On a busy Tuesday morning, a sweaty woman prepares breakfast besides two drainage channels where used condoms float on filthy water. The stench is unbearable and swarms of flies hover over mounds of drying faeces.
A group of men are playing cards about two metres away, each fighting off the smoke from pieces of marijuana stuck between their lips, their eyes devilishly red.
Young girls wearing micro-mini skirts are sitted cross-legged on small stools outside a brothel, where men buy sex for as low as sh1,000 per minute. Welcome to Ki-Mombasa where filth, unemployment, prostitution, drug abuse and theft are the order of the day.
Located about four miles north of Kampala on Bombo Road in Bwaise, Ki-Mombasa derives its name from Mombasa, Kenya’s coastal city. The current slum was a wetland until the late 1950s when people started settling there. In early 1960s, however, the place attracted two sex workers, Kasifa and Nakawunde, who often travelled to Mombasa for commercial sex before returning “with lots of money”.
With the “wealth” from prostitution, the duo managed to construct several mud-and-wattle houses and became celebrities across Bwaise. Hence the name Ki-Mombasa.
However, unlike Mombasa, which is a centre of tourism, Ki-Mombasa is not the kind of place you would like to visit. Occupied by a mix of Rwandese, Kenyans, Lugbara, Banyankore, Baganda and Congolese, Ki-Mombasa covers about eight acres with a 4,000 population, according to the LCI chairman, Noordin Ssentamu. Many women say they are attracted to the slum because of its easy access to the city, while men cited cheap alcohol and sex workers.
Save for metal fabrication and a few retail shops, prostitution and bars are the leading sources of income in Ki-Mombasa. Older women babysit sex workers’ children to earn a living.
Dilapidated mud-and-wattle houses are what dominate Ki-Mombasa. For most houses, the roofs have caved in and the walls are crumbling, yet rent is not that cheap! Finding latrines is a nightmare.
“We pay sh90,000 rent monthly. But the house is leaking and the latrine has been full for almost a decade,” narrates Jane Namuddu, a bar owner.
“Whenever we complain, the landlady simply says whoever cannot afford a bucket (to defecate in) is free to look for housing elsewhere!” The other curse plaguing residents is the lack of garbage collection services.
“Kampala Capital City Authority has not contracted any company to collect garbage from our area in the last seven years. People throw garbage wherever they find. It is contaminating water here,” said Ssentamu.
“I try to mobilise residents to clean the drainage channels, but it’s hard. When we contacted our local leaders in Kawempe, they sent us to Jennifer Musisi (the KCCA director), whom they said had centralized public service delivery in the city,” he added.
The only two operational public latrines were built in 2007 by charity organisations, AMREF and Water Aid UK. Residents have to part with sh200 to use them, somewhat a high fee compared to their incomes. There are hardly a dozen private latrines for the 4,000 people.
According to Namuddu, at least 70% of the latrines were filled between five to 10 years ago. Congestion has made it difficult to construct new latrines. A wetland, the area floods whenever it rains and latrines overflow, flooding into houses. No wonder all beds in Ki-Mombasa are placed on raised brick platforms.
Amina Namakula, 49, says whenever it floods, parents hire kanyamas (muscular men) to carry children to hilly places that are considered safe.
In Ki-Mombasa, one can easily spend weeks without bathing due to the absence of bathrooms. Many use verandas at night or find dark corners.
“The women suffer the most. When we get out to bathe, over a dozen naughty children gather around to watch us. Drug addicts also enjoy looking at women who are bathing. If you don’t bathe fast they can even rape you,” says Namakula. The problem is worsened by insufficient clean water.
Ki-Mombasa has only one public tap where residents are charged sh100 for a 20-litre, three times more expensive than it costs in planned Kampala settlements like Kololo. Private vendors charge exorbitantly, between sh200 and sh400 per 20 litres.
The high prices have forced the majority of residents to fetch water from Namakula, a well in a neighbouring zone. Sadly, it is one of the protected spring wells that are contaminated with faecal matter, according to the 2010 sector review report by the Ministry of Water and Environment.
Despite its filth, Ki-Mombasa has remained a top destination for men seeking the services of sex workers. Hundreds frequent the slum daily to buy cheap sex workers.
According to Namuddu, over 500 sex workers, some as young as 15 years, operate in Ki-Mombasa. On a tour of the area at about 8:00pm, we counted several houses, which double as homes, bars and lodges.
At night, the women lay their children under beds as they conduct their business. The tiny rooms in the brothels have several beds, meaning that at least four couples share one room. Yet Agnes, a 17-year-old sex worker, says on a busy night, one bed can accommodate two couples.
“We have no problem with two couples sharing a bed; neither do our clients complain!” said Agnes, who revealed that she can have sex with over 10 men in a night.
“Sex is like food; it is sweet whichever way you eat it!” she added. It was her husband’s death that compelled Agnes to engage in prostitution.
“I have to take care of two children and pay rent of sh40,000,” she said. Consequently, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are on the increase in the area. A nurse at Kawempe Health Centre IV, a few metres from Ki-Mombasa, revealed that they receive over 1,000 patients with STDs every month.
In November alone, the centre received 1,600 patients, 54% of whom were women. HIV/AIDS and gonorrhoea topped the list of STDs in the area.
Prostitution has also birthed a new style of theft in Ki-Mombasa called Akabagiya. Preplanned by sex workers, Akabagiya is where goons strangle a person from behind, forcing him to let go of his money, phones and other belongings.
One of the victims, Kazungu, says this type of theft occurs as early as 7:00pm and “no one can rescue you when you make an alarm” .
He says unless you are armed and walking in a group, you cannot dare move in Ki-Mombasa at night! “Akabagiya can kill you instantly if you try to resist,” he said.
Ki-Mombasa, ‘capital city’ which residents nicknamed ‘Kenya’, is the epicentre of this practice, filth, theft and prostitution. Within “Kenya” is another centre called “Temple”. Temple may suggest holiness, but not in Ki-Mombasa!
“Temple is where thieves and sex workers smoke marijuana and plan their daily attacks,” reveals Mama Winnie, a 57-year-old widow.
Seated in her small bar, Mama Winnie is still nursing wounds she sustained in early December when goons invaded her place and took off with her television set and utensils at 8:00pm. Small business operators say widespread theft in Ki-Mombasa has robbed them of customers.
“I used to earn over sh30,000 profit daily from selling waragi. But nowadays I get less than sh10,000 because thieves have chased away clients. I can hardly raise school fees (sh70,000 per term) for my son who is in Senior Four and pay rent of sh20,000 a month,” she lamented.
Ironically, Ki-Mombasa’s location, just a stone’s throw from Kawempe Police Station, has not helped to reduce crime in the area.
“We normally call upon the Police to arrest the thieves, but they are only detained for one night before coming back to terrorise the community,” said Ssemakula.