By Javier Silas Omagor, New Vision/StepFM/NECJOGHA
Mbale, Uganda – 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.
Mbale, 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.
From cleanest Ugandan town to dirtiest?
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.
Those who lived there then still share stories of how people (tourists) came from across east Africa and as far as DRC and beyond to visitMbale, 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.
“As a child, I grew up admiring Mbale town for one main reason of being spotless naturally green 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!
All that is left in the once nice estates such as Namakwekwe, 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.
The worst picture I saw was the lit heaps close to one of the primary schools 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 Bugwere 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 Ddiba, one of the executive members ta Mbale Market Vendors Association.
The municipal environment office records indicate that Mbale town generates up to 150 tons of garbage per day but only 70 tons are collected and taken to the dumping site due to limited resources such as equipment.
However, all hope is not lost, as 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, at the same time combat climate change.
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, the investor will build a waste management plant and in turn use it to generate electricity which will 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.
Brandes told me that electricity generated from garbage will be sold to the national grid, and fetch revenue for the municipality which is fighting to get city status.
Brandes explains project
According to Brandes, the project would require 100 tonnes of garbage daily to produce on average of 60 megawatts of power.
“Mbale generates just enough garbage 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.
On how his project will tackle climate change, Brandes explains that by the time this project is up and running, people within and around Bugisu will minimize felling of trees for firewood and charcoal sine there will now be electric power generated from the waste.
‘For the farming community we shall also manufacture fertilizers and this will lead to increased agricultural production,” he says.
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.
“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, Zandya Mutwalib Mafabi 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.