Thursday, 28 May 2009

Housing in Uganda: Growing Pains of a Boom Sector

Daudi and Rose have been saving to build a house for their young family or the last five years. However, because of many other commitments such as paying school fees, rent, water and electricity bills, the money never seems to reach the target. When the couple decided to go to real estate exhibition [Stanbic Bank-sponsored Auto Home Show 2009], they were exposed to available options of home ownership. They followed up with a real estate development company, which linked them to a bank for a mortgage to buy a house. Now, they have a home that they are paying for in instalments over several years. According to Daudi, instead of paying rent to a landlord, they are making monthly payments to eventually own the home they are living in.

Sam, on the other hand, built his house painstakingly over seven years. Firstly, by purchasing the land, then saving money to put up the foundation and slowly, brick by brick, working his way through the different stages until the roofing was done. He is now satisfied that he now owns a house that fits to his exact requirements and taste.

Musa lives in a slum that rapidly shrinking in the face of the developments that taking place around him. Many of his neighbours are selling off their land at a bargain to those who are putting up modern houses. Musa is one of those not moving despite being approached with attractive offers. He built his house from a labourer’s savings; and a source of pride to him.

Even in the traditional African setting, an aspect that is more visible in the rural areas, a man erects a hut or house in which his wife and family live in. As such, when a boy becomes of age, he is allocated a piece of land on which he builds a hut or house and establishes a farmland.

Owning a home or having a place where to live satisfies a basic human need for shelter. Perhaps, the often-referenced explanation is by Abraham Maslow’s theory of hierarchy of needs. In this, he identified shelter as one of the safety and security needs. Many people work hard to own homes. The urge to have a home is one of the ways in which these needs show themselves. Daudi, Rose, Sam and Musa are responding to this need in different ways in relation to circumstances and choices among the available options. Many people work hard throughout life and never get to own homes.

After transport and communication, housing and construction is the fastest growing sector of Uganda’s economy. Figures from the Ministry of Works and Transport indicate that the housing sector grew by 13% in 2007/2008 from 11.3% in 2006/2007. It should be noted that this encompasses real estate [“usually buildings and the ground they are built on”], and construction [“the trade of building structures”]. Here, the focus is on housing [“the structures in which people reside in”].

It is indeed empowering for people to have their own homes or to earn income from residential units. Having a house is one of the priorities when one starts to earn an income or gets a job. It is also commonplace to start by building a house in a place one considers home, usually a rural area, and then another in proximity to an urban centre. “A house in the village doesn’t make economic sense but it has one big social aspect”, says Norbert Katsirabo, a development economist. He explains that this revolves around earning respect from peers and gaining status in the community.

The most recent survey on housing by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics shows a huge demand for accommodation. There is a deficit of 550,000 units countrywide, of this 160,000 units is in the urban areas. With the rate of urbanisation and a population growth rate of over 3% per year, in 20 years, there will be a shortage of 8 million units. In the urban centres, it will be deficit of 2.5 million units representing 15.6%—of this, a shortage of one million units will be in Kampala.

This scenario presents an opportunity for real-estate developers. Thus, the emergence of such firms that are competing to meet the ever-rising demand—offering tailor-made choices for different categories; concepts like planned estates, satellite cities, apartments (serviced or not), low-cost housing are some of these. The latter has been mostly carried out by the National Housing and Construction Corporation—government’s entry in this sector is for strategic economic interests.

Recognising the need, the banks have also customised packages that will attract those aspiring to become home-owners. This includes mortgage financing, salary earners’ loans home improvement loans. However, the constant headache is high interest rates. Samuel Dawa, a lecturer at Makerere University Business School, says, “It is definitely viable to use all resources you can marshall than going for the mortgage where you will pay much more in the end”. However Katsirabo cautions that though this may be the best option, if a mortgage is used, it is advisable to retire it early to mitigate costs of high interest.

Whatever the method that one uses to own a house, the process is influenced by factors that may be out of one’s control. The sector is characterised by many problems such as lack of regulation, enforcement of standards, unqualified persons, among others. Also, there are concerns about the Mortgage Bill that has been passed, the highly controversial Land Bill and issues like the global economic downturn that could impact Uganda in ways that are not yet envisioned.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Sad News on Africa Liberation Day

Today is Africa Liberation Day but for me, and indeed many others, the death of Tajudeen Abdul Raheem has surely overshadowed this. When I learnt of the news, I couldn't get myself to pen my reflections on this oft-low profile day and what should be its significance to us, the youth and future of Africa--especially in the face of globalisation and its onslaught on the dream of African unity as envisioned the likes of Kwame Nkrumah.

