Alex Ndibwami from Uganda Martyrs University write on the recent African Union of Architects Congress in Kampala, Uganda, and its relevance to the work and goals of SAMSET.
Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the African Union of Architects Congress in Kampala. This was the first time Uganda was hosting the event whose theme was Our Architect, Our Communities, Our Heritage.
While there were a number of presentations and discussions, I will focus on three of particular interest specifically because they are at the heart of the issues SAMSET has set out to deal with.
Ms Jennifer Musisi, the Executive Director of Kampala Capital City Authority, delivered a keynote presentation on urbanisation in general and what direction is being taken to improve the conditions in her city; while Mr Medie Muhammad Lutwama, Executive Director, ACTogether Uganda, presented the approach to their work in informal settlements, challenging the built environment professional rethink their attitude towards urbanisation and the challenges it comes with; and from a gripping and inspiring philosophical point of view Ms Lillian Namuganyi of Makerere University, College of Engineering Design, Art and Technology discussed socio-spatial landscapes in a historical and ideological sense, and what form it could take to renew a contextually rich socio-cultural dynamic in a contemporary sense. Ms Lillian Namuganyi is also a practising architect and a researcher. What these three presentations had in common was that they are concerned about the future of the city dweller.
What I will dwell on though are the subtle hints for a collaboration that these three players in the built environment are signalling. While Ms Jennifer Musisi may have concluded inviting professionals to get on board and Mr Medie Muhammad Lutwama reechoed the need for professionals to be less elitist, Ms Lillian Namuganyi simply set the arena for a renewed attitude toward the socio-spatial landscape.
But what does it all mean in practical terms? We all know that governments focus on infrastructure the best way it fits their political agenda while Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) actually tend to be more hands-on attempting to solve the real problems at the grassroots, yet unless efforts are combined any discourse will remain academic and the existence of the built environment professional float for elitist.
Is there room for a real collaboration that deals with the issues collectively and could deliver lasting solutions? Who is well placed to lead this and sustain the momentum – a city manager, an NGO activist, an academic/researcher or a built environment professional? It is difficult to tell in a society where accountability born of collective effort is not part of the work ethic.
Might Ms Lillian Namuganyi suggest a starting point for us in her assertion that “Whether operating within or at its margins, the re-working of the strategic city is a logic and order of fragments, scraps that are pieced together moment by moment. It is a city of micro-logics of the people’s social and especially economic survival – many small thoughts and actions of many people, woven into the detailed space of the city, unpredictable, never static, ever mutating.” So I dare ask again without deliberate collaboration that acknowledges the complexity of the city and the contribution from different players is the plan of action simply talk of it? Or is there potential for real change – a chain reaction of possibilities borne of new partnerships that combine astute managerial skills, compassionate activists, avant-garde professionals and more outgoing academics.
The SAMSET project is an action oriented research project setting out to close the capacity gap at municipality level while in a participatory manner developing strategies that will support energy transitions. Indeed, capacity and engagement are a precursor to action, but without the acknowledgement of and investment in structures that promote inter disciplinary work ethos, is it sustainable?