It is evening and in Masaka Town’s main business centre there is increased activity with many cars on the streets and a big number of people walking the pavements in a rush to return home.
On one of the pavements, a woman holding a bucket quickly steps out of a shop whose door is halfway closed and looks left and right at the busy street before proceeding to the edge of the pavement and emptying the contents of the bucket.
To passers-by, she gives the impression of someone who has just been doing a bit of her personal cleaning, in preparation to return back home. She then returns the empty bucket to the shop before finally locking up convinced that everybody that saw her empty the bucket believed the liquid she poured on the street was merely dirty water.
This is the new trend in Masaka Town now except that yellowish liquid is not dirty water but urine because many shopkeepers have turned buckets into urinals.
Shopkeepers keep a bucket behind the shelves in the shops, into which they urinate whenever mother nature calls. The urine is mixed with water to disguise it and then poured out on the streets just before the shops are closed every evening, something that explains the pungent smell of urine in the town.
Authorities on alert
“It is a nuisance we are out to fight,” says Joseph Kimbowa, Masaka’s outgoing town clerk. Kimbowa reveals that a few months ago, some shopping malls were closed on account of landlords failing to provide lavatory facilities yet this is a major requirement before they are authorised to rent out their business premises.
“Failure to have toilets is unhygienic and attracts diseases. Soon, our teams will be out on the streets to arrest them and we will use their buckets in the courts of law as evidence against them,” says Kimbowa.
Nalumansi, a shopkeeper, however, has an explanation for urinating in a bucket at her shop along Elgin Road. “Every visit to the toilet on this building costs Shs200.
As we sit in our shops we drink tea, juice and eat food, so we have to visit the toilet. If I have to visit the toilet four or five times in a day, that would be parting with about Shs1,000,” she laments.
She adds: “Remember I have to meet my electricity bills and rent, reserve some money for transport on a boda boda to my home in Kimaanya B which is Shs2,000 and sometimes Shs3,000 every day. It is about economising. If I can limit my visits to the toilets to only the ‘long calls’, I save about Shs1,000 or even more every day by urinating in the bucket.”
Many shopkeepers blame landlords for this state of affairs. “Only very few of the shop premises are self-contained,” says one female trader, adding, “In the majority of cases, a big block of shops have to use one or two toilet rooms.
They are often congested and not always clean. When you get there and the facility is occupied and two or three other people are still waiting outside to use it, valuable time is lost.
Urinating in the bucket becomes really tempting, besides, the landlord sometimes does not pay the water bills on time and when water supply is cut off the toilets cannot flush.”
A typical case is recently, when the taxi park was shifted to a free space in front of Laston Building along Masaka-Kampala road where there is no public toilet. “They claim the place is near to travellers who want to board taxis.
We will definitely be driving them back to the main taxi park, because they are insisting that the park where we want them to go has no functioning toilet,” Kimbowa says on the matter.
Masaka’s dilemma of inadequate public lavatories can be seen in the dilapidated structures built just before independence and in the 60s at the town’s defunct bus park, the municipal council and at Katwe roundabout.
At the two facilities attached to the municipal council, which no longer flush, a man sits at the entrance and receives Shs200 from everybody visiting the facility and apportions some toilet paper.
He then waits on every client as he is expected to pour a bucket of water in the toilet after it is used.
On days when there is no running water, he must buy water and use it sparingly to clean the facilities; such is the challenge of his job.
Theft and vandalism
Lack of discipline, is what Masaka District medical officer, Dr Stuart Musisi, believes has led to the undoing of public facilities in the town.
“There is something really wrong with our society. They steal anything and everything! If a water pipe is installed today in those toilets, it is stolen within the following few days. They also steal the doors, the water taps and anything they can lay their hands on. In some cases it is just a question of vandalism. The municipality therefore, has a problem of maintaining the toilets,” he says.
He does not blame the shop owners for charging a little fee from the tenants who use the toilets. “If a Ugandan in Masaka finds a roll of toilet paper in a public toilet, he wants to steal it. So it is necessary that someone gets an amount off it that he or she can use.”
According to Kimbowa, the district management has entered into a partnership with an NGO called Slum Dwellers Federation to rehabilitate all the toilet facilitates in the town and even construct some more.
Unfortunately pending such developments, challenges such as these as well as poor garbage and waste management, lack of well-developed structural and physical plan and low local revenue collections continue standing in the way of Masaka’s chances to become a city, a move local leaders are advocating for.