The political economy of housing & human settlement in uganda; an anthropological perspective

The political economy of housing & human settlement in uganda; an anthropological perspective

Do we have a housing crisis in Uganda? Is housing an important element in the transformation of the country? What happens when government completely ignores the housing sector? Is housing a priority for the government of Uganda? Are citizens concerned about lack of quality housing in the country? Are there alternatives for both government and the citizens to providing better and affordable housing in the country? What is affordable housing? These are some of the questions that come to mind when one tries to study the underlying challenges of housing to citizens. In this paper we look at the broad political context of housing, the history the current status, the human settlement, policy making in relation to housing and sector players. We ask the fundamental question which is whether provision of housing is actually important. Can’t people achieve personal development without necessarily owning or living in a good house? Is a house one of the most important possessions for the welfare of the population? If housing is that important how come it has not been given due attention in terms of budgeting, resource allocation and planning. This exposé tries to dig deeper to understand the issues behind the poor performance of the housing sector in Uganda, if at all it is performing poorly anyway. 

The History of housing In traditional African setting, land was communal and abundant. People lived in close proximity according to clans, and linear families. The head of the household was the major controller of land and would determine who would use which land and for which purpose. On maturity, young boys were allocated places within the homestead where they would construct their hoses in preparation for adulthood and marriage. According to Hull (1976) young adults considered three basic needs which were like a benchmark that determined the prosperity of a young adult. These were; a bicycle for transport, a radio for entertainment and information and lastly a house for shelter. Is there any thing called “the theory of housing. This is one of the questions many researchers have asked themselves severally. Good enough Hannu Ruonavaara (2017) has tried to offer a convincing explanation. He says there is no such a theory simply because housing is not a research topic. However there are several theories that one can directly relate to housing because of its centrality to sociology politics and governance generally. We must first understand the term housing.

The word “housing is both a noun and a verb. Ruonavaara defines housing as a material object, a good that can be manufactured, and demolished, produced and consumed, bought and sold. This is the material definition of housing. On the other hand housing can be explained as getting access to housing or being housed in which case this definition is about what society does to provide shelter to the population. The political economy of housing is about governance, status and prevailing conditions of housing. Nothing is as fulfilling as reading a statement from a writer which perfectly fits your imagination. It captures your attention and you are in full agreement with the author without any alteration. Bah M. and Faye I in their book “The political economy of housing development in Africa” capture the political economy of hosing in the developing world in a very fascinating way.  He writes thus: “sound housing policies have been neglected. Rather than leading the way with a clear and coherent vision, governments are acting as followers and implementing only minimal policy changes. Often times, they under estimate the potential of the housing sector, consider it as a very risky and challenging, and have neglected the fact that a dynamic housing sector and sound housing policy are needed for successful urbanization planning and strategies. ….the tendency to overlook the close interrelationship between urbanization processes and housing market  dynamics has generated situations in which housing policies have until recently been ignored….this has resulted in widespread shortage of affordable housing supply in Africa….” This statement summarizes the problem of why Africa cannot have adequate housing and is not likely to in the coming many years.

There is a dis-connect between what government wants and what it actually implements. There are various stakeholders along the whole value chain in ensuring that the sector is vibrant and moving in the right direction. This are all disjointed and there seems to be lack of political will to galvanize efforts and ensure that all concerns appreciate the challenge at hand and formulate ways of how to deal with it. The private sector which would be the largest player in mobilizing resources and deploying them faces complex unclear incentive systems, some of them are speculative and are always looking out for speculative and rent-seeking opportunities and general lack of a conducive macro-environment and sound housing finance policies. The whole legal and administrative structure is very weak and hazy or completely lacking. This has weighed down the sector for a very long time and will inhibit its progress if not handled urgently.

The housing context in Uganda? 

