News analysis

By Ronald Musoke

Something dangerous
is happening in the
Kinawataka Swamp
in the Banda area; a
low-lying suburb about
10kms from Kampala
city’s Central Business District along the
eastern route. Since
the beginning of this
year, a mysterious
encroacher has been
dumping hundreds
of tonnes of murram into the wetland.
Almost every night
these days, convoys
of trucks off-load
tonnes of earth debris
and murram into the
swamp; effectively
burying it.


s soon as the ground
firms up slightly, construction begins. It is
mainly warehouses and small
manufacturing plants.
As some anxious residents
told The Independent recently,
the encroacher is a “powerful”
person because one needs powerful allies to destroy a gazetted
wetland with such unprecedented impunity.
Some said the encroacher
is the billionaire businessman Sudhir Ruparelia who
has several warehouses in the
nearby Kyambogo area. When
asked about the Kinawataka
warehouses, however, Sudhir
sounded frustrated by the accusation.
“I know nothing about those
warehouses,” he said. “If I stop
anywhere in Kampala and look
at a shop, people think I will
buy it,” he added.
For now, the only person
who can stop the Kinawataka
wetland from being destroyed
is Dr Tom Okurut,the executive

Dr Tom Okurut, NEMA Executive Director.

Should we let this man destroy
the Kinawataka wetland?

NEMA’s latest mess
director of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). So, why hasn’t he?

NEMA’s secret

Although Okurut knows the
identity of the secret encroacher, he prefers to keep it a secret.
In an interview with The
Independent on Feb.27, Okurut confirmed that he had
approved the encroachment on
the Kinawataka wetland.
“We approved the developer’s environmental impact
assessment plan,” he said, “but
KCCA too has to give a clearance.”
When he was told that the
encroachment is destroying a
strategic wetland, Okurut told
The Independent that there are
two things that Ugandans need
to understand; first, that the
country’s population is spiraling out of control and, at the
same time, the government’s
promotion of value addition,
competitiveness, and industrialisation is ‘unstoppable’.

“The government has made
a rallying call to investors and
they have responded well,” he
said, “however, they all seem to
prefer Kampala over any other
part of Uganda when it comes
to building industries. But there
is no more land in Kampala,
except wetlands.”
Then he added: “I strongly
believe that development and
conservation can still co-exist
although someone has to lose in
the process.”
Okurut’s position is partly
what is envisaged under the
1995 Wetlands policy. The policy makes it clear that population growth and increasing rate
of development are inevitable.
But, it says, only non-destructive uses would be allowed in
and around wetlands. It also
recognises that a sufficient and
steady amount of water supply
and discharge of effluent at an
affordable cost is required.
It notes: “Any wetlands
serving as a source of water
supply or receiving effluent as

part of a designated service to
any human settlement shall be
declared a fully protected wetland from any encroachment,
drainage or modification”.

Disregarded dangers

In the Kinawataka case, that
caveat appears to have been
disregarded and Okurut’s attitude might cause an irreversible
environmental catastrophe.
At 187 hectares; the
Kinawataka area is the third
largest gazetted industrial zone
of Kampala after Nalukolongo,
251 hectares, and Kawempe,
196 hectares. In all these areas,
wetlands act as natural sieves
of industrial waste as they
purify wastewater of hazardous
Experts say Kampala city is
a hill and valley complex and
the Banda area is where one
of the city’s three main drainage channels; the Kinawataka
rivulet, makes its final stand in
the Kinawataka swamp before
plunging into its final lap into

March 21 - 27, 2014


Map shows area where murram has been dumped within the wetland
News analysis




da R




National Stadium






O ld

Spring Rd





uli R



i Av





Type of disposal
Municipal sewers
City council Stabs
Ship back to suppliers



The third is one that the NEMA
boss, Okurut, is unlikely to
countenance; that new developments should be discouraged.
Others say the east side of
Kampala needs a well-designed
channel, like the Nakivubo
Channel that serves the west.
Even if this is done, however,
without wetlands to purify the
wastewater and added nutrients, industrial and municipal
point sources will discharge
untreated and partially treated
wastewater into streams that
empty into the Lake Victoria.
This will, in turn drive up the


