Fredrick Mugira, November 23 2021 

A city in southwestern Uganda has welcomed the new Glasgow Breakthrough Agenda that over 35 world leaders signed at the UN summit on climate change in Glasgow to see countries and businesses work together to dramatically scale and speed up the development and deployment of clean technologies and drive down costs this decade.  

The initiative to light the city with solar-powered lights started six years ago with locally generated funds by the then municipal divisions. 

Signatories to the new Glasgow Breakthrough Agenda included the US, India, EU, developing economies, and some of those most vulnerable to climate change – collectively representing more than 50% of the world’s economy and every region. 

The agenda aims to make clean technologies the most affordable, accessible, and attractive choice for all globally in the most polluting sectors by 2030, mainly supporting the developing world to access the innovation and tools needed for a just transition to net-zero. 

This is meant to move the world “towards a global tipping point, where the clean, green technologies we need to reach net-zero and keep 1.5C alive are more affordable, accessible, and attractive,” according to the COP26 President Alok Sharma.

Now, Robert Mugabe Kachebezi, the lord mayor of Mbarara city, says making clean technologies available at low cost will boost development in communities that urgently need them. 

He cites solar technology that Mbarara city is using to light its streets at night saying if implemented, this outcome will enable the city to use solar technology in other sectors. 

“Mbarara is much brighter than it used to be. The areas that used to be no-go zones are now peaceful. Places where rapists lived and waylaid their victims in darkness, are now lit and peaceful,” notes Vincent Ayebare, a Boda Boda commercial motorcycle rider. 

Kakyebezi says through this initiative the city is contributing to global initiatives to hold back global temperature rises to 1.5C.

We took to the streets of Mbarara city in southwestern Uganda to document how solar-powered streets lights are making sense.  

Richard Mugisha, the city’s deputy town clerk says about six years ago, Mbarara city was “full of darkness at night, but now, it is full of light.” In the past, the city streets relied on security lights mounted on the privately-owned building. 

Between July 2020 and June 2021, the city installed 750 solar-powered street lights from Biharwe to Ruti and Ruharo. In addition, some areas in Kisenyi that used to be a no-go zone at night were also lit during this period.  

The lights in Kijungu and at Mile two were installed in the 2018/19 financial year by the then municipal authorities. 

Apart from those installed by the local governments, the costs of fixing the remaining solar-powered street lights were embedded in the construction budget for city roads under Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructure Development (USMID) program. The total cost for the installation of all these street lights in the city is about 11.3 billion shillings. 

“Mbarara is much brighter than it used to be. The areas that used to be no-go zones are now peaceful. Places where rapists lived and waylaid their victims in darkness, are now lit and peaceful,” notes Vincent Ayebare, a Boda Boda commercial motorcycle rider. 

Mugisha says the major challenge of these solar-powered street lights is the reduction in the intensity of light. Nevertheless, the city authorities provide 40 million shillings for their maintenance annually.  

The race to net-zero emissions heats up as a new study by McKinsey and Company warns that under a scenario with 1.5°C of warming above pre-industrial levels by 2030, almost half of the world’s population could be exposed to a climate hazard related to heat stress, drought, flood, or water stress in the next decade, up from 43 percent today.

As the sun sets, residents of Mbarara city are not worried about the darkness. Their streets are lit by solar-powered lights.


Nighttime satellite imagery of Mbarara city and neighboring areas showing the relatively dark city in 2016 and a city lit up by solar-powered street lights in 2020

This story was produced with support from Earth Journalism Network, Internews, and the National Geographic Society.

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Water Journalists Africa (WJA) is the largest network of journalists reporting on water in the African continent. It brings together some 700 journalists from 50 African countries. It was established in...

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