A study on Katanga

Katanga is one of Kampala’s biggest slums, and we have been working here for many years. However there is little information available about the community itself, and it has many complex issues. Rebecca Sims, an international development masters student, came out to Uganda this summer to research into some of the issues affecting the community of Katanga. She summarises her findings for us here:

"Rural to urban migration has caused an increase in the number of people living in informal settlements as people migrate in search of improved livelihoods. In Uganda many have moved to larger towns and cities with the capital Kampala having the greatest pull. Life for those living in informal settlements in Kampala is complex. I spent five weeks with Kids Club Kampala conducting research with the people living in an informal settlement in Kampala, Katanga. Katanga is an established informal settlement with a large population. It proves to be an important settlement for many; however its importance is often overshadowed by a stigma associated with informal settlements. Informal settlements are often represented in very negative ways, with the word ‘slum’ creating a discourse of poverty, violence and terror. Many have written about the negative attributes of ‘slums’, painting them in a way that encourages their demolition. However, what my research aimed to show was that while there are negative aspects of informal settlements there are also positives that need more recognition in order to support those living in them. It is also important to understand that every informal settlement is different; they are complex. Research is needed in individual informal settlements in order to ascertain the best ways to support and improve each one.

Katanga is situated in the base of a valley near the city centre of Kampala. On one side of the valley is Mulago Hospital and on the other Makerere University. Many have migrated to Katanga due to its geographical location with its proximity to the city centre and hospital being vital for improved livelihoods. Those living in Katanga highlighted many positive and negative attributes, both conforming to and challenging the stigma that it is associated with. There were three main challenges emphasised; firstly, economic instability. Those living in Katanga do not have access to the formal economy instead having to work in the informal sector doing casual jobs and starting their own businesses. This is often an unreliable source of income and can create instability. The second major challenge is security. Due to feelings of hopelessness and frustration many had begun using marijuana as a coping mechanism. This leads to increased violence, especially towards women and children. Thirdly, health is a major concern. Many different diseases are present in Katanga due to unsanitary conditions, the lack of toilet facilities (Katanga only has four privately owned toilets which require a fee to use) and risky sexual behaviour. Mental health is also a major concern and emphasised by the increased use of marijuana. It is important to understand the negative attributes of individual informal settlements in order to tailor the support they need. However instead these are often used to justify their demolition as it reinforces a stigma.

Less recognised are the positive attributes of informal settlements. Those living in Katanga recognised three main positives. The first is transfers of knowledge. Many in Katanga share what they learn with their neighbours, specifically surrounding topics of car maintenance and business management. Some of those attending Makerere University also live in Katanga and they share their knowledge and offer advice to other residents.  Secondly, those living in Katanga receive lots of support that they would not get if they were living in rural areas. They receive this from organisations such as Kids Club Kampala, who run many projects in Katanga. The government and Hospital have also given out mosquito nets and run temporary health clinics. Thirdly, the importance of community is very important to residents. Social capital is created in Katanga in many ways. There are schools, churches, cinemas, a boxing club and a football league that bring people together. With many feeling as though they contribute to the community through their businesses. When informal settlements such as Katanga are demolished communities such as these are destroyed. Therefore it is extremely important to consider the future of Katanga and challenge the stigma that calls for demolition.

The future of Katanga is unknown. Global policies support the upgrading of informal settlements as their positive attributes begin to be more widely recognised, however this does not stop demolition from occurring. The Ugandan government still advocates demolition. Influential officials have been quoted as supporting it, while I personally witnessed the demolition of an informal settlement that was situated by a roadside. The aesthetic of the area is often a priority in these cases, as is the economic potential. Katanga is situated on land close the CBD of Katanga. Previous developers have attempted to buy the land but have been unsuccessful. Therefore, it is increasingly imperative to recognise the importance Katanga has for many people. While there are negative attributes of living there, the positives also need to be highlighted in order to challenge the stigma that could be used to justify its demolition. Instead increased support is needed to tackle the problems and emphasise the positives in order to help a community that plays a vital role in many people’s lives."