MBALE, THE CITY AT THE FOOTHILL OF MT. ELGON
Folklore has it that while trekking through Eastern Uganda, white men marveled at the imposing range of Wanaale Ridge. They were amazed at the vast rocks and pieces of stones beautifully spread across the fertile Mt. Elgon. They asked the natives what they were called. They answered in Lumasaaba, “Mabaale” to mean stones. Because colonialists could not pronounce the word properly, they instead uttered “Mbale” with no sound of “Ma” coming out. So they named the place Mbale to mean land of stones.
Mbale is the oldest and biggest district in Bugisu sub-region. All the other five districts in the region – Sironko, Manafwa, Bududa, Bulambuli and Namisindwa were carved out of Mbale District. It is bordered by Sironko to the north, Bududa to the northeast, Manafwa to the southeast, Tororo to the south, Butaleja to the southwest and Budaka districts to the west.
Whereas other tribes like Baganda, Itesots, Bagwere, Basoga, Banyoli and Indians live and work in Mbale, the dominant ethnic tribe is the Bamasaaba. The native language spoken in the district is Lumasaaba.
Most of the people who have lived since then especially the now grey-haired generation will tell you with nostalgia the days when Mbale was the cleanest town on East and central Africa. It was referred to as the “Jewel of East Africa” by then Uganda President Dr. Apollo Milton Obote.
Visible from all parts of the town with its picturesque cliffs, cascading waterfalls and green cultivated slopes, the Wanaale ridge supplements the town’s allure; the white rocks along the hills are spread like a white sheet on the hills, no wonder the late colonial agent, Semei Kakungulu called it a white cock due to the white rocks that appear from a distance like a white cock.
Mbale prides herself of a very rich heritage. It is home of Bugisu Arabica Coffee, the commercial flagship of Bamasaaba. Bugisu Cooperative Union, formed in 1954, is the only surviving farmers’ union in Uganda.
Mbale is home for Imbalu, the traditional circumcision custom among Bamasaaba. Every even year, Imbalu is launched at Mutoto Cultural Site, located within the vicinity of Mbale town. The launch alone attracts hundreds of thousands of people for near and far. Imbalu launch is believed to be the second largest festival after the Brazil Samba Festival.
Mbale was recently considered by Government of Uganda the regional city for Eastern Uganda because of its strategic location, structural development and the progressive business and tourism growth it commands. Located at the foothill of Wanaale ridge of Mt. Elgon at 8,000 ft above sea level, Mbale has fertile volcanic soils and serves as a food basket for Eastern Uganda.
Mbale District Council approved new municipal city divisions in Mbale Town as it gears up for the long-awaited city status. They created two city divisions – Bungokho and Industrial City Divisions.
Bungokho City Division comprises Northern Division, Nakaloke Town Council and the sub-counties of Bukonde, Nakaloke, Namabasa and Namanyonyi.
Meanwhile Industrial City Division comprises original Industrial Division, Bugema-Nauyo Town Council and sub-counties of Bukasakya and Bungokho-Mutoto.
Mount Elgon National Park
Mount Elgon National Park is found in both Uganda and Kenya. In Uganda, it is found in the districts of Kapchorwa and Mbale. The National Park is a gazetted international ecological conservation area, as a habitat to unique vegetation species. The Park is also home to a number of endangered animal species, including buffalos and cheetahs which traverse the Mount Elgon ranges on both Uganda and Kenya sides. In addition, the Park is also habitat to bird species not found in other parts of Uganda.
Besides the wildlife, the Caldera found at the most top of the Elgon ranges is a key attraction of the Park. The Caldera remained as a depression on top of Mount Elgon after the volcanic activity. The depression is 8 kilometres in diameter and has a circumference of 40 Kilometres. Other attractions within the caldera include hot springs, crater lakes, the swam gorge with heavy population of wild game and scenic peaks rising up to 4321 Kilometres above sea level.
Bufumbo and Wanaale Forest Reserves
Bufumbo and Wanaale Forest Reserves are found at the ridges, located about 5 Kilometres East of Mbale town. The key attractions at the reserves include the forest walks, primate viewing, bird watching, cave exploration, cliff viewing and mountain climbing. There is also a campsite at the Wanaale ridge. The primates found include blue tailed and black and white monkeys. The shy African Civet mammals are also a common feature. Viewing of birds such as the Turakos is a common experience.
Night life in Mbale is not so busy but quite interesting. El Tanjia and The Thatch are among the most vibrant night clubs in Mbale town. Between Friday and Saturday, by midnight the dancing floor is busy.
Taste in fashion does not fundamentally differ from the one in the city. Tight fitting and skimpy wear seems to be the generally accepted standard of dressing in those hot spots. It appears the tighter or the skimpier it gets the better the fashion statement made. Shouting colours like all red, lemon green, hot pink and royal blue are not uncommon, especially among the young revelers.