According to the ministry of lands housing and urban development, Uganda currently has a deficit of 1,800,000 housing units both in rural and urban areas. Majority of people live in sharks and poorly constructed dingy structures because they lack the resources to put up decent accommodation. In fact, some villages the status of housing hasn’t improved since precolonial days. In some of the remotest parts of Uganda, traditional huts and shelters are still common Habitat for Humanity, in a publication on Uganda’s housing market mapping and value chain analysis identifies five constraints hindering the housing sector in the country. These are an underdeveloped mortgage market, weak institutional framework, a complex land tenure system and limited low income housing support services. The complex land management systems do not favour the housing sector in the country to flourish with different land ownership at play.

Land acquisition is a tedious venture due to different tenure systems that are very bureaucratic. The process of acquiring land titles is too laborious for the common Wanainchi to follow through for them to acquire land on which to build their houses. In urban areas, most low income earners are squatters on land whose ownership is shrouded in controversies and some of them having been subsiding on this land for many years. In addition, the houses which are constructed on the same land are normally of very poor quality, built as makeshift with temporary materials and without basic amenities and sanitation facilities.

Political Economy of Housing

The political economy of housing, according to Kingsbury (1941) has three essential elements which are the value of the house, the cost to construct it and the investment and return to investment in the same house. She argues that housing is both a consumer good and a long lived capital good. It is rather strange for me that many policy makers and governments do not take cognizance of the importance of housing in the development of any country and I know I have my personal biases which I must declare from the beginning. Richard Harris and Godwin Arku (2006) argued that until as late as 1970s, most researchers were not agreeable to the fact that housing plays a very important role in the development process of a nation. “Most writers viewed housing as a social expenditure and a drag on growth” they  expose  something that would look quite too obvious yet has taken ages to be appreciated by those responsible for planning and developing their countries. It is therefore no wonder that most countries that do not pay more attention to housing take longer to achieve the desired development both in the short and long run.

According to the two writers, housing has a direct effect on economic development through creating employment, as an investment and labour productivity. Housing is typically the largest element of a household portfolio, so it’s central to household finance. Housing has a direct relationship with the labour markets and is an important driver of business cycle. Housing forms possibly the largest part of aggregate capital in any economy. I concur with the writings of Edward Glaeser (2015), who says many writers and policy makers have for a long time had less understanding of how profoundly important housing is to any economy.

Human Settlement as part of Housing Development.

Human Settlement means a cluster of dwellings of any type of or size where human beings live and carry out their day-to-day activities. Human settlement patterns are influenced by many factors including cultural and historical and more recently urbanization. Urbanization has had much greater impact on housing and human settlement because of the large numbers of people that share space in a small neighborhood. Unlike villages where almost has unlimited supply, in urban areas, there is maximization of space hence the need to utilize the land in the most economical way. The housing in urban areas are close to each other and many other activities such as large scale agriculture are limited because of the proximity of houses and settlements with an urban setting. There are several types of human settlements and these are often defined according to the density of the population Examples include Clustered settlements which a little more compact, the semi clustered, which are much more loose and not closely knit, Hamleted settlements which are fragmented and separated from each other and lastly dispersed settlements which are stand-alone settlements with large areas of space in between.

Whatever the differences between these settlements, human beings have since time immemorial lived in close proximity with each other because of the attendant benefits this offers. Children from the same household always built houses close to their fathers and the clan kept expanding which created a large homesteads of settlement until some of them decided to migrate to get bigger space for building. The type of houses built in an area determined the type of settlement and the level of development. It is therefore important to recognize the fact that human settlement patterns have a direct relationship with the type of housing within the same settlement. Human settlements, just like housing itself must be planned for and guided if it is to support economic development. Unstructured and uncontrolled human settlement leads to slums and poor health and sanitation for people who occupy such. Therefore a house is as important as its location because it has a bearing on how people will earn a living. For instance people need to live closer to the services they use most regularly such as hospitals, schools, markets, transport means for connectivity etc. All these would go a long way in improving their welfare. What has been happening in the past has been a trend where human settlements happen by “accident” where people keep piling and building in an area without due process to help in ensuring that the settlement meets the basic necessities and standards that would be in conformity with the people and community aspirations.

