By Alex Taremwa
Everything has a target, vision , goal whatever it is they you want to call it. Us of Mbarara also have our own aspiration; City status. But we acknowledge that everything has it’s history, paths and sidewalks; here is where we are.
History: Mbarara town dates back to the colonial days as an administrative centre for the western region around 1900 and has slowly grown into a sprawling town today. It derives its name from the local tall green grass locally known as “Emburara” that covered the whole area but poorly pronounced by the whites.
Real commercial growth began with the arrival of Asians in the 1950’s and became commercially active by 1957 leading to being declared a township authority, under the British colonial administration. It was elevated to a municipality in 1974. All along it was also the home of southwestern colonial administration at Booma Hill next to the King of Ankole who had his palace ‘Mugaba’ at Kamukuzi hill. The town started at the current Rwebikoona market on Mbarara –Bushenyi/Kasese road before shifting to the present location two miles away. The beginning was humble by Indians putting up makeshift shops using iron sheets that were later converted to permanent shops.
Trends in Growth: The growth of the town has not come the easy way as it was greatly destroyed by the liberation wars of 1972, 1979 and 1985. Most of the buildings and other infrastructure were destroyed during the 1979 liberation war. This hampered development and growth for some time. However now it has reached the stage of taking off as city due to rapid development and geographical location. Political stability enjoyed in largely the bigger part of the country in the last 22 years has accelerated it all.
Mbarara municipality has evolved into a business herb for the western part of the country is a gateway to the Great Lakes region which includes Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Democratic Rep of Congo. Most of the buildings that were destroyed during the liberation wars have since been replaced and new ones have also come up to make the town beautiful and vibrant.
Some of these shopping malls house all sorts of business ventures from retail to whole sale both for local traders to other nationalities for example Nakumatt, Golf course and other multi-million shopping entities and give Mbarara town a leverage for longevity not to mention the availability of stable electricity distribution, market population, land for expansion, institutions of Higher Learning like Universities and School that enhance the technical know-how for labour and Entrepreneurship, religious institutions like Cathedrals, Hotels and Utilities like water.
Population and People:
After the NRM Government took charge in 1986, Mbarara town saw the multiplicity of investors and businessmen returning following their expulsion by the Amin Administration. Mbarara now is a mixture of nationalities ranging from Rwandese, Indians, Asians, Chinese, Arabs and Somalis.
The 2011 population estimate by UBOS assumes Mbarara’s population at 83,700 people settling in the town which is built on hilly areas separated by short small and generally shallow valleys and also lies on an elevated basin forming the East African rift valley. It is divided in three divisions of Kakoba, Kamukuzi and Nyamitanga.
The residential areas were in the pre- independence times segregated. The civil servants stayed on Booma hill taking the nickname of Kizungu because of many whites were staying and working from there, while the locals went to Nyamityobora and nicknamed it “Kizungu” for Africans. The very poor of the poor went to Kajogo Cell and nicknamed it Biafra in reference to the civil war of Biafra State in Nigeria in 1967. However, residential areas today flourish in many principalities of the town in Kisenyi, Ruharo, Lugazi, Nkonkonjeru, Kiyanja, Ntare, Kakyeka, Andrews’ and other outskirts of the steadily growing town.
Industry in Mbarara:
The proximity of R. Rwizi has cultivated a back-borne for the establishment of large and small scale business due to the fringe benefits they enjoy both as a raw material for beverage industries but also as source of irrigation water for the tree planting and nursery bed businesses.
Apart from having the highest number of milk processing plants in Uganda, Mbarara has other industries that contribute greatly to the supply and revenue generation over time. These include Mbarara Coca- Cola plant; a bottling plant owned by Century Bottling Company, Mbarara Nile Breweries Brewery under Construction, Mbarara Steel Plant owned by China Machine Building International Corporation; a Chinese Government Parastatal Company.
In addition to the above is Kazaire Herbal bottling industry that deals in mixture of African herbs and medicines to create cure for a range of diseases, about 8 FM radio stations which Include Radio West, Crooze FM, Endigito Radio, Top Radio, Grace Radio, Vision Radio and Radio Maria, a community radio founded by the Catholic Church and the leadership of Nyamitanga Cathedral. Mbarara has also one Television Station (TV West), Fruit and Juice Processing and packaging industries like GBK Industries, Furniture, Carpentry and joinery industries, Textile and cloth knitting industries though small scale. There is cropping of construction related companies, to candle making thus making Mbarara an investment destination. 4
The proximity of Lake Mburo National park makes Mbarara a tourist destination with good hotels and entertainment centers springing up to absorb the big number of tourists and businessmen frequenting the municipality. Hotels best known for accommodation of such important guests currently are Lake View Regency Hotel, Igongo Cultural Center and many more. Other tourist attractions in Mbarara include the Ancient Ankole Cultural sites like the royal tombs, water falls on R.Rwizi, the historical church and the Omugabe’s palace at Kamukuzi Division Headquarters.
