Home Institution

Mount Holyoke College

Publication Date

Spring 2018

Program Name

Uganda: Development Studies


Between 1970 and 2010, 40 percent of the world’s coastal and inland wetlands disappeared (Ramsar Convention, 2014). 13 percent of Uganda’s land area is wetland (Elroy, Muhweezi, and West, 2005). A 2015 World Bank Study found that 40 percent of Kampala population lives in informal settlements in or or around wetland, and 50 percent of Kampala’s wetland cover has disappeared in the past 20 years (World Bank, 2015). Kampala’s Lubigi Wetland, the city’s largest, serves as a critical water catchment area for the entirety of Uganda’s Central Cattle Corridor. Alongside this, it provides vital social, environmental and economic functions and has become a popular site for informal human settlement that is threatening to destroy what is left of Lubigi.

This study will analyze the roles history, culture, government action, and vulnerability play in settlement in Lubigi. The goal of this study was to use personal historical ethnographies to understand why people are driven to live in Lubigi. Lubigi is publicly held, protected land, so settlement there is illegal. The population of the Lubigi settlement has exploded in the past 15 years, and government evictions occur frequently. Despite forced evictions, residence continue to return. In person interviews were employed as a way to understand the micro-level historical drivers of settlement on this land. The study aimed to identify a solution that would both protect Lubigi from further degradation, while also protecting the rights of vulnerable populations.

Guided interviews with community members in Lubigi and Kalerwe provided the bulk of the information for the study. Additional interviews with experts on wetland management and history created a larger picture of what settlement history has looked like in Lubigi. The goal of both types of interviews was an identification of driving forces that have lead residence to wetland settlement, and why residence continue to stay in wetland settlements.

The study found that the historical drivers of wetland settlement represent a small subset of larger challenges facing Uganda today. Overlapping land tenure law in Lubigi complicates where residence see legitimate authority. Because Lubigi is both publicly held land and traditionally held mailo land, residents feel they have the right to live there granted to them by the Kabaka of Buganda. Poverty, landlessness, and community fragmentation appeared to be factors that drove all participants to live in their wetland communities. Additionally, forced evictions and the construction of the Northern Bypass in 2009 appeared to severely diminish the role that Buganda spirituality played in protecting Lubigi. The study concluded that a bottom-up conservation approach, that values and respects people and their land, is the only way to preserve Lubigi in the current day.


African Studies | Community-Based Research | Family, Life Course, and Society | Place and Environment | Politics and Social Change


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