The fact finding mission of the bus park toilet, GDPU’s project from the last two years, has now been ongoing for over two weeks, including several visits to the toilet with GDPU staff and contractor. Through discussions with the contractor and the vendor for the project, it was found that the major problem with the toilet is the water connection. Since there have been difficulties connecting the facilities to a water source, the vendor has been resorting to pouring large jugs of water into the top cistern. As a result, the cistern subsequently collapsed from the weight, either from the water itself, or the jugs being leaned against it in during the pouring.
At this point the contractor had three suggestions for repairing the facility. The first option was tapping the main line underground. The second option would be if we could tap a line from another water tank nearby. The last and most costly would be installing a water tank directly next to the accessible toilet. With these options presented, Coordinator Ojok Simon, the contractor, and I sat down to make a strategic plan for discussions with local government. We made a plan to first discuss the technical aspects of the water connection with the District Engineer first then move to the division office where we would discuss the upkeep, as the division is responsible for hiring the vendor who is responsible for the cleaning.
The meeting with the District Engineer went fairly smoothly. He reassured us that the process for securing water to the toilet was fairly simple. Although, unfortunately, the engineer did tell us that, most likely the GDPU would need to provide a new tank next to the accessible toilet as the tank in place for the other toilets is much too small. He then told us he wouldn’t hesitate to grant permission for us to install the new tank if we went to the division and had all the formal arrangements sorted.
Following our meeting with the District Engineer, we quickly left for the division office. After we entered the office of the official, Simon introduced us and our objectives for the meeting. Things quickly escalated when the official told Simon that whoever was in charge of the project previously, whether that was Handicap International or GDPU, did not come and see him before the project had begun. He then blamed the drainage problems of the entire bus park on the accessible toilet.
The official then addressed me for the first time in the meeting by saying the drainage issue must be fixed and “the cost may be high.” In that moment I knew he saw me as the dollar sign in the room. As the meeting settled down we came to an agreement to work together and that this was the new starting point, the division will now recognize this structure. He urged GDPU to write a formal letter to the division and we will continue from there.
I left the meeting in a slight daze, it certainly wasn’t the casual dialogue meeting I was expecting. As I walked out I whispered “we’re in it now” to the student intern who had joined us. Within this project we had started our descent into the foggy realm of Ugandan politics. In our sit down after the meeting Ojok Patrick, the head Coordinator rebuffed the claims that one toilet could possibly cause drainage problems in an entire area. The problem, he countered, was in the vendors who the district hires in clearing away the sand and debris to allow the water to pass freely.
I don’t know exactly what happened two years ago in the conception of the project, but it makes it clear the need for a memorandum of understanding before any project is to begin. Sustainability is necessary in any project, which means creating formal understandings with the local government before any project begins. Sustainability also means maneuvering when necessary and finding compromises. Politics is a game in itself with a steep learning curve, a game that is not limited to Uganda but also in America. I can’t even pretend to know my way around Ugandan politics, but I’m sure with the GDPU I will begin to learn. As a small organization championing rights for persons with disabilities, they have surely navigated through Ugandan politics many times.
Posted By Kathryn Dutile (Uganda)
Posted Jul 7th, 2014