Rubanda District, in the south western tip of Uganda is the newest district having come into operation on July 1, joining a pool of others.
It borders Kabale, Kisoro, Kanungu districts and the south west corner border of Rwanda.
Rubanda was formerly a county of Kigezi and subsequently Kabale District. It has now been parcelled out as a separate district following the boundaries of the former Rubanda County under the current district proliferation designed to bring services nearer to the people.
Residents of Rubanda are mainly Bakiga with a smaller indigenous group of Batwa.
However, its contiguity with Kisoro and Rwanda means there are pockets of Bafumbira and Banyarwanda in the district.
The natural resources of Rubanda are wide and immense reminiscent of the beauty that so aptly represents the uniqueness of Uganda.
Ever heard of “Switzerland of Uganda”! You need not to go further; it is Rubanda that is reflected in this legendary phrase.
The top-pointed hills and V-shaped valleys create scenic and panoramic beauty that have no other representation in the country. The district boasts of the second deepest lake in Africa - Lake Bunyonyi - a lava trapped lake that mesmerises visitors.
The mineral riches are vast with the biggest high grade deposit of iron ore in Muko.
Indeed, due to the high grade iron ore, local people called abahesi, are able to convert (blacksmithing) and support domestic and commercial supply of tools such as pangas, knives, hoes and spears.
The district boasts of enormous mineral reserves of the finest wolfram, tungsten, iron ore at Bjordal Mines (now Krone). There are also known areas with gold deposits as well as the biggest deposits of peat in Uganda.
The district is less forested but it has the largest forest plantation in Uganda at Mafuga and the only known seed stand for pinus patula at Echuya Forest Reserve. This has allowed the people to take-up massive tree growing for domestic and commercial purposes.
Rubanda also has the only remaining natural forest with accessible bamboo in Uganda at Echuya Forest Reserve.
The district also borders with Bwindi Impenetrable National Park that contains the highest population of Mountain gorillas in the world. The two natural forests with restricted range and endemic species of animals, birds, and uniqueness of the natural resources can be a catalyst for eco-tourism development in the district.
Mountain gorillas alone account for more than Shs39b revenue to Uganda boosted by eco-tourism, scenery, culture, famous hot springs at Nyamasiizi, cruises on the deepest lake, hiking and mountain climbing and potential for tourism development is unlimited.
Whereas the policy documents and media reports indicate that Rubanda was carved out of Kabale District, based on the natural resource base, the reverse is true; Kabale was cut from Rubanda.
Rubanda produces the largest amount of Irish potatoes in the country, but more so the best. In Kampala, Irish potatoes from Kabale are priced higher than others but in actual sense that brand of potatoes come from Rubanda.
There are many other crops grown for food security or sale. Sorghum is probably the most cherished crop in Rubanda. It is used to produce bushera and omuramba (non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks, respectively).
With its temperate cool climate with support from two national agricultural research institutes (Kachwekano and Karengere), Rubanda could be a potential area for growing novel crops such as apples, tomatoes, high grade passion fruits, mushrooms as well as other improved varieties of traditional crops.
Such would stimulate development of associated food processing industries for packaging and export.
This potential is highly unexploited, although recently there have been efforts to promote growing of tea as a cash crop. However, the land ownership system limits its spread due to land fragmentation.
Any effort to promote wide scale tea growing, especially deep in villages may create a shortage of land for growing crops, which may reduce food production and hence increase food insecurity.
Despite the above potential, there are still many challenges in the sub-region with water supply being on top.
Although the sub-region has rich water resources, accessibility is constrained by the terrain with steep hills and deep valleys that make collection of water a whole-day event. There is a saying in some parts of Rubanda, that it is easier to give a visitor obushera than water.
Electricity is another challenge. Whereas government has increased effort to provide electricity to villages through rural electrification programme, Rubanda has not appreciably benefited.
The road network is bad due to topography of the area and lack of maintenance, which affects markets for produce, access to healthcare and therefore livelihood of the people.
Education and sports are still lacking both in quality and quantity.
But beyond the challenges, Rubanda has the potential to produce the best track and long distance athletes similar to those in the Sebei sub-region.
Therefore, the potential for development of Rubanda into model district is unrivalled.
With huge deposits of untapped minerals, unexploited potential for crop production and food processing, the tourism potential based on the best attractions in the country and above all the hard working populace, the people of Rubanda can only fail themselves.
Whereas there have been criticisms of the proliferation of unviable districts in Uganda, the creation of Rubanda is an opportunity to unlock the potential for development of the area.
Water supply. Is a key challenge in the district due to the steep and hilly nature of the landscape. However, there are efforts to ease access to water.
Electricity. It remains a challenge but there is some hope due to efforts boasted by rural electrification.
Road network. The hilly nature of the district makes transport and road works a challenge, however, the district is seeking to make works a priority in the longer term.
Education and sports. Rubanda has the potential to produce some of the best athletes.