Give evicted Kampala street vendors a soft landing
I salute Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) leaders for firing four of their officers who tortured a woman and her two little children earlier this month.
The four officers, now identified as Florence Nakiwala, Eva Nalukenge, Rogers Maganda and Fred Kabito, inflicted unbelievably gruesome violence on Ms. Robinah Namugenyi, together with her infant and her pre-school age daughter.
This criminal violence occurred while the KCCA officers, supported by Uganda Police officers, were evicting Ms. Namugenyi from Benedicto Kiwanuka Street where she was trying to earn a living.
Firing these officers was the right decision. However, it is only the first step in what must be done to redeem the image of KCCA, to do justice for Namugenyi and her children and to deal with the complex matter of illegal street vendors.
First, criminal charges should be preferred against these officers and anyone else who was involved in the torture of Namugenyi and her children, including the police officers that failed to protect them against assault.
Second, human rights lawyers should launch a legal case on behalf of Namugenyi and her children, seeking substantial financial compensation from KCCA, the Uganda Police Force and the Uganda Government.
Third, given that Namugenyi and her children were not the first people to be assaulted by KCCA officers, an independent commission of inquiry should be launched to get to the bottom of this recurring brutal conduct.
The obvious questions: Were these officers carrying out the instructions of someone above? Who was that person? What alternatives are offered to the evicted vendors? What measures are being taken to prevent mistreatment of Kampalans?
Fourth, a moratorium on these evictions is warranted, to enable KCCA and the Uganda Government to come up with a program that cleans the streets and gives the vendors a better alternative.
It is a safe bet that Ms. Namugenyi did not choose the life of an illegal street vendor. She did not choose to raise her kids on the street. She did not take pleasure in resisting the eviction.
Fate and circumstances forced Namugenyi onto that street, to sell what she could, in order to feed her children and meet other expenses of life in Uganda.
Her presence on the street may be an eyesore and inconvenience to her privileged compatriots. She may be an irritant as you drive by in your air-conditioned government subsidized motor vehicle. But throwing her off Ben Kiwanuka Street does not solve her problem or the social conditions that underlie her plight.
Namugenyi and her offspring are children of God, with needs and hopes, just like you and me. They are not an inconvenience. They certainly do not want to be an inconvenience.
They desire to be treated with the same dignity, justice and fairness that Ugandan civil servants and politicians enjoyed when the government decided to sell off the public housing stock a couple of decades ago.
People living in public houses, including those in the country’s upscale neighborhoods like Kololo and Nakasero, were literally given gifts by the state. The occupants were given the right to buy the houses at giveaway prices. Those who could not or did not want to buy the houses received substantial amounts of cash as “goodwill” payment from buyers of those public properties.
In other words, privileged, salaried tenants enjoyed the right to be paid to leave public housing. The merits and demerits of that policy should not detain us. What matters is that the occupants of those houses were given a very soft landing, a humane approach that prevented social unrest and discord.
Namugenyi and fellow street vendors have also laid a claim to their piece of Uganda, just like the tenants in public housing did two decades ago. To move them off their tiny pieces of real estate, the Uganda government should give them a similar soft-landing to that which was enjoyed by occupants of public houses that actually belonged to the Namugenyis and Vukonis and Okellos and Byaburakiryas whose presence on the streets is an irritant to the privileged citizens of Kampala.
Offer Namugenyi attractive alternative business premises, with the same or larger number of clients, and she will leave your street with a smile and spring in her walk.
Provide her with the supports she needs to learn how to manage her business and her finances, and how to increase her share of the market, and you transform her into a successful entrepreneur, not a mere hand-to-mouth survivor.
Without addressing the social, cultural and economic reasons why Namugenyi ended up doing illegal trade on the street, with her tiny tots in tow, evicting her will simply shift the physical location of her unresolved problem.
It will only add more fuel to a fire of discontent, occasioned by the widening socio-economic disparities, destined to burn out control one of these days.
Perhaps Beti Kamya, Minister for Kampala, and Jennifer Musisi, Executive Director of KCCA, will invite Namugenyi for a heart-to-heart, woman-to-woman, mother-to-mother chat. They should actively listen to her, remembering that the only difference between them and Namugenyi is that they were simply lucky to have had the privilege of a good education and good opportunities.