Arua: What the municipality can do to become a city

An aerial view of Arua Town showing Inzikuru Street, Adumi and Rhino Camp Road. PHOTO BY Felix Warom and Clement Aluma

What you need to know:

In the final part of Arua series, we look at some solutions that could stem random growth and ensure that Arua town is helped to meet its potential

Arua Town is on its way to becoming one huge shanty urban centre. This became obvious after several engagements with both the government and independent planning and development experts.

Lack of enforcement of existing laws, the growing population, strategic location and the cluttered structures, resulting from the money accrued from cross-border trade, including illicit trade, have all been identified as reasons behind the cosmopolitan town turning into a slum.

But the good news is that this messy development can be arrested.

According to the chief executive of Joadah Consults, Joel Aita, whose company is one of the contractors in the country and beyond, the enforcers of the law need to start implementing structural plans while bearing in mind that Arua Town is developing outwards rather than inwards.
He spoke of Nile Eco City, something the Mayor of Arua Municipality, Charles Asiki, earlier alluded to as the ultimate bargain for the cosmopolitan town.

“Nile Eco City is the kind of a city that is purposely planned with proper definitions for everything without compromising the environment. In other words, environment and development will co-exist,” Aita said.

He added: “What Arua needs are definitions for everything. For example, there should be a defined street for commercial units, the same should apply for institutions—all infrastructures must be clearly defined and allocated specific places.”

If implemented, the Nile Eco City project will cost $3m (about Shs8.8b). Part of the project requirement, if completed, is that when one buys a plot in the municipality, he or she will in essence be expected to conform to an agreed design and colours planned for that location.
And should you not agree with the pre-planned technical designs and requirement, there will be no deal.

Also, irregular power supply for a progressive town like Arua has slowed the economic growth of the municipality.

This is well demonstrated by the story of Yakub Abiriga, a youthful mechanic in Arua.
Abiriga believes his potential is terribly under-utilised, considering that half of the time he is idle, thanks to the regular power outages.

He spends so much on powering his small generator, a problem that is being compounded by the price of fuel.
He said he is growing impatient and could consider ditching his current employment to take up trade.

When asked what kind of trade he could venture in, he pauses, smiles and says, “I will take stuff to Juba. Spare parts of vehicles are in demand there.”

This is just one scenario of what acute shortage of power can cause to a population of which more than a half is of youthful age.

The other situation, which is normally swept under the carpet because it does not sound political correct, is the fact that these youth could be lured into crime or any other subversive activity as long as they remain unproductive yet they are of age.

The solution here, according to Harold Acemah, a political scientist, consultant and a retired diplomat, is for the government to massively invest in power as well as safe water in the whole of Arua.

In support of Acemah, Aita argues that with just 3.5 Megawatts of power from West Nile Rural Electrification Company Limited (WENRECO), there were slight growths of small processing factories already, arguing that with more supply of power or better still connecting Arua Town to the national power grid, within years the municipality will be the centre not just for trade but industries as well.

He says: “If Arua can get 100megawatts, I can assure you there will be double shift as people here will never go to sleep—this town is in desperate need of industrialisation, structured commercial building, but that will not happen if connection to the grid is not done.”

Technocrats weigh in

Without sufficient facilities like power and water which is largely drawn from rudimentary boreholes and wells, let alone cashing in commercial agriculture and value addition, the perceived growth will crumble within minutes, according Gideon Badagawa, the executive director of Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU).

He argues that once DR Congo and South Sudan regain their footing and are able to import the merchandise being supplied to them, Ugandans involved in this business will be rendered useless.

According to Badagawa, this kind of trade (re-export trade) is not sustainable and so traders in Arua are better off taking to value addition and commercial agriculture before they are frozen out of business.

Realising that the services offered at the municipality is enjoyed beyond the boundaries of Arua town, the Arua Municipal Council Town Clerk, Francis Byabagambi says that a proposal has been put to the Ministry of Land, Housing and Urban Development to have the areas feeding off the municipality services, included as part of the town council.

This means that the counties of Aivu Adumi, Aivu Aroi, Aivu Ayivuni, Aivu Dadamu, Aivu Manibe, Aivu Oluko, Aivu Pajulu and part of Mvara, will become part of the metropolitan Arua, confirming Aita’s argument that the development of the municipality is outwards rather than inwards.

Should this fall through, Byabagambi will technically oversee an expanded town, currently less than 10 square kilometres, growing to a much bigger jurisdiction of nearly 500 square km.

Not until then, according to Byabagambi, will the accurate growth of Arua town be put into proper context.

Before the 2010 Physical Planning Act was passed and signed into law in 2011, effectively repealing the 1964 Town and Country Planning, it was hard for the urban planning authorities to bring to order development outside its jurisdiction.

But now all that is possible, due to Physical Planning law that renders the entire country a planning area.

The National Planning Authority (NPA) official in charge of urban planning, Emmanuel Ongora, said the authority should make use of this legislation to create sanity in the urban and surrounding areas that could develop into future municipal towns.

Under the old Act, the obligation to obtain development permission in order to develop structures for land use was restricted to developments in urban areas.

The new law compels anybody carrying out development to get authority from a physical planning committee at the district, urban and local levels before embarking on the construction of the facility.

The question, however is, does the authority have what it takes to call those decisions, even with the law on their side?

If yes, Arua town could be transformed from shambolic metropolitan town into a Nile Eco City, where everything is nearly ideal.
And if the answer is no, then Arua town is paving its way into a regional slum.

Plans to stabilise power in Arua town

The government studies estimates that no more than 15 per cent of the population has access to electricity. Arua Town, either by default or design, happens to be one of the townships in the country suffering from acute power shortage.
Already Arua Town is benefiting from the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) project which provides mainly off-grid energy solutions to the municipality. However, this has not at all proved sufficient.

To sort out the problem, the government plans to have Arua Town connected to the national power grid, a move a cross-section of critics, private sector leadership and industry analysts, applaud. However, for years this pledge has turned out to be just that— lip service, but the government continues to say it is committed to solving the power problem in Arua and West Nile in general.

Access to electricity remains limited due to a power system that cannot produce enough energy and a national grid that is poorly maintained and does not reach very far geographically.
As a result, urban and rural poor households mostly depend on kerosene fuel and wick candles for energy and lighting.

Use of alternative energy is the other avenue being encouraged. The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) 2013 report, states that for the government to achieve its ambitious goal of increasing reliance on renewable energy sources to 61 per cent by 2017, it will require some big changes and commitments.

UNCDF is a capital investment agency for the world’s 48 least developed countries, among them Uganda. It provides the necessary funding for these countries to make use of alternative power.

Through its Power Generation Program, the government aims to increase the amount of electricity the country generates and that people can access through a range of technologies, including those that use biomass, biogas, hydropower, cogeneration, solar, wind, peat and geothermal. Most of the new electricity will be provided using hydro, biomass and geothermal technologies, according to the report.

What it will take to get city status

It will take probably decades for Arua Municipality, also referred to as Arua Town, to become a city unless the Nile Eco City plan becomes a reality.

Some of the preconditions for a city status according to the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Planning, include; capacity to meet the cost of service delivery, enough water sources, having a master plan in place and having a population of not less than half a million, requirements, save for the population bit, considering the high growth rate, other preconditions will take more than wishful thinking to have them in place.

The city, if approved, specifically the Nile Eco City, will require no less than $3m (about Shs8.8b) to actualise it.

It will also be a continuous process depending on growing population and the purchasing power of inhabitants.

But if that money is available, between five and seven years should be enough to transform Arua into a modern city.


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