Is Mbarara Ready for a City status?

Mbarara Gatewat Roundabout the home of “Rusiina the Bull” the symbol of Ankole Region. Photo By Otushabire Tibyangye

Part 1By Otushabire Tibyangye

Effectively  July 1 Government has  elevated Fort Portal, Mbarara, Hoima, Lira, Arua, Gulu, Mbale, Jinja and Entebbe municipalities to cities, supposedly to promote regional development.

The Vision 2040 recommendation to create the new cities is to decongest Kampala, the commissioner in-charge of Urban Planning, Mr Justin Niwagaba, said last week.

According to the Local Government Act, a municipality must have a population of at least 500,000, have facilities, institutions, developments and an enabling environment that attract people to work, invest and stay there.

The private sector must also offer services to support the growing city and its population, among others.

According to Mr Niwagaba, Mbarara, Arua Gulu and Mbale will be regional cities while others will be strategic cities; Fort Portal (tourism), Jinja (industrial), Lira (industrial) and Hoima (oil).

Nakasongola and Moroto have been differed because their planning requires a different model.

Mbarara City

Mbarara Municipality is located in the western part of Uganda about 290 km from Kampala City  capital of Uganda.  It is an important business hub and travelers easily connect with other parts in the west and countries beyond like Rwanda, Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo

Among the requirements for city status, population is key. To achieve this status Mbarara Municipality was expanded to include the then Kakiika, Biharwe and Nyakayojo Sub Counties into new divisions.

Originally the municipality comprised three divisions  of Nyamitanga, Kakoba and Kamukuzi.

The Municipal Council speaker Ben Tashobya Karusya says much as preparations are going on to make it a city, some challenges lay ahead.

 “Yes we are ready for a city status, we are doing what it takes to achieve a city status, like improving infrastructure like roads, the department of physical planning, health facilities and the education sector for better service delivery.

We are also faced with human resource manpower which has first to improve so as to occupy certain offices like the town clerk, engineers and other technocrats,” he observes.

He also highlights the bottleneck of insufficient funds raised from local revenue. “We are faced with a small resource envelop. To counter this, we are looking at attracting investment, promotion of tourism sector and hotels to accommodate the tourists once they come”.

In the health sector he says much needs to be done. There is need to improve the existing health centres by equipping them with enough drugs and human resource to handle the influx of rural urban migration that is sky-rocketing.

Easy View Complex one of the new shopping centres that have come up to light the face of the growing Mbarara Municipality. Photo By Otushabire Tibyangye

Karutsya however says much as people welcome the city status, there is a lot of skepticism among the locals who still lack information.

People are still resisting change. Our people still believe living in the old ways for instance they do not want their land to be zoned into what the council would want to plan for their area.

Senate Agaba of SENEX INVESTMENT a businessman in Mbarara town is of the view that it is a good idea but is not sure whether the people are ready for it. “Yes it will come with many benefits but many challenges still remain. The population is not ready for it because there is lack of sensitization. Our people lack information. People need to know the benefits of a city and its implications,” he says.

He highlights some of the challenges as construction of houses according to approved planning of the area. Some of the bottlenecks that still exist are lack of water in the newly brought on board

Divisions of Kakiika, Biharwe and Nyakayojo, roads and lack of land titles for their land.

He also observes that the education sector is still wanting, with lack of enough classroom blocks which are befitting city status.

However he is optimistic that with the population growth, a city is welcome. “Once it is declared a city, we shall get investors which will raise the value of land, hotels will operate to full capacity and regional conferences will bring in more revenue”

Mr Eric Bayino a senior citizen and businessman observes that the population is still small for a city. “If we are to become a city we need a large population which will be able to consume the commodities available.

“Currently we lack the middle class in town and many businesses have closed due to lack of customers including Nakumatt Supermarket one of the leading supermarket in  East Africa. You find people sleeping on their counters because of lack of customers. Besides rent is very high yet business is very low,” he says.

He says the divisions that were brought on board are largely rural and need a lot of sensitization especially on land tenure and use.

“Some people still own farms in the municipality, dealing with such people needs a lot of patience and sensitization lest they are misunderstood.”

He is however optimistic that as time goes on the population will grow once investors are brought on board to invest in Mbarara. Some potential investments include agribusiness, processing and manufacturing like steel, soft drinks, milk, beef to mention but a few.

Another big challenge is the housing sector for middle income earners. The population largely depends on small rented rooms commonly known as mizigo, while others stay in bungalows. Housing estates are almost nonexistent save for National Housing Estate which has limited apartments.

Next issue we shall look at investment opportunities and how to overcome bottlenecks that are existing.

About Anthony Otushabire

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