Some months ago, a number of banks and Tanzanian, Kenyan and Ugandan finance, housing and lands ministries were represented at an historic meeting in Kampala called to deliberate on strategies to promote innovative financing for affordable housing.
Also at the three-day meeting, jointly organised by the government of Uganda, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Nairobi-based UN-Habitat, were US government and UN officials.
The plan was for delegates – among them civil servants, investors, and bankers – to share experiences and identify strategies to stimulate funding for affordable housing in East Africa and “close the wide gap between the availability of and demand for housing, particularly in rapidly urbanising areas”.
Granted, it may be too early for anyone to expect the meeting to have resulted in noticeable or appreciable improvement in the state of housing in the region.
But the UN agency warned as long ago as 2006 that the majority of people worldwide would be living in towns and cities by 2007 – for the first time in history, adding that the number of slum dwellers would hit 1 billion and that 2050 would see over 6 billion people (two-thirds of humanity) living in towns and cities.
Of particular relevance to Tanzania is that expert projects showed that a whole 93 per cent of urban growth would occur in Asia and Africa, and to a lesser extent Latin America and the Caribbean.
As expected, both organisers and delegates spoke at great length and with characteristic emphasis on the central role of housing in the alleviation or eradication of poverty.
This is the scenario at a time when efforts to develop human settlements are getting increasingly fashionable across the globe, which should be good news to the homeless poor. Unfortunately, it is scarcely that much of good news!
Meanwhile, Housing ministers from the five East African Community partner states – and South Sudan – are due to meet with private sector real estate players in Nairobi next month. The agenda: discussing strategies of attracting international capital and expanding housing supply in the region.
Should things run as scheduled, we should soon see international investors and developed rushing into the region’s residential housing, commercial, industrial and agricultural sectors.
Homeowners usually save more and may be more patriotic and creditworthy, so our people must be empowered to meet the MDGs through improvement of infrastructure and reduction of housing construction costs. They should not perpetually languish in slums or forever remain squatters, renters or tenants.
We know the government is keen on reviewing official policies and regulations so as to ease access to land for construction. In this respect, the national Property and Business Formalisation Programme (Mkurabita) comes readily to mind.
We are informed of the government’s resolve to make mortgage finance and the regularisation of land and offer security of tenure centrepieces of its financial reforms.
All excellent ideas – if they eventually translate into better housing for all our people. It is, admittedly, a very tall order. But it is a mission that must be accomplished, however costly it is and however long it takes, because access to decent housing is surely a basic human right.