By: Javier Silas Omagor
MBALE: From trading centers, towns, cities to capital cities, urban centers in the Africa continent generate, collect and dumb waste to specified sites while some even go as far as creeping it into lakes, rivers and streams since time immemorial but that is now changing, thanks to one enterprising town in Uganda, Eastern Africa.
A commercial center of the Eastern region, which is apparently transitioning into a city, Mbale town is set to become Africa’s first electricity producer powered by garbage produced within to sell surplus electricity to the national grid, cutting the carbon emissions associated with oil-powered generation.
Re – Writing Or Creating History?
Mbale town is no stranger to making history, let’s begin by turning back the clock, just a couple of years ago.A recap of urban history in Uganda clearly shows that in 1960s -70s,Mbale town was the cleanest in East and central Africa.
Many of us who passed through the social studies’ – SST classes in primary schools here in the Pearl of Africa, vividly recall that one of the common questions in the examination papers was; which town is the cleanest in the East and Central Africa – the answer was always Mbale town!
Those who lived then still share stories of how people (tourists) came from across east Africa and as far as DRC and beyond to visit Mbale, thanks to the cleanest town tag.
“These tourists always meant that Mbale earned revenue and won the hearts of philanthropists, developers, foreign trade partners and global attention hence cohesion in development.” Former Mbale Mayor, Richard Kanindo Masaba, recalled.
The small city was flourishing with beautiful streets, organized neighborhoods, green parks, shaded homes and regularly painted buildings.
Mount Elgon aside, Mbale also has other secrete surprises that have kept it at a global stage including the male circumcision culture and kadodi dance which are ranked among the top three in the world after Rio Carnival – Brazil, La Tomatina – Spain and Carnival of Venice – Italy.
“As a child, I grew up admiring Mbale town for one main reason of being spotless and neatly managed.” said Flight Capt. Mike Mukula.
Mbale once the cleanest is in shambles. The town is dirty, buildings are dusty and old, the once good planning is no more, and greenest spaces have dubiously been sold off. In upscale places like senior quarters where the elite population of Mbale lives, some green belts have been turned into maize gardens, what a shame!
The Scramble &Toxic Clouds Of SmokeAll that is left in the once nice estates such asNamakwekwe, Indian quarters, BCU flats situated all over town. Malukhu estate is nothing but rather; pot-holed roads, extremely old houses, new unplanned and poorly designed houses.
One can literally say Mbale is no longer expanding on a basis of a given physical master plan as every land owner builds what they desire on their land.
The state of Mbale today to many residents is as a result of impunity and selfishness among leaders especially those at local level.
That both the technical staff and political leadership have occasionally connived to sell off road reserves, Green spaces and other important government land.
“The authorities seem so greedy to the extent that they even sale recreational centers, cemeteries, sanitary lanes including garbage dumbing sites.” This is according to Susan Nafuna.
An evening drive in and around this town presents with clouds of smoke spread just everywhere. These are heaps and heaps of garbage the town dwellers and traders are burning rudimentarily.
The worst picture I saw was the lit heaps close to one of the primary school while the other wastes burning near health facilities and fueling pump stations.
Talking of garbage, one thing Mbale town is struggling with for decades now is poor collection system and its management upon disposal.
Traders and town dwellers are always demonstrating over uncollected garbage which generates a strong smell that hovers over this town.
The same garbage always drives customers from visiting a recently refurbished Mbale central market, a project which cost billions of shillings. Resultantly, traders have also been compelled to quit the market and instead transact on the streets and a few remaining public spaces.
The other most affected areas include Buwgere Road Market, Kikindu market, cooperate and learning institutions within the municipality, residential homes, Mbale taxi and bus parks.
This has left the residents grappling with smell from heaps of garbage in the town once referred to as the “Jewel of East Africa” by former President Apollo Milton Obote.
“The smell emanating from the ever-unpicked garbage is too strong that customers cannot come to your stall or pitch to buy, some of them drive in and out immediately on meeting the horrible stench without even stepping out of their vehicles.” Innocent Dibba, one of the executive members ta Mbale Market Vendors Association.
As if that is not enough, the home of Kadodi dance and the male circumcision culture locally dubbed Imbaluis regularly plunged into total darkness amidst electric power outages.
The Sigh of Relief
All hope is not lost, in May this year, Per Brandes,a Swedish investor, voluntarily came into the picture with the vow to use one stone for killing two birds in a bid to help Mbale regain its lost glory.
Eventually, Mbale Municipal Council signed a deal with the investor to manage the town’s waste by turning it into energy or electricity.
According to the memorandum of understanding – MOU, the investor will build a waste management plant and in turn use it to generate electricity which will be contribute to the national grid.
Brandes is close to finalize talks with Mbale municipal council authorities and other relevant government entities to allow him start working on a project which turns garbage into electricity.
The soft spoken Brandes in an exclusive interview promised that electricity generated from garbage will be connected to the national grid, this is seen as a good move as the project will end the perennial power blackout and at the same time reduce the garbage menace.
The investor revealed that the project would require 100 tonnes of garbage daily to produce on average 60 megawatts of power.
“Mbale generates just enoughgarbage but other neighboring towns like Tororo, Kumi, Iganda, Busia, Jinja and Kapchorwa would also help with it especially if people stop burning this waste. Generating power out of garbage will make the towns clean and hospitable,” he said.
Apparently, according to the municipal environment office records, Mbale generates up to 150 tons of garbage per day and only 70 tons are collected and taken to the dumpsite due to limited resources. This leaves the town dwellers with only one option to locally burn garbage in their homes and places of work.