Market environment of Housing

A house was regarded as an asset by various communities in Africa as way back as precolonial days (Richard Hull, 1976). Housing is one of the most basic needs (UN HABITAT) because it promotes health and safety. Where one stays determines their way of life. Some people have indeed gone ahead to argue that people who live in slums have a completely different way of looking at life in terms of human welfare and prosperity. It’s now common and generally accepted that one of the basic principles of human development is coincidentally tagged to housing. Decent housing in form of accommodation and office or working environment are a prerequisite to people development, at least to many economic theorists. Whereas this may be true, there are some reservationists who think that housing parse is not an end in itself. There are several other tenets of life that far outweigh owning a better house in a better neighborhood.

Government budget on Housing

The housing sector in Uganda is private sector led. Whereas government provided social housing in the 1960s and 1980s, this was later reversed after the liberalization of the economy in the early 90s. In the early 1990s government introduced social housing projects in various parts of the country. A good case in point was the Namuwongo housing scheme whose purpose was to provide affordable low cost housing to the urban poor. It also acted as a slum upgrading strategy by government. Before this project, government had earlier on established the National housing and Construction Company in 1964 through an act of parliament. The mandate of NHCC was to increase housing stocks in the country. Indeed NHCC went ahead to construct several housing flats, mansionettes and bungalows in various parts of the country including but not limited to Bugolobi, Bukoto, Kololo, Nakasero, Wandegeya and elsewhere. According to budget allocations, the ministry of lands housing and urban development has been a priority in terms of expenditure and budget allocations by government for many years. For instance the whole ministry was allocated an average budget of 120 Billion per years for the last ten years. This sum include wage and non-wage expenditures. This budget is quite inadequate in terms of actual implementation (MLHUD, 2016).

It should be noted that government almost completely divested itself from investing in housing projects and has left the development of housing to the private sector and individuals. This therefore means that the budget allocations to the ministry in charge of housing is strictly for policy making, supervision and monitoring. The fundamental question that needs to be asked here is what policy options is government bringing forward that are not supported with the financial resources to do the actual work of building houses for the populace.

Is government doing enough by only concentrating on policy development rather than mobilizing funds to support housing development in the country? The greatest impediment towards achieving better housing for most Ugandans seems to be in lack of resources to build houses. If government does not have the said resources and so does the private sector and individuals, then who will be responsible to ensure people have decent houses to live in? Did government pull out of providing social housing so early? Is social housing provision by government a sustainable venture in a liberalized economy like Uganda? Where can resources to provide social housing come from? What lessons can Uganda learn from countries that provide social housing to their citizens? Will the country achieve housing for all when the housing sector is managed by the private sector which is purely capitalistic and money minded in their nature?

Political constraints and Utilization of scarce resources to address issues of housing

Housing is a social issue but also political because it is related to the welfare of the citizens One cannot talk about housing without talking about land. The complexity of solving housing issues in a country are directly related to the land management arrangements therein. In Uganda’s case, a lot of time is mainly spent on debates about the “land question” which has been contentious for many decades now. The NRM government has been trying to solve this problem once and for all but with little success. Therefore because the country has not yet fully addressed the question of land, at least to the satisfaction of the majority, this could explain the reason why the issue of housing and human settlement has not been addressed either because the former directly affects the latter. Houses are built on land and yet land management in Uganda has fundamental unresolved issues.

Although there has been good will on the part of government to address the land question, not much could be achieved because of politicians trying to balance so many interests based of several factors. The question of land in Uganda is such a thorny issue to the extent that the legislature has failed to make comprehensive land legislation and appropriate amendments. Land laws are varied contradictory leading to long bureaucratic processes. Land titling and ownership is very lengthy muddled by corruption and poor record keeping. Land tenure system is an important factor in housing development because houses are located on land. Land tenure especially for the poor is such a delicate issue that a great number of people have squatted on land for many years nobody knows their status in terms of ownership. Forced Land Evictions and their Impact on Housing Land eviction is quite rampant especially in Kampala and the surrounding areas which leads to many people remaining vulnerable fearing for evictions from powerful well connected persons in government and security agencies.

