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Know Your City Series | Discover Mbale

Mbale City Clock

Just before Covid in 2019, the Uganda Government elevated 7 municipalities to city status which include; Arua in the West Nile region near the DR Congo and South Sudan borders, Gulu located in the Central North, Mbale and Jinja located in the east, Mbarara in the Midwest, Fort Portal in the west and Masaka in central region.

Mbale City at a Glance;

A new city in the Eastern Region of Uganda, Mbale is the main municipal, administrative, and commercial center of Mbale District and the surrounding sub-region.

Location:

Mount Elgon in the background (Courtesy Photo)

Located approximately – 225 km (140 miles), by road, northeast of Kampala – on an all weather tarmac highway, Mbale is home to one of the highest peaks in East Africa – Mount Elgon, which is approximately 57 km (35 miles) north-east of this new City, by road.

Population:

The population of Mbale was about 71,130 by 2002, according to the 2002 national census. In 2010, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) projected the population to be at 81,900. By 2011, UBOS projected the mid-year population at 91,800 and in 2014; the national population census placed the population at 96,189.

 City Status:

In 2019 the Uganda Government, resolved to award Mbale, a city status effective July 2021. In November of the same year, Government amended the date of city status to 1 July 2020.

Notable People:

  1. Lydia Wanyoto: Lawyer, politician and diplomat.
Lydia Wanyoto

2. Naminya Saleh: CEO at Casa Uganda Safaris & Lodges.

3. Nathan Nandala Mafabi: an accountant, lawyer, and politician – representing Budadiri County West in Sironko District in the Parliament of Uganda. He was also the leader of the opposition in the parliament from May 2011 until January 2014.

4. Jackie Deweyi Namataka: Media Personality and Law Student.

Jaqi Deweyi

Top Things to Do In Mbale:

1. Hike Mount Elgon National Park

Hike or tour Mount Elgon, home to the World’s Largest Caldera, which was formed as a result of magma being drained from the chamber.

2. Wanale Hill and Falls

Reach the most visible mountain range of Mount Elgon, Wanale Hill – a striking mountain replete with precipices, escarpments, deep valleys; water streaked cliffs, caves and rocks.

3. Sipi Falls

A series of three waterfalls in the district of Kapchorwa, northeast of Sironko and Mbale, Sipi Falls is another attraction to explore. Hiking around the falls will give you stunning views of the Karamoja plains, Lake Kyoga and the slopes of Mt. Elgon.

4. Sisiyi Falls

Located in Buyaga sub-region, Bulambuli district, Eastern Uganda, Sisiyi Falls is another attraction. As you take the highway from Mbale to the districts of Sironko, Bulambuli, Kapchorwa and Moroto, you will see this outstanding attraction positioned at a distance. Also the area around Sisiyi falls is perfect for camping, family Picnics, Team Building activities and unwinding.

5. Nyero Rock Paintings

Nyero Rock Paintings are the finest of several rock art sites in the region Located 65km north of Mbale. There are three panels found within the extensive granite outcrop of Moru Ikara, 10km from Kumi Town and 55km from Mbale on the Soroti road. The most remarkable is Panel Two which includes two canoes bearing human figures.

6. Imbalu Circumcision Ceremony

Imbalu Circumcision Ceremony (Courtesy Photo)

The imbalu (male circumcision) is a famed ritual among the Bamasaba. The custom marks the initiation of boys into manhood and brings a festive atmosphere in the Elgon region: Music blaring, the famous “KADODI” dance enthralling and food in plenty. The launch ritual is as a rule around the Month of August of every even year. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the ceremony didn’t happen in 2020. Those who went on to get circumcised did it privately and quietly.

7. Bududa Bull Fighting

Bududa Bull Fighting (Courtesy Photo)

The bull fighting tradition in Bududa began in 1956, up until now. The Bududa Bull fights which are just like the famous Spanish Bull Fights are organized on Saturdays in Namasho village, Bulucheke sub-county, Bududa District, every fortnight.

8. Visit the Tororo Rock

The outstanding Rock is located just about 5 km (3.1 miles) southeast of the central business district of the town. The Tororo Rock which is apparently visible from anywhere in Tororo District is a major tourist attraction in the area. The saying in the area is “The Eiffel Tower is to Paris as the magnificent Tororo Rock is to Tororo District.”

9. The Jewish Community (Semei Kakungulu site)

Learn about Ugandan statesman Semei Kakungulu (1869 – 24 November 1928), who founded the Abayudaya (Luganda: Jews) community in Uganda in 1917.

A scholar who studied and meditated on the Old Testament, Kakungulu adopted the observance of all Moses’ commandments, including circumcision, and recommended these teachings for all his followers. Despite the absence of Israelite ancestry, the Abayudaya follow Jewish practices and want to be called Jews.  

Kakungulu died on 24 November 1928 of tetanus and was buried a short distance from the main Abayudaya synagogue in Gangama, a short distance from Mbale Town.

10. Kapkwai Forest Exploration Center

The Kapkwai Forest Exploration Centre doubles as an educational center for schools and a trailhead for climbers who use the Sipi trail to the caldera. Three circuits between 3to7km run through the surrounding regenerating forest, where visitors can visit caves, waterfalls, escarpments and viewpoints; as well as observe birds and primates. It is located 13km from Sipi town.

11. Pian-upe & Matheniko Bokora Game Reserve

In the plains of Karamoja, north of Mount Elgon lies the Matheniko Bokora Wildlife Reserve and the expansive Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve, the second largest protected area in Uganda, with an area of 2,788km2. Wildlife here is concentrated around the Loporokocho swamp. It includes rare species such as the roan antelope, lesser kudu, Bright’s gazelle plus ostriches, which in Uganda are found only here and in Kidepo Valley National Park.

Culture:

Malewa sold in the Market. Malewa is smoked bamboo shoot which is dried for preservation. (Courtesy Photo)

Circumcision in Africa is an old culture, but as a practice by the Bamasaaba in Eastern Uganda, the culture of circumcision was adopted from their in-laws, the Maasai people. The practice that has happened for generations is an initiation to manhood for the Bagisu men. The initiation ceremony is known as Imbalu. The Bamasaaba also known as Bagisu, hold the IMBALU every two years starting in August.

The ancestors in Masaba land lived on bamboo shoots also known as MALEWA in the Lumasaba language. The shoots are collected from bamboo trees on top of Mt. Elgon and enjoyed as a Malewa delicacy which is quite popular among tourists.

The People of Mbale:

The Bamasaba of Elgon sometimes referred to as; Bagisu, Gishu, Masaba, or Sokwia, are an ethnic group of the Masaba people of eastern Uganda, closely related to the Bukusu people of Kenya. The Bamasaba mainly live on the slopes of Mount Elgon in Mbale District.

Transport:

Boda Boda Operations in Uganda (Courtesy Photo)

You can access Mbale by Bus, Taxi or private car. If traveling between Kampala and Mbale, the distance is 197 km, with a road distance of 222.1 km. As for Mbale town, the main means of transport is by Boda Boda (motorcycles or Bicycles).

Where to Stay In Mbale:

There are 22+ hotels available in Mbale. Prices start as low as $10 Per Night. Search below for the best accommodation deals on the market.

There you have it, everything you will need to know about Mbale. Do you think we left out something? Please let us know in the comments section below, or reach out to us on WhatsApp (0772987442) or on email.

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