At 10.5 square kilometers total area would sound a total joke to one who doesn’t know about Arua municipality but sadly so is the case of a town earmarked to become a regional city in the near future.

Arua town, known to many as West Nile regional capital boasts of recent infrastructure developments that could indeed easily propel the town to a city, the Modern roads, the proposed upgrade of the air field into an international airport, the current constructions of the multimillion taxi park and the main market just to mention.

Less than 20 minutes’ drive to the customs border post with democratic republic of Congo DRC, an hour’s drive away to the next border post to South Sudan, many have alluded to these factors as key to Arua town’s and indeed the whole of West Nile’s potential for development.

But as encouraging as the examples Arua municipal administrative boundaries have not been extended despite numerous attempts in the past, Physical plans lie in ruins, the unplanned outskirts only generating more slums.

The expansion politicking

In July 2015, Arua district council approved four divisions under an expansion plan that would eventually give way to the formation of the city. Local government permanent secretary Mr Patrick Mutabwire camped in Arua for days doing consultations in the different affected sub counties.

Arua West comprising the sub counties of Pajulu, Ayivuni, Adumi and Aroi and a total population of 137,606 people, Arua East with sub counties Manibe, Dadamu and Oluko and a population of 108,590 people, Arua central comprising what was originally the municipality with Arua hill and River Oli divisions and Arua South that consisted of Vurra sub county were formed in a council sitting that had 34 of the 49 councilors voting in favor of the resolution.

Issa KatoMr. Issa Kato, Arua municipality mayor (Photo by RIMILIAH AMANDU)

This council resolution came at the heels of stiff disagreements in the initial proposal that would see the original Arua municipal divisions dissolved into other new setups.

Mr Swadik Angupale, a former LC III chairperson of Oli division and NRM party chairman for Arua municipality says the earlier expansion plan was hijacked by selfish politicians to suit their interests hence the stiff resistance.

Current Mayor Mr Issa Kato says they are not relenting on efforts to engage the people including the line minister, LC III chairpersons and the sub county chiefs to actualize the resolution.

Physical plans lie in ruins

Mr Moses Findru, the municipal physical planner says the latest physical plan covering a total area of 111 square kilometers was approved on 30th January 2017 and is set to run for 10 years, a midterm review is expected in 2022, this may mainly arise due to development challenges and investment pressures.

However just like the previous times, this physical plan is virtually useless because of the small administrative boundary of the municipality.

Mr Findru says the first physical plan of Arua was drawn during the colonial times in 1914; another in 1983 to last for 20 years up to 2003, this being a deliberate effort after the liberation war to reconstruct towns like Mbarara, Masaka and Arua that had been destroyed during the war, Arua towns plan covered 30.5 square kilometers

The plan had the same set back; the surrounding sub countries didn’t support the expansion plan.

Findru says if implemented, the plan would see a change to land uses from the original 10.5 square kilometers, the prisons for instance was proposed to be in Onduparaka in Pajulu sub county, the bus park to have been in Onzivu in Oluko sub county, further away from the town center and a proposed industrial park in Kenya ward.

Arua municipalRoads like this in Arua municipal have not been able to bring out the best due to overcongestion in the municipality. PHOTOS BY RIMILIAH AMANDU

To date, Arua town has no designated bus parks, lorry parks and the said prisons occupy a large chunk of land in the municipality; Onzivu, the area earmarked to host the bus park hardly has any available land without housing.

Mr. Findru says such irregular developments in the surrounding sub counties are taking place without any organized planning which poses a huge challenge for future growth.

“For the government to construct schools, roads, open public spaces, health units will include overly high costs of compensation” he says.

Despite the obvious challenges of administrative boundaries, additional setbacks of inadequate funds meant there were periods the municipality had no working plans.

“After the expiry of the 1983-2003 plans, the municipal could not immediately upgrade due to the high costs involved, the council had no capacity to successfully upgrade the physical plan” Findru says.

However in 2007, an initiative by the ministry of Local government under the small towns planning arrangement, a Nairobi based firm SYAGGA and company associates was contracted to upgrade the physical plan, they faced enormous administrative challenges with poor consultations and consequently their plan was rejected by the council.

Mr. Joshua Odoch, a land broker says his business is facing up hill tasks due to the absence of a working physical plan in areas beyond the municipality boarders, “Many times people are forced to buy land where there are no access roads and they are faced with the uncertainty of the future, many end up discouraged and opt out” Odoch says.

The eco city

In 2012, two companies, the Development Model for Africa (DMA) and Joadah capital infrastructure partners designed an ambitious Eco city plan for the greater Arua.

It among others had provisions for residential and commercial institutions, water, sewerage and electricity, a zoo and a recreational park, a 40,000-seater Inzikuru stadium lying in the heart of Barifa and provisions for five and four star hotels.

It entailed the degazettement of the 650 hectare Barifa urban forest that was created in 1948 according to records.

To date, Barifa forest stands, but Mayor Mr Issa Kato says Parliament speaker Ms Rebecca Kadaga in a recent visit to Arua promised to address the issue after the government had put a blanket ban on clearing urban forests, the ban if not given special treatment eventually shutters any hopes of clearing Barifa forest.

“I found my predecessor Charles Asiki did a great work on the Eco city project, he handed it over to me as one of the key projects in the municipality and I can tell you that the project is ‘cooked’ Kato asserts.

Donors adamant to finance projects

Donors including the World Bank are now expressing reservations in financing road projects because they are “insignificant”

In the first phase of the Uganda support to municipalities infrastructure development (USMID) projects funded by the World Bank, Mr Kato says Enyau, Lemerijoa and Iddi Amin roads all less than one kilometer were constructed but the donors have now resolved not to fund any other similar projects on the basis that they are too small.

Mr Kato says ‘recent’ discussions with the minister were successful and a select team is set for further talks before a decision could be taken at the end of the year 2018.

This indeed is only a political statement; the current state of affairs indeed necessitates prioritizing the expansion plans in all urgency.

arua developmentsPart of the structural developments sprouting up in Arua. PHOTO BY CLEMENT ALUMA

Mr Hilal Naseem, the Arua Municipality Development Forum (AMDF) chairman blames leaders in the municipality who are not taking the issues of expansion seriously.

“Arua stands a better chance in the Northern cluster to become a city, but while all these sub counties accepted the expansion program of the municipality, the officials now say there is no money to take on new Sub Counties” a disappointed Naseem said.

Of the 14 municipalities under the World Bank USMID program, Arua has been receiving the least largely due to its size.

But in the meantime the narrow streets, the old buildings, the unplanned out skirts characterize the “capital” of West Nile as Trucks, Buses, Taxis and the Boda Bodas all park on these already squeezed streets, any further delays in what could actually be an easy process could only mean a denial of decent services to an innocent population.