Two cases stand out when it comes to recent forced evictions in recent years. One of them is Lusanja Village in Kasangati Town council in Wakiso District where a private property developer with connections in government evicted hundreds of families on a 75 acre piece of land. There was national outcry as the property of the evicted people were destroyed and their houses razed down. Government promised to compensate and resettle the affected persons but the process has been quite slow. The other common case of land eviction is that of Kasokoso in Nakawa Division in Kampala where NHCC threatened to evict hundreds of families from the land where they claim to have settled the 1930s. The housing company claims the tenants were temporary squatters who did not have legal rights over the same land and have therefore settled on it illegally for over seventy years. These two distinct land eviction scenarios paint a gloomy picture how issues of land and therefore subsequently housing are handled in Uganda. If the laws relating to land management and administration are not streamlined, then housing and human settlement automatically become victims of policy failure. Land is the most important resource in creating a conducive environment for investing in housing. It must thus be addressed first by those concerned.

Policy Making Social Planning and Housing Policy making is about making the best possible choices for the public for maximum benefit using the available resources. Policy makers have a duty to plan accordingly so as to deliver the best possible outcomes for the public which entrust them with authority. Policy making is about the public good. It is assumed that policy makers have the citizens at hear all the time. Policy making, according to Mark Sheely, must reflect the real needs of the people that policy makers are meant to serve. Policy making cannot be divorced from social planning is a community is going to have long term development benefits. A Social planner works to improve the quality of life of a community. In welfare economics, a social planner is a decision maker who attempts to achieve the best result for the community while in neo classical welfare economics means maximization of social welfare function for the state or country (Bill Edgar, 2002).

The social planner or decision maker must have Economic objectives at heart. It’s not all about planning as a ritual. Policy making and social planning should have an overall goal which should be in consonance with the development goals of the county. Many countries have over the years been engaged in policies that do not necessarily bring about positive developmental change in the lives of the people. The best economic model for most countries has been that “if it benefits a large chunk of the population, then it’s a better policy option. The more people that are brought into the net of development, the better the usage and utilization of resources.

Housing as a human right

The right adequate housing and shelter is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the international Covenant on Economic, social and cultural rights (ICESCR). Countries signatory to the se conventions are mandatorily supposed to progressively work towards achieving better housing standards for their people. The United Nations identifies adequate housing as a fundamental human right and defines it as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity. It even goes further to include other associated rights such as security of tenure, protection against forced evictions etc. But even if these international standards were not available, wouldn’t it be incumbent upon every government to ensure that its people live in dignified environment. Of what importance would international declarations add if governments do not take a step further from mere documents to actual implementation? Some writers have criticized governments in Africa that they are quick at signing international conventions but slow to act on them. Ratification of international documents could remain on paper when actual work is not taking place. One can also argue that human rights are a creation of individuals and therefore not recognized everywhere. Whereas this could hold some truth, the argument then would shift from the mere rhetoric of human rights to the essence of “being human”. Therefore by the mere fact that someone is a human being, they deserve to live in dignity because of the fact that they are human beings.

Again some people could argue that it is not the responsibility of government to provide housing to the people. Then the question that arises here would be “what then would be the role of government?’ Some may say the cardinal role of government is to provide security while the individual is responsible for their own welfare. Whereas this could be hold some truth, this could leave the individual quite vulnerable and would take a lot of time for most people to graduate from poverty to real development. Besides, governments collect taxes purposely to provide services to the people. Although taxes are non-quid-pro-quo, it’s the responsibility of the state to ensure equitable distribution of resources maximizing and ensuring value for money for all taxes collected.

Welfare Economics and Maximization

Welfare refers to a range of government programmes that provide financial and other aid to individuals or groups who cannot support themselves. Welfare economics deals with the issues of microeconomics of how resources are utilized to provide services to the people. Welfare economic basically deals with social justice by ensuring that the services that are required by the people are provided. It’s not about finances but the actual services that directly impact the lives of the people. Housing is a welfare issue since it directly affects the way people live. According to UN HARBITAT, extremely poor people may not treat housing as a top priority of their needs when they still have difficulties in meeting their daily subsistence needs. Government is solely responsible for the welfare of its people. It is also assumed that policy makers and politicians are fully conversant with the key issues affecting the welfare of the people. It should be understood that government has very many issues to tackle yet the resources cannot go round. The budget and resources to fund all government priorities is ever is short. This therefore calls for frugality and better prioritization to ensure that the little resources that are available are spent on the most critical sectors of the economy which should direct positively impact the lives of the population.

