UGANDA, Kampala | Real Muloodi News | Cities are meant to grow, but what happens when the rate of expansion exceeds the planning necessary to accommodate it? This is one of the difficulties Mbarara is facing after attaining city status on July 1, 2020.
Due to its advantageous location, Mbarara was a melting pot even before it became a city. However, the city experienced a tremendous expansion in the 2000s with several infrastructure upgrades, including the emergence of several arcades, shopping malls, hotels, and residences.
Concerns about physical planning, trash management, traffic congestion, and the adequate provision of basic utilities like water and electricity were brought on by this exceptional expansion
Challenges at Hand
Many challenges are playing a part in the troubling circumstances that are currently present in Mbarara City.
Inadequate Funds and Resources
The city attained its status but until recently, it kept relying on the same budget it was using as a municipality when it had fewer people and a smaller geographical area yet now it has grown in population which means more demand for services which can only be met with increased revenue collection and more support from the government by allocating more funds to help the city to sustain its new status.
The city administration lacks the revenue to fund services such as the property register which was only updated this year, since 2015, to add more properties to the register to help increase revenue in the city.
The inadequate financial resources and funds in the city council have hindered the strengthening of the set institutional structures, the implementation of the legislation and policies and the training of the available manpower or even recruiting more staff.
South Division Jomo Mugabe, Mbarara City’s Deputy Mayor requests government assistance in the form of finance and human resources so that Mbarara City can be turned into a planned city.
“The city’s planning department is underfunded and understaffed, we need the intervention of the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development to address these pertinent issues before they get out of hand,” Mugabe says.
Wider Geographical Area on Limited Funds
The Deputy Mayor of Mbarara City, says that the city has not yet made plans for these recently acquired regions.
“We had hopes that these areas would give a new face to Mbarara City through proper physical planning but they are also going to waste. There are many illegal structures coming up but we have no capacity to stop them, we are not funded, the city physical planning office has only one staff, that is a physical planner,” says Mugabe.
While there appear to be physical planning initiatives in the city centre, Mbarara Town’s outskirts, particularly the new divisions of Biharwe, Kakiika, and Nyakayojo that were added to the original three divisions (Nyamitanga, Kakoba, and Nyamityobora) to make it a city, shows no such signs.
In Biafra, Kakiika, and Mbarara North Division, unplanned and unmanaged settlements continue to define the peri-urban regions.
“I am seeing the same pattern of mismanagement that happened in the former divisions when Mbarara was still a municipality such as sanctioning encroachment on water bodies and illegal structures, happening in these new divisions which we had hoped would enable us in constructing a modern and smart city,” Mugabe says.
Originally farmlands, these locations are increasingly being taken up by booming commerce hubs and scattered urban developments. For example, the towns’ ever-increasing population lacks access to essential amenities like power, water, and road infrastructure.
The urban poor is a societal issue since they lack assets, have low skill and education levels, and are therefore dependent on low-paying occupations. The problems in housing, infrastructure and physical planning result from the population increase. The city is dealing with a population expansion that is encroaching on gazetted areas such as wetlands.
For example, the city’s major drainage canal has been reclaimed for homes, stretching from Kajogo, Biafra, Saveya, Makenke, and Koranorya.
The wetland was embanked to allow for the development of commercial and residential structures. As a result, floods, poor sanitation and hygiene, and inadequate waste management have already impacted the region, creating breeding grounds for species such as mosquitoes.
Alex Beyendeza, a resident of Koranorya in Mbarara City’s North Division, attributes the city’s planning difficulties to the uncontrollable flood of people who arrive in search of a better life but wind up working and living in slum areas, scraping by on the meagre casual resources that are available to them.
“When the rural migrants arrive here, they discover that the housing, jobs, incomes and amenities that had attracted them to the city are not available or are inaccessible to them. There are no public resources such as housing to help them in the meantime as they improve their economic situation, so their option is to settle in the already teeming slums and competing for the poor paying jobs. This creates a poverty-stricken population that is a burden to the city and community,” clarifies Beyendeza.
Poor Urban Planning
According to Amos Bwengye, a resident of Kakiika in Mbarara City’s North Division, local authorities should take note of the difficulties Kampala City has encountered and start treating effective planning seriously.
“I think Ugandans learn the hard way, challenges such as flooding, traffic congestion, pollution, poor waste management that Kampala City is facing because of poor planning should have served as an example to authorities in Mbarara City, but they have not,” notes Mr Bwengye.
There are various slums in Mbarara City, and their populations are growing regularly. The slums of Biafra, Kajogo, Kisenyi, and Kijungu are only a few of them.
According to Bwengye, current leaders should take decisive action to address the problem because previous ones may have disregarded physical planning, which encouraged the spread of slums and certain unlawful constructions in the city.
Residents in semi-urban regions like Karama, Rwakishakizi, Kicwamba, and Kitagata are now experiencing the effects of unchecked growth, according to Abel Anania, a resident of Karama in Nyakayojo Division, Mbarara South.
“There is a mad rush for land here as developers anticipate developments to scale up here but also speculation in the increasing demand and cost of land in the future. And this expectation has already attracted uncontrolled developments,” explains Anania.
Because of the congestion, Abdu Mwesigwa of Kakoba, Mbarara South, sadly notes that some localities, like Kijungu, are catastrophes waiting to occur.
“When one walks through Kijungu, they are shocked by how irresponsibly structures have been allowed to be constructed. There are no access roads or any sort of service lane. In case of an emergency such as fire, the whole place has the potential to burn down since services such as fire fighters would have no access,” Mwesigwa notes.
Alice Kyobutungi, a person with a disability (PWD) from Kakiika, North Division, comments that even some of the buildings and arcades being built have disregarded the construction requirements, for instance, PWDS accessible provisions.
“Mbarara as a new city should make sure it complies not only with the Physical Planning Act but also with all laws and regulations such as the Building Control Act and Occupational, Safety and Health Act,” she explains.
The Pandemic Impact
The covid-19 pandemic has also impacted local government revenue collection because many businesses were on the standstill during the prolonged lockdown.
What Mbarara City Authorities are Doing to Solve These Challenges
Raising Own Revenue to Fund City Planning
The GIS-enabled property valuations were carried out in Mbarara City with the assistance of USAID as part of the Domestic Revenue Mobilisation for Development (DRM4D) initiative, with the goal of registering all old and new commercial properties that will be taxed over the next five years.
The property valuations exercise aims at increasing revenue at the local government level to fund services like city planning and management including road construction and maintenance, street lights, water and sanitation, local health clinics, and security, among other services provided through the City Councils.
Mbarara City is anticipated to generate USh9.1 billion in property rate income in FY 2022–2023, making it the second-largest revenue producer.
Mbarara City will benefit greatly from these monies to live up to its city status.
Implementing Strict Laws on City Planning
Robert Mugabe, the Mayor of Mbarara City, admits the difficulties with the city’s present physical layout but says that they are working to make improvements.
“Under my leadership, we are cracking down on illegal construction. Every structure must be approved after it passes our physical planning standards and compliance tests,” says Mugabe.
“While it is easy to enforce these regulations on permanent structures it becomes redundant tasking someone building a hut to get approvals,” Mugabe notes.
Richard Mugisha, the Deputy Town Clerk, says there could be a few difficulties, but physical planning is still a top priority. The building control committee, physical development committee, and technical assessment committee must all be contacted before one may erect a new structure.
He says, “Before we were elevated to the city status, the physical planning was mainly with concerned physical standards and demarcating spaces for specific businesses such as markets and bus parks. But now we have to consider issues such as traffic congestion where we have tasked every new development to provide parking space.”
To avoid these places from becoming slums, he added that, new structures can be built on lots as small as 50 by 100 feet in the neighbourhoods of Nyamitanga, Kakoba, and Kamukuzi, and as large as 100 by 100 feet in Nyakayojo, Kakiika, and Biharwe.
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