By Denis Jjuuko
A little over two years ago, a musician died under mysterious circumstances after he was found unconscious in a bar some where in Kampala. He was a young promising musician and the whole country mourned. People of all walks of life descended on a village in Ssingo to pay their last respects. The musician came from a family full of singers with household names. He was actually one of the least famous in the family.
Condolence messages soon turned into angry outbursts. Apparently, these famous musicians who live in mansions in Kampala and drive what is generally swanky cars by Ugandan standards had never built a befitting home at their ancestral grounds. Tabloids had a field day and as usual social media went overboard with their condemnation. People who have never built anything became experts condemning the musicians. How could they not have built a house in their village? Admittedly, the house at these ancestral grounds looked every inch as one that belonged to the poor of the poorest. I think it is a miracle it remains standing. You wouldn’t expect it to withstand a two-minute windy session.
I could tell the reasons why people were mad. I don’t know whether it is African culture or western religion. A lot of Ugandans think a lot about death — particularly what will happen to their bodies, how they will be buried and the like. The Catholics even have a prayer where they request God to ensure that they die peacefully! Some relatives who neglect their very own spare no effort in having their sibling who actually die of poverty have what they call “a good send off!” Why should somebody who lived in grass thatched mud and wattle hut be buried in a marble and polished stone grave? Why would the body of such a relative be dressed in a designer suit and even have make up for the very first time when it is lifeless? There was even a rumour of a Kenyan politician who was buried in a bullet proof gold plated coffin!
And that partly explains why some people spend all their savings building a house in the village. They are fearful of how the mourners will talk about them once they die. So they construct magnificent homes at their ancestral grounds. So should you own a house in the village of your birth before you do in Kampala or in the town where you work?
Apart from land, which may come free or very cheap in your ancestral village, the rest of the materials needed to construct a house cost as high if not higher as in Kampala or major town near you. Cement and other materials prices are the same. In some cases, it may even be more expensive to build in the village than in greater Kampala. For example, there might not be a very good builder in the village, so you must transport those you trust from Kampala. They will charge you more than they would in town since they will be working “out of station.” You will even be responsible for all their meals and welfare as they build your village house. Some materials like window frames, tiles, kitchen cabinets etc. may have to be bought from Kampala or nearby towns thereby increasing their cost.
And this is a house in which you may not even spend more than seven days in a whole year. Because you work in Kampala or somewhere far, you may only go to your village a few times and if it is not far from Kampala or your urban work place, on some days you drive there in the morning and you are back later in the evening. So you start paying somebody probably a relative to live in it so it is kept neat and habitable. And then you also pay the electricity bills (rural electrification has extended Yaka in many rural parts of Uganda) and general maintenance.
Building a village home is particularly okay for the wealthy. If you are a struggling young person, you may have to think twice before you build a house in your village of birth (assuming your village of birth is hundreds of miles away from Kampala or the major town where you work). If you use Shs100m to build in the village, the value of the house won’t really go up because technically you may not even be allowed to sell it. Even if you put it on the market, there might not be really any buyers interested. After all, it might even be on ancestral land with many stakeholders.
You can’t rent it either because nobody would give you any real money. Your relatives may not even allow you to anyway. And then again, no bank will take it as collateral either to boost your business. So after spending money on such a village house, which apart from bragging whenever somebody dies, there will be no other value. Of course you can claim satisfaction but if you are still looking for money, struggling to pay fees, and establish yourself, owning a house in the village first may make your life even harder.
The author is a media and communication consultant and construction contractor.
#OutToLunch is a compilation of Denis Jjuuko’s lazy and flaky ideas.