On Saturday, March 10, 2001, President Museveni, who was campaigning for a second elective term in office, promised to work on the Kamuli-Namwendwa-Kaliro Road, which connects the districts of Kamuli, Luuka and Kaliro.
“In the next five years, we shall make sure you have tarmac on this (Kamuli-Namwendwa-Kaliro) Road,” he said.
The road starts in Kamuli Municipality, winds through Bugabula South and Luuka North constituencies before ending in Bulamogi County.
Mr Museveni, who on that day addressed six mini rallies in Kamuli District, first made the promise in Kaliro, before repeating it in Nawaikoke, Bugaya, Namwendwa, Kasambira and Nawanyango.
The promise was precipitated by demands from residents of Kaliro, which at the time constituted the eastern parts of Kamuli District.
Although the distance between Kaliro and Kamuli is short, the county’s councillors in the Kamuli District Council had been finding it increasingly difficult to effectively represent their people’s interests there as travel between the two areas was a nightmare on account of the poor state of the road.
At the same time, while Kaliro, which is endowed with numerous swamps is one of the biggest producers of rice, and Kamuli, a producer of a wide range of fruits, vegetables, food and cash crops, there was very little trade going on between the two towns.
It was believed that resurfacing the road would stimulate trade between the two districts and also result into a reduction in, among others, transport costs, travel times and vehicle maintenance costs.
Mr Museveni had promised that work on the road would be undertaken between 2001 and 2006, which sparked off great excitement, especially in Kaliro, but nothing more than periodic maintenance in the form of occasional grading and placement of culverts in sections along the major streams, was done.
During the course of 2005, Kaliro, then a county where the majority of residents speak a dialect that is much more different from the other several other dialects of Lusoga, was carved out of Kamuli and granted district status, becoming operational in August 2006, which once again reignited talk about work on the road.
But the biggest amount of work that was undertaken on the same was maintenance that was carried out in 2015 after government allocated Shs28 billion for work on key roads in Busoga region.
The road, however, soon became a major talking point in the run up to the 2016 general elections, which prompted the ruling NRM to include it in its manifesto for the period between 2016 and 2021.
The manifesto lists the road among 25 roads that the party says “have been prioritised for construction” as it aims to upgrade some 2,205km of gravel roads to tarmac, rehabilitate about 3,200kms of paved roads and maintain more than 10,000kms of unpaved roads.
On the same list are the Moroto-Kotido (101km), Namagumba-Budadiri-Nalugugu (30km), Kamuli-Bukungu (64km), Luweero-Kiwoko-Butalangu (29km), Nebbi-Golli (14.4km), Ocoko-Inde (32.8km), Mityana-Kanoni (37.2km), Kyegegwa-Kazo-Buremba-Bisozi (Rwamwanja) (87km), Atiak-Moyo-Afoji (104km), Jinja-Buwenda-Mbulamuti (80km), Kitgum-Koputh (165km), Atiak-Kitgum (108km), Pajule-Pader (18km), Kotido-Kaabong (64km) and the Angatun-Lokapel (47km) road.
Others are the Kashozi-Buremba-Kariro (53km) road, Kashwa-Kashongi-Ruhumba (33km), Nakawuka-Kasanje-Mpigi (20km), Kisubi-Nakawuka-Nateete (27km), Nakawuka-Mawugulu-Nanziga-Maya (15km), Buwaya-Kasanje-Mpigi, Kibibi-Mityana (90km), Kayunga-Bbaale-Galiraya (88.5km), Katine-Kalaki-Lwala-Kaberamaido-Ocero (50km) and Najjanankumbi-Busabala and Mukono-Seeta-Namboole (30km) roads.
While addressing a campaign rally in Namasanda Village in Kamuli in December 2015, Mr Museveni said government had finalised plans to ensure all major roads in Busoga region are upgraded.
“We are going to tarmac Kamuli- Bukungu and Jinja-Buwenge-Mbulamuti roads, whereas surveying of the Kamuli-Bukungu Road has been finished and government is looking for the contractor… 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.
The pathetic state of the Kamuli-Namwendwa-Kaliro Road has adversely impacted on business in the three districts of Kamuli, Luuka and Kaliro, which it links.
While the population in the three districts has continued to rise, investment in transport infrastructure is way below what it actually needs. The biggest means of transport are old buses and a few rickety minibuses. Many people are willing to commit funds to the purchase of new passenger service vehicles for deployment on a dusty and bumpy road that will break a vehicle down long before one recoups a return on the investment.
Those who dare the devil and deploy cars there make sure to ask for an arm and a leg from commuters who spend a lot more time on the road than they would have if the road was smoother.
Apart from rice, Kaliro also produces a variety of other crops, including beans, millet and maize, but the farmers here have a few options in terms of accessing markets. The only smooth road is the one that leads to Iganga, which means that they can only access markets through Iganga Town.
Similarly, while it would have been easier for the business communities to access banking services in Kamuli, which is nearer, they are compelled to travel to Iganga to access the same.
Farmers in Bulopa Sub-county and parts of Namwendwa, who have also delved into the sugarcane farming business, find it difficult and expensive to access the Kaliro Allied Sugar Limited premises, which are very close by on account of the poor state of the road.
Mr Mark Ssali, the director of communications at the Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra), told Daily Monitor in a telephone interview on Monday that the authority has already set into motion the process of ensuring that work on the road is done in fulfilment of the promise.
“That road is already part of our work plan. We are procuring design studies this financial year, which will result into the production of designs for the road,” he said.
The design stage includes studies on the economic viability of the road. That includes counting the volumes of traffic that make use of the roads.
It is after the designs are in that government embarks on finding funding for the project. It is after funding has been found that Unra embarks on procuring a contractor for the project. Given the process, it looks unlikely that work will commence anytime soon.
As we have seen with several road infrastructural developments that have been carried out in various parts of the country, targeted investments in infrastructure have capacity to serve as a catalyst for development.
The country has already seen that developments such the Nebbi-Goli-Arua-Oraba Road, Fort Portal-Kamwengye and the Ntungamo–Kakitumba-Mirama Hills have led to the birth of short term employment opportunities, a sharp reduction in fares on those routes, led to growth of towns and trading centres, led to improvement of housing structure and by extension living conditions. There is no doubt that the same can happen in the three districts once work on this road is complete.
At the same time Kamuli, Luuka and Kaliro are some of the biggest producers of maize, rice and beans and it has capacity to play a significant role in helping Uganda satisfy both the local and regional demand for grain, but growth of the grain sector in some of grain producing areas is being pegged back due to a poor network of, especially feeder roads in the grain producing districts. This is a challenge that the development of a road like the Kamuli-Namwendwa-Kaliro stretch would help to solve.
Achievement of that would go a long way in helping Ugandans achieve President Museveni’s dream of seeing every household generate at least Shs20 million per year.