On July 16, the Minister of Works, Transport and Communications, Ms Monica Azuba, launched the MV Albert Nile 1 ferry, which connects Wanseko (Buliisa District) and Panyimur (Nebbi District).
The launch also coincided with celebrations to mark a decade since the Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) was formed and handed the mandate to develop and maintain the national roads network, including the ferries linking sections of the national roads separated by water bodies.
The ferries are considered extensions of the road.
Speaking at Wanseko Landing Site where she launched MV Albert 1 ferry, minister Azuba was all praises for Unra.
“Unra has been at the centre of modernising our road infrastructure to world class. This is evident in the quality of roads across the country, quality of ferry services across the country, quality of ferry services through modern ferries with enhanced features that promote dignity of Ugandans,” she said.
Numbers on the double
What the minister forgot to point out was the quantity.
As of August 2009, when the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communications launched the National Transport Master Plan, Uganda boasted of only six ferries.
Three were deployed on Lake Victoria. These included the Bukakata-Luuku, Nakiwogo-Kyanvubu and Kiyindi-Buvuma ferries – all on Lake Victoria. The others were the Masindi Port-Kungu, Wanseko-Panyimur and Laropi-Umi ferries – all River Nile crossings.
At the same time, usage was also on the low side. Numbers for the year 2002 show that vehicle and passenger traffic on some of the longer ferry crossings at Wanseko and Kiyindi were very low.
That was quite telling for a country with more than 50 water bodies, including lakes Victoria, Kyoga, Albert and Edward and mighty River Nile, which flows into the Mediterranean Sea through Sudan and Egypt.
More vessels have since been acquired and deployed in diverse parts of the country to ease communication and trade.
“These ferry services across the country are offered at no cost. We now have 12 across the country” Minister Azuba said while speaking at Wanseko.
Different ferry sizes, different crossings
It was not possible to establish how much Unra has spent on the development of the ferries and ferries landing site during the last five years, but the vessels are of different sizes and have varying vehicle and passenger haulage capacities.
The number of trips they make also vary. Unra’s director for communications, Mr Mark Ssali, says the numbers are dependent on the distances between the landings sites that they ply and dock.
“For example, while the Laropi (Moyo District) - Umi (Adjumani District) ferry, which has a capacity for 120 passengers and 12 vehicles, makes 12 trips per day every day, the Kiyindi (Buikwe District) - Buvuma (Buvuma District) ferry with a capacity for 120 passengers and eight vehicles makes a maximum of three trips per day for six days a week and one trip on Sundays,” he explains.
The former is across the River Nile, where it takes an average of 15 minutes per crossing, while the latter is from the mainland to an island on Lake Victoria and each crossing takes one hour.
Impact of “roads” over water
The development of ferry services on Uganda’s water bodies has had a huge impact on communication and trade between the hitherto inaccessible areas and the main commercial areas on the mainland. The ferries have not only cut travel time to those places, it has also made possible for bulk goods to be transported where in the past traders had to rely on dangerous wooden boats.
Kalangala District’s Bugala Island, which is currently the most accessed island on Lake Victoria, for instance, now has three ferries – two plying between Bukakata on an hourly interval and one from Nakiwogo/Entebbe to Kalangala, making one round trip a day.
These ferries have enabled the easy transportation of crude palm oil from the island for processing in Jinja and quick access for tourists to enjoy the white sand beaches and resorts.
Ferry landing sites
The ferries have also come along with ferry landing sites, usually composed of a shed in which passengers waiting to make the crossing can sit, ferry landing pad, a toilet and bathroom and a registration area.
Accesses to the landing ferry docking point are usually two way, to allow for entry and exit. Both the entrances and exits have separate entry points for vehicles and passengers. First priority is always given to ambulances and sick persons.
“We have developed a master plan for all ferry landing sites that we shall implement over time in order to fully achieve it,” Mr Ssali says.
Unra is currently focusing on adding more vehicles to the waters. Some of the plans include construction of a ferry to link the mainland in Namayingo District to its Lake Victoria islands of Sigulu and Lolwe and increasing the number of ferries plying between Kiyindi and Buvuma islands to two for purposes of supporting the vegetable palm oil production that is planned to take place there.
Also expected to get operational within a year or so is a new ferry that will connect Teso and Busoga Sub-regions by plying between Bukungu in Buyende and Kagwara in Kaberamaido by way of the waters of Lake Kyoga.
The authority also intends to commence rehabilitation work on a ferry that used to play between Kiyindi and Buvuma and the Amur-Rhino Camp ferry, which is expected to provide a much shorter route linking Amuru and Arua districts.
Also lined up for sprucing are landing sites in Wanseko in Buliisa District, Kiyindi in Buikwe and Buvuma.
It looks like “connecting Uganda” is not just talk. Unra is walking the talk.
Hope still alive. More vessels have been acquired and deployed in diverse parts of the country to ease communication and trade. There are now 12 ferry services across the country, according to the minister of Works, Transport and Communications, Ms Monica Azuba.
Masindi Port (Kiryandongo) to Kungu (Apac). Makes at least 11 trips a day for all days of the week and carries at least 80 persons and eight vehicles on each crossing.
Nakiwogo (Entebbe) to Kyanvubu (Wakiso District). Carries 120 people and eight vehicles per crossing. It makes at least nine trips per day from Monday to Saturday and four trips on Sunday.
Wanseko (Buliisa) to Panyimur (Nebbi). This is the biggest and newest ferry. It makes a one-and-a-half trips per day, six days a week and carries a load of 250 people and 16 vehicles per crossing.
Obongi (Moyo) to Sinyanya (Adjumani). Makes 10 trips a day all the days of the week.
Namasale (Amolatar) to Zengebe (Nakasongola). The MV Kyoga 1 crosses Lake Kyoga and makes two round trips every day of the week carrying 120 passengers and 12 vehicles on a very trip.
Mbulamuti Ferry. This one crosses River Nile between Kasana in Kayunga and Bugobero in Kamuli District and does a minimum of 15 round trips per day Monday to Sunday, which is the biggest number of trips made by any single ferry. This is on account of the narrow crossing which takes between five and eight minutes carrying 120 people and eight vehicles per crossing.