From Thuggery to Cleaning the Streets: The Story of a Ghetto Youth

Kalanda was raised by a single mother after losing his father during infancy. He says that his mother worked small jobs selling food items in the market and vending on the streets to fend for her family but couldn't raise much.

Audio 5

Ibrahim Kalanda, 30, has lived on the streets of Kampala for more than 15 years engaging in criminal activities like stealing and conning unsuspecting members of the public. Born in Makerere in Kawempe Division, Kalanda targeted people on different streets in the Central Business District to steal their valuables like phones, bags, jewellery and laptops among others.

With his colleagues, they also stole from vehicles left in parking lots without anyone keeping a close watch. Kalanda was raised by a single mother after losing his father during infancy. He says that his mother worked small jobs selling food items in the market and vending on the streets to fend for her family but couldn't raise much.

Kalanda recalls that sometimes they couldn't afford a meal a day and had to sleep on empty stomachs. According to Kalanda, the poor conditions pushed him into the streets to seek livelihood.  In Kawempe and Central Divisions, he got into the company of criminals whom he worked with them since his early teen days.

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Kalanda, a senior four drop-out has also been abusing drugs just like many of his colleagues born and raised in slums. He says the difficulties they go through in the slums prompt them to resort to drug and alcohol abuse hoping that they could forget their problems.

He, however, says that unfortunately when they get high on drugs, they soon become hungry and do all they can to get money for survival. Unemployed and without any alternative source of income, Kalanda says stealing seems to be the only option for survival.

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Kalanda says that his actions on the streets are regrettable and has now opted out for a better life. The father of two is one of the more than 500 members of the 7 Hills Team, a group of youths formerly involved in criminal activities in different divisions of Kampala.

The group started three months ago is involved in sweeping the streets and desilting drainage channels as a way of keeping them busy and demonstrate to the authorities that they can transform and get involved in productive ventures. Kalanda hopes that working with 7 Hills will help him get total transformation into a decent and productive man.

He is optimistic that if 7 Hills is integrated into government, its members shall have a source of income from, which they shall sustain themselves and their families.

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7 Hills was started by heads of criminal gangs also known as commanders in Kampala. Faruk Bulime, one of the commanders, says that the objective of the group is to organise youths from the slums involved in criminal activities such that they refocus their energy into productive activity.

Bulime, who was a thug himself, says that the high unemployment rates force youths into theft and drug abuse. He says many have not acquired education or have dropped out because their parents couldn't afford to keep them in school.

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Bulime says they chose to sweep roads and desilt drainage channels so as to make a difference in their communities. Usually, there is flooding in different parts of Kampala with water entering people's houses and claiming some lives.

According to Bulime, the 7 Hills Team has been working for close to three months sweeping streets and desilting channels. Bulime says currently KCCA gives them some protective gear like gumboots, gloves, spaded and hoes among others.  

He wants KCCA to incorporate the group as part of their casual Workers.  He says youths in slums are hardworking and capable of delivering on the job but only need guidance. Bulime wants jobs like desilting drainage channels and cleaning the city to be ring-fenced for youths in slums.

So far, he says they have at least 100 members in each of the five-division of Kampala who have been working voluntarily and are willing to continue working.

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Eng. Brian Baagala, the manager in charge of drainage at KCCA, says the Authority is working with the team to ensure that they are remunerated. He says the plan is to employ them as casual workers of KCCA such that they can earn a living from their sweat.

KCCA manager of Sanitation Jude Byansi says the authority already has a shortage of casual workers and could hence use the youths if a budget is availed.