Memoirs of a Ugandan Slum Dweller: Part VI

Kampala Marketplace

Age of Zinc is proud to present the sixth instalment in a new memoir from the slums of Kampala, Uganda. Check back every week to catch the next part of the story!


After two years life had at least changed for my mother. She had left the toilet. She was now moving up very quickly. All the farmers in the area would come to her. They would give her goods that she would sell. She was like a business owner. They trusted her. She would never eat your payment. She records all the transactions and expenditures. Even if she uses 100 shillings, she will them that she used 100 shillings for water, this is how much I sold, and this is what you told me you wanted to sell. She gives you back what is yours and also keeps what is hers. So life was very easy. She would also get free food, free vegetables, and in the market people liked her.

Even up to today someone is giving her 3 kilograms of sugar every week for free. This woman says she’ll give her sugar, soap, cooking oil, every week. As friends, my mother will also do some shopping and take things to that family because they don’t go down to the market. When she’s in the market she sees different things and takes to them.

Currently, she is the elected elder leader of Nakawa market. She has organized the market vendors into teams, which are now doing different sports. They have a netball team, a football team, and also a music team. They have set days in which they play, such as Monday and Wednesday afternoons, because at those times there are not many customers in the market. Organizing the vendors has helped create more attachment to each other. Today the vendors recognize her work and they appreciate her efforts to make the elderly more active.


Memoirs of a Ugandan Slum Dweller: Part V

Kampala, Uganda

**Cross-posted from The Age of Zinc** 

Age of Zinc is proud to present the fifth instalment in a new memoir from the slums of Kampala, Uganda. Check back every week to catch the next part of the story!

I was sixteen when I moved to Kamwoyka. Life was very different. Most of the children were staying with their parents and everything was given to them. Everything they wanted was always there. Before I was living in a toilet, but at least we were all together so we could share everything. But I had left my family to stay with my uncle and his wife and their children. It was a hard time, harder than living in the toilet, because sometimes I could not eat. I would have to run back to my mother to get food and then come back to Kamwoyka to stay. My uncle would have liked to give me food but my auntie did not like people coming to stay with them. I didn’t mind though because at least at school they would give us posho. When I would eat lunch it was enough for me until I got back to school the next day. Then on the weekends, I would go to my mother’s for food.

My aim was to complete secondary school and get some education so I did not mind a thing. But I passed through some very hard times. Even women in the area were sympathizing and asking me, “Why I don’t go back to my parents?” But I always knew this situation was temporary and would come to an end. I also wanted to see how this world is when you are not with your father or mother. How are you treated? That’s what I was asking myself and others, “If I am alone tomorrow, how does the world treat me?” I realized that it was not about food, but about tomorrow. What I wanted was education. That was my target. 

Memoirs of a Ugandan Slum Dweller: Part IV

Age of Zinc Ch. 4

**Cross-posted from The Age of Zinc** 

Age of Zinc is proud to present the fourth instalment in a new memoir from the slums of Kampala, Uganda. Check back every week to catch the next part of the story!

There were a lot of challenges growing up. When we were evicted from the house in the government quarters we had no place to go. We slept under a tree with no shelter for about one month. We just used bags and cloths to cover us, but no real shelter. We then found a community toilet that was not being used, so we just moved into the toilet and made it into our house. There were five of us that stayed there. We removed the rooms from both the men and women’s sides to make room for ourselves to sleep.

The community wanted to evict us because they said it is not normal for people to live in a structure that is a toilet. We explained to them that at the moment we didn’t have any other alternative and it was better then staying under a tree. Staying in a toilet was a better alternative because we at least had shelter. The mosquitoes could not reach us and the animals could not come near us, so at least we were safe.

We stayed in the toilet for about two years. It was really embarrassing to live there, but we needed somewhere to stay and survive. After some time, a family member from our clan came and said you can’t stay in this situation and gave us a kitchen (a small shack near the main house) to live in. It was in the same area in Naguru. We stayed there in the kitchen for some time. After one of my big brothers heard we were suffering he decided to buy the stall for our mother so we could stay there. I soon decided to leave and go to Kamwoyka because it was closer to my school. 