25 May is Africa Liberation Day. What a day to learn the terrible news that one of the leading proponents of Africa's liberation – Tajudeen Abdul Raheem - should be so tragically lost in a senseless car accident in Nairobi. Messages have been pouring in from across the world as we all fail to hold back our tears at this loss.

Tajudeen led Justice Africa's work with the African Union since its early days. He combined this with his role as General Secretary of the Pan-African Movement, chairperson of the Centre for Democracy and Development, the Pan-African Development Education and Advocacy Programme, and was a fighter in the struggle to get the UN's Millennium Development Campaign to support meaningful programmes. There was hardly a pan African initiative that took place without Tajudeen's inimitable presence, support, humour and perceptive political perspectives. Quite how he managed to combine all of this with writing his weekly 'Pan African Postcard' that were published regularly in Pambazuka News and in several newspapers including The Monitor (Uganda), Weekly Trust (Nigeria), The African (Tanzania), Nairobi Star (Kenya) and the Weekly Herald (Zimbabwe), has always been a mystery to us. You could always rely on Tajudeen to draw our attention to the most significant aspects of the latest political event in Africa - just as you could rely on him to provide guidance and encouragement during hard times, restoring in us the courage for the longer struggles ahead for emancipation of the continent.

Tajudeen's departure leaves a massive hole in all our lives. We all need to grieve the loss of this giant of a man. But if his life is to mean anything, we must follow his call in the signature line of his every email – 'Don't agonise, Organise!'

As part of our tribute to Tajudeen, comrade, brother and fighter of Pan-Africanism, Pambazuka News invites you to send messages of condolence and tributes, please send these to or comment online at

Thursday, 21 May 2009

One Scribe's Vision and My Response

Recently, the Uganda Journalists Association held an event to mark the World Press Freedom Day [3rd May every year] at which our President was invited to officiate. By the end of the day, His Excellency pledged Shs 150 million to UJA [which in reality, is a dead association that hardly many Ugandan journalists are even members or care about]. Of course, there were many arguments for and against like this one below [which was also posted on Facebook]...I was pushed to respond to the author, which you can read below the article.

In defence of Museveni's donation to Uganda Journalists Association
by Julius Mucunguzi
I wish to comment on the several letters and opinions that I have read in newspaper pages recently regarding Uganda Journalists Association's invitation of President Museveni to grace one of their events and the subsequent contribution of funds to the association.

Most of the commentary, have been critical of Museveni's contribution and have advised that the association should have rejected the money, apparently to maintain their journalistic independence.

While I respect the views of those who hold that stance, I wish to state that to me this seems to be a simplistic way to define what determines journalistic independence.

My view is that journalistic independence starts with the individual reporter, and goes on to the media house and ultmately the media industry. One of the writers infact even tried to use the US and UK as stars when it comes to maintaining journalistic independence. I think it is confusing matters.

First of all, it is wrong to confuse journalistic independence with being critical to government alone all the time. Infact there are those who say that the greatest threat to media independence today may not necesarily be the state. People who hold this view say that big businesses, advertising, media owners, civil societies, greed, and lack of professional training threaten the freedom of journalists to freely express themselves. I know dictatorships in some newsrooms where reporters fear to even state what they believe in while doing their work.

Would my friends have complained if the journalists association had invited some chief executive of a big and rich multinational company to grace the occassion and subsequently received money from him or her? Or what if they had invited and got the money from an ambassador of a rich country? Would the critics say that it is not proper, because the journalists might now be in the pockets of a foreign country---praising it for valuing press freedom and vilifying their own country?

A number of Ugandan journalists have been beneficiaries of training and travel bursaries from foundations, embassies and trusts--both local and foreign--recieving money and stipends from them: should we say that because of this, they are not independent and objective in reporting matters affecting countries from where these bodies are based? I hope not.

So why should someone think that by the association receiving money from the President, the journalists will be cowed into submission and will be less objective and independent while covering government business? That would be an insult to the journalists.

For those who prefer to use the USA example, please be informed that only as recently as two days ago, President Obama hosted a dinner for the White House Correspondents Association--at the government expense. I don't not think that that party will in any way affect the way these reporters will cover Obama's president. Neither should the shs 150 million in Uganda.

To the journalists association I say: receive funding from all credible sources, and this definately includes from government officials, businessemen, charities, NGOs, individuals, etc. Use the money productively, set up a Press Club from where you can coordinate the association activities, and continue asking legitimate questions to all centres of power: government, civil societies, private sectors, etc.

Julius Mucunguzi is a Ugandan journalist and media scholar currently working in the UK.

