26 November 2012

Uganda: Polota - The Ugly Side of Kakira Town

When one talks of Kakira in Jinja district, most people think of tarmacked roads and well-manicured hedges. Watuwa Timbiti writes about Polota the other side of Kakira town you did not know.

Old, but architecturally palatable houses brightened up by lush, artistically landscaped compounds and the seemingly boundless sugarcane greenery are scattered around the town council.

From the Jinja-Iganga highway, a dual carriage way leads you into this magnificent hamlet owned by the Madhvani family and home to some of their skilled labour force.

One gets the feeling that this is a withdrawn community where no one seems to care. The garbage collection points are filled one onto another to the delight of cows that keep running their muzzles through in search of food.

With the exception of the hardware and Tata spare parts shops, which serve the old and noisy Tata lorries that ferry sugarcane from the fields, Polota is characterised by petty businesses. These include sale of charcoal and of banned tiny fish.

There are also rickety roadside grocery stalls, mostly handled by women. On Sundays, traders from the nearby centres and towns head to Polota for the market day characterised by buying and drinking.

The Kakira wall:

A stony-murrum road and a high-raised wall, buttressed by an imposing sugarcane plantation separates the Madhvani estate from Polota

Two worlds distinguished by undeniable material differences - one soaked in opulence and dripping with plenty, while the other is largely clogged with squalor and scarcity, except for the sugarcane out growers.

The wall, which is a distinctive feature between the two worlds in Kakira, the haves and have-nots, is a rude semblance of the demarcations and barricades that marooned natives into homelands or Bantustans, away from whiteoccupied territory in apartheid South Africa.

That wall, says one of the residents on condition of anonymity, radiates isolation and is a clear demarcation of the man's empire.

"No wonder so many people from Polota have been victimized and charged with trespass over the estate, resulting in conviction. The poor cannot get justice," he says, adding that most of the convicted people are merely wandering job seekers.

However, town council chairman John Kamau says the wall, despite the resentment of the local people, was built in good spirit and with valid reasons.

"Wrongdoers were crossing from Polota into the estate through the plantations, stealing and vandalising property. So, the wall is a security measure with specific entry points," he says.

"Animals used to loiter from Polota into the estate, causing disorder and destroying sugarcane plants. So it is understandable that they built that wall."

Sugarcane outgrowers own some of the ordinary ironroofed and tiled houses in the area. Mzee Gervase Oskol, who has lived in Polota since the 1950s, says only three houses existed in the area at that time and the rest was just bushland.

"Really, there was not much happening here, not even business, as it is today. The Madhvanis were still building their empire.

With time, the population here began growing, resulting in land segmentation into small plots, hence the name 'Polota'," Oskol says.

Herbert Masete, a teacher and retail shop owner in Polota, says Rwandans and Burundian sugarcane shamba boys initially occupied Polota, which was then known as Mawoito.

It was then free land. At that time, Masete says, the Madhvani housing quarters were strictly for Asians and a few highly-skilled Africans.

Over time, the Burundian and Rwandan shamba boys came to be outnumbered by Lugbaras coming from West Nile and north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to do sugarcane cutting.

Currently, Lugbaras have the highest number of occupants of the area, followed by other ethnicities such as Bagisu and Basoga.

challenges in Polota:

Access to clean water, according to local residents, is one of the biggest problems ailing Polota. There is only one water source serving over 6,000 people.

"Sometimes when that source stops flowing, a jerry can of water can be sold for as much as sh1,000," says Masete.

Another issue affecting Polota residents is insecurity. "This is due to unemployment, which is made worse by the influx of people who come thinking they would find white collar jobs in the Madhvani estate," explains Masete, adding that the population explosion has resulted in land scarcity that is so great to the extent that there is often no land to put up pit latrines.

Additionally, he observes that the unemployment could be lubricating the crime rate in Polota, with theft, rape and defilement as some of the commonest offences.

The high rate of defilement is partly attributed to the single water source where people, including underage girls, have to queue up till as late as midnight, waiting to draw water.

In such circumstances, many girls fall victim to defilement and rape. Poverty could be the other cause, as some parents prefer to get paid by the defiler in an out-of-court settlements.

There is little precedent of full pursuance of justice resulting in a conviction to deter other defilers.

Prostitution is rampant in Polota. Red Corner is the place known for this, in addition to being a sanctuary for thieves and a safe haven for drug abusers who smoke opium and sniff petrol.

"Some drug abusers have been arrested, only to be released on Police bond and the cycle has gone on like that," Masete says, adding:

"There are no positive role models here - that is why there is all this moral rot. Some people perceived as well-to-do are illiterates, who, although speak some English, do not value education, so they have no authority."

Scrap metal:

One of the biggest problems Polota is undergoing is getting into the scrap metal business. Children, especially boys, have resorted to collecting scrap for sale at the expense of education.

Putting up a sign post in Polota is a risk - it cannot last even for a day before a child targets it for scrap. Kamau says child labour is equally rampant.

"Outgrowers use children as sugarcane cutters. What is disturbing is the fact that these children share the little money earned with their parents who think that what the children are doing is good," he says.

Despite sensitisation against the practice, Kamau says most parents are mentally blind - they cannot see that they are indirectly killing their children's future. He observes that child labour in plantations is not unique to Kakira, but is a regional problem - children are ferried on lorries to work in various outgrowers' plantations.

Most Polota residents feel their leaders have not helped them much. They, for example, cite power generated by Madhvani, which they say should have benefitted them directly.

Instead, the power is sold elsewhere, so when power from Umeme goes off in Polata, they are in darkness while the estate remains lit - indeed two totally opposite worlds in one location.

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