March 21 - 27, 2014



Industrial Areas of Kampala


Industrial waste disposal
methods in Kampala city



li Rd






the city’s main source of fresh
water; the Murchison Bay of
Lake Victoria. This is where the
National Water & Seweraged
water it supplies to the city and
surrounding areas.
The Kinawataka rivulet has
two forks. Both originate
in the
Ntinda area, in northeast Kampala. One fork starts in the hill
zone around the New Ntinda
Market and crosses Ntinda
Road at where the Crestfoam
Mattress factory is. The other
fork starts farther up and to
the east, around Kigobe Road
in the area around the Uganda
National Examinations Board
(UNEB) office. The two forks
join in the Kyambogo area, flow
through Banda, and Mbuya, to
Butabika and Port Bell on the
shores of Lake Victoria swamp
in the south.
Experts say the Kinawataka
swamp network is important
as one of three main routes for
tertiary treatment of wastewater
from Kampala city. The others are the Nakivubo Channel, which
cleans up the west
and the Lubigi swamp which
drains the northern part of
the city and empties into Lake
Kyoga. Apart from the industrial and domestic wastewater,
the Kinawataka rivulet carries
all the runoff from this area
when it rains and dumps it in
the Kinawataka wetland. To
understand the danger that
could come from destroying
the Kinawataka swamp system,
one needs to imagine what
would happen to the flood
situation in central and western
Kampala city without the Nakivubo Channel.
Unlike Okurut, who appears
content to watch as development damages the Kinawataka
swamp system, experts who
occupied his position in 1958
developed the Nakivubo Channel to do what nature could no
longer do. Some experts, like
Prof. Frank Kansiime of the
Makerere University Institute
of Environment and Natural
Resources, are recommending
solutions to the Kinawataka
development saga.
First, Prof. Kansiime says,
any development should stay
clear of existing natural drainage channels or make provisions for drainage channels.

a Ka

e Rd


No. Zone

Port Bell



West Bugolobi






Kinawataka Total






cost of water purification by
the National Water & Sewerage
Kansiime wants KCCA to
“build reticulated channels to
distribute the wastewater over a
large expanse of space before it
finally flows into the lake.”

Port Bell
Miami Beach

natural cleaning arteries. If
nothing is done quickly; the
eastern side of the city could
soon suffocate as domestic and
industrial waste and water
accumulates Island
without any outlet.
Problems can already be
seen. Motorists who ply the
Kampala-Jinja highway to eastThe Kyambogo disaster
ern Uganda know that it takes
Meanwhile, either unknown
only a slight shower for the area
BayRoad, about
to the encroachers and experts Murchision
around Kyambogo
like Okurut, or simply indif10kms from the city, to flood
ferent to the danger that lurks,
and become impassable.
each off-load of murram into
John Alia, a 57-year old man
the Kinawataka wetland is
who was born here and is now
effectively cutting off the city’s
the Local Council Chairperson

News analysis
of Banda Zone B3 says things
were not always this bad.
Alia says when he was
growing up in the 1970s; they
never had problems of the area
flooding. All the storm water
running from the surrounding
elevated villages of Kyambogo,
Kamuli, Nabisunsa, Kireka and
Mbuya calmly found its way
and settled in the then expansive wetland. He recalls how
residents around the wetland
gathered material from the
swamp to make mats and other
crafts, fished for lungfish and
catfish and hunted game like
otters, wild pigs, bushbuck, and
Today, there is evidence of
flooding in the premises of the
big businesses in this area; like
Crown Beverages Ltd, makers of Pepsi drinks, Steel and
Tube Ltd, the Mercedes Benz
franchise, Spear Motors, Megha
mattress factory, and several warehouses and used-car
depots.There are also the MOIL
and Mogas fuel depots which
have a combined capacity of
about 6 million litres of petrol
and diesel close to the desperately congested Banda low-cost
residences of the poor.
Experts like Prof.Kansiime
are warning that flooding in
the area could get worse if the
Kinawataka Wetland issue is
He says just 30 years ago,
in the 1980s, Kinawataka was
as big as 9.4 sq.Km; stretching
from Banda up to Inner Murchison Bay and in the process it
protected the water quality of
the lake from the urban catchment waste water of Ntinda,
Nakawa, Kyambogo, Naguru,
Kireka, Mbuya, Mutungo,
Luzira and Butabika. In 2000, a
report by the National Wetlands
Conservation and Management
Programme, said the wetland
was about 4.16 Sq. Km.
Today, in my estimate, only
less than one square kilometer
(an area something like 10 or 15
standard football pitches) of the
wetland remains.
On its edges are hundreds
of tiny mud and wattle houses,
flanked by the more permanent
gigantic industrial buildings
that over the last two decades
have slowly inched their way
into the heart of the wetland.
The latest encroachment is

over a kilometer in length and
edges closer to the railway line
that runs on the fringes of the

