On December 23, 2015, President Museveni while campaigning in Busoga sub-region ahead of the 2016 general elections, reassured the people of Kamuli that work on the Jinja-Kamuli via Mbulamuti Road would be commencing soon.
“We are looking at tarmacking the Iganga-Kiyunga-Bulopa- Kamuli, Kamuli- Namwendwa-Kaliro, the Jinja –Budondo-Mbulamuti- Kamuli roads and another 22km for roads within Kamuli Town,” he said while speaking at a campaign rally in Namasanda village, in Bugabula South Constituency.
The road connects the towns and districts of Jinja and Kamuli via Budondo Sub-county. Part of it goes through Mbulamuti, a village and Sub-county on the banks of River Nile.
Mbulamuti, where the ferry that plies between Kayunga and Kamuli docks, is also the home of the Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga.
The road, which passes through Budondo and Butagaya Sub-counties, the food baskets of Jinja Town, is of enormous economic importance to the area as it is not only the main route through which farmers access markets in Jinja and by extension Kampala, but it is also the main access route to Kyabirwa and Itanda falls on the River Nile.
The two falls remain the biggest tourist attractions and water sport points following inundation of the Bujagali falls during the construction of the Bujagali Power Station.
Visitors to the two falls constitute a sizeable percentage of the volumes of tourists that have helped turn tourism into the fastest growing sector of the economy with annual growth rate of 21 per cent and contributing 24 per cent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
In the ruling NRM’s 2016 manifesto, the party says the number of tourists had shot up by 600,000 in a six-year period rising from 200,000 people in 2002 to slightly more than 800,000 people in 2008, with 140,000 of the tourists visiting wildlife protected areas.
Among the things they conducted included, tracking gorillas and other primates, watching birds and engaging in various activities such as sport fishing, kayaking, mountaineering, white water rafting and nature walking. It adds that the highest number of foreign tourists had been registered in 2007 when slightly more than 640,000 people from Europe, Asia and the Americas visited.
It would, therefore, not be too farfetched to lump this road within the same category as what are known as the tourism roads, these being the ones that lead to national game parks, Namugongo Martyrs Shrines and other sites.
Besides being an access to tourism attractions in the area, the road also links farmers in Budondo Sub-county, the food and fruit basket of Jinja, to markets in Jinja and other towns.
In giving his reassurance to the people of Kamuli, Mr Museveni, who was in the company of Ms Kadaga, boasted that while government had previously been reliant on donor money to implement most infrastructure projects, the situation has since changed. The problem, though, was that the promise to work on the road dates back to the 2011 general election. It has since the financial year 2012/2013 featured prominently in all budgets, but without any action on the ground, much to the frustration of some of the locals here.
That frustration boiled over in June 2014 during the opening of Ms Kadaga’s Hotel, Century Hotel, when the then MP for Bugabula North, Mr Andrew Allen, lashed out at President Museveni who was the chief guest, accusing him of always supplying hot air whenever it came to fulfilling promises that he had over the years been making to the people of Kamuli.
After that altercation and the reassurances that Mr Museveni gave, it appeared that something would finally happen.
That belief was reinforced by the early January 2016 announcement by the then Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), Jinja-based engineer, Mr Stephen Kisubi, that government had allocated some Shs28b towards the maintenance and tarmacking of some of the roads in Busoga sub-region.
Mr Kisubi indicated that whereas funds for work on the road had been obtained in the financial year 2013/2014, government had not yet identified a contractor for the project.
“There are some two contractors who applied to work on Budondo Road but government is taking its time identifying the best contractors and mobilising more funds for, but residents can be rest assured that it must have been fixed by the end of 2016,” he said. However, more than seven years since the first promise was made and close to another two years since Mr Museveni reassured the people of Kamuli that all would be well, nothing has happened.
Only the section that runs between Amber Court roundabout and the star junction leading up to the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) Senior Command and Staff College, Kimaka, and the Nile Resort Hotel, has some measure of tarmac, but due to lack of maintenance, the surface has been reduced to a few patches. The rest of the road is basically a gravel affair that the UNRA has been trying to maintain, but it would appear that the perennial lack of resources means that it is not maintained with the frequency and effort that it would have required.
The recent onset of the rains, coupled with the fact that the area is within a belt that is currently engaged in mass sugarcane growing that is supplied to Kakira Sugar Ltd, Mayuge Sugar Ltd, Kaliro and Kamuli Sugar mills, among other areas, means that the road is overburdened by trucks ferrying sugarcane leading to its further deterioration.
This has had an adverse effect on the farming communities. Many of them find it increasingly difficult to ferry their produce to the markets. Those who brave the terrible road and transport the produce to the markets have to charge a little more for it, a cost which is finally passed on to the consumers.
At the same time, produce traders who brave the road and go down into the villages to buy the produce, take advantage of the situation to take the farmers’ produce at a song.
The cost of transport between Jinja and Budondo is very high because there are very few vehicles that are mostly dusty jalopies whose road worthiness is questionable.
Very few businesspeople are willing to invest in purchasing cars for deployment on a road that is likely to wear it out in less than two years.
Besides, it is now emerging that failure to expedite the upgrade of this road from gravel to tarmac is fast become a source of tension between government officials.
The special presidential assistant on Wealth Creation and Poverty Alleviation, Ms Hellenah Olga Namutamba, who is also the Minister for Tourism in the Busoga Kingdom is accusing some unnamed government officials of refusal to implement presidential directives.
“The President directs, but the people who are charged with implementing never take up these matters. They don’t take Busoga sub-region as a priority,” she says.
Completion of works on the Vura-Arua-Oraba and the Ntungamo – Kakitumba - Mirama Hills roads has served to spur economic activities in West Nile and Ankole and Kigezi regions where they are located, This goes a long way to prove that strategic investment into infrastructure can actually serve to resuscitate an ailing economy.
Busoga region has for quite some years now been listed as one of the poorest in the country. So acute is the problem believed to be that the leadership has been calling for a special action programme to lift it out of poverty and place it on the same economic pedestal as the rest of the country. Work on this road could be a beginning point.
It would not only make tourist attractions like Kyabirwa and Itanda falls, Kaguli Hill and Iyingo accessible, it would also enable farmers gain more access to the markets and lead to a reduction in the cost of doing business as it would bring the cost of transport down.
It would spur growth of some of the existing trading centers like Namagera, and Buyala and in the process lead to the opening of severalroadside businesses that would open up a few employment opportunities for some of the youths.
Kamuli District LCV Chairman, Mr Thomas Franz Kategere, has since told Daily Monitor that UNRA is in very advanced stages of commencingwork on the road.
“It is a very ugly road now. With the sugarcane carrying trucks going through it and the onset of the rains it is even much more terrible, but I am very optimistic that it will be done. The designs are complete and designing a road is very expensive. It is not something that you do and just leave it at that. Besides there are not major compensations to be carried out,” he said.
Mr Kategere, said that other roads that have since had designs carried out and concluded include the Budhumbula-Balawoli-Bukungu and Budhumbula-Naminage-Bulopa-Iganga roads, which are currently being maintained under 3 year framework contracts.