Creating Organised Communities of Slum Dwellers in Uganda

Construction in Nakawa

**Cross posted from the World Bank website**

By Skye Dobson, SDI Secretariat, Uganda 

In the slum dweller communities of Uganda — where over 60 percent of the urban population lives – the purported benefits of urban agglomeration are not being felt. Despite rapid urbanization, urban areas are characterized by rising unemployment and inadequate access to basic services. Rather than waiting passively for the benefits of urban agglomeration, Uganda’s slum dwellers have adopted a proactive strategy that is harnessing the potential of collective action.

The strategy is one that has evolved within the Slum Dwellers International (SDI) network. It involves the clustering — or federating — of community saving groups into urban poor federations. The National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) is one of 33 federations in the SDI network. Founded in 2002, the NSDFU today comprises almost 500 savings groups and approximately 38,000 members. Savings are used to bring people together, build their capacity to act collectively, and build organizational capacity and trust.

When savings groups begin, they often focus solely on livelihood issues and income generation. But, with time and greater exposure to SDI rituals, such as enumeration and peer-to-peer exchange, communities formulate an urban agenda that looks beyond group members and toward transforming the settlements in which they live. This is when benefits to service delivery begin to accrue as part of a collective upgrading agenda. The spatial proximity of urban savings groups allows for the agglomeration of collective capacity necessary to create a critical mass of urban poor to hold public officials accountable, to collaborate with municipalities and leverage their savings. This critical mass is required to make community participation more than a platitude and aid more effective, and it is uniquely possible in the urban setting.

Focus group discussion in Arua

The positive externalities of this agglomeration of collective capacity are not hard to see. The NSDFU is the key community mobilizer in the Government of Uganda’s Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda (TSUPU) program. The NSDFU has capitalized upon the opportunities of this Cities Alliance-funded program to expand from Jinja and Kampala to Arua, Mbale, Mbarara, and Kabale. Within this national program, the NSDFU has demonstrated that organized communities can: improve urban governance by organizing citizens to demand accountability; improve urban planning by generating information on slum populations; improve living conditions for members and non-members alike through slum upgrading projects; and improve the environment by upholding their responsibilities to keep cities clean and maintain public services.

Over the past 10 years, the NSDFU has constructed sanitation units and community halls the slums throughout the country. Last year it began extending clean water and improving drainage, while in Jinja it has commenced construction of a low cost housing project. In almost every case projects were built upon land provided by municipal council, demonstrating true partnership.

The increasing returns to scale for the agglomeration of collective capacity are also evident. The more the federation grows, the easier it becomes to negotiate with government, mobilize members and savings, leverage funds, and implement projects. Because the NSDFU is part of SDI, the returns to scale also benefit tremendously from the growth of the global urban poor movement.

SDI Coordinators Visit Uganda Alliance

**Cross-posted from ACTogether Blog** 

By ACTogether Uganda

On the 12th of July a delegation of Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI) coordinators arrived in Uganda. All three ladies are Federation members. Rose Molokoane, from South Africa, who is also the Vice President of SDI, was joined by Mphatso Njunga from Malawi, and Sheila Magara from Zimbabwe. The visitors came to see the latest progress in the Uganda Federation and share lessons from abroad.

Meeting with the World Bank

The three coordinators only had a short amount of time to spend in Uganda, so they proceeded straight from the airport to the World Bank offices to meet with Mr. Martin Onyach-Olaa, Senior Urban Specialist. Also in attendance, were members of the Uganda Slum Dwellers Federation and their support NGO, ACTogether.

The visit to the World Bank was timely, as Mr. Martin Onyach-Olaa had spent the previous week visiting the Federation in Jinja and Mbale. He was tremendously impressed with the work of the slum dwellers. For a full account of his visit please consult our previous blog entitled “The World Bank Visits the Uganda Federation.”

Mr. Onyach-Olaa emphasized the centrality of slum dwellers to the urban development agenda. He made it clear that no strategy for urban development in Uganda can solely focus on the 40% of residents who live in formal settlements. Without the mobilization, organization, and participation of the 60%, urban development strategies are bound to fail. He lamented the fact that urban centers used to be the places where Uganda’s best infrastructure was found. Today, however, it is the opposite: “In an urban setting you will be met with potholes,” he said.

As the key body responsible for monitoring implementation of the preparatory phase of the Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda (TSUPU) program, the World Bank was heartened to see how well the Federation has fulfilled its responsibility as part of the program. As the implementation phase of the project commences, the World Bank is encouraging the Ugandan Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development to prioritize the first tranche of TSUPU funding to the Community Upgrading Fund, as he is confident that the Federation is mobilized and waiting.

The visiting coordinators expressed their appreciation that Mr. Onyach-Olaa took the time to visit the Federation and see, first-hand, its work.  “Many in other countries don’t leave their offices and just talk about the community from the office,” said Sheila Magara. Rose spoke about SDI’s history of interaction with the Bank and how difficult it has been for them to understand the SDI-approach. The World Bank, she said, thought working with communities was too risky and insisted that it was their mandate to work with governments.

