Will the new policy solve Uganda’s slum dilemma?

The national slum upgrading strategy and action plan seeks to slow down the growth of slums and eventually stop the creation of new ones through legal and land market reforms, revamping planning and zoning regulations. Photos/Gabriel Buule.

What you need to know:

  • The national slum upgrading strategy and action plan seeks to slow down the growth of slums and eventually stop the creation of new ones through legal and land market reforms, revamping planning and zoning regulations.

Harriet Muhereza is a resident of Nsambya Kirombe in Makindye Division Kampala where she owns a double room, built with polythene and papyrus. Muhereza is one of the fortunate ones in the neighbourhood because unlike others, she inherited her home from her father who passed on three years ago.
Her dream is to own a decent home with a kitchen and a latrine but she since she has no legal proof of ownership of the property, Muhereza is unable to use it to her advantage.
 “If I had the necessary documents I would use it as collateral to get a loan for developing the property or sell and relocate to a better place,” she shares. 

Floods are a common hazard in slums.

But for now she must endure the deplorable conditions she and her neighbours live. Muhereza and seven other homes share a communal latrine that is always crawling with maggots and buzzing with flies. When it rains, their homes are flooded by sewage from the nearby public    sewage channel that is always open.  
“This is a difficult neighbourhood in which to raise children especially young girls. We live with people without morals; the kind that feel they have no obligation to society as a result they are engaged in drug peddling, drug abuse and burglary. My goal is to make enough money and leave this place,” Muhereza says. 

Government internvetion
Muhereza’s neighbourhood is the kind that the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development has proposed to upgrade into modern urban settlements for low-income earners. 
Recently, Judith Nabakooba, the state minister for Lands, Housing, and Urban Planning revealed that government is set to put to action, the national slum upgrading strategy and action plan.  Muhereza says she and her neighbours were informed about the plan. She however, is suspicious of the proposed upgrading which she believes it is just a ruse to evict her from the only property she owns.  

“Those people came here and told us they could build for us better houses and we pay them afterwards. The projected cost amounted to millions of shillings. Where do they expect us to get that kind of money when already I cannot afford to feed my family? I am determined to hold onto my shambolic property than giving it to government to end up the hands of the rich,” she says. 

Ruth Nakabuye has lived in a makeshift house with her children in Katanga slum for the last 25 years. Nakabuye source of income is from collecting and selling plastic bottles. 
Unlike Muhereza, Nakabuye does not own the property and is only renting.  She notes that much as she lives in frustration, she is not comfortable with government reaching out to help because she claims that such interventions often come with unfair conditions.
A community leader  (who preferred anonymity) in Kikubamutwe, a slum in Kabalagala says the best way overnment can help is providing a proper sewage system and quality healthcare instead of taking over people’s homesteads which might pave way for organised land grabbing.

Children unable to leave their front doors because of the stagnant water.

“The rich are trying to grab slums; we are not sure what will happen when government moves to build us proper houses. What we need is a proper sewage system, toilets, health facilities and electricity. Allow people to develop their own properties when they are able to,” he says.
With official data indicating that about 55 percent of all the land within Kampala being public land and 45 percent, private mailo and freehold land, the underprivileged continue to encroach on wetlands and public land to cause a surge in slums. However, some slums are also situated on private land where owners rent at a will.

Plan to improve housing in slums
In 2008, Uganda developed a Slum Upgrading Strategy and Action Plan as a direct response to sustainable development goals and national development programmes that recognise slums as a development issue that requires coordinated policies and actions.
The policy seeks to slow down the growth of slums and eventually stop the creation of new ones through legal and land market reforms by providing security of land tenure, revamping planning and zoning regulations and making housing more affordable.
Nabakooba says the policy provides for affordability inclusiveness but also brings all stakeholders on board. Some of the slums belong to individuals and others belong to government, so there is need for coordination and working together to find a lasting solution. 
 READ: We’re on course to transform Kampala, says Eng Luyimbazi

Urban population to hit 21 million by 2040 - UBOS
Economist and policy analyst Richard Ssempala says the plan comes at a right time but it is upon government and stakeholders to make sure that the beneficiaries are the right people.
He also adds that since the projects will be benefiting the poor, reasonable subsidies must be put in place and the time frame for house repayment should also be reasonable and so should the money.
“As a country we a grappling with the issue of trust, slum dwellers are right to worry that houses might go to the rich, and this is an issue that government must address and enforce,” he says.

It is difficult for property owners to sell because of lack of documentation. 

Ssempala notes that inequality and poverty negatively impact economic growth and if people in slums are catered for, they will work hard to contribute to the country’s economy.
Ssempala adds that slum dwellers provide market to the growing urban economies but the opportunity is constrained by poor livelihood that is accompanied by improper housing. 

State of slums in Kampala
The national slum upgrading strategy and action plan indicates that more than 50 percent of Uganda’s urban population lives in informal unplanned settlements
However, the complexity of land tenure systems in urban areas in Uganda is paving way for slums on land owned by other people or the government. The land tenure law that vests ownership of land to the citizens of Uganda perpetuates poor urban land management practices.

Results from the slum profiling study (2008), indicate that in at least in the four sampled slums, 39.9 percent of the houses were permanent, 31.6 percent were semi-permanent while 28.5 percent were temporary.  Owner occupiers accounted for 22 percent (only 64 percent of these owned the land on which the house was situated), while rentals were 75 percent as the form of accessing housing.
Dave Khayangayanga, the principal housing officer, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development reveals that such an intervention was done in Tororo District where around 100 houses were built to benefit low income earners where each house costs between Shs25m and Shs35m that will be paid over a period of 10 years.

Situation of housing in Uganda
According to Habitat for Humanity, an organisation dedicated to eliminating poverty housing in the country, Uganda currently faces a growing housing deficit of 2.4 million housing units.
The organisation’s data indicates that majority of houses in the country are made of poor structures with around 900,000 housing units in Uganda being substandard and in dire need of upgrading. It further indicates that by 2025, there will be about 52 million people in the country with a housing deficit of about four million units.

When it rains, homes in various slums are flooded by sewage from the nearby public sewage channels that are always open. Photos/Gabriel Buule.

Achileo Luzige, a house blocker in Kabalagala says rent for houses in Kikubamutwe and Kirombe slums range between Shs30,000 and Shs50,000 per month.
In Katoogo, a slum in Ggaba, Makindye Division, encroachers pile soil in government wetland to build temporary structures.  Here, squatters sell plots between Shs500,000 and Shs1m to low income earners looking for homes. Those who buy know the risks associated with these areas such as flooding but they have no other feasible options. 

Global perspective
It is estimated by Habitat for Humanity International, that nearly one billion people live in slums in the cities of the world which represents at least one-sixth of humanity.

Most of these slums are in the cities or towns of the developing countries of the world. The annual urban growth rate in Sub-Saharan Africa is almost five percent, twice as high as in Latin America and Asia.

Data from World Bank shows that the population of Ugandans living in slums was reported to be at 48.3 percent of the country’s urban population in 2018.