joined by ACTogether representatives.

The journey to Kabale from Kampala was a long one. Poor roads took their toll on the group’s van, but spirits remained high as conversation about the work of each Federation flowed. The groups had much to share and much to learn from one another. The Zimbabweans, experienced in mapping, were able to share some information about their work in Harare, while the Malawians had much to share on housing and sanitation projects. The Ugandans had much to share about their experiences as part of TSUPU and the massive citywide enumerations recently completed. As the group drove through the Ugandan countryside they discussed the similarities and differences between their countries and Uganda. Inspirational singing followed these discussions. The Zimbabwean and Malawian women, despite their different languages, were able to sing their Federation songs in perfect harmony.

Despite the long journey, the group rose early the following morning to meet their fellow Federation members from Kabale. The group then visited Local Council Members to inform them of the mapping exercise and sensitize them about the Federation and the purpose of mapping. They then ventured to the Municipal Council to meet the Town Clerk for the same purpose. Both meetings went well and the community was encouraged by the receptiveness of the local authorities.

These meetings were followed by training with the Kabale mapping team. The Federation’s regional leaders mobilized a group of mappers, many of whom had taken part in the recent enumeration exercise. Since first learning to map on an exchange to Jinja, Federation member from Kampala, Robert Kakinda, has proven to be a strong mapper. He has led mapping teams across Uganda and become an adept teacher and committed and organized mapping leader. In the yard in front of the Kabale federation’s regional office, Kakinda showed the local team the symbols used by the Federation to represent features such as electric poles, water-points, and garbage skips.

Once convinced the group had internalized these symbols he proceeded to show them the satellite maps of Kabale’s cells (neighborhoods). The group was asked to identify certain features on the map to show they understood how to read it. Because each and every structure needs to be identified, interns from local universities digitized the satellite maps to show only the structures. In order for the new map to be big enough for the community to record structure-level features, the satellite map is broken up into a series of “zoomed in” maps. It is on these maps that the community can record the numbers allocated during enumerations on each structure. In so doing, the rich household data that was collected during the recent enumerations (community-run censuses) can be linked to spatial maps using GIS technology. The smaller maps are segments of the entire cell (neighborhood). To ensure the community understands this they assemble the smaller “zoomed in” maps like a jigsaw in strips as can be seen below.

The smaller maps then become recognizable again. Each day of the mapping process, the teams are allocated their own “strips” which traverse the settlement to ensure every square foot is mapped. Each team was led by one experienced mapper and was comprised of a team of local Federation members that will become the leaders once the visitors depart. The exchange participants from Zimbabwe and Malawi were split amongst the groups to learn and to teach. As the groups set out the Learning-by-Doing process began. Concepts that were somewhat abstract in the initial training workshop became concrete as the Kabale team – some of whom are pictured below – navigated the complexities of mapping informal settlements.

The local contingent is absolutely critical to the success of the mapping process from the very beginning. Not only will they carry on the exercise once the visitors leave, but they are able to explain the exercise to their fellow Kabale residents and respectfully request permission to enter compounds and homes to collect information. Entering the private spaces of families is invasive and fears of eviction are never far from the minds of those in informal settlements. Having Federation members that speak the local language – which is different in Kabale than it is even in Kampala – and who are known in the community is central to the viability of the exercise.


The complexity of mapping is hard to comprehend unless you take part in the exercise. Satellite images are not always current and things change very rapidly in informal settlements. The teams must remain vigilant and take nothing for granted when analyzing the digitized structure maps they’re given. They must alter the outlines of structures when they do not fit what appears on the map and they must never assume what is seen from the front of a structure will be seen from the back. For example, in Kabale it is common to see a gated compound, which appears to contain a single house. One might assume that a single household occupies this structure and record the enumeration code that appears on the front door and leave. It is more often the case, however, that when you proceed to walk to the back of the house you see an additional 16 doors, meaning a total of 17 households actually occupy the plot upon which it was thought one household resided.

For the next week the experienced mappers will stay with the community to ensure they are confident with the process and then it will be up the Kabale residents and their regional leaders to manage the exercise going forward. They are confident they can carry on the exercise effectively and efficiently and anticipate it greatly strengthening their negotiating capacity when they visit the municipal and local councils. They will also be looked upon as the new teachers when neighboring Mbarara commences mapping later this month.

Solving the land information gap through GIS

By Jack Makau, SDI secretariat

Traditionally land information held by most governments (certainly all developing world governments) is stored in cadastral formats. What this means is that governments store records of plot boundaries and who owns those plots.