With time, however, seeing encouraged believing. The Bank first came to appreciate the Federation’s approach in India. The Indian Federation proved that community managed sanitation projects can be more efficient and better able to achieve city-wide scale impact than public or private sectors approaches. Rose made it clear that Mr. Onyach-Olaa’s visit was the first step in the seeing-is-believing process and indeed it was clear what an impact his visit had had. “Talking around a table is not so useful,” said Rose, “I can tell a nice story without anything behind me.”

The parties discussed the critical importance of the enumeration and mapping work the communities have been engaged in and its relevance to urban planning processes. Mr. Onyach-Olaa asked that the Federation present their findings to the Bank, which will encourage MoLHUD to utilize it to strengthen the urban situational analysis that was commissioned to prepare the national urban policy. The SDI coordinators agreed that this is an important next step.

The meeting concluded with all parties agreeing on the importance of continued partnership as their respective goals overlap considerably. Each party can bring unique capabilities and capacity to the urban development sector and, as such, should work in collaboration and ensure their work is complementary and builds the systems and institutions necessary for development to be sustainable.

Meeting at the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development

Following lunch, the SDI coordinators, Uganda Slum Dwellers Federation members, and ACTogether staff ventured to the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development. Having just passed through election season, there are now a host of new Ministers to sensitize about the work of the Federation and the commitments made by their predecessors. The new ministers were given a newsletter highlighting the Federation’s latest activities and achievements.

A staunch ally of the Federation, the Commissioner for Urban Development Mr. Samuel Mbala, chaired the meeting. He welcomed the guests by detailing the strong partnership his office has forged with the Federation. He then introduced the new Minister of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development and the new Minister for Urban Development to the visitors.

 Introductions were followed by remarks from Pradip Kuria, the chairman of ACTogether’s board of directors.   Mr. Kuria thanked the Ministry for its partnership thus far, and urged the newly elected ministers to sustain the efforts of their predecessors. Following a summary of ACTogether’s work, Mr. Kuria asked Rose to make some follow up remarks.

Rose commented on the necessity of introducing the Federation and its work to the new ministers. “We wanted to introduce ourselves and our work so the partnership with your Ministry contributes seamlessly.” She then brought up the commitments made by the former Minister in order to put pressure on him to abide by the promises made before he left office. “We hope we will not disappoint each other,” Rose concluded.

Both new ministers promised they would not let the Federation down. The Minister for Lands, Housing, and Urban Development said that his Ministry will strongly support such initiatives. “As a Government we don’t have the capacity to deliver all that is required alone,” but, he remarked, working in collaboration with each other the two parties can achieve much. The Minister’s request was that ACTogether submit its work plan to the Ministry so that an active partnership can be negotiated. He congratulated the Federation on its savings methodology as, he contends, it is “essential to sustainable development… Those who are not ready to save cannot push themselves forward,” he said. Critically, he promised that the previous Minister’s commitment to provide land to the Federation would be taken care of – as would the shilling-for-shilling contribution to Suubi promise. The Federation will need to continue to apply pressure to ensure these are more than just empty pledges.

Rose challenged the Ministry to honor its commitment as SDI is prepared to contribute more to Uganda’s urban poor funds if there are concrete pledges from the government to invest in the Federation.

Pradip encouraged the Minister to visit the Federation’s local projects and programs and to participate in international exchanges to see the impressive achievements that have been possible in international Federations that have forged strong partnerships with their governments.


Journey to Jinja

On their second and final day in Uganda the coordinators traveled to Jinja to – among other things – visit the region’s latest project – a sanitation unit and community resource center in Rubaga market. The Federation was able to negotiate for a small piece of land in the market from the Jinja Municipal Council. This was an impressive feat given the fact they have already been allocated land from the council for the Kawama housing project.

The land upon which the project will be built had been occupied by a dilapidated toilet block that no longer functioned, leaving the local population with few sanitary options. Indeed, when the SDI coordinators asked to be taken to the nearest toilet they had to take a rather long walk to a nearby guesthouse. These toilets were only available to visitors because Federation members from Northern Uganda were staying there.

The Federation came together with the management of the Rubaga market and decided to work towards a solution for the lack of sanitation (for a detailed article about Jinja’s sanitation concerns please refer to the article entitled “Water and Sanitation Concerns in Jinja’s Slums”). Thanks to repayments coming in from the Kawama housing project, the Federation is able to access most of the required capital to complete the project. They will use the same technologies being employed in Kawama and will use a design similar to a unit the Federation constructed in Kisenyi, Kampala.

