BY Stephen Bogere Stephen, national co-ordinator, Municipal Development Forums
Uganda is urbanizing at an unprecedented rate of 5.2% per annum, putting a major strain on local governments to meet the development needs of the urban population, Stephen Bogere Stephen, national co-ordinator, Municipal Development Forums (MDF), has revealed.
“While Uganda’s urbanization level is relatively very low at only 18% of its population residing in cities and towns, it is one of the most rapidly urbanizing countries in Africa. The total number of people residing in urban areas is expected to quadruple from six million people at present to more than 20 million people by 2040,” Mubinzi told the District Focus in an exclusive interview. (Who is Mubinzi)
He noted that this is already causing various urban challenges for policy makers.
The key challenges according to Mubinzi are high rates of unemployment and underemployment especially in urban areas, with the rate of creation of productive jobs being lower than the rate of growth of the urban population.
“As a result, over 75% of the labour force in urban areas is employed in the informal sector, characterized by low productivity and low wages. In addition, congestion and lack of public transport options in many cities restricts the movement of goods and people”, he said.
Mubinzi says the quality of housing remains a major challenge with more than 60% of the residents of urban areas living in slums and informal settlements. Finally, the delivery of social services of an adequate quality to a rapidly expanding urban population is also a source of concern.
Therefore, the high rate of urbanization in Uganda calls for serious attention to effectively tackle the emerging challenges. The inadequate institutional capacity hampers effective integrated planning, development and management. Inadequate co-operation, networking and collaboration among various actors in the urban sector foregoes the benefits of synergies. Under-funding of the Urban Councils undermines the implementation of urban development plans and efficient delivery of services.
“This, therefore, calls for robust and innovative mechanisms that foster and enhance inclusive governance practices to empower the urban dwellers as key partners in the planning and management of the urban councils. The establishment of the Municipal Development Forums is, therefore, being encouraged to provide a platform for the participation and engagement of stakeholders in the affairs of the urban councils,” he added.
The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda under Democratic Principle 3, Articles 17 and 38, alludes to the fact that citizens in a given locality either in groups or individuals have a right to participate in the affairs of government. This, therefore, points to the fact that citizens have a constitutional right to direct their destiny in planning and decision making; not as passive recipients but active and meaningful partners in development.
This is further supported by the Local Government Act Cap 243 preamble which states that Local Governments should ensure good governance and democratic participation in decision making by the people.
Similarly, the National Urban Policy for Uganda (2017), provides for establishment and rolling out of functional Urban Development Forums across all the urban hierarchies and this is backed up by the New Urban Agenda Section 48 stating that UN member countries like Uganda are committed to use MDFs as Multi-Stakeholder Platforms to identify opportunities for urban economic development and identify and address existing and emerging challenges.
The MDFs are platforms established at the Municipal level for all stakeholders in the urban sector to meet regularly; exchange views; debate priorities and agree on common actions on matters pertaining to the urban sector in their LGs.
They are voluntary platforms that provide space for public dialogue by the urban stakeholders on pressing urban sector challenges.
In 2010, Uganda adopted the Urban Forum Concept, following a resolution by the UN member states at the World Urban Forum Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to foster citizen participation at the urban local level by creating Municipal Development Forums in the then five municipalities of Mbarara, Mbale, Jinja, Arua and Kabale, which have since been elevated to city status.
The Municipal Development Forums are currently established in 26 Municipalities of Apac, Mbarara, Arua, Moroto, Bushenyi-Ishaka, Mubende, Lira, Mukono, Lugazi, Jinja, Busia, Kabale, Entebbe, Kamuli, Fort portal, Kasese, Masaka, Kitgum, Gulu, Ntungamo, Hoima Soroti, Masindi, Tororo, Mbale and Kira.
MDFs are, therefore, voluntary, multi-skilled platforms and instrumental spaces where citizens represented by civil society or community-based organizations, academics, youth, women, media, etc, come together with municipal authorities to discuss and make decisions about local development, service delivery and governance issues; thereby making local governance more inclusive and representative.
Current experiences and best practices
Mubinzi explains that their establishment in various Urban authorities, the MDFs have stepped up urban transformative and service delivery by holding the councils in the 26 urban authorities accountable to the urban citizenry.
A multiplicity of benefits have been achieved in the Urban Authorities these include regular and consistent enabling environment for urban stakeholders participation in city governance and management; increased social responsibility among citizens in urban campaigns like keeping the town clean; promoting innovation and creativity in addressing of urban challenges. Critical in conflict resolution in matters specific to urban development and management for instance imploring urban citizens to voluntarily offer land for road expansion and upgrading and also mediating/ arbitrating on court cases between councils and other individual parties thus saving monies for other service delivery requirements;
They have also played a watchdog role and also enhanced value for money and quality assurance in the spirit of transparency and accountability to citizens in various municipalities. Urban Development Forums have also enhanced a sense of community ownership of infrastructure sub-projects like community roads, bus parks, markets, drainage channels, street lights, solid waste management tools and equipment, public open spaces, community centers among others.
“The MDFs have also precipitated re-discovering the leadership potential among urban players to positions of influence and responsibility as government or non-government actors – a number of MDF members have also up-scaled to other positions of responsibilities as political leaders and professional actors. Furthermore, the MDFs have also contributed to strengthening and promoting a bottom-up approach to planning and decision making which is key under the decentralization framework”.
“Above all, the MDFs have been instrumental in enhancing a sense of community ownership of government projects and programs through their participation and engagement”, he explained further.
The urban space, especially in developing countries like Uganda, has multifaceted complexities in service delivery in terms of challenges and opportunities.
This is, therefore, to urge the authorities to embrace the MDF and support their establishment for purposes of inclusive good urban governance practices that are responsive to the needs and concerns of the urban citizenry. Therefore, the Municipal Development Forums are one of the avenues to achieve the ultimate goal of transformed and sustainable urban areas that are inclusive, safe, productive, competitive, functional and resilient for sustainable urban development and the overall improved quality of life of both the urban, Peri-urban and rural areas in Uganda.