Secondary Cities: Engines for Investment in Uganda

Over the last twenty years, Uganda has maintained high economic growth rates, expanding urbanization and shifting patterns in sectoral contributions to overall development. An increasing proportion of the wealth generated by Uganda’s economy is moving from being a product of agricultural activities to the service sector.

Uganda faces a window of opportunity in its pursuit of sustainable development. With the demographic and urbanisation opportunities provided by its young population and urban transition, these can be harnessed as positive drivers of growth. Since 2020 GGGI Uganda has been working with the National Planning Authority, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, the Ministry of Local Governments and the new city councils of Arua, Gulu, Jinja and Mbarara, to provide technical assistance for developing green growth compliant physical development and investment plans for these four Secondary Cities.

Council consultations on final draft PDP in Arua City

On 31st January, the GGGI Uganda technical team together with the government technical leaders embarked on a field visit to introduce the final draft Physical Development Plans (PDPs), to both Arua and Gulu city councils. The final PDPs will be placed on deposit for 90days at the city council offices to capture any final aspirations of the communities in both cities. The deposit will be authorized by each city council after its final consideration of the plan, in March.

Proposed Physical Development Plan for Arua City

This visit saw the identification of investment interventions that, when fully implemented, can provide a boost to economic activity, deliver employment and reduce future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in contrast to the conventional growth pathway.

This mission also offered the team an opportunity to move beyond the general land-use level of the two PDPs, towards city-wide infrastructure investment planning. Specifically, to explore a first-round of potential investment projects and their priorities, for some, towards a final set of project or investment teasers. For others, identifying where MDAs, such as that responsible for water, investing where the PDP determines future development to take place. One aspect of the city building process is the harnessing of private investment thus guiding such development through the physical planning and building control processes.

During this technical visit, a number of factors came into play. One is the pace of urbanisation, currently at 4.5 percent per year, and is likely to accelerate with rising incomes. The economic benefits from urban growth, that will come from exploiting economies of scale and agglomerations, are enormous.

Proposed Physical Development Plan for Gulu City

Uganda’s urban transformation is occurring in a period of particular flux. Changing climate is likely to adversely influence rain-fed agriculture. This will have a bearing on the prospects of small towns that serve as interlocutors with the rural economy, thus the need to plan well for these secondary cities. Policymakers, both at the national and city levels, need to see themselves as change managers who encourage flexibility in how Uganda’s towns and cities respond to the emerging needs of businesses and households.

Planning ahead is vital. People should understand that our secondary cities are growing more rapidly than metropolitan Kampala. If we do not plan and implement now, we consign our children and our children’s children to, among other things, increased pollution, traffic congestion and more informal, insanitary, housing.

Secondary cities in Uganda have ambitious development goals Their careful planning and management will be crucial to the country’s overall national modernising ambitions. Some of the innovative solutions, through aggregated investment in infrastructure for the cities, will include industry, recreation, low-cost housing, markets, energy, water and waste management.  All are intended to make our secondary cities “investment-friendly”! This means, among other things, having the contextual infrastructure in place to service existing and proposed land-uses.

It is now a strongly held belief that urbanisation is an integral part of creating a modernising transformation since the share of the population that is becoming urban is increasing in Uganda.