Minor attractions include the Headquarters of 2nd Division of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces, Fountain, Scenery and Topography, dressing, beads and Art and the setting geographically of Mbarara town itself.
Religion and Social life: Although Mbarara is a heterogeneous area, Christianity remains the most dominant religion in the area. Mbarara hosts the Headquarters of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese at Nyamitanga and Mbarara Anglican diocese of the Church of Uganda at St. James’ Cathedral, Ruharo. Other churches inclining to the Christian denomination include Pentecostal churches which lie in almost every corner of the City but the most dominant ones being Daystar Cathedral.
There are other prominent Churches in Mbarara including All- Saints Church, Uganda Martyrs’ Parish Church, Kiswahili full Gospel church to mention but just a few.
On the other hand, those that disincline to the Christian denomination also attend prayers at their respective places for example Mbarara Muslim Community Mosque along the Kakoba Road, the Hindu Temple on Mbaguta Street nest to the former Horizon Coaches Bus Park.
Commercial business: Apart from the many shopping malls and supermarkets, Mbarara boosts of about 20 commercial banking institutions that range from Micro-finance institutions like Pride-Micro Finance to International Banks like Stanbic Bank, Barclays Bank and Kenya Commercial Bank. Other Banks are Equity Bank, Centenary Rural Development Bank, Crane Bank, DFCU Bank, Diamond Trust Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and a lot more. In addition to these are commercial centers like Mbarara Central Market, Marckanishing and the Rwebikoona Markets.
Shopping in Mbarara can be done at Nakumatt Oasis, Day to Day Shopping, Dubai shopping Centers for both interior, furniture and other basic products.
Hang-out Spots: While in Mbarara, there is a wide range of places to spend your money and in return, you get value for your money. These range from Hotels, Bars, Clubs and sports and recreation center activities like fishing, swimming and playing.
During the day, Swimming and sunbathing is ongoing and often time chilling at the beach with buddies. Bull roasting and hunting shouldn’t be underestimated only that you just need to find the right company. Whereas in the nights, one’s got to bless one’s presence at spots well selected for their treatment and security. In this section, many places fall under this category and the writer just can’t exhaust them. I would rather recommend using smart phone applications for maps to locate the ones in the proximity of wherever you may be staying.
Foods: Traditional foods and dishes from many other countries can be traced at five star hotels; the likes of Baguma Hotel, Igongo Cultural Center, Pelikan Hotel, London Inn, Ruhinda Hotel, Rwizi Arch Hotel and many other places as your ones’ curiosity will take them.
As part of the modernization of the Mbarara- Katuna road (2011-2015), a new northern bypass road is planned for the town. The bypass will start from the Coca-Cola plant on Mbarara-Masaka road, through Rwebishuri, Nkonkonjeru and join the Mbarara – Kabale at Katatumba Resort about 5km southwest of the Central Business District. This in attempt to decongest the city center by taking off long-distance trucks destined for Bujumbura, Kigali and Kinshasa respectively.
Also in 2015, a branch of Uchumi Supermarket is projected to be in operation adding to the already attained prestige from major Super-markets in the Great-Lakes Region. A Catholic Major Seminary is also in plans to add to the already existing tertiary Institutions like Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Bishop Stuart University, Uganda Martyrs University, and Uganda Management Institute
City status! What do people think?
The town Clerk for Mbarara Municipality says the quest for a city status cannot be over-emphasized because Mbarara now has what it takes to be declared a city. “It is even too late to have Mbarara elevated to a city status because the growth of the population is enormous. Many institutions have come up, it is a regional centre both for the western region and neighbouring countries,” he says. He adds that the current town has generally developed as per structural plan; however the neighbourhood has not followed any pattern to the extent that the town is now surrounded by an unplanned neighbourhood.
“Once declared a city, the municipality is set to benefit from the expansion by bringing on board surrounding sub counties of Nyakayojo, Bubaare, Biharwe and Kakiika. This will ease on congestion and up-hazard planning currently taking place in those sub counties,” Amoko says.
However some of the residents have different ideas on the development of the town. “Yes the town has developed but some of these developments are not on plan and make out town look more of a slum in some parts like Kakiika and Kakyeka where one finds he or she has no access to his premises and has to make a detour to access their homes,” Erik Bayino a resident of Kakiika says.
Ms Florence Kamashaza of Nkokonjeru says much as the town has developed, service delivery of some basic necessities like health care does not match with the growth. Maybe once the town is elevated to a city status things may change if government can increase the funding.
It is a general perception therefore that has garned what it takes to be branded a city both in terms of infrastructure and commercialization and these calls for a single voice in development of this great town. Investors need to take pride in investing in such towns so as to make use of the opportunities available in terms of land and labour force not to mention the markets available.