By Patrick Kagenda
Railway reserve eviction leaves tears in its trail
The demolition crew arrived at 2am. Hajat Azia Namatovu, an elderly woman, was deep asleep at this time of the night but the roar of giant Caterpillar earth movers of the demolishers woke her. By the time she reached the door, part of the perimeter wall around her house had been reduced to rubble. She collapsed in shock. And she is one of the lucky ones. Her house was spared. And she is alive.
Constantine Bossa was not as lucky. For years he had operated a small business along the railway line in Ndebba, a dusty sprawling trading centre south of the capital Kampala, located between the Entebbe highway and Masaka road. It is a crowded place where small traders, artisans, and hustlers eke a living next to sex workers and car robbers. Most houses have shop fronts, bars, and lodges.
To avoid his day time chaos, Constantine Bossa, chose to live away from his workstation. So he did not witness the demolition of his kiosk that night. On the morning of July 28 he arrived in Ndebba ready to open his shop. All the other kiosks along a kilometre long stretch from Ndebba to Nalukolongo had been razed. When Bossa reached his work station, all he could see was mangled mess of his miserly merchandise mixed in demolished timber, iron-sheeting, tarpaulins, and other metal. It was as if an earthquake has struck Ndebbe. Bossa could not take it. He collapsed and died.
The residents say another trader, Shamim Sarah, died two days later on July 30.
Among other things demolished is Kirondebba and a school; Ndebba Junior Boarding. Another school, Fruitpic Day School, had its wall fence razed while a neighbourhood mosque, Masjid Noor Ndebba, was also slated to lose its fence.
The demolitions by the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) are meant to clear homes, business, and other structures constructed illegally along the railway line. It started with the western arm of the existing railway line and affected about 12 villages in the Nbebba III parish. According to estimates, some 40,000 lived and worked here. But the figure rose to 60,000 during day time when they were joined by commuters.
Ironically, the demolitions are supposed to clear way for KCCA, working together with the national rail operator; Rift Valley Railways (RVR) to introduce a metro rail service for city commuter.
After clearing the west, the demolition crews started edging east; targeting the Banda, Bweyogerere, Kireka, and Namanve areas.
When the evictions are completed, the commuter railway developer is expected to have unfettered way from Namanve in the east of the capital city to Kyengera in the west.
At the KCCA, Peter Kaujju; the spokesperson says the illegal structures in the railway posed a danger to the operators of the railway who need a 30- meter reserve corridor on either side. He says the evictions have been smooth and met little resistance.
“The people were aware of what was coming. We had been communicating with them for over one year and when time came they had to make way,” he says.
President Museveni blamed
But not everyone is as contended.
Most victims of the eviction concede that they have been operating on rail reserve land. But they complain about lack of empathy and compensation and arbitrary demolitions. A visit to some of the demolition areas shows some of what the complaints are about. Although all low cost kiosks and shanty shelters are razed, the bigger houses, businesses, and warehouses sitting in the same area remain untouched.
Salongo Sekidde is a Councillor in Ndebba III Parish and a trader in the now demolished railway line market.
Sekidde says they are frustrated that President Yoweri Museveni has not come to their rescue even after they sent a written petition to him.
“He has let us down; we have not seen anyone from his office or KCCA advising us on what to do next,” he says.
He says most of the traders in the demolished market were born around the area.
“Some people borrowed money from groups, started business and dropped the stealing. Now we are worried they could go back to their traditional vice,” he says.
“When we approached the Kampala Resident City Commissioner Aisha Nalule Kabanda, she told us her role is security not markets. We are just in the dark with no light at the end of the tunnel. However we want to remind the president that our keeping quite should not be taken for granted.”
Sekidde explains that before they created the razed market 12 years ago, they wrote to President Museveni for permission. The president in turn instructed then minister for Transport John Nasasira who wrote to Uganda Railways Corporation which gave them 15 metres on each side of the railway line to operate businesses.
They called their market Twegatte Ndebba Women`s Group Limited and covered a stretch of close to two kilometres in length.
Sekidde says he is surprised that their market has been razed when even RVR, the company that took over URC and is behind the eviction, visited it and praised it.
“They said nothing like evicting us,” Sekidde says, “In fact they said they would go to Nakuru in Kenya to see how a market operates alongside a railway line with the train using the line and causing no accidents.”
Sekidde explains: “We used to pay money to Uganda Railways Corporation until people claiming to be from State House started collecting the money from us. We were told the money goes to finance President Museveni`s work and the money has been under the office of Lt. Col. Ndahura. Every month, they have been collecting Shs15 million from us.”
Evictions to go on
Some of the evictees have taken their case to court and the Nakawa High Court has issued KCCA with a restraining order. Their team of lawyers led by Caleb Alaka asked court for an injunction citing rules of natural justice which calls for a hearing.
Kaujju says KCCA will obey the court order “but the demolition will resume immediately the court order is lifted.
“It is the mandate of the KCCA to demolish all illegal structures put up within its areas of jurisdiction without its authorisation,” he says.
He adds that the exercise to remove illegal structures is being conducted by Uganda Railways Corporation, KCCA, UETCL, RVR and the Uganda Police in line with Ugandan Health and Safety standards.
On July 30, the Minister for Security, Muruli Mukasa told parliament that government would not compensate the people who had been evicted because they occupied the land illegally. He said only 225 people had occupied the land legally and they have already been paid.