Memoirs of a Ugandan Slum Dweller: Part II


**Cross-posted from The Age of Zinc**

I was born in the central part of Uganda in Bweyogerere, which is in Wakiso district outside of Kampala. I grew up in Naguru, which is in Nakawa Municipality. I grew up with my mother and father but when I turned ten my mother separated from my father. My father was working on long distance business so most of my time I spent with my mother.

My father was working with the Uganda Post Office, working at the post plant that is located in Bweyogerere, but moving around a lot to different areas. I knew him well, he used to come back and then we would be together. He was providing for us because he had a good salary. But he then went bankrupt after being falsely arrested when a generator was stolen from his workplace. He spent time in Luzira Prison until the real thief was discovered. The incident took a heavy toll on my family. My father, who had also been a storekeeper and bookkeeper, took to farming when he was released from prison and found it difficult to make a living.

I have two brothers and one sister – we are four. I’m the first of the four children of my father and fourth of the twelve children of my mother. I grew up with very many siblings but my first three siblings we are from different fathers so they stayed at their own father’s home. When my mother separated from my father, I stayed with a total of six.

Where I was born is not a slum but a semi rural area. But when I was growing up, after the separation, we moved around and at one time lived in government quarters. After a period of time we were evicted and went to the slum areas in Naguru Go Down, which is also in Nakawa. We lived here for some time. When I grew up I got married in the slum of Kamwoyka. I’ve lived in Kamwoyka for 17 years now.

In the settlement there are many different people. Some people are civil workers who could go and work to help their families. Initially my mother was working with the Ministry of Sports but because she had a lot of responsibility with all of us children she could no longer work. So she started her own business – she’s a market vendor in Nakawa. When she started, she couldn’t support us much because she was just learning the business. She was cut off (from the civil sector) so she had to look for a solution for herself. She had to find out how she can survive.


Memoirs of a Ugandan Slum Dweller: Part I

Kampala, Uganda

**Cross-posted from The Age of Zinc**

I never wanted to suffer like my mother had suffered.

Life in the slums is hard, especially when your parents are poor. There are so many people in these communities and being together with those your same age you find that the groups can influence your decisions. Seeing people with different things you would also like you try to see how to get what they have. This can change your mindset and girls start to go for men when they are still young – that is the main challenge.

Slums are open places so anyone can enter from anywhere and at anytime and there are so many different corners. So when children are moving someone can easily pull the child in and use the child. It happens in many areas, but sometimes it is kept secret. The child may be going to fetch water and someone will grab them. They put the child in the house and rape them and then let them go after threatening them not to tell anyone. They can be young, like 5 or 6 years old. You may not see the child for 3 days and by then the evidence is washed away. But you can tell something has happened. For instance they are walking funny. It’s rare a child will tell you so you just have to take note of your child and see how they are acting. In slums you find that boys always use the girls. Girl’s lives are spoiled at an early age. You find young single mothers suffering with their mothers. The mother is a single mother and her mother is also a single mother with many children. It becomes a hard life. I would say that I was lucky; I didn’t look for problems early. At least my mind was targeting at the right time and I was focused on getting my education not men. 


Living on the Edge: Kenya’s Mathare Valley Disaster


**Cross-posted from Living the City blog**

By Baraka Mwau, Muungano Support Trust, Kenya

On the dawn of Wednesday 4 April, Mathare valley residents in Nairobi woke up to yet another disaster; a massive rock landslide that left 9 people dead (as of the morning of 5th April), several others hospitalized and another number still unaccounted for. This tragedy follows barely a month ago after an inferno that blazed section of the slum. It is also a sad moment yet again for our nation as we receive sad news from our urban poor and the disenfranchised urbanites sitting on disaster time bombs due to policy and institutional deficiencies in addressing slums and informal settlements. Is this just another talking point for our city/nation?

