Uganda Hosts the First African Centers’ Dialogue on City-wide Slum Upgrading

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By Skye Dobson

From the 8th to the 10th of August 2011, ACTogether Uganda, Shack/Slum Dwellers International, and the Uganda Slum Dwellers Federation hosted a conference at Fairway Hotel, Kampala.

The conference marked the beginning of Shack/Slum Dwellers International’s (SDI) Model Cities Program aimed at creating centers of urban learning within the international slum dweller community. These learning centers will be catalysts for new strategies for city-wide upgrading that keep communities of the urban poor at their center.

The program is being matched by a significant financial contribution from SDI, which is envisaged to leverage partnerships with governments and additional commitment to urban upgrading at scale.

Uganda was chosen to host the first in the series of conferences that will be hosted by each of SDI’s African Model Cities namely: Accra, Cape Town, Dar es Salaam, Harare, Kampala, Blantyre, and Nairobi. The three-day event brought together over 100 delegates including members of Slum Dwellers Federations from the participating Model Cities, as well as representatives from their support NGOs and local government partners.

On the first day of the event emphasis was placed upon the need for the conference series to be a forum for learning, sharing, and – most importantly – action. The organizers explained that from the conference, concrete actions and projects are expected. SDI urged Federations to initiate projects that have an impact upon policy and institutional arrangements in the selected cities.
SDI’s president, Mr. Jockin Arputham stressed the need for more action than talk and informed the delegates that specific work plans would be formulated during the conference and that these plans would be reviewed at the next conference. In this way, each Federation will be monitored and evaluated by its peers to promote greater learning within the SDI network.

The chairman of the Uganda Slum Dwellers Federation, Hassan Kiberu, welcomed those in attendance and remarked, “Today is a big day in the family of SDI. More so Uganda when we host such a big conference. This is the first conference where we slum dwellers have to come together with the government and dialogue on city-wide slum upgrading … As slum dwellers we are happy to sit without our leaders and technical people, with the agenda of working together in order to transform our cities.”

Government representatives from Uganda (including the Lord Mayor of Kampala and the Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development) as well as those visiting from abroad, expressed a commitment to partnering with slum dwellers, something each Federation’s action plan will seek to formalize.

On the first day the host Federation presented its progress report and a 3-Year Strategic Plan for Kampala. The plan prioritizes four pillars, namely: 1) Partnerships; 2) Pilot Projects; 3) Enumerations and Mapping; and 4) Finance Facility. The Uganda alliance seeks to strengthen and expand partnerships with government, the private sector, service providers and academics to enhance its capacity to contribute to city-wide upgrading. It will launch a series of pilot projects in Kampala that demonstrate innovative, community-driven solutions to slum upgrading in large informal settlements, and will continue enumerating and mapping to gather critical information about the capital’s slums. Lastly, the alliance is establishing the Kampala Community Development Fund to support community initiatives and leverage funds from other sources.

On the second day the visiting Federations were given the opportunity to present progress reports and were asked to arrive with their own work plans. In this way, the conference was designed to move beyond debate to outcomes: from strategic concepts to practical actions. As each Federation presented its progress report and action plan it became clear they faced similar challenges and possessed similar goals for the immediate future.

The following areas were given top priority in many country work plans:

· securing land

· improving sanitation facilities

· establishing/strengthening local finance facilities

· forging/strengthening partnerships with local government

· launching pilot projects (from housing, to waste collection, to toilet construction)

· improved service provision

· profiling and enumeration

The focus of the third day was to draw up project plans that would help to operationalize the action plans. The delegates were told that the project plans were to be for projects that would take between 4-6 months to complete. At the next conference, to be held in Ghana, a peer review process will take place, where Federations can evaluate the progress of their fellow SDI affiliates and learn from the successes and challenges each faced. The emphasis, it was urged, should be on projects that are feasible, realistic, and prioritized by the community.

SDI outlined the support it could provide for such projects. Delegates were informed that SDI would offer a loan for 50-60% of the project cost, but only if there is community contribution and government contribution. Repayment of the SDI loan will be made to the local Urban Poor Fund and thus revolve to fund other local projects.

Those present were asked to get organized quickly to ensure these projects get off the ground immediately and the momentum and partnerships forged during the conference are leveraged to the greatest extend possible. SDI congratulated the delegations for converting their action plans to project-based plans and reminded them that at the next conference, the Federations present would reconvene to evaluate progress made of the set objectives.