My brief is here:

I think the author is far removed from reality. First of all, what does UJA do is a lame duck association just like the other journalists associations that have either hibernated or died, NIJU, UNEPA. There are two things we can be sure of (1) That money like all other presidential pledges/brown envelopes will take ages to come but most... Read more likely, won't (2) If it the money 'materialises', there will be squabbles among the executive on sharing it.

Julius, I can't believe you can be so naive about the status of journalism in Uganda yet you practised it for some years. The objectivity of the media is constantly being eroded, both by the fourth estate itself and other external factors [like you mentioned, big business, adveritsing, government...etc]. You definitely know that journalists associations are not vibrant...let's say like the lawyers and medical practitioners' organisations. I would rather that we, as members of the fourth estate, sought ways of mobilising ourselves.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Could Migingo dispute break East African Community?

This month, it is expected that the issue of whether Migingo—the tiny island in Lake Victoria—belongs to Uganda or to Kenya will be resolved. This is the date that was set for the joint comprehensive survey team, tasked with establishing the actual borders, to report their findings to both governments.

The team was created as decided in a meeting between ministers and other government officials from the two countries. It was held 13th March 2009 in Kampala and jointly chaired by Kenya’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Moses Wetang’ula, and Ugandan Minister of State for Internal Affairs, Matia Kasaija.

Among the documents for reference are the Constitution (1995), which points out the borders in Schedule 2, The Kenya Colony and Protectorate (Boundaries) Order in Council 1926, and Kenya Legal Notice No. 718 of 1963. The exercise also includes physical visits to the island and the relevant positions in the lake and has to be completed within 60 days.

As we wait for the results of a survey being carried out by experts to determine whether Migingo island is in Uganda or Kenya, using history as a reference, we should also consider whether this dispute could lead to the break up of the East African Community?

For several months now, there has been a dispute between the two countries about this island that has captured both national and international interest and media coverage. While the issue has been very heated in Kenya, it has not generated as much passion in Uganda. President Mwai Kibaki has maintained that such dispute can settled through diplomacy and fact-finding such as a survey. In a recent address to parliament, Kibaki said “I assure the citizens of the two nations that the issue of Migingo Island will be solved diplomatically by May 15 when the survey team finishes its exercise.”

President Yoweri Museveni expressed a similar view at a press conference held on 20th April 2009 that was also addressed by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who was on a state visit to Uganda. Referring to the colonial documents that will aid the verification of boundaries, Museveni said they were “good reference points that we shall use to know the truth”.

However Kenyan politicians and the media have been sounding the war drums and declaring that Migingo is not in Uganda. In reacting to Kibaki’s address, several Members of Parliament accused him of not being assertive enough. Notably, these are from Nyanza Province, where the Kenyan part of the lake is located, and from the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) that has its biggest support there. There have been statements like the “issue of Migingo is non-negotiable” and “[we] "expected the President [Kibaki] to clearly tell Ugandans to leave Migingo”.

Compared to Uganda, where the saga is mostly confined to government circles, debates on talk shows and ebimeeza and newspaper articles, in Nairobi and Kisumu, there were violent protests in the streets. In the Kibera slum, youths damaged a railway line that links Uganda to the outside world and on which it relies on for trade. On 16th April, youths placed logs, stones and other objects along the Kisumu-Kericho road to block cargo trucks and trailers en route to Uganda.

It is worth noting that Migingo is not only the point of contention between the two countries. As the issue flared up, there were accusations of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) entering several kilometres into Turkana, which borders Karamoja. In the 1970s, there was a row over the ownership of Lolwe, Wayami, Remba and Sigulu islands in Lake Victoria when Idi Amin seized them claiming they belonged to Uganda. In the light of the current conflict, Kenyan Prime Minister, Raila Odinga said the ownership of the other four islands would also be discussed.

There have also been disputes over tariffs and non-tariff barriers under the EAC and bans on imports of milk, animal semen and day-old chicks and disagreements on proposed political federation of East Africa. Kagame, who is the EAC Chairman, remarked, “The Migingo issue is not as complicated as it is being portrayed. It is an issue the two countries can handle by surveying. It has not yet become an issue for the East African Community to be involved and I don’t think it will reach that level.”

But, if the issue is resolved in Uganda’s favour, could the Kibera kind of disturbances escalate into a regional issue since Rwanda and Burundi will also be affected by disruptions to the road and rail links through Kenya. In addition, With Tanzania having objections with aspects of a common market for EAC, could the Migingo saga be the spark that fractures the Community just like the differences between the different member countries led to the previous break up in the 1970s?