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OPINION: Mutebile Death Calls For Reforms in Housing, Decongestion of Kampala

By Denis Jjuko

The death of the Governor of Bank of Uganda Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebile brought yet another unintended but important debate – housing. A few days after his death, we heard that his widow alleged that the family if they are thrown out of the governor’s official residence in Kololo, would be homeless. Apparently, Mutebile had only built a personal residence in his village in Kabale.

Mutebile died at 72 which means he spent at least 50 years working, 21 of which as governor of the central bank and many others in the lofty position of Secretary to the Treasury and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance.

Governors of central banks are some of the highest-paid people anywhere in the world. If Mutebile didn’t build a house in Kampala, he certainly didn’t need it or he knew that his benefits would enable the family to happily rent in Kololo for the rest of their lives. One of the roles of a central bank governor is planning. Planning for retirement or how your family will survive after your death is part of planning.

But the issue of giving Mutebile the house in Kololo which was even discussed in parliament reminded me of the people perhaps at Mutebile’s bidding that were retrenched in the 1990s. Many left government houses into abject poverty and suffered miserable deaths after spending a few years reminiscing about the good old days. Before perhaps the mass retrenchments disguised as economic reforms, housing for many civil servants wasn’t such a big deal. It was a given. Jobs for people in key positions came with houses in many of today’s affluent suburbs.

Most children of these civil servants went to affordable public schools. Today, to give your child half a chance in life, you have to put them in private schools that leave many in debt but then I digress.

Anyway, after the retrenchments and privatization of parastatals, clever managers and politicians sold themselves the properties at give-away prices. I hear some didn’t even buy. They just identified and occupied. Today, there aren’t many jobs that come with a house in the leafy suburbs. A permanent secretary in a ministry must have their own private residence and so is every official. The pressure for them to have a house that fits their status, a car that fits the status of their wives is enormous. The official pay is usually not much.

Land and houses in greater Kampala are extremely expensive and very few people can actually afford them even though many are building. How they get the money to put up mansions is stuff of legend.

For many workers especially men, a personal mortgage free house is a constant painful thought. Wives remind their men at every turn of the need to build and where they will leave them should they die. If Mutebile didn’t build in Kampala, he must have been a very stubborn man or had a tough skin that enabled him to withstand extreme pressure.

So because people are generally poorly paid, and they are under constant pressure to build or buy houses in an expensive market, corruption and even pilferage by those in low positions become the order of the day. A man in this part of the world is only considered one when they have built. A measure of success for women today in urban areas is no longer marriage and raising well behaved children but ownership of properties.

Yet at an average of 16 percent per year, mortgages are out of reach for many people. Decent housing units are few and the country’s housing deficit stands at 2.1 million units and keeps rising. As the country urbanizes, the demand for housing will also be increasing.

In areas where land is still affordable, there is no infrastructure for people to easily commute to their workplaces. Efficient public transport is non-existent in such areas but so are other services like piped water, good schools and health services. So everyone gets crowded in the same areas which makes land expensive.

Also everything in Uganda is around Kampala. A good law firm, a consultant doctor, cinema name it. Beyond declaring some backwater towns municipalities and cities, there should be deliberate effort to develop them so that entrepreneurs can set up some of these services. Otherwise, people who have beautiful houses in places like Kabale will claim that they will be homeless once they are out of official residences in Kololo.

The writer is a communication and visibility consultant. djjuuko@gmail.com

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