The Swedish is warning against the waste – burning which is a common practice across Ugandan urban areas.
“They (town dwellers) should know that it can spread cancer because garbage smoke is very poisonous and toxic.”
The investor hopes that when Mbale renewable energy plant is up and running, other regional plants will be set up in areas of Gulu, Mbarara and Kampala Capital City Authority – KCCA.
Ronald Tukei a chemical engineering professional practitioner, believes this project if embraced at national level will help save the country’s small remaining green environment. Tukei also expects the community and university staff seeking knowledge about renewable energy technologies to use Mbale town as a one stop learning center.
Mayor Visits The Netherlands & Singapore“I recently took three officials of Mbale municipal council to our country (Netherlands) because I wanted them to realize that garbage is very expensive and people are fighting for it because they have known that it is a resource,” Brendes said.
Rhoda Nyaribi, the environment officer Mbale municipal council, also one among three officials who Brandes sponsored to Netherlands in July 2019 to benchmark these renewable energy technologies, says that the project’s completion would be a blessing to Mbale town.
“In the Netherlands, we saw one renewable energy plant in Amsterdam city which was serving up to eight Municipalities – garbage is equally collected from all those eight municipalities.”
The other two officers who visited Netherlands include Mbale mayor, ZandyaMutwalibMafabi and Town Clerk, Paul Batanda.
“This is good development and implementation is in advanced stages. We want to see the town free from garbage menace and also stamp out the chronic power outages,” Mbale Mayor Mafabi said.
The mayor expects power generated to be supplied to the upcoming Industrial park, Hospitals, factories, learning institutions and residential settlements.
The plant will be situated at the municipality owned Dhoko dumping site along Mbale – Tirinyi road.
Asked on what the financial implication of constructing what would be Uganda’s first ever garbage into electricity project, without indulging details of the figures, Paul Batanda, the town clerk, said the investor had agreed to majorly meet the costs.
“The Investor is apparently working to secure a loan that will help them build the plant, all we need to do as the municipality is to improve our garbage mechanized equipment such as skippers, loaders and the site itself.” Batanda stated.
Still going by the signed MOU, Mbale municipal council and the central government will be required to guarantee Brandesto access a loan from any local financial institution of his choice.
Batanda says that the thermos, gas and electricity produced by the plant will be sold at a cheaper price to the consumers and the proceeds used to help the investor pay back the loan and maintenance of the project.
The town clerk also expects the project to help boast up the ever-dwindling revenue collection of the municipal council.
Meantime, this will not be happening as soon as Mbale residents would wish since the process must go through all the right procedures including a licensing by relevant bodies and environmental assessment by the National Environmental Management Authority – NEMA.
The council will also need to organize a special sitting to deliberate on the issue so as to provide the necessary minute which will be vital and central in seeking for a loan and also bidding the two parties (The Municipal and Investor) formally.
Mbale will be one the role model for not only Uganda but East Africa Community as a whole once that project is complete, James Banabe the Director for Energy Resources Management in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development told our reporter in a phone interview.
UMEME Speaks Out
UMEME, Uganda’s main electricity distribution company has backed the initiative by the Investor and Mbale municipal council to build a renewable energy plant in town stressing this would help contribute to the national grid.
“Renewable energy is the future, we (UMEME) cannot have a problem with anyone generating power and adding to the grid, or doing something to aid the government effort, so it’s a welcome initiative. It’s even important that it’s going to help clean up the town.” Paul Ssempiira, UMEME station manager Mbale area.
Ssempiira, advices Mbale Municipal council and Brandes to work hand in hand with the Electricity Regulatory Authority – ERA to ensure that whatever they do is within the law, because this sector is regulated.
Private Sector’s Take
Steven Masika, a resident also lecturer at Makerere University is augmenting government especially Mbale Municipal council not to let this opportunity slip off their hands since it will be supplementing to the National Development Plan – NDP through various ways including job creation, enhanced business environment and proper sanitation in an urban centre like Mbale.
“We all know that when not management well, poor sanitation breeds deadly epidemics which end up claiming lives and weakening our population not that someone is willing to keep our environment cleaner, this (Initiative) must be treated as a fragile gift.” Masika stated.
Safina Nakagolo, a resident in Indian Quarters is however skeptical that the corrupt officials in the area may end up frustrating the Mr. Brandes – the investor yet such a project deserves a selfless approach for the greater good of all.
In 2017, through Islamic University InUnganda – IUIU main campus, a group of renewable power investors from Malaysia met Mbale Municipal council officials and briefed them about their interest in turning waste petroleum, thermo gas and fertilizers.
The Malaysians and Mbale municipal officers went ahead to sign a memorandum of understanding – MOU, however, nothing materialized since then.
“After signing that MOU these Malaysian investors switched off communication with us up to date, we have realized that some of them are after some documentations like MOU to help them solicit for funds fraudulently which is bad. Nyaribi the municipal environment officer.
Asked how genuine the current investor Brandes is; “I have trust him so much we have signed so many documents and also visited his other investments in the Netherlands and Singapore respectively.” Answered Nyaribi.
Mr. Edwin Wabomba, the Managing Director of EcoPick (U) Ltd, a waste management and environmental services social enterprise based in Mbale town, welcomes the renewable energy initiative stressing that this would indeed help see Mbale be the cleanest town again by 2023.
EcoPick is a social venture, one of its kind offering professional waste and environmental management services around Mbale. The fast-growing entity has since inception committed to the transportation of waste from homes, offices, hotels, churches and schools at affordable prices.
With EcoPick and other companies offering similar services, such as Be – Clean and Pick it, Mbale renewable energy plant will be well fed with garbage from far and near.