Turning Rubbish into Art

By Kandole, Reagan | New African, June 2017 | Go to article overview

Turning Rubbish into Art


Kandole, Reagan, New African


Garbage collectors are a ubiquitous presence in most African cities as they try to eke out a meagre living from recycling trash. But artist and entrepreneur Reagan Kandole is using innovation and upcycling to transform the garbage collector's lot in Kampala as pollution problems crystallize.

Faith Namagga is sifting through her morning haul. Crouched among bundles of plastic bottles, the 53-year-old single mother of seven has been walking Uganda's capital since 6am among the waste pickers searching for income on Kampala's hilly streets.

"When you cannot walk a long way, you cannot collect so much,' she says. "The money is very little; they buy one kilogram at only 300 Ugandan shillings [0.7p [pounds sterling]]. I nave children in school and we don't have the fees so we are here."

A poor, predominantly slum neighbourhood in east Kampala, Banda is home to many waste pickers and until recently, was one of its many informal dumping sites.

Situated below the food stalls, hair salons and fabric sellers of its main road, a seven-acre private field had become the local landfill site; symbolic of the city's problems in managing a burgeoning 1.5m populace, and lacking waste management policies.

The only registered landfill site in Kampala, where roughly 530 waste pickers also operate, receives 1,500 metric tonnes of waste a day and with a paucity of recycling, it is easy to see why the sprawling city, where 40% of residents live in informal settlements, is struggling to cope.

The burning of rubbish and inefficient cooking stoves remain prevalent in Uganda and across Africa, a recent OECD report suggests air pollution in the continent kills 712,000 people a year.

"We have a challenge," Josephine Kitaka, of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) public health department, says of a city expected to balloon in size over the coming decade. "The attitude of people is complacent; they don't want to learn. People do not know that burning rubbish is hazardous and dumping rubbish can block and cause flooding."

Now though, thanks to artist and activist Reagan Kandole, Banda is being transformed into its very own micro eco-community.

Through a series of environmental and profit-making initiatives, the 25-year-old is helping Namagga and the all-female waste picking workforce who occupy tin-roofed housing on the land, reclaim the space.

The need for greater income-generating activities is of particular relevance given the country's rising unemployment and often restrictive employment options for women.

In Ugandan society, traditional gender roles persist. Although 34% of the country's parliamentary seats are filled by women, they work largely in informal economies and according to Uganda's National Bureau of Statistics, almost 70% of subsistence farmers are female.

"People see garbage collectors as people who do not have value," Reagan Kandole explains. "So when I got to know them more I thought someone has to come and do something."

He first visited while studying art at nearby Kyambogo University. Eager to find cheap materials for projects, he negotiated to buy plastic, paper and scrap for his installations.

"I was so concerned why people just dump and not care about what they are doing. So the whole idea is to beautify this space, get people's attention and appreciate the collectors' work.

In 2014 artwork appeared, with a tree made from disused plastic, but it was a mural wall designed by residents and using waste materials, which really captured locals' attention.

Faith Namagga came to Kampala in 1996, escaping an abusive home environment and after losing a cleaning job at the university five years ago, she was forced to start collecting.

"I was the one who first saw Reagan here buying this material," she says. "We like the project so much because when we have any problem, we can go to Reagan and he will help. …

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