Gov’t secured funds to elevate some municipalities to city status; but are the towns ready?

The overview of Mbale town following the installation of street lights and upgrade of the roads (Photo by DMAFABI)

MBALE— On June 26, 2006, Mbale town, located in Mbale District, and a number of other towns in Uganda, marked 100 years since their declaration as townships by the colonial government.

According to The Official Gazette of the East Africa and Uganda Protectorate Vol. VIII No 161, Mr H. Hesketh Bell, then His Majesty’s Commissioner, signed a declaration on June 26, 1906, that declared:

“By virtue of the powers conferred upon me by the Uganda Township Ordinance 1903, I hereby declare the following places within limits hereinafter set forth to be townships for the purposes of the aforesaid Ordinance”.

By 1951, the town had built modern offices on what is now called Republic Street and after independence in 1962, the Mbale Municipal Council was the first town to be granted official status of an urban authority.

Most of the people who have lived since then especially the now grey-haired generation will tell you with nostalgia the days when Mbale was the cleanest town on East and central Africa.

In the days Mbale gained a reputation as the cleanest town in East Africa. The Late President Apollo Milton Obote referred to it as the “Jewel of East Africa”. Mbale rotary club then described it as the town with the best and well-designed roads.

According to Mbale historians, the town developed along a low ridge running from East to West at the foothills of Mt Nkokonjeru, currently known as Wanale hill.

Visible from all parts of the town with its picturesque cliffs, cascading waterfalls and green cultivated slopes, the Wanale ridge supplements the town’s allure; the white rocks along the hills are spread like a white sheet on the hills, no wonder the late colonial agent Mr Semei Kakunguru called it a white cock due to the white rocks that appear from a distance like a white cock.

Mr James Kutosi, the municipality spokesperson says that Late Obote had hinted on elevating the municipality to a city status and that he had started building a hotel on Wanale ridge before he was toppled by the NRA in 1986.

“And for us historically, the City status has been delayed long and so when it comes we receive it with both hands because we merit it,” said Mr Kutosi.

He explained that a walk through Mbale municipality today shows that there is very little difference between it and Kampala city save for a few more skyscrapers which are expected to be in a city anyway.

What is a city?

According to the “functional definition” a city is not distinguished by size alone, but also by the role it plays within a larger political context. Cities serve as administrative, commercial, religious, and cultural hubs for their larger surrounding areas.

People all across the world are working to push the boundaries on what it means to become one of the most modern cities and they are using their forward-thinking and innovative efforts in technology, architecture, city planning, and social issues to become models of modernity.

In Vision 2040, government proposed four regional cities to be established and these include Arua, Gulu, Mbale, and Mbarara and five strategic cities which include Hoima (oil), Nakasongola (industrial), Fort Portal (tourism), Moroto (mining), and Jinja (industrial).

A view of the Mbale Central Market in Mbale Municipality

But does Mbale municipality fall into what is called a city?

-In the first case for an area to qualify to be a city, it should have a population of 350,000 people. It used to be 500, 000 but government of Uganda reduced to 350,000 people after discovering that few municipalities could measure to this.

-The municipality should have a master plan for land use and that such a plan could from time to time be reviewed to address emerging issues.

-The municipality to be granted city status must have office space large enough to provide administrative and commercial functions.

-It should also have water sources and be able to meet the cost of providing social services for its people.

– A city should be able to rise upwards of 50 per cent of the revenue it needs for its projects but with the scrapping of Graduated tax ahead of the 2006 general election, many municipalities earmarked for cities – rely heavily on central government transfers.

Why the demand for cities?

The National Development Plan II, the second of six five–year plans aimed at achieving Vision 2040, provides for the creation of four cities.

It proposes the establishment of cities in Gulu, Mbale, Mbarara and Arua and five strategic cities and the strategic cities would be established in Hoima (oil), Nakasongola (industrial), Fort Portal (tourism), Moroto (mining) and Jinja (as an industrial city).

While addressing the 20th National Technology Conference in Kampala, the Commissioner for Urban Development in the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Mr Joseph Walter Paddy, said the move to create cities is aimed at decongesting Kampala City and addressing the impact of urbanisation.

Mr Paddy explained that the government, working together with the World Bank, has injected $150 m (Shs448.8 trillion) to train the local governments in the proposed municipalities to prepare them to become regional cities.

“Under the Municipalities’ Infrastructure Development Project financed by the World Bank, we have been preparing the municipalities to build capacity to render services and support their financial processes,” he said.

Mr Davies Mwaule, speaker emeritus [Mbale municipality] says the reasons for wanting an upgrade from municipal to city status range from creating job opportunities to getting more funds from the central government.

“It is more about employment and Investors would want to establish business. Many will set up shops in the new cities as industrialists because people in cities have purchasing power,” said Mr Mwaule.

