Reflections from the Kampala Learning Centre: What does it mean to Know Your City?

Kampala City Forum_Profile Report Launch

By Skye Dobson, ACTogether Uganda 

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? , TS Eliot

The time for nonsense as a source of popularity is over , Tony Owana

This year, SDI launched an initiative called, Know Your City in partnership with the Cities Alliance and United Cities and Local Governments Africa (UCLGA). The initiative has generated a lot of attention, particularly following its launch at the World Urban Forum in Colombia. But what does it mean to Know Your City? In this, the second blog reflection from the Kampala Learning Center, I will examine this question in light of the recent launch of the Kampala Slum Profiles by the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) and its support NGO ACTogether Uganda.

At workshops, conferences, and seminars across Uganda and internationally, it seems there is no need for any additional effort to know anything. It seems the confident presenters with their big words, fancy Power Points, and compelling statistics already know everything that could possibly be known. I’m sure I’m not the only one intimidated by these folks. Glossy reports reemphasize how much various donors, governments, and NGOs understand about the cities in which they operate. So why, in this sea of data and information, is SDI calling for a campaign to Know Your City?

To explain, we can reflect on an observation by Walter Lippmann: “a boy can take you into the open at night and show you the stars; he might tell you no end of things about them, conceivably all that an astronomer could teach. But until and unless he feels the vast indifference of the universe to his own fate, and has placed himself in the perspective of cold and illimitable space, he has not looked maturely at the heavens. Until he has felt this, and unless he can endure this, he remains a child, and in his childishness, he will resent the heavens when they are not accommodating. He will demand sunshine when he wishes to play, and rain when the ground is dry, and he will look upon storms as anger directed at him, and the thunder as a personal threat.”

It appears that, despite there being no shortage of people who can teach us about “stars”, many still predict we are destined to be a Planet of Slums. It seems that informality, unless felt, will continue to be resented by city authorities for not cooperating with the fantasized growth and modernization of our cities. The Know Your City initiative aims to bridge this gap between information and knowledge and set a path toward collective wisdom as the foundation for greater inclusivity and creativity in urban development. It envisions data and information becoming part of the collective discussion, moving out of the reports, databases and Power Points of professionals and into the every day discussion and reflection of communities and local governments.

In Uganda, the NSDFU began city-wide profiling in 2009 as part of the Cities Alliance-funded Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda (TSUPU) program. Five secondary cities were profiled, catalyzing a new era of community organization in Uganda. Not only had such data never been collected on slum settlements before, but also the nature of data collection methods was such that knowledge was produced collectively and in real time by the urban poor and local government as they gathered and interpreted the information for themselves.  This year, with support from Comic Relief and SDI, the NSDFU took on the challenge of profiling and mapping the capital, Kampala. As is the case with profiling throughout the SDI network, the federation in Kampala first mobilized to identify all the slum settlements in the city (62 were identified at first) and then formulated and administered a questionnaire on topics ranging from to demographics, to land tenure, to service access etc.  In addition the federation members are trained to use GPS devices to map the boundaries of their settlements.

Map of Kampala’s Slums

Kampala City Informal Settlements Map

The first step in the conversion of data to information takes place at the settlement level where the federation and its partners reflect upon and verify settlement profile information in community meetings. It is here that the data begins to serve as a reference point for community thinking and planning. The next step is for the support NGO to assist with the compilation of profile reports and maps using satellite imagery for refined aggregation and presentation to a wider audience. An example of the information presented is shown below.

Land Tenure in Kampala Slums

Kampala Land Tenure Map

This month, the profile reports were officially launched and handed over to the KCCA at the launch of the Kampala City Forum – another initiative of the federation in partnership with Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).  Municipal forums were also piloted under the TSUPU project and the federation championed their expansion to Kampala and an additional 9 municipalities this year. In order to build collective wisdom this sharing of information is essential. As the federation always says, “Information is Power” and in the first ever Kampala City Forum this month it was clear that the urban poor wield tremendous power as a result of this knowledge generation. The reports were presented by the federation to a representative of the Executive Director, to the Director of Gender, Community Services and Production and to the Mayors and Town Clerks of each of Kampala’ 5 divisions.

Kampala City Council_KYC Profil Launch

The forum moderator, renowned Ugandan journalist and political commentator, Tony Owana, remarked that, “The time for nonsense as a source of popularity is over.” This comment, a clear indictment of much government politicking was also a call to action for the urban poor: you have this information, this knowledge, now demand more from your city.

And indeed, this is the essence of the Know Your City initiative. City-wide profiling is about much more than gathering data and information on cities. This is in and of itself extremely valuable, but it is not enough for transformative change. To Know Your City means taking that data and information and creating knowledge in communities of the urban poor, in the halls of city council, and in the donor community. Only then can we create the collective wisdom required to appreciate that the storms and thunder of informality are not merely a threat to our play.  As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest” and SDI is banking on the Know Your City initiative reaping large dividends for the residents of developing cities.



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.


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: