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Friendship, Bricks, and Urban-Rural Transitions

September 24, 2017


Willy Ssali, Sam Ddamba and Phillip Kayongo met each other in Bwebajja village, 11km south of Uganda’s capital city the early 1990s. Ssali was born and grew up on Bwebajja village and Ddamba and Kayongo had just arrived from villages in Masaka-Buddu 120 kms west of Kampala city in search of work.

Brick laying was their primary employment, but since Bwebajja is near the shores of Lake Victoria, they also learned to fish. It was in fishing where they made the money that allowed Ddamba and Kayongo to buy their plot of land. Ssali did not need to buy land because his family already owned a big kibanja (plot of land) on which they have a family graveyard. Ssali was allocated a part of the kibanja for his himself and his growing family.


Ssali, the most talkative of the trio, says that by the time his friends came to stay, the area was a typical village; with thick forests and swamps. They fetched water from wells.  There were wild animals that destroyed their food in gardens.  The population of the area was low and each family knew each other, relating well together in times of both sorrow and happiness. Many families had graveyards around the village because they had long held large plots land. Ssali recalls being frightened by the darkness when his grandfather sent him at night to get something. He passed through forests and plantations.


Now, twenty years later, the area had drastically changed.


The road that passes Bwebajja is the Entebbe highway that goes from Kampala to the only airport in Uganda. It is considered as an area of prime land and many people have come to settle in this place that was once village. When they settle, they buy their land they buy either the whole or a part of the plots for the original residents. Ssali says that a day cannot pass without land being bought in the area. Those who buy are mainly government or NGO workers who are willing to pay as much as they are asked to. “They never bargain because they have the money to spend,” says Ssali.


In the past, this land was mostly used for subsistence and commercial farming but now is mostly residential. There are huge bungalows along the road amaze me. Some are storied, with “nine-nine” fences, expensive fences built with 9 inch by 9 inch  concrete bricks. Some are not fenced but big and painted beautifully.  Yet, there are still those that are old, built in the styles of the early 1900s. These have remained inhabited by their original owners, even as those owners have sold parts of their plots to the new people in the area. The dirt roads are rutted from the posh cars moving to and from the main road. There are also those land owners who refuse to sell to the interested buyers mainly because they do not want to part away with their old attachments. Because of this, it is not uncommon to find a garden of beans neighboring a three storied house.




This new trend of development has created jobs for builders and providers of local building materials, including Ddamba, Ssali and Kayongo. Bricks are much demanded in the area and, Ssali says that from morning site owners or their brokers look for ready bricks to buy. These three friends now make bricks to sell to the new land owners to earn a living. Each of them can make bricks individually, but most times they are hired as a group to make them at the site. They dig and pile the earth, then mix it with water and soften it using their feet. Then they heap the soil into a mound and leave it for a week or two to grow. Then they mix it again with water and put the wet soil in wooden molds of their desired size. They all say that they most hard part is the burning of the bricks in a furnace, locally known as ttanulu. The bricks are burned with firewood, which, due increasing population pressure and the production of bricks like these, is becoming less available. Ssali says that a log of wood costs 3500 Uganda Shillings [equivalent to one US dollar] And they need many of these to realize well-cooked brick-red brick.




Like many others in Bwebajja, they have now not only sold bricks, but have also sold their land. Both Ddamba and Kayongo have now bought land in Bulemeezi, a more rural area about 40 km north of Kampala city. They sold pieces from their land in Bwebajja to do this. Ssali also sold, but bought in a rush in a village near Kakiri, 20 km north west of Kampala city, far from his friends.   The man who bought his land in Bwebajja has temporarily allowed him to stay, just until his daughter sits her primary leaving exam at the end of the year.  At the end of this year, he will leave to go to his new home, with his family.  The dead of his family will also be leaving.  Someday soon the male nephews of those currently buried in their kibanja will exhume the bodies after dark and transfer them to be reburied in a different family burial ground.


After that, Ssali will only be coming here as a visitor, or if he gets a work contract. He worries about finding new friends in Kakiri.


Modernization is sometimes thought about as a process of urbanization.  Meanwhile, the Ugandan government and many Ugandan economists have encouraged people to move to villages, to increase agricultural production to feed the increasing population. Here in Bwebajja, a village that has now become part of the ever-sprawling Kampala suburbs, urbanization has created new demand for these lands and has pushed friends like Ssali, Ddamba, and Kayongo to make new lives further away from the booming life of the capital. 


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