In this paper, we do not need to sound out rightly biased in favour of housing. As we shall point out later, some policy makers and researchers may not take housing as one of the most important sectors where government needs to place more emphasis. This would however mean that a researcher who disowns the housing sector as less important ought to clearly explain their reasons the sectors they deem more important are deemed so and based on which parameters. As we have argued above, prioritization of policy is heavily influenced by the background of policy makers who may have all forms of biases based on their backgrounds and cultural settings among others (Arfina, 2002). Our argument therefore calls for a discussion on the review of the basic tents of policy makers in choosing what is in the best interest of the population which ultimately impacts the welfare of the people as a whole.

Where should government spend its money and why? Who determines public policy and how sure are they that what they have chosen as the most pressing issues are exactly what the public or community would want to be helped in? Again, we shall revisit this issue under the anthropological issues of housing to better understand what informs the choices of individuals and communities to determine what human development to them is. We have discussed elsewhere in the paper that development is appreciated differently by different people based on several factors. This is the second issue we must interrogate for us to come up with a fully convincing analogy of development alternatives that those who lead to implement on behalf of those they lead.

Political Decision making and Public Choice

Many researchers have written about the theory of political decision making but much of the writings do not necessarily pinpoint the reasons as to why governments take wrong decisions or for that matter right decisions about housing. According to Frans Winden (1988) most political designs affect the economics of the country. There are several models of decisions making but these can be compressed into three major ones. These include; rational, administrative and retrospective decision making models. Of these the rationale models is cited as the classical approach and is supposed to be the most commonly used. It involves identification of the problem, or opportunity, gathering relevant information, strategic planning, determining sources of funding and other resources, (including human resources) and finally implementation. As simple as it sounds, it can be challenging to implement especially when political will to implement a certain policy or programme is lacking and administrative mechanism is now well structured to know who does what and how. Public choice decision making and building consensus on public issues is very challenging to achieve by any government. This is because the market place of ideas is flooded by as varying opinions and ideas as the number of people that hold them. To make matters worse, some people hold their opinions quite dear that most are not willing to change them because of various reasons. This therefore becomes very problematic to sieve through a lot of notions in order to come up with the most plausible ones.

The father of Public policy theory James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock in their book The Calculus of Consent, they succinctly explain why it is very difficult to come up with a public decisions because every person is majorly guided by individual personal interests first which are almost always biased. Coming from this position therefore, most public interest decisions are mostly biased and not workable. Collective decision making according to Jane S. Shaw is faulty right from the start. Decisions, he argues are never made by the majority. They are always taken by a few basing on their selfish reasons and looking at their interests first. He says it doesn’t matter which person it is be they politicians, technocrats, businessmen etc. their motivation in making decision is first informed by how they will benefit and how relevant the decision will be to them or those close to them. 

Shaw however recognizes on the other hand that there a few people who base some of their actions on the concern for others, these are quite limited. The revelation about personal interests is at the centre of this paper. It shades some light at the end of the tunnel in helping us to understand why governments make wrong decisions or pick wrong choices or worse of all choose to implement non priority programmes leaving those that would otherwise be crucial in uplifting the standards of living for the masses. This is just a short presentation and thus we will not get into the details to answer our fundamental question of “why does government not prioritize housing as one of the foremost priorities to uplift the status of citizens” The space and time cannot allow us to delve much deeper. However we will try to explain the historical contest and the underlying issues which we hope can shade some light and optimistically, in future we shall be able to delve deeper into this subject for more concrete investigation and conversation that shall hopefully be beneficial to policy makers, academicians and the reading public that may have interests in this pertinent subject.

