Mbale, Uganda - Enhancing urban resilience through community participation

Mbale, Uganda

Mbale, Uganda. © Shutterstock 


As urbanisation continues apace worldwide, the attendant development of slums and informal settlements is also taking firm roots. Occupied mainly by the urban poor, slums and informal settlements are often flash points of urban tenure insecurity, land conflicts and evictions. According to the UN-Habitat, one of the main challenges facing the poor in slums and informal settlements is tenure insecurity. Participatory approaches to secure tenure address urban inequality, build social capital and therefore strengthens community resilience. Furthermore, land planning serves to minimize the risk of disasters to vulnerable communities. Communities should always be actively involved in resilience development programmes (UN-Habitat, 2010, p. 5). Their participation can provide transparency, build trust and elicit cooperation in providing information and in implementation of development programmes.

Uganda’s rapid urbanisation has attracted attention of different local and intentional stakeholders with the view of supporting sustainable urban development, addressing urban poverty and enhancing city resilience. Cities Alliances and UN-Habitat supported the implementation of the Social Tenure Domain Model (STDM) tool to address the land tenure issues in the slums across five secondary cities namely: Mbale, Masaka, Entebbe and Tororo. STDM is a pro-poor, gender responsive and participatory land information system developed by the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN). It is useful in generating data on informal settlements and their residents on a number of aspects including households, resources, challenges and access to services. This enables residents to demand access to services, to improve land tenure, plan the provision of infrastructure and services, to redevelop slums or plan to resettle people in new areas, and to guide land allocation and adjudication.

Community participation is integral in implementation of the STDM as it provides transparency and builds trust in the exercise among local residents. Local residents can more easily cooperate and provide the information required and can have a say in the methods being used. The case study highlights application of the STDM in Mbale, a rapidly growing secondary city in eastern Uganda. The case points to the centrality of community driven processes in building resilient, inclusive and sustainable cities across different socio-economic contexts.


Mbale, Uganda

Mbale Municipality is located in eastern Uganda in Mbale District. Mbale is the location of the district headquarters and is the central town and commercial centre. It is located 245 kilometres from Kampala and about 50 kilometres from Uganda’s border with Kenya. In 2014, the municipality had a population of 96,189. Mbale Municipality experienced an annual average growth rate of 2.9% between 2002 and 2014. Almost one fifth of households in the municipality live in slums, while the poverty head count stands at 11.3%.


Key Challenges

Dobson et al (2015) argued that building resilience in African urban centres, where the bulk of the population are slum dwellers, is dependent upon the active participation of the urban poor and their partnership with local authorities. Active community participation is important in generating data needed for effective planning. The paucity of data on the scale and characteristics of urban poverty and vulnerability in the global South is a key factor that impedes the ability to build resilience (ibid, p.6). The development of reliable land information systems becomes strategic and useful to bridge the information divide (Antonio, 2013, p. 2).

The primary source of data for municipal planning are the community surveys. Besides being expensive and unaffordable in many situations, their findings are often devoid of community ownership and hence implementing the recommendations becomes a difficult task. A more sustainable alternative is to rely on the target community for enumeration of the required data. Interventions for enhancing citizen participation in generating local data and planning for local needs and problems is integral for building urban resilience.


Priority areas for intervention

  • Land tenure security improvement
  • Improved service delivery to slums and informal settlements
  • Improving existing data for municipal planning


Examples of resilience building efforts

With support from Cities alliance and UN-Habitat, the Government of Uganda piloted the STDM in Mbale municipality. Implementation involved many stakeholders including the central government, municipal government and civil society organisations representing the urban poor in Uganda including ACTogether, Slum Dwellers International and the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda. The STDM was linked to earlier work by the government-led Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda (TSUPU) program which was launched in 2010 in partnership with the Government of Uganda and the Cities Alliance.

Most of the work including mapping, enumeration, community mobilisation, local consultations and sensitisation, data entry, analysis and validation were done by Mbale Slum Federation and community members themselves. The STDM implementation in Mbale is a case of a locally-driven process of ensuring community access to services, improved leadership accountability and community participation which are central issues for enhancing urban resilience. Successful outcomes in Mbale led to scaling up the initiative to 4 other municipalities in Uganda in a bid to address the increasing cases of tenure insecurity.


“STDM allowed for a people-focused development approach because the process allowed communities to take charge from the onset by ensuring they administer the appraisal collecting the critical data after fully mobilizing locals from their settlements”

-  MDF President, Masaka Municipality


Project implementation led to opening of data centres in the participating cities aimed at bridging the data gaps that hitherto had constrained local planning. Municipal authorities reportedly expressed strong interest to work with communities in strengthening the data centres and provision of adequate space for training and technical support. Through the collection of critical community data, community members are able to identify gaps and take action in lobbying for improved service provision.

One of the success factors for the STDM implementation in Mbale was the presence of Municipal Development Forums (MDFs) and settlement level forums that were established under the Cities Alliance-funded TSUPU programme. These were instrumental in mobilising communities in slums to participate in slum profiling and enumeration.  


“The tool [STDM] has become a champion in facilitating negotiations and discussions between communities and governments. Experiences from Mbale have and continue to bring out the catalytic nature of the tool where it has attracted funding from the Central government through the TSUPU program to enable communities have both capital and livelihood projects” 

-  Official from Global Land Tenure Network


Future plans and investments

The municipality has prioritised issues identified during profiling for implementation. Communities are lobbying for support from the government through Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructural development (USMID), a 6-years’ World Bank and government partnership program spearheading implementation of infrastructure development in urban poor areas in fourteen cities.

Furthermore, peer-to-peer exchanges between slum dwellers and local government partners will be a fundamental learning tool and lessons sharing through the data centres will extended to other municipalities. Country lessons will be shared with partners in Kenya and Tanzania.

Data centres will be used as a central point of access for settlement data and other stakeholders have been encouraged to use the facility rather than repeating the processes.

ACTogether will use its extensive knowledge base to support capacity building of communities in the use of social tenure domain model through workshops and practical field training. Communities will also be supported to utilise data generated for settlement planning and in promotion of secure tenure for the most vulnerable.



Antonio, D. (2012). The social tenure Land Domain Model: A specialisation of LADM towards Bridging the Information divide. Paper presented at the International FIG workshop on the Land Administration Domain Model 24-25 September, Kuala Lumper, Malaysia.

Cities Alliance (2014). Scaling up STDM 2014: Putting Uganda’s Informal Settlements on the Map. Addressing the Land Information Requirements of the Urban Poor– Phase 2: Scaling Up the Use and Application of the Social Tenure Domain Model (STDM).

Dobson, S., Nyamweru, H., & Dodman, D. (2015). Local and participatory approaches to building resilience in informal settlements in Uganda. Environment & Urbanisation, 27 (2).

GLTN (2012). GLTN Newsletter, No. 3.

Makau, J. et al (2015). Empowering Slum Communities through Geospatial Technologies: Experiences from Colombia, Kenya and Uganda. Paper prepared for presentation at the “2015 World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty” The World Bank - Washington DC, March 23-27, 2015

UN-Habitat (2010). Count Me in Surveying for Tenure Security and Urban Land Management. Nairobi, Kenya.

World Bank (2015). The growth challenge: can Ugandan cities get to work? Uganda Economic update 5th edition. Report No. 94622. Washington.