In the run up to the 2011 General Election the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party released a manifesto for the period between 2011 and 2015, in which it committed itself to working on a number of infrastructure, especially roads.
The manifesto had a list of 22 roads, which the government promised to upgrade from gravel to tarmac.
In position number 12 on that list was the 64km stretch connecting Kamuli to the Lake Kyoga fishing town of Bukungu in Buyende District.
Other roads on the list included the 167km Olwiyo- Gulu- Kitgum Road, the 200km Muyembe-Nakapiripit-Moroto-Kotido Road, the 88km Kayunga-Galiraya Road and Mityana-Kanoni Road.
On December 31, 2011 while delivering his new year message to Ugandans, the party chairman, President Museveni once again listed the road among the many that had been lined up for fixing. Coming only a few days after the release of the manifesto, the promise appeared to come true.
However, no work was undertaken in the period between 2011 and 2015. As a result, the road was once again back in the party’s 2016 manifesto among the 25 that have been prioritised for construction between 2016 and 2020.
The problem though is that Mr Museveni and a host of government officials are becoming a broken record about this particular road. They have been talking about working on this road for more than 17 years now, having first made the promise in 2001.
It subsequently featured in several budget speeches between 2001 and 2010, but no work was done, sparking off angry confrontations between sections of the populace and their elected leaders.
During the campaigns ahead of the 2006 General Election some voters planted banana stems with campaign posters of the late Budiope County MP Henry Balikoowa, and those of Mr Museveni in the most impassable sections of the road.
In April 2009, Balikoowa, saw his Easter festivities turn awry when some of his constituents attempted to beat him up, accusing him of having not done enough to mount pressure on Mr Museveni to deliver on a litany of promises he had made over the years.
The residents cited promises such as the extension of electricity to Buyende, provision of a ferry to ply between the waters of Lake Kyoga and link Busoga, Lango and Teso sub-regions and the elevation of Buyende to district status.
The Deputy Resident District Commissioner, Ms Aisha Sekindi, then moved in to reassure residents that the promises would be fulfilled, but still fell short of giving a timeframe within which they would be realised.
“The President will always keep his promise, however late it may be” she was quoted to have said.
The “harassment” of the MP had been expected to yield something on the ground, but it did not. It seems to have only yielded more empty promises as captured in the 2011 manifesto.
That set the stage for a confrontation between the immediate former MP for Bugabula North, Mr Andrew Allen, and President Museveni.
On June 16, 2014, during the opening of Century Hotel, which is owned by the Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, former Bugabula North MP, Mr Andrew Allen, lashed out at President Museveni, for allegedly neglecting Busoga.
Mr Allen argued that the various promises that he had not fulfilled were testimony of government’s insensitivity to the plight of the people of the region.
“Mr President, the Basoga clap hands and vote wholesale for NRM but they have concerns you may not know and the many other unfulfilled campaign pledges,” Mr Allen said.
Mr Museveni’s response was to critise the MP, accusing him of ignorance about the country’s political history.
“I wonder how old that young man is. He must be above 18 since he is an MP, but he lacks historical perspective of how far we have come,” Mr Museveni said of the MP before lecturing the gathering about Uganda’s history and the NRM/A which brought him to power.
In January 2016, some of the residents of Buyende and Kamuli District were made to believe that the altercation between Mr Museveni and MP Allen had paid off when the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) engineer in Jinja, Mr Stephen Kisubi, announced that government had allocated Shs28 billion for maintenance and tarmacking of some roads in Busoga region that year.
That announcement and the earlier commitment contained in the 2016 manifesto made many believe that it was a done deal. They were all wrong. Two years since it was “prioritised”, nothing has happened here and it does not look like it will be doing so any time soon.
Bukungu Town where the road is meant to end has always been a very important area for the fishing industry in Uganda.
Even prior to becoming one of the biggest sources of Nile Perch for the fish factories that had sprouted up in neighbouring Jinja in the early 1990s,Bukungu had always been a major source of fish for many traders who would take it all the way to Busia at the common border with Kenya, where fish had a steady market.
The recent construction with funding from the African Development Bank (AfDB), of infrastructure including fish landing bays, installation of water and sanitation facilities and refrigeration chambers as part of government’s efforts to improve quality control in the fishing industry served to boost fish handling capacity, but the poor state of the road has proved a major inhibitor of growth of the fishing sector in Buyende.
The state of the road is also having an impact on business as a whole. Investment in the transport sector has not matched the growth in population.
Pick-up trucks, a few rickety minibuses and old buses are the main mode of transport because fewer people are willing to deploy new vehicles on the road.
The cost of doing business is also much higher here since travellers spend more time and money on the road.
At the same time, whereas Buyende is traditionally rich in other commodities such as citrus fruits, ground nuts and livestock, the state of the road has proved a major impediment to the attraction of investments that would have helped lead to improvements in the areas of value addition.
This means that those involved in production in those sectors cannot attract competitive prices for their produce.
Mr Allan Ssempebwa Kyobe, the media relations manager in the office of the executive director of Uganda National Roads Authority told Daily Monitor that the road is still up for upgrading. “Detailed engineering designs have since been completed. We are now seeking funds for upgrading it. In the interim we have a term maintenance contractor on site and the road is motorable,” he said.
Information from Unra indicates that the designs involve the creation of two lanes, each 3.5m wide and with shoulders that are 1.5m wide. It also has a 2.5m wide parking lane and 1.5m wide footpaths on either side of the carriageway have been provided for in trading centres and all major urban or highly populated centres.
Since around 1996, President Museveni has been emphasising the need for communities to improve household incomes by engaging in economic activities. The target as of 2001, when he talked about the introduction of zoning to allow for different parts of the country to produce what they are best suited to do, was to ensure that every household generates at least Shs20 million per year.
This, however, cannot be achieved unless access to markets has been resolved. Right now the biggest challenge for the people of Buyende is access to markets. The pathetic state of the road means that farmers cannot access good market.
Moving their produce to the nearest markets in Kamuli is quite expensive as they spend a lot of money on transportation.
At the same time, traders who deploy their vehicles to move the produce underpay the farmers in order to mitigate the costs of wear and tear
On the other hand, several infrastructural developments such as the Nebbi-Goli-Arua-Oraba Road, Ntungamo–Kakitumba-Mirama Hills and the recent reconstruction of Aswa Bridge, have proved that strategic investments in infrastructure can spur growth and development and help in the fight against poverty.
Buyende, is already one of the poorest districts in Uganda. If the Uganda Poverty Maps 2012/2013 published by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics with collaboration from the World Bank and United Nations Children’s Fund, is anything to go by, per capita poverty stands at between 30.1 and 35 per cent and per capita child poverty at 35.1 and 55 per cent, but something can be done.
Expeditious action on this road is one way of doing so.