Meanwhile urbanization has rendered this level of information irrelevant. Often a slum will consist of one or two or three plots, while there are 1000 families living, trading, worshiping, schooling in those plots. If the economic, judicial, and governance systems are based on cadastral information, it is no wonder we cannot solve urban poverty issues, regardless of how much money we throw at the problem.

This huge gap in the ability of Southern governments to understand and govern urban centers is in large part an information gap. The cadastral format cannot reflect the reality of how land is organized in urban areas. It cannot account for 1000 families in 3 or even 20 plots of land. The reality of urban land usage completely belies the fundamental concepts of the cadastral system: families living in ungovernable 10 foot by 10-foot spaces and having their primary toilet function 20 meters away in a 3 foot by 3 foot carton shade; and their kitchen on the sidewalk.

What does this all mean? The contract between citizen and state in Nairobi, Kampala, Cape Town and more in Mumbai cannot take place. The contract is based on the cadastre.

So what about GIS? If we were to change how land information is defined then the challenges of urban slums would not be so intractable. GIS allows you to capture, easily and cheaply, the actual use of space. So instead of government having a plot boundary and owner’s name, they could have, for far less than it costs to survey the plot conventionally, the boundary, the size and type of structures, the actual arrangement of structures, the trees and the owner’s name.

And fortunately this is not just about slums. For example, how does the Cape Town municipality manage water if they do not have a land information system that recognizes swimming pool? How is climate change reversed when plot owners are cutting down trees to put up gazebos? Because planting trees at the outskirts of the cities is not enough.

It’s not the cost of the technology that matters — all of a sudden the constraints of plot sizes are removed. The limitations associated with the management of land (by government) do not exist. They have a true picture of the city. And if someone comes along and builds something at night, government can find out and manage it the very next day. It’s cheap, it’s real time and it’s true.

And, when they are done GIS-bombing Bagdad and Afghanistan and putting navsat in every Bentley, Bimmer and Boxter, what are they going to do with all those satellites?

So, the UN Habitat’s Global Land Tools Network (GLTN) and Social Tenure Domain Model (STDM) experiment in Uganda is the first stirrings of change in altering the way urban land is managed.  STDM at the back-end is a land registry system (sort of a cross between Google Earth for governments and the Land Act). At the front end is GIS and Microsoft Excel that’s appropriate for capturing enumeration and mapping information at household level, one base lower than plot level cadastre-type information.

In January, GLTN and SDI started a discussion on testing the newly developed STDM platform in Uganda. This isn’t the first land tool interaction between the two agencies. At UN Habitat, the developers of STDM studied the federations’ enumeration experiences in Mumbai, Nairobi and Kisumu and coded them onto the open source Quantum GIS program.

However, the STDM discussion was a plugin to an activity already underway: The Government of Uganda, Cities Alliance and SDI urban transformation program that targets transformation of urban slums in five secondary cities (Jinja, Arua, Kabale, Mbale and Mbarara). Estimated to reach 200,000 slum families, the program seeks among other things to register all informal settlement in these cities.

So significant is the application of GIS technology to Uganda that the STDM plugin could attain program engine status. Uganda has one of the most complex, un-resolvable urban land tenure systems in the universe. In certain places, like Kisenyi slum right at the heart of Kampala city, the Kabaka — constitutional king of the Buganda kingdom — owns the land. Over time, landowners have recieved land grants, held at the king’s pleasure.  In turn they have parceled the land and made out their own leases to structure owners who have built a sprawl of 35,000 shacks and rent them ever month to the city’s urban poor. Any attempt at slum upgrading is confronted with the question, “who among these layered interests is the beneficiary?”

SDI’s Ugandan affiliate, the 29,000-family-strong Uganda Slum Dwellers Federation, and the federation’s support NGO, Actogether, seek solutions that recognize all interests. Solutions that are underpinned by the corresponding usage and investment on the land. That integrate with the city’s aspirations of future sustainability and prosperity. So citywide enumerations and mapping exercises planned for early 2011 are important for determining the usage and investment patterns, are critical in anchoring possible solutions.

The success of this experiment, at least on the land information side, is hinged on the ability of UN Habitat and SDI to get the Ministry of Lands to buy into STDM. Then the federation enumerates, maps and puts the information into STDM and voila! A real urban land information system and 200,000 slum families in Uganda are in the government registry. And thereafter if anyone invests in infrastructure or housing it doesn’t matter because once the land information system changes so will the definition of land ownership. The title deed will be replaced by the use-deed.  Effectively we circumvent a herculean slum land tenure mess. And then we take the show to the next land mess in Nairobi or any other rapidly growing city with byzantine understandings of land usage.