No place to go
Thousands of people from a poor area of Kampala are being evicted by the Ugandan government, reports Steve Sanderson
Land clearances designated for commercial development are a common story across Africa. Invariably for every percentage of GDP growth there are tens of thousands of human casualties – disempowered, displaced and facing an uncertain future.
This scenario is being played out once again on the Nakawa and Naguru estates in Kampala, where an estimated 17,000 people are losing their homes in a mass eviction, which started on Monday (4 July).
Residents watched as first the police sought to physically enforce the most recent round of eviction notices, followed by bulldozers that flattened numerous homes on both the Nakawa and Naguru estates. (Photo: Stephen Wandera, Daily Monitor)
BMS supported partner worker Amos Ogwang, who ironically is working on land rights for Acholi people in Gulu in the north of Uganda, received news that his wife and children had been made homeless as their house in Naguru also fell victim to the bulldozers.
Others have found shelter with friends, some are anticipating a return to the north and others still face a much more uncertain future.
Nakawa Baptist Church, which has hosted various BMS teams and mission workers in recent years, and has close links with the British Baptist community in general, has not yet been affected although surrounding houses have been destroyed. Its pastor Peter Mugabi notes that “the officials have given us a week of grace, but the place is now chaotic”.
The Baptist Union of Uganda hopes to provide emergency assistance to affected residents through temporary shelters.
Pastor Mugabi (pictured left) continued, “People are in urgent need of tarpaulins because they are homeless and it will rain.
“The elderly, the disabled, the sick and those with children are stranded, they cannot move and people don’t want to abandon their meagre belongings. We will meet on Sunday but it may be the last time we can meet as a community.” The church has been told it has one extra week of grace before it is demolished.
Since large numbers of people fleeing war and starvation in northern Uganda started to coalesce on these tracts of land some 50 years ago, Nakawa and Naguru have taken on an identity of their own.
People widely speak Luo dialects on the estates rather than the local language of the dominant tribe, the Baganda. The troubled tribal history of Uganda has meant that people on the estates have felt marginalised, displaced, mistrusted and avoided by the wider population of Kampala.
Kampala City Council constructed low-grade houses but no-one has paid the peppercorn rent to them for many years.
There is little sense of Nakawa and Naguru being an idyllic setting; houses have long since been declared as not fit for human consumption and crime is rife across the estates. (Image: houses before demolishment)
Yet, recent near-by commercial developments have meant that the real estate value of the land has increased dramatically. Good news for foreign private companies wanting to invest in Uganda but bad news for people living there.
For a number of years now, the Ugandan government has sought a mass eviction of the estates. The proposed evictions have been challenged on legal grounds by various groups.
BMS mission workers, Nakawa Baptist Church and the UCLF have taken a lead role in public legal awareness, legal advice to residents groups and representations to local and national leaders.
As a local resident by the name of Innocent says, “No-one is saying that Nakawa is a nice place to live but people here have occupancy rights under the law”.
Residents have been told that they won’t receive compensation but will be offered first refusal to buy the new luxury residential properties being proposed. Local residents have protested that this is a luxury that none will be able to afford.
Steve Sanderson is BMS manager for mission partnerships and spent four years as a BMS worker in Uganda with his wife Caroline and their family