“We are citizens. We are not squatters.”

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

People have lived in the settlement of Kikaramoja in Jinja, Uganda, since the 1950s. Waiswa Magoola, age 47, has always lived here. His father bought land in 1953, and even after Ugandan independence in 1962, when the land was given to the Jinja town council, he continued to pay fees for the land.

Magoola explained that the settlement used to be home to fishermen, teachers, factory workers and municipal employees. But in recent years, many of the factories have moved to Kampala, a two hour drive away from Jinja. With the factories went the jobs.

When I asked Magoola how many people living in Kikaramoja have regular work these days, he estimated about three per cent. Other residents sitting around him interjected to say that Magoola may even be too kind in his estimate. Casual labour is a way of life for those living in Kikaramoja.

The settlement has suffered for years because of a lack of security of tenure. The residents have been effectively barred from building permanent brick structures, so their houses are all wattle, mud and wooden sticks. It is an ever-present outrage to those who live in Kikaramoja, said Magoola. “We are citizens. We are not squatters.”

As I walked around the settlement last week, occasionally I saw a small brick structure. The only kind allowed: a toilet. “People are willing to build their own homes … We are able. We have the ability,” Magoola said, pointing to a pile of bricks that lay next to one person’s mud hut. “But we have been stopped.”

Last year, the community seemed to have faced down an eviction threat after the municipal council sold the land to a local university. The community conducted an enumeration (click here for the full enumeration report), and now some community leaders claim that the municipality has committed to giving the land to the community.

However, when I visited a meeting of local savings scheme members, anxiety was rife because they did not have any written commitment from the council that the land would soon be theirs. “[The politicians] are herding us like cattle,” said resident Jane Opoda, who is 30 years old. “We are not settled in mind. We are scared.”

The key, said Paul Okada, is for the community to be organised in the way that it deals with formal political structures like the town council. The 23-year-old was adamant, like much of the community, that it should not be single leaders going to negotiate with the town council about land. The issue affects the community and there should be many representatives at any meeting with the council. “If we get a voice here, that will be good,” he said.