When I think about sustainable urbanization in Africa, I think about partnerships. In Jinja, Uganda, where I come from, the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) has built a strong working partnership with government. In this article I will highlight some lessons about the key triggers of this partnership that maybe useful for other communities and cities. My experience in Jinja also reflects what I have learned from the global Slum Dwellers International (SDI) family.
My perspective on transforming settlements of the urban poor is that such change should be a community- and women-centred process, in order to realize sustainability and bottom-up ownership. Transformation should involve mobilizing and sensitizing slum dwellers to understand the importance of change. Sensitizing communities means allowing them to participate in the planning and implementation of settlement upgrading. During that process, we have to pay particular attention to women, whose voices are sometimes drowned out by men. If the residents do not own the process, the word transformation can be abused and governments can use it to justify forced eviction and developments that exclude the poor. Mobilizing the urban poor into 'savings groups' is one of the major SDI strategies to reach out to women urban dwellers and help them organize to drive their own slum transformation.
So it was in Jinja. The roots of NSDFU in the municipality can be traced to a meeting held in September 2002 at Kamuli Primary School. A delegation from Kampala that included the SDI President, Federation members from SDI affiliates, and government officials from the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development of Uganda convened the meeting. The team explained that urban poor federations in the SDI network used savings to bring communities together, build their capacity to work collectively and learn from other slum dwellers in the network, thereby improving the lives of the urban poor and building partnerships with government to work towards those ends. Those gathered at the meeting agreed to test out this new idea. SDI organized exchanges to introduce Jinja slum dwellers to the work of their peers in Kenya.
Following these exchanges, the Federation spread to all divisions of Jinja municipality. When savings groups begin, they often focus on members' livelihood issues, but through exchanges and greater exposure to Federation tools and practices, communities begin to formulate an urban agenda that looks beyond group members and towards transforming the settlements in...