The strategic location of these new cities given that each is located in a different region and at a reasonable distance from another, putting this into perspective; these cities will be instrumental in spurring more equitable regional development.
By William A. Luwemba
On 1st July 2020, the people of Arua, Gulu, Mbale, Jinja, Mbarara, Fort Portal, and Masaka had reason to celebrate as the places had been elevated to city status.
While residents and natives of these new cities celebrate, it's worthwhile discussing what implications this elevation has for the country's development as a whole.
Does this necessarily translate into any tangible benefits for these particular places and the country at large?
Critics of this development have pointed out that these places are insufficient in terms of extensive and organized human settlement, a sophisticated system of transport, communication, sanitation, housing, and general infrastructure in addition to the economic vibrancy to render them fitting cities.
While the above metrics are necessary to constitute a proper city, they are not the only constitutes that sufficiently dictate as to what place should be declared a city and the decision to turn a place/municipality into a city is influenced by other factors like the land size and population of the entire country, the socio-cultural realities of a given country, and how strategic the locale is to the country as a whole.
It's also important to recall that different countries in the world have different definitions for cities as exemplified by the fact that different countries require a different population size to designate a place a city for example in France and Israel a minimum of 2,000 people is required while in the US and Mexico, a city should have at least 2,500 people, yet for Japan, cities must have at least 30,000 people.
For the case of Uganda, using the population metric to see whether these new cities qualify, we shall discover that according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics 2014 census, five of these new cities were then among the 20 largest urban centres with populations of 195,160 people in Mbarara, 149,802 in Gulu, 103,293 for Masaka, 92,863 for Mbale, and 76,057 people in Jinja.
Even Arua and Fort Portal that were not listed also have estimated populations of 61,962 and 53,786 people respectively - and by any measure, these are reasonable populations to constitute a city.
Secondly, the strategic location of these new cities given that each is located in a different region and at a reasonable distance from another, putting this into perspective; these cities will be instrumental in spurring more equitable regional development.
In a 2017 USAID sponsored report 48.6% of Uganda's 2014 GDP was concentrated in Central Uganda in the districts of Kampala (22.5%), Wakiso (20.8%), and Mukono (5.3%) which exemplifies the regional inequality that characterizes the country's development and so the creation of these cities all of which apart from one are located outside the Central region can help bring about more economic vibrancy in the other regions and equitable development.
In the same light, these cities are unique and dynamic with each possessing a different comparative advantage when juxtaposed with others good examples being Arua and Fort Portal as the latter possesses many tourist attractions and is likely to turn into the country's premier tourist hub while the former is strategically located near both DR Congo and South Sudan border and will be propelled to develop into a strategic regional trade city.
It's reasonable to decry this act given that many of these new cities don't have the appealing infrastructure but we can't negate the fact that declaring them cities is going to increase resource allocation as well as spur a vibrant local economy - just as some are compelled to marry after acquiring some material possessions, declaring these places cities is an inducement that will compel their development.
The writer is an Economist