Chogm delegates unlikely to see Uganda’s poor

Posted: October 22, 2007 in Blog
I haven’t posted an article up here for a while. This one came out on the weekend…

Shafic Kagimu is too busy hanging his laundry in the mid-day sun to notice the gleaming truck with police escorts that comes screaming into Kampala from the Entebbe Airport, carrying a cargo of luxury sedans to be used during Chogm.

Despite living barely more than 100 metres from Entebbe Road Mr Kagimu, standing outside his mud-packed house that is squeezed between the railway tracks and a putrid drainage ditch, is a world away from that truck and what its cargo represents.
When Chogm arrives in November, hundreds of foreign delegates will be driving on the newly re-paved (twice, in places) Entebbe Road, passing within sight of Katwe, home to one of Kampala’s largest and most disadvantaged slums.

UNWANTED? Mr Kagimu and his wife Sharifa are residents of Katwe. Photo by Uthman Kiyaga
A woman cooks in a railway reserve at Base Zone in Katwe.
Children entering their shelter. Photos by Uthman Kiyaga

And so, within sight of Chogm’s main thoroughfare, life will go on in the slums much as it did before, experiencing little of Chogm’s promised benefits beyond an increased police presence that has seen many of its youth rounded-up in recent months.

It is here where claims by politicians, that Chogm will benefit all Ugandans, are put to the test, to see whether Kampala’s most impoverished will be affected by Chogm beyond the random arrests and the impact to be felt by an across the board 4.8 percent cut of government spending to fund Chogm’s budget.

“The Queen is coming to see the condition of the Ugandan people, but I don’t know that she’ll see the conditions of the people here,” Mr Kagimu said in an interview outside his home. “We should ask her to use the train, because then she would see our lives.”
With that he smiles and gestures up to the train tracks that are nearly within arms reach of his home.

Mr Kagimu, who pays Shs10,000 a month for the small mud house he shares with his wife, lives in one of a half dozen or so mud structures packed tightly against the railway’s embankment. Residents say four or five trains pass by on a typical day. At times, many more come barreling through.

The trains scatter dozens of pedestrians who use the tracks as a thoroughfare. Children, no more than 11 or 12 years old, struggle to run under the burden of heavy burlap sacks of scrap metals and plastics they plan to sell to local dealers. Nearby, an abandoned car is tarped-over to create another home. The smell of human feces permeates the surrounding grasses.

Mr Kagimu said the number of people living in this cramped space, called Cambodia and known as being mostly former street people, ranges between 30 and 50. They are largely ignored by local authorities and even the rest of Katwe’s residents generally ignore them except to complain that Cambodia residents steal anything metal or plastic that can be re-sold as scrap.

“The community fears them,” said Paddy Kiggundu, LCI chairman for Katwe Two.
This isolation, along with crippling poverty, means the residents here have no access to outside help when one of them falls ill.

“People are dying so much from strange diseases we don’t understand,” Mr Kagimu said.
Over Mr Kagimu’s shoulder and across the drainage ditch, a man lies in the shade against a brick wall.

His worried wife sits next to him, watching his arms, legs and lips spasm uncontrollably with an undiagnosed sickness that first appeared two weeks ago and has since gotten steadily worse. The family cannot afford to go to the doctor, and so they spend their days sitting in the shade, hoping that maybe tomorrow he will begin feeling better.

They came from their village in eastern Uganda about a year ago, in the hopes of getting a good job in the city. Things have not gone well. “We just want to go back home, but we don’t have the money for transport,” the woman said.

For months there have been reports of police arresting youth in the name of cleaning-up the streets ahead of Chogm. Ask a group of a dozen or so youth in Katwe whether any of them have been arrested during the sweeps and they all raise their hands.
“We want Chogm, it is benefiting Uganda,” said Godfrey Ssozi, 21. “But we the youth, we do not benefit. We are arrested.”

He and his fellow youth do odd jobs, like digging or carrying. On this day, they are gathered around a local water tap built by a private businessman.
They are in charge of collecting Shs 50 from anyone who wants to fill their jerry can with water.

Walking through Katwe Base Zone (Katwe is divided into six zones), women are busy cooking meat on open grills, or hanging laundry on lines strung between the homes. Children – a conspicuously high number of them given that it is a school day – run through the alleyways or sit in the shade.

The community has a reputation for gang violence, theft and assaults. Undercover police keep a close eye on those coming and going from Katwe. On this day, they demand that visiting journalists identify themselves, asking whether they were aware of the dangers in Katwe and recommend hiding all valuables before entering Katwe.

This close watch kept from the outside is symbolic of Katwe’s biggest problem – a problem that faces most of Kampala’s, and perhaps Uganda’s, most disadvantaged neighbourhoods – which is near complete isolation as a result of its reputation as a hive of chronic poverty and instability.

That isolation will likely only be magnified during Chogm. A country eager to landscape its roundabouts and pave over its potholes is unlikely to put its social bumps and bruises on display for visiting dignitaries to see.

But residents here are going to try to send a message to the hundreds of delegates traveling Entebbe Road to Kampala during Chogm. “We are going to stand by the side of the road and shout to let people know about our suffering,” Mr Kiggundu said.

Judging by the police presence already in place along Entebbe Road, and in particular around the Clock Tower roundabout, any protestors are unlikely to get a warm greeting from authorities.

  1. […] uncontrollably next to his wife, was still alive. (I had found out the BBC radio, having seen this article, would be hosting a show in that slum during the Commmonwealth meetings. They asked me to […]

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