The design consists of a ground floor for toilets and showers and an upper floor for a community center. The community center will be used for Federation meetings and income generating activities. Because the Federation will manage the sanitation unit, there is far less chance that he toilets will fall into disrepair. This is because the Federation community has itself decided that the toilets and necessary and have organized a project management committee that will manage maintenance of the facilities. The toilets in Kisenyi are impeccably clean and in excellent condition years after the project was launched by the Federation.

A second reason for the Jinja trip was the SDI coordinators’ desire to attend the regional Federation leaders’ meeting. At this meeting leaders from each of the Federation’s 8 regions came to Jinja to present their monthly reports. The meeting was an excellent opportunity for the visitors to learn of the latest achievements and challenges facing the Federation. The meeting was also attended by Mpummude’s Assistant Town Clerk, who has been most supportive of the Federation’s agenda.

Rose encouraged the leaders to place greater emphasis on the role of collectors and treasurers as they are the backbone of the Federation. She argued that it is impossible to have a strong Federation without strong, committed, and skilled collectors and treasurers. She also urged the groups not to imitate the projects of other regions, but to think carefully about the projects they think would be most beneficial to their communities.

Kawama Housing Project

The last stop on the Jinja trip was the Kawama Housing Project in Mpumudde. Upon arrival the SDI coordinators were greeted with songs and dances from the local women. They were also greeted by 6 brand new, community-constructed houses. The houses represent the first tranche of the project and the coordinators were also able to see the preparations being made for the second tranche of 30 units (for the latest updates on the Kawama Housing Project please visit the page devoted to it on this website).

The coordinators heard from the 6 beneficiaries of the first houses and the 30 beneficiaries selected for the new block.  The 30 were selected owing to their status as the poorest members of the community. Though this represents a significant challenge in terms of financial viability, it is consistent with the Federation’s mission to uplift the poorest members of the community. These beneficiaries – mostly women – have already begun planning for their repayments with assistance from the community and ACTogether.

The coordinators were shown around the site, introduced to the beneficiaries, informed of the project management processes, and shown how building materials are made by federation members. 


Counting Kibera: the challenge of engagement

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI secretariat

The Kenyan federation, Mungano wa wanavijiji, kicked off an enumeration of the railway line slum of Kibera in Nairobi this week. The survey process there is an example of how politically complicated collecting information can get, as well as just how valuable the data actually is.

My colleague Jack Makau has a great in-depth piece on the history of enumerations in Kibera. This is the second large-scale enumeration undertaken by the federation there in the past six years. It is all tied to planned evictions along the line that have never been carried out, as the Kenyan government’s move to privatize the railway line has proceeded in very slow fits and starts. The twists of this process, which was originally envisioned to have finished years ago, shine a light on the combustible combination of resources, government processes, the role of multinational institutions (in this case, the World Bank), and a community’s attempt to organize itself around its own resources and capacities.

Slums in Nairobi face acute tension between structure owners and tenants. An enumeration can highlight such divisions, especially when it is so closely tied to an eviction. Everyone wants to be counted so they can get their hands on the resources associated with the relocation. An exchange team from the South African Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) was supposed to leave a week ago to support the enumeration process, but postponed the trip when conflict between structure owners and tenants delayed the start of the survey. I will be joining the team when it leaves for Nairobi on Sunday, and will be keeping this blog updated with how the process plays out over the next week or so.

The Kibera case complicates what is often seen as a simple binary between evicting and not evicting when some kind of business project threatens people’s homes. In this case, the relocation is allowing slum dwellers to assert themselves in their relationship with government and multinational organizations. It was a big accomplishment for the federation to get the government to agree to let the community count itself, and to have that information be the basis for their relocation.

When the World Bank — a major funding partner of the railway rehabilitation and relocation of the nearby slum dwellers — accepts a methodology like community-led enumeration to serve as the basis for its programs, it is an important first step towards putting organized communities of the urban poor at the center of their own development. At the end of the day, resources — money — are the name of the game. And it is an important development that resources for relocation are directly tied to the results of information that comes out of a community’s own organizational capacity and practice. Land and money will be allocated to those who are counted.

It can be hard to see the full impact of these kinds of activities in the short term. What looks like collusion today can appear to be a major contestation tomorrow. What looks like incremental change today could spark a revolution in five years time.

The process of engagement with government and other key actors like the World Bank is a messy one. But when slum dwellers can get hold of this process and use it to direct resources towards the organized poor, new, people-centered kinds of development can begin to take place. Getting these kinds of institutions to rely on one of the most valuable resources poor people have — information — is an important first step to changing the overall relationship that they have with the poor.

Perhaps even more importantly, it is a step towards changing the relationships that the poor have with each other. As Jack writes about the first enumeration of Kibera in 2004,

What previously were amorphous collections of shacks and stalls transformed into a community. The residents and traders were joined by what they perceived as a common threat. Community organizations formed months ago to fight off eviction found new purpose. Both traders and residents formulated and started to articulate issues that affected them generally. The enumeration would serve to capacitate and federate these groups.