By Patrick Kagenda
What happened to Musisi’s modern trains?
July 2015 marked exactly one year since Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and the Rift Valley Railways (RVR) started evicting encroachers on the railway reserves. The operation left a number of people dead and thousands counting loses. Bulldozers razed homes, business premises, and kiosks along the estimated 20km stretch of land from Banda in east Kampala, to Namuwongo, Ndeeba and Nalukolongo to the west. Sometimes the bulldozers struck at night or early morning, shocking residents awake as their blades tore through tin roofs and mud walls to scatter the pots and pans inside homes. There was wailing, anger, frustration, and tears and sometimes loss of life.
At the time, KCCA and RVR said they were clearing the way to introduce a metro-rail and modernise the railway. The KCCA Executive Director, Jennifer Musisi even launched a commuter train service.
But 12-months later, the spoor has run dry. There is neither commuter train nor metro-rail. And overgrown bushes mark the spots where homes and businesses once thrived. In other places, the so-called encroachers are back.
Sarah Nalukenge is a returnee. Her father, Constantine Bbosa collapsed and died on July 28, 2014 when he woke up to find KCCA had demolished his kiosk in Ndebba at the peak of the evictions. Today, the 35-year old mother of three is angry that KCCA evicted them but has done nothing on the ground. “Aba KCCA batwononela ebintu ngaate tewali kyamangu kyebalibagenda kukolera kulailwe (KCCA destroyed our property yet there was nothing urgent they were going to put on the railway reserve land)” she told The Independent recently at her vegetable stall in the re-emerging market in Ndeeba.
She says she returned because she has nowhere to go. But, she says, this time round the market vendors have no structures to lose and every evening they carry their merchandise back home.
“The biggest advantage we have in our new market which is illegal of course is we are operating freely with no one collecting market dues because no one can claim the market,” she says.
The area village chairman, Eriab Kyagaba, is also unhappy. He says during the KCCA demolitions, he had to explain the reason for it to the people.
“This brought us untold hatred because people thought we had been paid by government not to defend the people`s property and businesses.
“It is over one year now and no activity is taking place on the railway reserve land and people are slowly coming back and resuming business on the very land where their colleagues lost lives. So when government comes to remove them again does it expect us the local leaders to take its position and talk to the people to leave again?” he says.
He says RVR officials working on the standard gauge rail have visited the area and explained that they will be expanding the railway reserve land to 60 metres in Ndebba and 100 metres in Nalukolongo after they have surveyed where the new modern line will pass.
“They talk of compensating the people who will be affected. What will happen to these who are operating businesses again on the reserve land, they too will seek compensation because they will lose business. I don’t know whether government knows or sees this as well,” says Kyagaba.
Salongo Sekidde the Councillor in Ndebba III Parish says as leaders, they are “at loss of words”.
“People`s lives were lost, property and businesses destroyed, no government official came to talk to the people and now one year later nothing is taking place on the land apart from the railway reserve boundary marks they are putting up. People are back operating open air stalls on the railway reserve land. So what do you expect us to tell the people, stop them from earning a living?”
Ndebba is a city suburb located between the Kampala Entebbe highway and the Kampala to Masaka highway where the railway line passes through a densely populated area. Many permanent buildings in this area sit in the new proposed reserve land.
Mary Awino a lady in her 50s is another trader who has stuck on the railway reserve land. She sells smoked fish spread on a black PVC a few feet from the railway line in Namuwongo B LC I in Makindye which is nearer Kampala. This area also suffered the brutal force of the evictions.
Awino says she returned because the fish business keeps her family going because she is not educated enough to get a good job. She says the media has not helped them secure a good working place and the local leaders are just as hopeless as she is.
“Why did they fail to talk to government to rein in KCCA? They were bribed to convince us to leave and those who resisted had their property demolished. I have lost trust in these so-called LCs and all the politicians. They only know us when they come looking for votes,” she says.
John Kungu is the chairman of Namuwongo B LC I in Makindye. He says he is unsure about what to tell residents who are setting up new businesses and homes in the railway reserve.
“Besides the 300 people who used to eke a living from the small businesses they operated along the railway reserve land, there were other people who had houses in the reserve land and all were evicted and have since moved on elsewhere to look for survival.
“Some of the people who had nowhere to go remained in the area and as you can see they are slowly returning to operate their small businesses on the railway reserve land.”
Kungu wonders why KCCA evicted people and a year later has not started any serious projects as promised.
“The town service train they talked of is nowhere to be seen and we don’t see any train passing here. We don’t understand why they displaced people on addition to bringing us so much suffering,” he says.
`Compensate us –residents’
Kungu who is possibly in his late 30s runs a small shop on the edge of the railway. Outside, it is decorated with brightly-coloured posters advertising bar soap and inside paper decorations dangle down from the roof. The shop sells burns, pineapple juice, doughnuts and bar soap cut in small cakes, maize and cassava flour, and paraffin. Kungu says these are items people in the area buy most.
But most of his shop racks are filled with empty boxes. Kungu says before people were evicted business was good and his shop used to be fully stocked which is not the case today.
He says officials from RVR visited the village in May 2015 and held a meeting in Kasango zone where they briefed residents about the Standard Gauge railway.
He says they explain that they will be building a wider railway line and may have to displace more people but that it would happen only after they have surveyed the railway route and compensated the people.
“They said the new standard gauge railway line will in some places pass through new areas unlike the old railway and that they will have to widen the railway reserve land to 40 metres that is another 10 metres from the current 30 metres. That means the front of my shop will also have to be demolished,” says the soft-spoken sad looking man. “We as local people have no problems with government programmes of development. All we want is to be compensated for our property and we find where else to go,” he says.
Kungu`s lamentation is re-echoed in most places that The Independent visited, from Ndebba in Nsiike II zone to Sembule I zone in Nalokolongo.
At the KCCA, however, the spokesperson Peter Kaujju maintains the old rhetoric about how “It is extremely risky for the passenger trains to operate alongside massive illegal settlements.”
“We have no option but to clear the route ahead of the commencement of this service to save lives and any associated accidents,” he told The Independent.
The real activity, it appears, is to come from RVR. Here, a source speaking on condition its name not be mentioned said the company is waiting for the court injunction that was lodged in the Nakawa High Court to be disposed of to resume the evictions.
“However with the current political situation in the country we may have to wait a bit longer until the 2016 elections are over. In the meantime we have embarked on erecting boundary marks to clearly show where the railway reserve land passes,” the RVR official said.
The Nakawa High Court on August 4, 2014 halted the eviction of railway squatters by KCCA after petitioners cited rules of natural justice which call for fair hearing before such action.
Sammy Gachuhi the corporate affairs manager at RVR told the Independent, “The issue of railway land encroachment is of major concern to RVR and all stakeholders including the owners of the land the Uganda Railway Corporation (URC), KCCA, UETCL and the World Bank who funded the initial relocation project which was administered by the URC”.
He adds: “Railway land encroachers pose a danger not only to themselves but to the train operators and general public who they attract onto the railway land as a result of their activities. As stakeholders we shall soon be meeting as a group to look at wide-ranging measures to address this problem. However the encroachers should note that what they are doing is illegal and no new compensations will be paid. New encroachers should also be aware they have no rights to the land and will be removed forcibly by the relevant authorities if necessary”. Unfortunately, Gachuhi’s words sound like empty platitudes to the returning settlers, who do not see any ongoing KCCA projects or RVR trains -until the next evictions.