Housing Value Chain

The real estate value chain comprises of five levels namely;  development, finance, construction, transaction, and finally use of the finished house (Bah E.M, 2018). At every stage, there are forward and backward linkages which contribute to the GDP growth of the country. According to a study carried out by the Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa, housing construction contributed 11% of GDP to Uganda’s economy. This is in spite of a market that is not well synchronized and a large part of it remain largely informal. Further studies in the housing market have established that with better financial modeling the housing construction industry would be able to spur economic growth by providing employment, and forward linkage supplies this stimulating demand and supply for the many products that the construction industry requires. The benefit of the housing chain dies not stop at the owner getting a better housing after construction. It takes cognizance of the fact that right from purchase of land, to planning, execution of works, into buying equipment and material, several people would stand to benefit until the house is completed (Glaeser, 2015). By the time the house is completed therefore, it would have derived a lot of material benefit not only to the actual owner but a wide range of people that were engaged in supply and actual construction. Most importantly, at the end of the construction, the owner and the community or country would have a long lasting durable house that would fundamentally transform their way of living thus helping to lift them out of poverty.

The housing chain model is therefore, more than anything else is a catalyst in creating employment opportunities while at the same time having affordable housing for many. It only needs to be guided by a water tight policy framework that supports housing finance products including credit facilities, mortgages and housing micro-finance for it to be affordable to even the poor and most vulnerable. The players within the value chain are many and are all important. Although access to finance could be looked at as the most important, other aspects such as technical skills and collaboration amongst all the five stages mentioned above need to keep close contact with each other for maximum benefit. All these actors would deliver better products when they are coordinated and mobilized by government in a systematic and more sustainable manner.

Fixed community model of housing

Community model housing are also known as collaborative community led housing. These are normally built, owned controlled and managed by the community. Examples include community land trusts, cooperative housing, development trusts among others. It should be noted however that for these to be effective in delivering housing, they must be supported by a conducive environment and a better functioning financial system including access to credit facilities. Furthermore, the community model cannot just spring up. The local people must have capacity first to understand the dynamics and intricacies of how the houses would be constructed and the process by which one can benefit from the same. Either way, community housing model works best when it is supported by a competent authority including government itself or any other parastatal. A community model needs adequate planning and strategy to ensure that the houses that will be built may not to very expensive which would otherwise discourage the low income earners to afford them. The houses need to be affordable and appropriate to the living standards of the majority of the people for whom they are intended. The community housing models in Uganda are quite rare because there has not been deliberate efforts or any institutional support to set them up.

Housing Mortgages in Uganda

A housing mortgage is a loan one acquires from a lender to finance the construction of purchase of a home or building where the borrower agrees to pay the lender an agreed-upon interest at a specified period time. The mortgage market in Uganda is still in its infancy as it operates and is influenced by the general money market in the country. There is an insatiable demand for housing in Uganda. Increasing rates of urbanization and an ever increasing population all mean that the people that come into cities every year will need homes to stay. According to Uganda’s Ministry of Lands, Housing and urban Development (MLHUD) report 2017, for some time now, the demand for housing far outstrip the supply. Very few houses are being constructed compared to these that are needed. The mortgage market in Uganda faces several challenges which include high interest rates, short term repayment periods unfavorable legal framework and limited competition within the market. Long term capital financing is perhaps the greatest impediment to housing development. (UN Habitat, 2013)

Housing by its nature requires commitment of resources under a long term plan. Players in the mortgage industry are more interested in maximizing their profits in as a short time a possible. Where therefore they offer mortgages, these are often more pricy because of the risks involved. This therefore limits the number of people that can afford such mortgages. The management and administration of the mortgages is still largely a private affair with very little government regulation to ensure fairness and better deal arrangement especially for the citizens.(Iyandemye S, 2018) This leaves the people who require the mortgages to operate at the mercy of mortgage dealers who are always unscrupulous and money minded. Thirdly, the mortgage industry is a sort of an oligopolistic market system with very few players who often act as a cartel. This sort of market system is very rigid in terms of pricing. Because of high demand and few market players, the cost of capital is always high and in accordance with the basic principles of economics, lack of competition breeds high prices and the reverse is true. Therefore core problem of the mortgage industry which is directly related the overall problem of the housing industry in general is the fact that there is limited long term financing that can guarantee as many people to acquire homes in the short run but be able to pay back in the long run. This is the fundamental problem that government and other players within the housing industry in the country should solve.

