A Day in Katanga
Its a katogo of lifestyles and income levels at Katanga.
All Photos from Ultimate Media Consult.
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First published: August 31, 2006
Over the years, many Ugandans have shared different perceptions of the Katanga slum. Most people who have visited the notorious, yet popular slum in Kampala have come up with their own description of the slum.
Some people choose to emphasize on the health hazards in the area, while others stress security, and others----especially many NGOs (non-government organizations)---- concentrate on human suffering due to diseases and poverty to the extent of making you think that in a few months, humans will be wiped out of Katanga.
But whatever the description one comes up with, it is still Katanga: It was there then, and it is there now, and will possibly be there tomorrow.
The slum is unstructured and presents many physical features----depending on which angles it is viewed from. From Wandegeya's hill, the view will be obstructed by the recently built modern hostel flats, which are also part of the slum. The occupants are Makerere University students who are obviously looking to be well fed by the nearby eateries. From Mulago's hill, this view is a mixture of rust and torn iron sheet roofs alongside mud wattle and papyrus-roofed structures whose inhabitants seem to be just emerging from centuries behind us.
New and old mix in Katanga
Many NGOs like Slum AID project have compared the living situation in Katanga to that of the internally displaced persons, (IDPs) because of the misery and emaciation the people in both places seem to share.
The Makings of Slum Life
At 8 a.m. when I arrived at the fringes of the slum, I met 12-year-old Mohammad carrying his little brother, Hassan, age 2. Although it was morning, they both seemed stressed and hungry at this early hour.
But trust the children. In a moment, they were giggling upon seeing the light flash from the camera. Their giggling attracted other kids, many of who carried signs of perpetual neglect. With mucus-stained faces and stale dust on their body, I could easily tell that their bodies have not seen water in a while.
A few meters from where Mohammad and Hassan were standing, was a man snoring in an open area. Drinking the night before obviously had its toll on him, and he seemed far from this universe.
After taking a few pictures, my next mission was to find a guide. It wasn't difficult for me to get 26-year-old Issa Kakooza to take me up on my offer. He was born and raised in Katanga. I informed him I was doing a story about the area and its new development. Being excited by the prospect of appearing in the newspapers---even though he only knows about Bukedde, Kakooza led me to all the hidden spots in the slum.
Our guide: 26-year-old Issa Kakooza
So, what makes Katanga qualify as popular and at the same time notorious? As I used my knowledge of the area and experience on my tour, I believe the answer partly lies in the slum's housing system that has defied modern changes, as well as perceived immunity by its residents towards modern influence. But never mind that it is sandwiched between Makerere University and Mulago Hospital----both institutions are the city's rare epitome of progressive development.
The Katanga slum embraces people of all walks of life, too. Temporary mabaati (iron sheet) units, murky shacks and vast mud and wattle huts define housing in Katanga.
My guide's muzigo(tenement housing- meeting minimum standards of sanitation, safety, and comfort and usually located in a city) was something close to a foxhole. It was made out of old benches, jerrycans and ancient wrinkled corrugated iron sheets. And, its fragile wall was decorated with spider webs and rusty nails. The floor, though cemented, was another thing altogether. My guide cautioned me against taking the picture of the resident, which I grudgingly agreed not to do.
One would be forgiven for thinking it had been levelled in the dark. Healthy bedbugs and red ants leisurely patrolled the community like a band of royal guards.
I tried to count the holes in the roof on my fingers and promptly ran out of fingers. At one point, I found myself tallying the stars in the sky with ease through the openings in the roof. And to address the matter of security is to notice a toddler when locked could nudge the frail wooden door open.
Location of the Slum
Katanga slum is located about 2 kilometers from Kampala's city centre between the Mulago and Wandegeya hills (the same hill where Makerere University is located.) From either side of the hills, you will get a better view of the slum because it occupies a swampy valley expanse of land at the foot of both hills.
This is an area that should have been gazetted as a wetland, but unfortunately it is not, making Katanga vulnerable to constant floods during the rainy season. For a visitor, you have to carefully pick your way through as you calculate your steps between the shacks and the sewage. A stench of fresh human feces lingers in the air to remind you that you are definitely in Katanga.
The slum size stretches about 1.5 kilometers from Wandegeya to Kubiri, near Bwaise. Katanga is divided into two zones, which also turn out to be administrative blocks known as Local Council 1. The two zones are Busia zone and Kimwanyi zone.
The first thing Kakooza warned about this place were the people we would meet along our tour bathing on the verandas. "Here we don't have bathrooms. So people just shower from their verandas because there is no space to build bathrooms," warned Kakooza.
It was coming to 9:30 a.m., but all of Katanga still seemed very much asleep with the exception of a few kids screaming here and there and a number of drunkards yelling. There were no visible adults moving or seated at houses or what you would call "verandas." My guide, who was seemingly reading my mind, told me that many people are still resting from the previous day's drinking bash.
