The house that Mzungu Jack built has Ugandans swooning with admiration

We often seem to prefer finding a foreign agency or conman to build houses for us.

I don’t know how many foreign agencies, both genuine and con artist, we have since tried to interest in building affordable houses for us. Yet 98 per cent of the materials required are available here in Uganda, and launching a housing programme would employ a hundred thousand youth for a decade. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG 

IN SUMMARY

  • Although we employ the crème de la crème of our society as MPs, ministers, commissioners, to make policy, when it comes to thinking and designing, we often seem to prefer finding an outsider to do it for us even if it doesn’t require specialised technical skills.

A Ugandan blogger, Simon Kaheru, last week decried the profuse gratitude we shower on foreign medical teams that occasionally fly into Uganda to perform free surgeries and reminded us that when the colonialists came in the 19th century, they found our ancestors performing successful operations to save both babies and mothers.

We can’t even call the birth surgeries caesarean, for they were more advanced than the old inferior European method that wouldn’t save the mother if they saved the baby. But here we are now, unable to perform the simplest medical procedure without using the training and methods of the conquering colonial cultures.

Kaheru traced the evidence of these advanced surgeries that were being performed under anaesthesia in the kingdom of Bunyoro Kitara where it is now well documented – in British archives. But he is neither the first nor the last person to table evidence of the suppression of local knowledge for over a century.

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The suppression marked the onset of an inferiority complex in the nation that continues to pervade all of Uganda’s sectors beyond medicine and is thus blocking us from recovering our thinking capacities to recover control over our destiny as a nation.

Although we employ the crème de la crème of our society as MPs, ministers, commissioners, to make policy, when it comes to thinking and designing, we often seem to prefer finding an outsider to do it for us even if it doesn’t require specialised technical skills.

So, whether in agriculture, health or something as mundane as building houses, an outsider is sought to do the thinking.

This would be okay if the outcome of this “division of labour” were impressive. But the outcome of the planning processes often seems to be less than satisfactory.

The good thing with outcomes is that, however fantastic the official statistics look, the truth can be felt and it is either good or not good enough.

Probably the most glaring refusal to think by Ugandan policy makers is in the housing sector. Since the departure of the military regime nearly four decades ago, the educated policy makers who replaced them have been uttering high-sounding phrases about affordable housing.

Well, they gave away a few thousand old housing units they found already constructed by previous governments. But when it came to developing new, affordable houses, the block in the brain became set in stone. If any policy were ever developed in those 40 years, its products are yet to be seen, 38 years after the departure of the much maligned military government of the “uneducated.”

I don’t know how many foreign agencies, both genuine and con artist, we have since tried to interest in building affordable houses for us. Yet 98 per cent of the materials required are not only available here in Uganda, they are also found within gazetted, government-owned lands (sand, lime, timber, iron ore, clay) and launching a housing programme would employ a hundred thousand youth (masons, plumbers, architects, electricians) for a decade.

And we don’t even need any foreign agency or conman to help us source finance for a housing estate of any size since the buyers of the houses would be the ones to finance it. Why things are not happening is the question that should be asked.

Joachim Buwembo is a social and political commentator based in Kampala. E-mail: buwembo@gmail.com

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