Day 10: Last Day in Mbale
I just got back from the Municipal Council Office after meeting with the Mayor of Mbale!
Here’s the story…Yesterday while at Hope’s print shop, I was able to meet her husband Richard (Rex), who is a well-known pastor in Mbale. As I explained my research to him, he suggested I interview the Mayor of Mbale and told me that he can set up a meeting with her if I would like. I told him that I would absolute love the opportunity but that I didn’t have much time left in town. We exchanged contact information, but I did not expect that it would work to schedule a meeting on such a timeframe.
But the call came in this morning; Rex said that we should hurry over to the Municipal Council Office because the Mayor was in her office and had a bit of time to meet. Mike, Esther and I jumped into dress clothes and then flagged down two boda-bodas.
The Mayor is an older woman, a Muslim convert from Christianity, and a very well-respected individual in the community. (There is a law in Uganda that 10% of the governing officials must be women). We were ushered into her office, made introductions, and signed her guestbook.
We first spoke with her about the Uganda Amaranth Project and gave her some printed information and pamphlets. She told us that she has, in fact, heard of our project and has even sampled both the porridge and popped amaranth. She liked the taste of the popped very much, and apparently so did her fish. (She told us that she tossed some into her fish pond at home and that the fish jumped out of the water for it.) I chuckled but told her that we would have to get her another sample of popped amaranth.
The mayor then proceeded to ask us about how we were enjoying our time in Uganda and told us that we are very welcome here. I then had a chance to ask her a few questions about new businesses in Mbale as well as her future goals for the city. She told us about her own “manifesto”, where she has written out a number of her goals. The issues she proceeded to address were ones which I had certainly been picking up on during my stay here.
Safe Water – Even though there are families within a few kilometers of fresh water, they still will settle for contaminated water, so the government has implemented a new project; 10 water kiosks have been erected throughout Mbale and its suburbs, and the mayor is currently scouting out new sites.
Power – Many of Mbale’s suburbs lack any sort of power, so the mayor is working on extending electricity to these areas. But even with access to it, electricity is expensive to use; the mayor says that even she cooks with charcoal to save energy.
Roads – The roads here are in very poor condition, and they are expensive to maintain. Mbale is on the route for many heavy trucks on their way to Sudan, etc., and this is extremely damaging to the main road. The Mayor explained how very little can be done within one financial year, but that she has a plan for a bypass to be constructed around Mbale so that the roads don’t get quite so damaged.
Climate change – Deforestation is a problem in Mbale, particularly in the Village, where people don’t have access to electricity. They cut down trees because that is the only way for them to cook food and keep warm. The Mayor told us how she has visited both the US and Canada and appreciated the forest preserves and green initiatives. She would like to see many trees and flowers planted in Mbale because she is aware of the positive effects this will have on the environment. “Cut one tree, plant ten” is her slogan.