Drinking and selling booze especially waragi (an unpurified local alcohol drink) and malwa are some of the main activities for the huge numbers of people in Katanga. Later in the day, I would stumble over noisy, drunken locals who had been guzzling waragi
According to the Local Council 1 chairman of the Kimwanyi zone, Hassan Wasswa, the whole Katanga area accommodates about 16,000 people. The houses are so crammed together that only snake-size spaces separate one household from another. A huge drainage channel crisscrosses the houses.
A lot of rubbish is dumped in the drainage from dead animals like dogs, cats, and chicken to human waste. At some points, the drainage channel water is stagnant with floating polythene bags, (locally known as buvera,) wings of dead chicken, old clothes and mud.
This must be the reason why many visitors to Katanga emphasize the health hazards of the slum. But the litter is everywhere in Katanga. As I jump to avoid stepping into an improvised open sewage channel, I land on a heap of wrapped buvera, which burst exposing its contents. With the burst bags, is a swarm of yellow flies whose feeding is interrupted by my step. As they lazily fly away the noise from their buzzing wings can be compared to that of migrating bees.
The drainage channel reduces in size at some points because of obvious encroachment by human activities. At one point, it disappears into a household emerging out at a doorstep of another household. Here, residents improvise by putting barriers across the channel to allow them to move in and out of their residences.
But this does not stop the kids to innocently play around the stagnant water in the drainage, putting their lives in danger of contracting the diseases and plunging themselves into the drainage.
Disease situation & health facilities
According to Wasswa, the common diseases in Katanga are malaria and dysentery. But the slum is also known to be the starting point of cholera outbreaks. Surprisingly, there is no established government health center in Katanga. Only private drug shops and clinics are in existence.
Economic & social activities
Katanga's major economic activities include fish smocking, selling local brew and food stuffs. At anytime of the day, people are walking ad transacting within the congested Katanga, but mostly on Gideon Street, where it is termed "Katanga's highway," which runs from Wandegeya to the Mulago side of Katanga.
There are four schools and a church, all made from wood, showing how much Katanga, which is just two kilometers from the city centre, is a reminder of how poor Uganda is. Nevertheless, a playing field for children to play football and other games is one indication that life is after all normal in this part of Kampala.
Given the high congestion, private things like a short or long call, (going to the toilet) and a bath are a public matter in Katanga. Makeshift bathrooms and paid-for toilets are a must here in Katanga, but one can't help but wonder where seemingly poor people get money to pay for basic unavoidable things like going to the bathroom.
Better Days Ahead
Despite the glaring challenges in Katanga, many residents of the area and their chairman are very optimistic of the latest developments, like the new flats occupied by the university students.
Local Council 1 chairman of the Kimwanyi zone, Hassan Wasswa.
The Defense Secretary for Busia zone, Sseka Ddebe Karugaba.
The Defense Secretary for Busia zone, Sseka Ddebe Karugaba who has been a resident of Katanga for the last 10 years says that the slum is changing for the better compared to what was happened in the past.
Sseka Ddebe who is also a retired police constable says that some areas were "no go" zones as thugs on drug influence took control of those parts terrorizing anyone who dared pass their way. He says that his security committee of five people and constant police patrols have made security of persons and property much better in Katanga.
He says that fast-paced development of born-again churches have also helped shape the morals of the youth and inculcated the sense of hard work in Katanga's population.
But not all are happy with the new development especially those displaced by the flats occupied by hostels.
Musa Keba, a Katanga resident, said as the developers bought off part of the area and displaced the people, locals organized to resists further development. The police were deployed to allow the construction of the current storied hostels to go on. But the locals were not done.
After a heavy rain one afternoon, sewage pipes in areas of Wandegeya and Makerere University were blown open and swept with drainage water into Katanga. Residents accused the hostel occupants of releasing the sewage into their homes intentionally, which sparked off another uproar.
But beside the clashes, Jennifer Namukwaya, a resident at the Shifah Girls Hostel and a student at Makerere said the slum provides students with cheap commodities and food that is much affordable and friendly to students' pockets. So Katanga needs the students who are one of its biggest consumers, just as they need Katanga to keep accessing cheap items. So long as there is this mutual benefit and understanding, life in Katanga will continue to go on.
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First published: August 31, 2006
Enoch Mutabaazi is a media practitioner at Ultimate Media Consult with more than six years experience in the print and electronic media. Since he majored in Broadcast Journalism at his graduate studies Mutabaazi first worked as a reporter at Uganda Television (now Uganda Broadcasting Corporation TV) before he discovered his multidimensional skills in writing and public relations at Ultimate Media Consult. He is currently the Production Executive at Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and writes occasionally.