At a recent event to inaugurate some new housing blocks built by the National Housing Corporation in Dodoma, Prime Minister Peter Mizengo Pinda took the opportunity to say the usual niceties of thanking the corporation for taking the initiative to contribute to the Government’s endeavour to improve housing conditions in the country. He even further observed that provision of good houses is clearly spelt out in the ruling party’s election manifesto, which the government is determined to implement to the letter.
In a letter written by a member of the public shortly after the event and published by one of the issue-oriented local newspapers, a writer was visibly not very much impressed by the politician’s sweet talk. He simply wondered aloud whether the nation, soon to mark the 50th Independence Anniversary, has made progress worth writing home about insofar as providing quality housing to its citizens, or even empowering them to do it by themselves is concerned.
I think the readers’ forum opinion giver is genuinely interested in initiating a debate on this vital area. We need not let him down. Let us keep the ball rolling, as the housing question is too important to be taken for granted. After all no single head or even a few heads have solutions to such social problems. This is an area which calls for outsourcing of mental and other inputs from all stakeholders, in the search for a way out.
Some analysts are of the opinion that when revisiting the housing situation in the country, the best approach is to look at it from two scenarios - that is the housing situation in urban centres and the rural housing scenario.
Although the common denominator is availability or non-availability of shelter to citizens, but housing related complications in the two settings vary, and may require different approaches or options in an attempt to cope with them.
There is no doubt that the first phase government took the issue of housing seriously and put it among its priorities. The fact that the National Housing Corporation was established in 1962, which was one year after independence, vindicates the then government’s resolve to tackle the problem head on.
Since the colonial government had little interest in improving the sector for the benefit of all, it is worth noting that the NHC had a daunting task at the beginning but met the challenge by constructing a significant number of houses in major urban centres-especially during the first two or so post-independence decades.
But as we take stock of the sector’s development after 50 years of independence, we note with concern that the housing scenario is at best worrisome, and at worst pathetic. Data provided by the relevant ministry indicate that there is a shortage of about three million residential houses countrywide, and that the demand is increasing at a rate of 200,000 units per annum.
We know too well that there is time in the past when the momentum for building houses in the country slackened, for one reason or another, including poor performance by the NHC, while demand continued to rise due to population increase and concentration in urban centres. And, in any case, house construction initiatives have been mainly confined to urban centres.
Travelling by bus or by train in any direction in the country make one realize that the houses (read huts) one comes across; do not reflect that Tanzanians are living in the 21st Century. And some structures used for shelter in slums based in big urban centres are equally embarrassing.
In fact one may fairly and objectively conclude that the challenge of ensuring Tanzanians live in decent shelter is yet to be adequately and strategically addressed. Of course the only viable way out is to be empower the citizens so that they play a participatory role in solving the problem.
In some countries housing cooperatives have been initiated and are playing a big role. Institutions to provide housing loans are also urgently needed On the whole our economic and human settlement planners need to go back to the drawing board.
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant [email protected]