Anthropology of Human Settlement and Housing

The evolution of human settlement is traced back to the primitive organized villages in 17,000 BC at Ohalo Site (now under water) near the edge of the Sea of Galilee in the Middle East. The area was occupied by Nutufians who build the first houses with stones some 14,000 years ago (Richard Harris, 2006). The first recorded human settlements are recorded to have been in present day Israel and Jordan. Social anthropology shows that human beings never had houses at first. It was a major milestone and achievement for the people to start building homes of abode. What is not contestable though is that human being have since time immemorial lived in clusters or organize settlements. The clustering helped in terms of security but also due to the caste system where a group of likeminded people lived eked a living together. Therefore modern day cities are a replica of clustered human settlements where people came collected for purposes of agglomeration and common concentration (Doxiadis, 1972). It took human beings a very long time for them to settle down and form what were called home. Archeological studies have shown that the earliest human beings were hunters and gatherers who moved from place to place without settling in one area for a long time. Recorded African history indicated that the first inhabitants of Africa lived in caves which were natural stone conclaves. These were never built but were only utilized as settlements since they were ready-made houses. Stone caves are littered throughout Africa and most of them offer ideal shelter for the people that get to use them. It should be noted that caves were not found everywhere and therefore where they were unavailable, this necessitated that people improvise to build huts and other forms of shelter where they could sleep for some days or months before they could move on in case they lived a nomadic life. Whereas most early inhabitants in Africa did not have to toil to build houses as we know them today, the conditions were to later force them to learn to build because stone caves were not readily available in every area. From this foregoing therefore, we can therefore deduce that housing has indeed been a fundamental requirement of people throughout history. It doesn’t matter what type of house it may be, people have always had a form or type of house at every point in time.  We can also comfortably conclude that people will always require houses to live and work in the future to come. What we are yet to prove is whether housing the most important human requirement, than other aspects of human requirements and in case these are there, which are they and why should they take precedence over housing? If anthropological studies have concretely showed us that housing has been very useful in the lives of the people since human beings started living on earth, then why is government not emphasizing it today? Are there any alternatives to housing? What could government do that would replace housing in terms of importance and prioritization? This is what we want to find out. Who are the players in the housing sector in Uganda? The housing sector in Uganda has to a great extent been like an “orphan” too important in the daily lives of the people yet not given due attention and resources to improve it. During the NRM administration, the housing department has been shifted and merged with several other departments and has never been recognized as a standalone ministry, let alone getting adequate funding and budgeting. In the early 1990s, the department of housing was part and parcel of the ministry of works and transport. Currently it is housed under the ministry of lands, housing and urban development.  It has a deputy minister who is in charge together with some technocrats. Outside government, there are a few actors including a handful of NGOs whose work is to advocate for better housing policies in the country. Nonetheless their effectiveness is leaves a lot to be desired. Possibly the most important player in the housing industry in Uganda is the private sector which includes both local and international real estate companies. These have played a crucial role in mobilizing resources and coming up with housing estates in different parts of the country. These are responsible for the ever mushrooming housing estates mainly in the greater Kampala metropolitan area. Other players who act on a low scale are local people including indigenous and immigrants who buy small pieces of land and start building semi-permanent structures over a long period of time based on the levels of incomes. Is housing important anyway? Who needs a house if they can live comfortably without it? Isn’t owning and living in a decent house a new invention that has been propagated and promoted by the colonial masters who wanted to dominate African by introducing their way of life. Does it matter whether someone lives in a cave or a hut? Would this stop them from living their meaningful life? Must someone be in possession of a good permanent structure for them to be comfortable and considered opulent? Does better housing symbolize status and welfare of a people?  Can’t a nation develop its people without necessarily promoting decent housing? Possibly, in the minds of some people, housing could be overrated and given more prominence than it deserves.  