The cows and goats are grazing. Rodents have burrowed troughs at different spots; grass is growing luxuriantly.
The only evidence that this is what is supposed to be the Greater Masaka Agro-Processing Industrial Park is the foundation stone laid by the President when he launched it two years ago.
The 960-acre piece in Mazigo Village, Bukakata Sub-county, was unveiled in June 2015 during a function presided over by President Museveni with the view of benefitting some 40,000 Ugandans. It was to be supported by the China-African Friendship Association Uganda, in partnership with Chinese Schuan Province.
“I thought that the project would take off after the 2016 general elections, but there is no sign that will happen soon,” Mr James Mugwanya, a herdsman tending his cattle on site, says.
The idea was driven by Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, an MP for Masaka, who approached the Chinese in 2013. According to the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed between Masaka District and the Chinese under their consortium China African Friendship Association Uganda, the former were required to provide free land for the industrial park.
Masaka District identified the land to host the project.
The Chinese would then identify investors from their country. Initially, the Chinese investors were to inject $300 million into the project.
They would also set up several agro-processing plants dealing in tea, coffee, and animal multiplication centres. The enterprise would integrate tea and fruit processing, pork packing and fish cage farming as well.
Questions from the community
During a recent community forum (baraza) held at Lambu Landing Site in Bukakata, Bukoto East MP Florence Namayanja asked Ms Mary Karooro Okurut, the minister for General Duties in the Prime Minister’s Office , on the progress of the project. Ms Karooro, who had represented Mr Ssekandi at the function, skipped the question by the Opposition legislator.
To Mr Aloysius Jjuuko, the sub-county chairperson for Bukakata, there is an alternative way to do it.
“There are local investors who are eager to invest in such big projects but they have not been given the opportunity,” Jjuuko says.
There is an apparent coordination problem. Former Masaka District chairperson Joseph Kalungi chaired the Greater Masaka Regional Consortium which supported the industrial park project, but his successor, Mr Jude Mbabaali, says is not involved in its running.
“I am not in position to comment about that project because I have never received any document regarding its establishment,” Mr Mbabaali says.
But Mr Kalungi, who lost the district leadership to Mr Mbabaali in 2006, insists that the project is still ongoing, adding that identifying investors is a process which must be given enough time to be realised.
The Memorandum of Understanding they signed with the Chinese, Mr Kalungi says, “is still binding.” He adds: “Of course the delay may affect the project to some extent, but it will at one time become a reality.”
Mr Kalungi, however, blames the new district leadership for the laxity to follow up the projects that were in pipeline at the time of elections including the stalled industrial park project.
“I suspect that the new Masaka District leadership is intentionally neglecting this project,” Mr Kalungi said, citing a number of projects that have come to a standstill because of what he describes as “lack of political will” from the current local leadership which is dominated by Opposition Democratic Party members.
Mr David Bulonge, the vice chairperson China- Africa Friendship Association in Uganda, says the Masaka Industrial Park was disadvantaged by the timing, having been unveiled at a time when the country was preparing for general elections.
“After the elections, the then consortium chairperson Joseph Kalungi and many other local leaders, including district councilors in the eight districts of Masaka sub- region, lost in the elections, meaning that the new office bearers had to be brought on board. This has been done. Since the initiators of the project were NRM members, the DP members who are in office today at all levels view it as an NRM project, which is not the case,” Mr Bulonge says
According to Mr Bulonge, the project was also delayed by the need to conduct an environment impact assessment study since it is located in a vast wetland that drains into Lake Victoria.
China Construction and Communication Company Ltd (CCCC), which is building the Entebbe-Kampala Expressway, was supposed to build roads, drainage systems and other physical infrastructure at the industrial site.
Mr Bulonge says some preparatory work has been done. He says the consortium has so far sent 60 youth from Greater Masaka to China to study the Chinese language, and another team of 30 people will soon leave for China for the same purpose.
“That team will give support to the first batch of Chinese industrialists who will kick-start the project because they will be able to speak their language and communication will not be a problem to them,” Mr Bulonge explains.
Mr Bulonge insists that the industrial park land, which was exactly 1.5 sq km at the launch of the project, is still intact. He says the land is under the care of Masaka District administration and Uganda Investment Authority.
Land to investors
He, however, says there has been a drawback that neighbours who were open to selling their land to the government to expand the park have since sold it off to other people due to the delays in implementing the project.
“This does not mean that they sold the industrial park land,” Bulonge says. The project coordinator, Mr Kityamuwesi Musuubire, confirmed that the delay to start construction of the industrial park doesn’t mean that the project stalled.
“Some people think that persuading investors to invest their money in a foreign country is a walkover (but) it requires patience,” Mr Musuubire says.
He says after the planning process, which is currently going on, a committee comprising CCCC and Masaka District officials will be put in place to oversee construction works at the industrial park.
He says ground assessment is currently ongoing to ensure that construction works commence soon.
Mr Joseph Zheng Biao, the country manager CCCC, says the project is still on and interested companies from China have already submitted their proposals.
Availing land to facilitate investment is one of the things President Museveni has done well over the years despite criticism that in many other parts of the world, investors pay for the land. In many cases this strategy has not worked out.
Only last month, the government cancelled leases it had granted to both local and foreign investors in Namanve and Soroti industrial parks and repossessed the idle land. This came after several investors failed to set up planned projects many years after acquiring free land.
Residents of Greater Masaka, which used to host a number of factories and processing plants predominantly established by the Asians, fear that the project in their area could also be a stillbirth.
Masaka’s old factories went into decline and eventually collapsed following the expulsion of Asians in 1972. Some of the defunct factories include Victoria Tea Factory in Mukungwe Sub-county, Cannery Bottling Plant in Kimaanya/Kyabakuza Division as well as a tea factory and coffee processing plants in Bukomansimbi and Kalungu districts, respectively.
The area also had prosperous co-operative unions through which farmers mobilised their produce, processed it and sold at good prices without being subjected to exploitation by middlemen.
Now all there is are dilapidated structures and rotting vehicles, as well as individual theories explaining the collapse of the enterprises.
In attempting to set up the industrial park, the idea was that the opportunities that were lost when the factories and cooperatives collapsed may be renewed.
The opportunities that are envisaged to accrue from the park will relate to agro-processing, in particular fish processing, fruit processing, coffee processing plant and glass manufacturing factories. There is also a plan to set up a vocational school, a hospital and an administration block on the land.
When Mr Museveni visited on June 18, 2015, the promise was that jobs would be created for thousands of Ugandans, both in the formal and informal sectors.
Vice President Ssekandi is the chairperson of China African Friendship Association Uganda, which spearheaded the establishment of the industrial park.