Mathare is located close of the City’s CBD, in a section where precarious housing (shacks) and environment characterize the informal settlement. This is a catastrophe prone settlement; floods, house sinking and slope instability, landslides and other environmental hazards.A large section of Mathare Valley is an abandoned quarry site that had for long been mined for stone buildings and concrete. It is evident that shacks and buildings in this area sit on landfills and others at the bottom of quarry pits. Situated along the top of the rock cliff where the recent landslide occurred, is a residential development of high-rise buildings with some structures erected at the cliff edge. This definitely raises questions about the structural stability of those buildings. A quick topographical transect of Mathare reveals a sharp steep slope characterized by rugged terrains and two rivers that form part of the Nairobi river basin system flowing through the settlement. Apart from the residents in various villages of the valley living at the edge of unstable rock cliffs, there are thousands also living along the riparian reserve. These households occupying the riparian reserve are at risk of facing floods should the unexpected heavy rainfalls occur as it has recently been witnessed. With the weather patterns becoming more unpredictable, the urban poor in the city are at a higher risk of being victims of extreme weather patterns. The effects of climate change are evident and despite the urban poor in developing world contributing almost zero to global GHG emissions, the wrath of climate change has not spared them.


Sections of 4A, Mathare along the high rock cliff where disaster struck (taken before the disaster)

The Sinai fire disaster is still fresh in our memories; this was one of the disasters that ignited a heated debate on slum upgrading in Kenya but still little has been done to address the environmental safety of hundred thousands of Kenyans living in settlements prone to disasters. Whereas comprehensive slum upgrading could take longer to realize; owing to its intrinsic complexities, resettling of households living in hazardous areas and reorganization of informal settlements to open up for roads and other basic network infrastructures is essential for disaster mitigation & management in the short-term. Currently the city have households living under high voltage transmissions lines, railway line reserves, pipeline reserves, quarries and landfills, riparian reserves and others adjacent to heavy industrial activities. To complicate the puzzle further, informal settlements are highly under-serviced with basic infrastructure networks and environmental pollution is taking its toll. Reading the “State of African Cities report 2010”, Nairobi slum residents face some of the worst living conditions compared to other informal settlements in the rest of continent; extreme high densities and high deficiency of basic infrastructure and amenities.

The recent and previous disasters being recorded in Nairobi slums have painfully been sending the clear message to the government, the city authorities, the civil society, the academia and all relevant stake holders that slum upgrading is a necessity and that slum urbanism is part of us. The government through its previous and current slum upgrading programmes as well as through devolved funds has channeled some revenue to slum upgrading projects. On other side, the civil society expenditure for slums programmes is much higher. Amid that, little impact to the livelihoods of the slum communities and generally the urban poor is evident and this necessitates the formulation of a pragmatic and coordinated comprehensive national and city slum upgrading framework where all stakeholders play their part, with no duplication of roles and with measurable indicators clearly defined.

Mathare 4A, after the disaster, Source:

An analysis of the urbanization trends in Nairobi and other Sub Saharan cities symbolize slums as a definitive character of our cities. The school of thought that slums as temporal and they will be phased out as cities evolve through the linear trajectory development process is validness in the wake of everyday slum urbanism that has defined urbanization in the global south. This dogma of urbanization calls for the need to address the planning needs of slums and informal settlements and making cities work for the urban poor entangled in these poverty traps. The disasters we have been experiencing recently in our slums and informal settlements could have been averted and easily managed, if the necessary urban planning strategies had been taken. Making Nairobi a city for all, will require more concerted efforts in making planning and urban development more responsive to slum urbanism.

The role of communities in formulating solutions that work for them is essential and currently the potential of engaging communities in informal settlements is higher with the emergence of strong community based organizations in the slums. One of these organizations is the Muungano wa wanajiji and other CBOs that have emerged due to the infiltration of micro finance institutions in the informal settlements. The potential of these CBOs in unlocking intricate slum upgrading complexities, as witnessed in previous projects, cannot be underestimated. Having worked in Mathare for some time, the community is much aware of the hazards they cohabit with and are willing to develop solutions, if the means is provided. Turning a blind eye and assuming that the urban poor are ignorant,  uninformed and not development conscious is the wrong assumption. What seems to be lacking is the right means towards achieving positive livelihoods transformations in the informal settlements.

“Faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage”