Mbale is a Municipality in Mbale District in the eastern part of Uganda. It began as a commercial centre for Arab slave traders and later attracted Indian traders who had come to East Africa to build the railway line.
Eventually, Mbale became the Uganda Government’s administrative centre for the Eastern Uganda region.
The major challenges facing Mbale town are growth of informal human settlements, poor land records, lack of serviced land, poor land tenure system, out-dated structure plans, political interference in decision making, out-dated laws, high urban population, and inadequate human resources.
Mbale Town is located on the foot of Wanale ridge of Mt. Elgon which is 8,000 feet above sea level. It covers a geographical area of 2,435 hectares. Mbale’s central location makes it attractive, competitive and a business hub in the region. Further its location and multiple entry points and its close proximity to Kenya makes it accessible to all regions and provides opportunities for enhanced trade activities that attract local investment necessary for economic development.
Mbale town is experiencing typical problems associated with urban areas such as high population growth and unemployment, lack of basic urban services and inadequate waste management.
Mbale town is governed through a system of decentralization as per the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. Through this system, Lower Local Governments are empowered to run their day to day affairs. Mbale is governed by the Mayor who forms the Executive Council, and the Speaker who is the head of legislation. Four members of the Executive are secretaries of the different Sectoral Committees of the council, which are; Finance and Administration, Social Services, Works, and Gender and Community Development. There is also a Technical Department headed by the Town Clerk who is the Chief Executive and Accounting Officer of the Council.
Mbale Town is prone to disaster risks due to its location on the foot of Mt. Elgon. These include landslides, earthquakes, floods, and droughts among others. Mbale Municipality however lacks the capacity to manage their periodic disasters.
Environment and Climate Change
Serious environmental issues are being faced in Mbale Municipality. These include poor waste disposal, poor sanitation, pollution of water sources, and deforestation.
The Municipality also faces various challenges as a result of climate change. These include recurring floods, landslides and drought. The uncontrolled dumping of waste and chemicals has had a negative impact on the town’s environment and human health.
There is shortage of land in Mbale Municipality because the demand is higher than the supply. The high rate of population growth in the Municipality has resulted in poor land use practices on the existing land. The main challenges facing land in Mbale include lack of land owned by the municipality, haphazard developments on the existing land, over population, and pollution.
Local Economic Development
Mbale is strategically located in Uganda which makes it attractive and competitive. It is surrounded by a rich agricultural region which provides the Municipality with agricultural produce. Its close location to Kenya provides the town with opportunities for various economic activities and trans-border trade.
The main economic activities carried out in Mbale include trade, transport services such as boda-bodas, telecommunication services, restaurants, lodges and hotel services, and food processing industries. In slum areas however, there are high levels of unemployment, especially among the youth.
Slums and Shelter
In Mbale, informal settlements are on the increase and are caused by rural-urban migration. Slum areas are characterized by absolute poverty and they include: Kikamba, Barracks, Mutukula, Kiteso, Bulago, Bujoloto, Namatala, and Kikaramoja.
These slum areas are also characterized by inadequate services and shelter, inadequate waste management, lack of essential infrastructure, and inadequate access to clean water, safe sanitation facilities, and services. Slum residents need to be provided with secure land tenure in order to facilitate redevelopment and investment programs.
Gender and HIV/AIDS
Women in Mbale Town constitute the higher population of the unemployed and are mainly active in the informal sector. Women face the highest health risks and they don’t have access to health services. According to the Mbale Municipal Alliance of Mayors and Municipal Leaders Survey, the HIV/AIDS infection rate in Mbale Municipality stands at 5.3 per cent.