What guided drafters of the UN documents in declaring housing as a human right? Does it matter where one lives or works from so long as they feel they are comfortable? These are important questions that one must answer in order to understand the thinking of policy makers and why some governments prioritize certain aspects in an economy while almost completely neglecting others. In some traditional African societies housing was never looked at as an important element of human development. Among the Bahima clan in Western Uganda for instance, owning a house was not deemed as developmental as owning many cows. A person who had many herds of cattle was considered much wealthier and revered by society because of the importance culture attached to the cows (Justin Willis, 1997). No wonder therefore that the Bahima were nomadic herdsmen who were always on the move in search of good pasture and water for their animals. To them a good houses was not a priority. This form of attitude is common among many pastoral communities (Michael Ochieng, 2003) including the Karamojong in Eastern Uganda and the Tigrinya in Ethiopia (Hannah Wild (2018). What does this inform us as researchers? It means that development was looked at differently by different people based on their cultural backgrounds. Whereas to some people housing is a fundamental and basic human need, to others it could be one of the least important possessions in life. The rationalization and universalization of international elements of human development as a concept has been largely adopted and accepted by majority of modern states and nations but it would seem to me that some other people and indeed leaders are not fully convinced about the key ingredients of human development. In other traditional African cultures, wealth and development was looked at in terms of the number of family members in a given family. A man who had many wives and children was looked at as wealthy and better off. Later, soon after colonialism, most cultures shifted their perception about wealth by including land. People with large chunks of land were regarded as wealthy and well off. This is largely still the case in many cultures and settings not only in Africa but in most parts of the world. Education is the other element some people consider to determine the development status of individuals. The more educated one is the more likely they are taken to be developed and the reverse is true. All these perceptions clearly show that the paradigm of development especially at personal level is as diverse as the cultures themselves (Justin Willis, 1997). Is it therefore possible that policy makers from such a background could be influenced by their cultural backgrounds in determining the priorities of the country based on their traditional beliefs and norms which are not necessarily in conformity with what could be generally internationally accepted standards?One could therefore go further to ask themselves as to whether for instance some of the leaders in Uganda take the issue of housing to be very important as is taken elsewhere especially in the West. Whereas the United Nations takes cognizance of access to shelter as one of the fundamental human right of every individual, this may not be convincing enough for some leaders who may have grown up in a setting where other parameters were used to define welfare and poverty. One may even pose another rhetoric question which is “Is human development have universally accepted definition. Who defied it and using which parameters? By answering such a question, it would help solve the puzzle as to why some leaders especially in Uganda have not prioritized provision of housing to the population. It could be possible that housing is not as important as the west would want them to believe. One may indeed argue that food, education, motor vehicle, (or any other means of transports) and other possessions are more important than housing itself. They may further say that it doesn’t matter where someone stays, as long as they have what society considers important, then housing may not matter a lot. Such reasoning if backed by politicians and leaders is likely to seriously impede course of action that is in favour of housing as a fundamental aspect of human advancement. One’s culture and early encounters have a big influence on their behavior and reasoning which may take a lifetime and this in turn could have long lasting impact on the decisions they make first for themselves, secondly for their families and lastly for the wider community in case they are leaders. Conclusion Economic decisions of government determine how and where resources will be spent and how. Some decisions are biased while other do not have a direct positive impact on the population. Policy makers are guided by different notions and beliefs some of which are motivated by personal interests. Political expediency would ordinarily require that Expenditure policies of government are in line with the aspirations of the country and the people’s wishes which should ultimately point them towards the right direction in terms of development. Decision making mechanisms is in most cases not straight forward which and at worst hazy which leaves a lot of room for mistakes and poor decisions altogether. Government interests are in most cases not citizens interests and most times, they are always in constant conflict. The Effect of politics on housing (Political choices) determine what government will and will not do. This paper started by asking the question whether housing is so important to both the citizens and the state. Our purpose was not to answer the question but rather to inquire why housing is not given due attention it requires. Perhaps, we shall further expound on it by expanding the paper to delve deeper into why housing and human settlement in developing countries has remained poor and whether actually this is part of the political economy of housing in Africa and Uganda in particular. It’s designed to function this way and as a researcher, we may not have much to alter or rather offer.


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