By Joel Ogwang
In the close-knit and brotherly traditional African setting, housing was always a social concern. Aside from children who, because of their vulnerability and dependency, lived in their parents’ homes, any other person had to have their own house.
As a precursor to manhood, a boy on turning 18-years had to build his own home - often a hut distant from his parents’, while a girl had to move out and stay with an aunt, who mentored her for marriage.
“There was no excuse for a man not to own a home,” says Patrick Mugumbya, 82, a retired civil servant.
“Even renting a house was unheard-of. To be a man, you had to build your own home and marry.”
However, the imperialist invasion in search of raw materials and markets for finished industrial commodities after the industrial revolution in the 1800s in the West exposed Africa as a safe haven for the imperialist foreign policies.
The Britain conquered most colonies in eastern and southern Africa, whilst France dominated western and northern Africa and Belgium central Africa.
In Uganda, British control was not asserted until 1894, when the country became a British protectorate, which was finally cemented by the 1900 Buganda agreement.
While the 1900 Buganda agreement endeared Kabaka Muteesa I to the British hearts, he lost his powers upon accepting British occupation in exchange for protection and Western civilisation.
And while the chiefs who owned guns paid gun tax, hut taxes was borne by squatters, in addition to ground rent.
Because the colonial Government did not want to look unpopular, it surrendered tax collection to the chiefs.
To evade the taxes, some Ugandans escaped into urban centres, says Dr. Christopher Twesigye, a political scientist
“The colonial police would surround tax evaders at night,” he says. “As a result, people went into hiding, while many slept in trees and others escaped to urban areas.”
Colonial housing regimes
The British went on to establish colonial housing policies, which prior to World War II, catered for white settlements and Asians, who were traders.
European dwellings were called senior quarters, Asians, junior quarters and African quarters for a select Ugandan colonial administration support workforce comprising carpenters and postal workers.
In Kampala, Kololo, Nakasero and later Muyenga were white dwellings and African quarters were in Naguru, Bukoto and Nakawa.
The attraction of well-planned and facilitated African quarters attracted rural folks to come and work in towns where social services were much better.
They started make-shift dwellings in urban centers, growing into slums. “Those who were not housed at the quarters but did manual work such as slashing and cleaning, started settlements which lacked proper planning,” says Omara Atubo, the former lands and housing minister.
Post-independence housing policy
Soon after gaining independence, houses hitherto accommodating white expatriates were taken over by senior Ugandan civil servants, while the general public was not catered for.
At independence, Uganda’s population was six million. Through the years, however, a steady growth estimated at over one million annually, increased pressure on land, forcing many to open up formerly inhabitable spaces.
In 1964, the National Housing Corporation was established to cater for low-income people by building houses for sale or rent at affordable prices.
Because of the political, social and economic instability of the 1970s, little was done to review and implement the housing policies.
It was not until 1978 when the drafting of a comprehensive National Housing Policy commenced, but due to interruptions presented by frequent change of governments, it was not completed.
Succeeding governments pursued policy interventions geared at improving access to infrastructure and services at affordable costs in the 1970s, upgrading schemes for spontaneous settlements, which resulted in the implementation of the Namuwongo Upgrading and Low-cost Housing Pilot Project (1987) and Masese Self-help Women’s Project (1989).
Following the UN general assembly resolution of 1987 on the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless, the Government commenced the development of the National Shelter Strategy that was adopted in 1992.
Uganda has been using the strategy for the last 20 years to guide the blossoming housing sector, says Agnes Kalibbala, the director of housing at the lands and housing ministry.
“The strategy is designed to put in place an environment that enables people to access housing, cheap land, housing finance and building materials,” Kalibbala said.
Informal settlements have gone on to be a big problem, not helped by overcrowding, considering that a household in Uganda on average boasts five persons.
Today, Uganda boasts of 33 million people, yet land supply is fixed. It is for this reason that settlement around wetlands, forests and mountain ranges has increased, blighted by the soaring demand for land that attracts profitable returns.
The turbulent years after independence (1971-1985) also heightened the slum problem, as most people were forced to leave the homes and stay in unplanned settlements considered secure and away from their tormentors.
With 5.8 million in urban areas and 28.3 million in rural areas, the country has an estimated 6.82 families living in 6.2 million poor housings. Of these, 84% are temporal, while 28% are made in traditional materials, according to the 2009/10 Uganda National Household Survey.
Houses constructed out of mud and poles constitute 46%, while brick houses make 51%. At 73%, earth floors are predominant, while cemented floors are 24%. Iron-sheet roofed houses comprise 63%, whilst grass thatched housing cover 35%.
This heart-wrenching statistic presents a backlog of 1.6 million housing units, comprising sub-standard and structures not intended for human habitation. This presents a housing deficit of 211,000 in urban areas and about 1.3 million in rural areas, according to the national housing indicators of 2012/2020.
Uganda has a permanent housing stock of 570,000 in urban centres and 400,000 in rural areas and an existing housing stock of over one million in urban areas and about 5.2 million in rural areas, which present a backlog of 105,454 in the former and 505,091 in the latter.
Non-integration of communities, coupled with the rigid application of unrealistic building rules and regulations, paved the way for uncontrolled peri-urban developments in a bid to avoid the rigors of the high standards enforced within the towns.
Basing on this, findings of the East African Commission (1953-55) led to the development of the first housing policy of African urban housing banked on two components; direct public intervention characterised by areas like Naguru, Nakawa and Ntinda, and the relaxation of building standards in Kiswa, Kampala.
New housing policy in the offing
To fi x the housing problem in Uganda, the Government is in the final stages of developing a National Housing Policy to guide housing development, slum upgrading and prevention and repair and maintenance of existing housing stock in order to fi x the runaway housing deficit.
It will also fast-track the construction of housing units to meet the country’s projected 4.5 million housing need by 2020.
The draft policy has already been discussed at the national level, but is subject to having a development plan and Cabinet review.
“It will also be tabled in Parliament for debate before it becomes a policy,” Kalibbala explains. “We hope it will become a policy this quarter (July – December 2012).”
What the policy intends to address
The policy intends to ease land access as land owners who lack the capacity to develop their property will be encouraged to enter joint-ventures with investors, land-sharing schemes or leasing, says Samuel Mabala, the commissioner of urban development in the ministry of Housing and Urban Development.
“We expect positive development in public-private partnerships in the housing sector because the Government does not have resources to fund this,” he says.
“The Government will also provide incentives to attract housing and financial institutions and ensure housing cooperatives are started to enable people save and mobilise resources for housing development.”
With an urbanisation growth exceeding 5% per annum, Uganda is grappling with rural-urban migration with its resultant effects such as high crime rates, unemployment, slums development and poor sanitation.
“Looking at our current housing needs, the policy comes handy and handy and timely,” says Kalibbala.