Confused response

Protection of wetlands in
Kampala is the mandate of
three departments; the National
Environment Management
Authority (NEMA), the Wetland Management Department
of the ministry of Water and
Environment, and Kampala
Capital City Authority. A new
addition is the Uganda Investment Authority.
In the Kinawataka case, all
four appear helpless.
Prof. Kansiime says much as
these institutions seem to function perfectly on an individual
basis, they have always lacked
a cohesive general coordination
to work as a system that legally

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as required by law
and the KCCA development
approval. All are crucial steps
prior to implementation of any
When The Independent contacted NEMA on Jan.15 to seek
clarification from the Department of Environment Monitoring and Compliance regarding
the status of the Kinawataka
wetland, the department head,
Arnold Ayazika Waiswa,
refused to say anything. Such
behaviour is common among
civil servants who have something to hide.
Others like Paul Mafabi,
the director of Environmental Affairs in the Ministry of
Water and Environment are
more aware of the need to be
accountable to the public and
offer explanation. In this case,

the KCCA Spokesperson, said
surveillance of all wetlands in
the city is still a big challenge
for the team because it has to
rely onNEMA and the public to
report encroachers.
In a foreword to the “Uganda
Water and Environment Sector Performance Report 2012,
the Minister of Water, Prof.
Ephraim Kamuntu, also said
the demarcation and gazetting
of wetlands is urgently needed
to block such encroachments.
A study done in 2005 by
Prof. Kansiime found that by
2002 Kampala’s wetland coverage stood at 33 sq km (16.5%
of Kampala’s land area) from
the original 41 sq km (19.7%)
of the 1950s reflecting the area
that has been encroached on
by industries, homes, and agriculture.
Nationwide, by 1964,

Kinawataka residents draw water from the Kinawataka stream for domestic use.  INDEPENDENT/JIMMY SIYA
facilitates industrial and investment development and environmental conservation.
NEMA officials sometimes
accuse KCCA officials of
endorsing construction plans in
wetlands. Meanwhile KCCA,
which has a full-fledged wetland protection division, has
itself leased out a number of
plots designated as wetlands
including; Wandegeya Children’s Park, Kyambogo Wetland (now a Used-Car Dealership Depot], Centenary Park,
Bwaise, Luziira, Kinawataka,
Bugolobi, Garden City, and
Shoprite/Game Shopping
Mall Lugogo. Prof. Kansiime
says some developers treat an
investment license from UIA to
be a final approval and permission to proceed with their project. They neglect the NEMA
requirement for carrying out an

Mafabi said, he is not aware of
any approval for the development of Kinawataka wetland.
“If any approval was done,
then it was done without our
consent,” Mafabi told The Independent in a telephone interview on Jan.16.
He said any approval
regarding the gazetting of any
wetland for development is
supposed to be done in consultation with the ministry’s Wetlands Department.
Okurut also appears not to
have liaised with KCCA officials when his NEMA approved
the Kinawataka encroachment.
On Jan.16, KCCA law
enforcement officers swung
into action in the mid-morning
and attempted to stop the
encroachment. They arrested
some porters.
After the swoop, Peter Kauju,

Uganda’s wetland coverage
was about 32,000 sq km (13%
of Uganda’s land area) but this
quickly reduced to about 30,000
sq km by 1999. The onslaught
on wetlands worsened six years
later when the loss was as big as
12%. At the moment Uganda’s
wetland coverage is about 11%
or 26,308 sq km.
Okurut, who believes in
development going hand in
hand with conservation, says
the government should revisit
policies on investment and
industrialisation to favour
“green development”. This
approach is more holistic as
it considers the community’s
developmental and environmental needs. However, should
we destroy what we have
because the current policy has

March 21 - 27, 2014