Regional imbalance: The story of road construction in Uganda

A publication by the Uganda National Roads Authority reveals that out of the 47 on-going and upcoming projects, 19 are in the western region; 11 central; nine in the north and eight in the east.

Sunday May 25 2014

The Hoima-Kaiso-Tonya road in western Uganda being constructed

The Hoima-Kaiso-Tonya road in western Uganda being constructed to improve connectivity to and within the oil region. FILE PHOTO 

By Isaac Imaka

In 2012, residents of Mafubira Village on the Jinja-Kamuli highway took to the streets and demonstrated over an impassable pot-holed and dusty road.
Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga also threatened to lead a group of Basoga in a demonstration against the same.

Although the road has spent several years dogged with potholes, when the government contracted Dott Services to work on the road, the company dug the road and left it unattended to for close to a year, prompting the fury from those who stay on the road.

The enraged residents claimed that the dust left behind by moving cars was unbearable and had forced them to close their businesses.
The 70km Jinja-Kamuli highway is just one of the many road construction projects the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) is undertaking in eastern Uganda.

Although many of such projects have faced delays, a recent tour of the projects by Members of Parliament on the Physical Infrastructure Committee revealed that UNRA, and not the contractor, is responsible for the delays.

Slow approach
“You (UNRA) should be smart in your work instead of taking on a slow approach and waiting to put the contractor on pressure,” committee chairperson Ephraim Biraaro told the UNRA eastern region manager, Mr Godfrey Kaaya, during a tour of the Mbale-Soroti road, one of the delayed roads.

“You obviously have to blame in these delays because there were no plans, no road designs and there is no way Dott Services could have started work on time,” Mr Biraaro said.

When asked about the delayed road designs and plans, Mr Kaaya admitted that mistakes were made but said everything has since been streamlined and the road constructions are back on course.

But the delay of the eastern roads projects aside, a scrutiny of a UNRA publication of the on-going and upcoming projects reveals a regional imbalance with western Uganda having more projects than north and eastern Uganda, combined.

Out of the 47 projects, both on-going and upcoming projects under UNRA, 19 are in the western region; 11 central; nine in the north and eight in the east.

In distance terms, the west has 1,407km, central 690, the north 692 and 631km in the east.
UNRA head of planning directorate David Luyimbazi says they do not decide on which road goes where and when, adding that it is the work of the Ministry of Works.

“As far as I am aware, we have put too much money in eastern and northern Uganda. Most road projects are on-going. If you separate on-going from what we are processing, you will see that the scenario is different,” he says.
Although he disagrees with the analysis, Works minister Abraham Byandala, says western Uganda is getting the roads because of economic benefits there.

“We are constructing roads there because they lead to areas with lucrative tourism – parks and eco sites – and it is where the majority of food we eat in Kampala comes from and a lot of cattle farming, leading to big diary output,” he says.

Mr Byandala said the ministry gives priority to regional productivity, access to district headquarters, political roads and roads opening up regional corridors to the border points.

“Western region connects to [DR] Congo and Rwanda, where many Ugandans transact business,” he said. “The north and eastern regions, you say are being side-lined, have projects that we are planning. Roads in Bubulo to Mbale, Bukiro, among others that will start in 2015.”

“So, it’s not true that we are side-lining some regions and doing better in others,” he said.

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