Some of the respondents interviewed by PML Daily, Mbale wants a city status because it is running out of land for expansion and that by merging with the outlying, land–rich areas, they would be able to get land.

Population issue in Mbale

According to Uganda’s National Population and Housing Census 2014, the population of Mbale municipality is 96,190 which on the population criterion, the municipality is short of the numbers.

Mr Mutwalib Zandya, the mayor Mbale municipality says that besides population, Mbale is home to multiple higher learning institutes and financial institution branches that qualify it for a city status.

He added that it is about more resources from the central government to the newly created cities and that elevation to city status means additional funding from central government for service delivery.

Mr Zandya explained that the argument that some requirements are not met should not even arise because the proponents have absolutely no moral basis to judge Mbale because Mbale stands at a vantage point in a region that boasts of burgeoning trade with southern Sudan and thriving commerce with neighbouring Kenya.

Mbale town at night after installation of street lights (Photo by DMAFABI)

Mr Mutwalibi added that the functioning street lights, drainage system, and the beautification is a sign that the town is ready for a city and that with improved infrastructural growth by USMID,” I can assure you that we are soon becoming a city”.

He revealed that under the World Bank-funded Uganda Support to Municipality Infrastructure Development (USMID programme], a total of 3.14km road network, which include Republic Street, Nabuyoga rise, Pallisa and Mugisu Hill have been constructed at a cost of Shs10 billion.

Mr Francis Kooko, a councillor representing Nkoma Ward to Mbale municipality says Mbale boasts of over five top-end hotels, over 10 mid-range ones with the possibility of more springing up when city status is granted. Shopping malls and arcades are now a common sight.

“These may not be crucial prerequisites for a city status but unfortunately the only city we have has only these as its dominant features,” said Mr Kooko.

Mr Paul Butanda, the Town clerk, Mbale municipal council said a City status comes with the heavy responsibility of keeping up to international standards which Mbale needs for revival adding that this will decongest the now irritating and over-populated Kampala city.

“And do you know that a shining and promising Mbale city may pile pressure on the capital city to style up to international standards,” said Mr Butanda.

He said the council already has plans to embark on Phase Two of the USMID project beginning in December, which include tarmacking of Naboa and cathedral Avenue roads, among others which will further beautify the town in preparation for a city status.

The Mbale Municipal Council spokesperson, Mr James Kutosi, says the town has a lot to boast about now than ever before, we have first-class hotels our and five-star hotels, good schools, Universities, industries, health facilities, hangout places and business entities, among others.

Ms Rhoda Nyaribi, the municipal environment officer said with the construction and renovation of roads and installation of street lights, the town is steadily regaining its former glory and people can now do business up to anytime since security has improved.

She said the municipality boasts of an effective way to manage its waste funded by World Bank through the National Environment Management Authority that has seen establishment of a garbage composite site and that this would serve as a garbage management plant when a city is granted.

Records indicate that Mbale municipal council passed a resolution for elevation to a city status on November 29, 2008. However, since then, nothing has been done.

Mr Bernard Mujasi, the LCV chairman for Mbale district local government explained that urbanization will also help to resettle people in landslide-prone areas and bring services closer to residents.

He revealed that the population of Mbale Municipality is multi-ethnic comprising the Basoga, Bagwere, Baganda, Banyankole, Langis and Iteso, as well as the Indian Community and a semblance of Swahili people from Tanzania and the coast of Kenya. However, the majority are the Bamasaba ethnic group (the Bagisu).

According to the National Population and Housing Census 2014 provisional results, Mbale town is among the 20 largest urban Centres in the country in terms of population. It has been growing at the rate of 2.5 annually.

Mr Kutosi says that currently the town is inhabitant to 96,190 while 10 years ago it was a resident for 71,130 people and a decade earlier it was a home for 53,990 people. This is how in terms of population the town has since changed, with the majority being in their youthful age.

He added that the municipality has a master plan that involves convincing some of the outlying areas to merge with like the sub-counties of Namanyonyi, Nakaloke, Nawuyo town council and Mutoto sub-county to increase on the area and insufficient revenue streams.


The Local Government Act 1997 considers a city to be equivalent to a district, which is bigger than a municipality

The Local Government Act under Chapter 243 requires that a municipality seeking to gain a city status must have a population of 500,000 inhabitants although government recently revised it to 300,000 since it is hard for most towns to reach a population of 500,000 people currently. Ends


Mbale Municipality is one of the most competitive and attractive business centres in eastern Uganda. It is on the foot of Wanale ridge of Mountain Elgon, which is 8,000 feet above sea level. Geographically, it covers 2,435 hectares. Mbale is among the towns being targeted as regional cities, along with Jinja, Arua, Mbarara and Gulu.



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