Nakivale Settlement Profile - Isingiro District, Uganda (July 2020)



Nakivale, Uganda is the oldest refugee settlement in Africa, and benefits from what is often lauded as the most progressive refugee policies in the world. Termed in a BBC media report in 2016 as “The best place to be a refugee”, this spatial profile provides a holistic analysis of the current situation of Nakivale and the surrounding Isingiro district.
The profile’s analysis outlines the key trends, challenges and opportunities that frame the areas development potential through a spatial planning lens in order to understand what future interventions may be possible to ensure a sustainable future for the local communities.

This summary highlights the emerging issues from the analysis and provides an perspective on the potential way forward.


In Uganda, and particularly Nakivale, the concept of refugee self reliance is predicated on subsistence agriculture. The first and foremost challenge facing such a concept however is that large tracts of arable land are required to support this, and are rapidly becoming a scarce resource. To illustrate: In order to provide Nakivale’s 122,000 refugees and 35,000 (approx) host community (2019 figures) who live within the areas 185km2 with the estimated 2 acres of land per household required for self sufficiency, there would be a need for another 50km2 of land. This does not take into account the region’s high population growth rate. The current policy to allocate plots of just 30x30m is tangible evidence of this growing realisation. There is a need for greater recognition that this self-reliance policy may not necessarily culminate in self-reliance outcomes. For Nakivale, an alternative model for land usage and livelihood generation and the usage of land is necessary.


It is important to note that there is however some land available. The current methods of agriculture are characterised by low production, poor productivity and limited access to wider value chains. This is exacerbated by poor infrastructure which limits wider access to markets, energy for value-added processing, or connectivity to allow for new techniques to be learnt. Investing in infrastructure is therefore critical (together with “software programming i.e. education etc) to set the groundwork in place to allow for improved livelihoods and pathways to self reliance. If this infrastructure is to be developed, it needs to be done cost and natural resource effectively and the proven manner in which to do this sustainably is through models that rely on compact development principles.


The political enabling environment, particularly at the local level needs to be capitalised upon. The local government and in general the host community see that the presence of refugees can act as lever for development and do benefit from improved access to services, infrastructure and economic opportunities. However, despite investments in host areas and the inclusion of host communities in refugee assistance the reality often falls short of their expectations. It is clear that more action, and interventions such as increased investment in tangible infrastructure to provide the foundations of economic development is critical.

Ongoing programmes are already starting to take this trajectory. The World Bank funded USMID Programme (in addition to the ongoing DRDIP) are in the process of developing a physical plan for Isingiro District. At this point however, drafts show little incorporation of Nakivale settlement. It is critical to take this opportunity to develop a participatory spatial plan for the settlement, linked to the ongoing USMID programme and to allow for the “whole of government approach” to be put into action. Programmes such as USMID and DRDIP can be leveraged as demonstrations, but need to consider the camps infrastructure and economy through the lens of participation within the district’s system. The concept of leveraging the benefits of hosting refugees is understood, a strategy to do so, that begins by incorporating the missing piece of the puzzle is the starting point.


These initiatives can be bolstered by existing national level commitments such as to consider refugee populations in the development of Uganda’s new National Development Plan 2020–2030. Together with funding such as the World Bank’s Support to Municipal Infrastructure Development Project under IDA18, and the fact that Uganda is a pilot ‘nexus’ country for the EU, it is clear that the ground is primed for substantive discussions on how longer-term approaches can