How do you go about mapping the waste of an entire country, where formal waste management only exists on a small scale? WasteAid spoke with Taremwa Sam, who is leading the programme to map Uganda’s waste management service delivery.

After completing his degree in Business Administration (Majoring in Accounting), Taremwa Sam was expecting a future working in city investments. Then one day in 2009, something happened that would change Taremwa’s entire life direction.

Walking along a familiar street, the filth became a distraction.

Taremwa’s description is vivid: “Every kind of waste was littering the pavement, from food packaging to broken electrical goods and even flying toilets [human excrement in plastic bags].”

With no money and no firm job prospect on the horizon, Taremwa decided he could do worse than follow his passion for a cleaner country. He wondered why there was such little formal activity in waste management in Uganda, and wanted to bring together the right people to get answers.

The birth of a waste management plan

After some years of effort, while working in Kampala and auditing for PKF in Kigali (Rwanda), Taremwa was eventually invited to present his concept to the then Minister of Water and Environment in Kampala. Thankfully the Minister understood the vision, and accepted Taremwa’s proposal to form the not-for-profit Uganda Waste Management and Administration Confederation (UWMAC).

Taremwa set to work immediately and built up his knowledge through both national and international organisations like WasteAid, ISWA and SWANA, becoming resolute that sustainable waste management depends upon collaboration and inclusivity. 

The model he has developed for UWMAC embraces every person and approach to waste management, from the desperate mother picking recyclable materials from the street, through to the national government, international donors, and the private sector.

In 2016, UWMAC activities were officially launched with support by Kampala Capital City Authority, with the primary objectives of capacity building, training, networking, knowledge sharing and advocacy. The overall aim of these activities was to create an enabling environment for investment in waste management programmes.

I asked Taremwa if he was doing this full-time. His response shows true dedication: “I am a full-time volunteer and the founder of UWMAC. I carry the bigger vision and cannot combine this with any other work… I am 24/7.”

A hundred ways to manage waste

Taremwa took the time to describe the current waste management situation in Uganda to me. “When you come to Uganda and talk about waste management, everyone is talking about a different version. There are a hundred ways!

“The industry is dominated by the informal sector, who undertake maybe 95 per cent of the activities. The formal sector is overpowered by the informal sector, so that even if a good system comes about, the informal sector fights back.”

This is not unusual in a place with severe poverty, where large numbers of people rely on the value of recyclable materials for their livelihood.

Taremwa continued to describe the challenges: “Say for example Kampala Capital City Authority comes up with a plan to improve waste management. They start many initiatives – but what is the role of the Authority? Is it implementer? Enforcer? With such little clarity of roles and lack of ownership within the industry, initiatives die along the way.”

We discuss the WasteAid-favoured approach of community-led waste management. “Community waste management has its merits,” says Taremwa, “but you still need some form of institutional leadership.

“With such a large informal industry across Uganda, the challenge is that different players all pull in different directions.”

Building a waste management roadmap

Taremwa’s aim for UWMAC then, is to carry out one nationwide activity. He is aiming to identify the key stakeholders in waste management, and establish what is currently happening to the waste. “Once we know where we are, we can determine where we want to go – and importantly – how we are going to get there.”

His plan is to deliver one comprehensive report that includes all waste (even the problematic waste streams that are often ignored) and to ensure the process is inclusive, with participation from the donor world, national government, municipal authorities, academia, civil society, religious organisations and independent waste pickers.

UNEP has recently published a report on waste in Africa. “While the African Waste Outlook is a good start,” says Taremwa, “the waste data available for African countries is very patchy indeed, and is in many cases drastically out of date.”

Taremwa’s plan for UWMAC is to develop a roadmap, without leaving anyone behind.

There are five regions in Uganda and Taremwa has already been working with stakeholders in each area. He is planning to run 23 workshops with representative groups, to collect valuable information about the current state of play across the country.

During the process, Taremwa is also aiming to make a documentary about the waste situation in Uganda, to help motivate and encourage appropriate investment.

A clear vision of a cleaner country

With a gargantuan task ahead of him, Taremwa is impressively upbeat. “I have a clear vision, and by working with partners like WasteAid, ISWA and SWANA and the people of Uganda, I am confident that we will get there.

“Waste is a good resource but we have to manage it properly to stop it causing pollution. This is my goal and I gladly welcome all support to help achieve a better Uganda, and eventually, a cleaner Africa.”

If you work in waste management in Uganda, would like to be involved in developing the roadmap, or can offer financial support to help achieve the vision of a cleaner, healthier Uganda, please contact Taremwa via the WasteAid address

Note: an earlier version of this article contained a photograph by Timothy Bouldry showing Taremwa Sam at a dumpsite. He was visiting the dumpsite to do a survey, and the local military men were very suspicious. However when Taremwa explained his work with waste, they became very interested and consequently wanted to be in the group photograph. To Taremwa this demonstrated the power of waste and the environment to bring people together, but regrettably we didn’t make that clear in the story. We recognise that the firearms on display do not meet with our community standards and so have removed the photograph from this page.

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