The City is our Space!

Challenges and possibilities of cities as social and democratic spaces

The LaBa! Arts Festival and KAS will host a common panel discussion on the theme “The City is our Space - Challenges and possibilities of cities as social and democratic spaces”, followed by a showing of the movie "Kapeke Town".


Even though the great majority of Ugandans today lives in rural settings, this trend is changing. Whereas in 2012 only an estimated 12 percent of the people lived in cities, judging from the current demographic trends it is projected to be 30 percent in 2030: the urban population would then exceed 20 million people. Kampala, arguably Uganda’s only city, has an estimated 2 Million inhabitants, of which roughly 60 percent live in slums. People living in slums often don’t have a steady income and are making a livelihood in the informal sector, leading to them not being able to move out of the slums. Even though the majority of people living in poverty in Uganda are in rural areas, being poor in the city has another quality, since food prices are higher and the social network which exists in the villages is not automatically in place in the city: the outcome is, among others, an alarming lack of food security in the city. Furthermore, a certain social stigmatisation of people living in slums gets along with the huge, clearly visible gap between rich and poor in the city.

Slums are not the only symptom of a poor urban planning policy and lacking transparency in city governance: Kampala is a fast growing African city that seems to have no defined urban planning concept and infrastructural system able to adapt to the city expansion. Not only is the city close to a traffic collapse, but also the city center is getting upgraded and one high-rise building after the other appears while many people are forced to move to the outskirts. There they are faced with a poor transport connection – the public transport system in Kampala as such is not worth mentioning – and sanitary conditions, because of the increasing renting costs. This further broadens the social and economic sphere that separates the richest and poorest of Kampala’s population.

Going hand in hand with this social gap is unemployment and criminality, coupled with the inability or unwillingness of city authorities to sustainably tackle the problems outlined above – even though the Ugandan government and cabinet are aware of the problems that go hand in hand with proceeding urbanization.

Against this backround KAS and the Arts festival are organising the panel discussion within the setting of the LaBa! arts festival with the motto "The City is our Space!" . The panel will discuss the challenges and potentials of Kampala and what measures are needed to improve the living standards of around 80% of its population. How can the communities get involved and how can the city authorities ameliorate the city infrastructure while at the same time respecting democracy and human rights.

In order to reduce urban poverty and inequality and to open up the city as a democratic space in which citizens have the possibility to shape their environment, but also to express themselves, their needs and interests, good city governance is crucial. Repressive policies or actions, however, have the opposite effect and sustain or reinforce the existing social and political structures within the city. UN habitat formulated four areas, in which good city governance should be active in order to improve the situation of city residents: increase transparency, promote participation, eliminate slums, and secure tenure for the urban poor.

Therefore, the objective of the panel discussion is not only to identify areas where improvement is needed, but also to come up with possible solutions how the areas named above can be worked on and therefore how city governance can be improved in a way that citizens are included and informed.

Following the panel discussion will be the showing of the movie "Kapeke Town", which deals with similar issues and was produced by a graduate of the Kampala Film School.

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Maike Messerschmidt

Maike Messerschmidt bild

Programme Officer

Maike.Messerschmidt@kas.de +256 312 262011/2