It had been a while since I travelled upcountry by public means. So at the weekend when I jumped on a bus to Kafunjo Parish in Ntungamo District to attend a friend’s wedding, I had not prepared for the interestingly ‘new developments’ that would be part of my long journey.
The first development was the black kaveera (polythene bag) given to passengers. On such long distances most of them eat all sorts of things along the way, and those with reactive stomachs often puke them back.
I had to applaud the foresightedness of Global Coaches management for introducing the kaveera (never mind that government banned kaveera)and small buckets to protect their buses from the repugnant vomit of passengers. An old man behind me asked the conductor if he could ease himself in one of the buckets, and the bus roared in laughter.
Another ‘development’ that is now ‘officially’ part of such long distances is the sugar-tongued herbal medicine merchant who buys a seat so he can use the journey to hawk his herbs. This time he was selling a powdered concoction that he claimed it gives a man “lasting power” in bed.
The same powder, he said, is a cure to diabetes, ulcers, varied allergies, syphilis, blood pressure, joint pains and all sorts of maladies that make life unbearable. He made a killing from passengers but I was left wondering who regulates such ‘medics’ and their merchandise.
When I reached Mbarara I took a taxi to Ntungamo. We left the park 16 passengers but the driver kept stopping and picking up more passengers until we were packed like sardines, with hardly breathing space.
I could not believe this ‘development’ in the 21st century, moreover in the First Lady’s backyard. It did not help that the driver was driving like a demon. I knelt down and prayed when we reached Ntungamo safely.
From here, we hired a saloon car and headed to Mirama Hills where the wedding was taking place. The 37km-Ntungamo-Mirama Hills Road is newly upgraded and smooth. This was not the story four years ago; this road used to be so bad leading to several fatal accidents that the villagers had nicknamed it karyabantu (one that devours people).
The most dangerous spot was at Omukikoona (the intersection) in Kafunjo where one road goes to Kikagati – connecting to Tanzania, and the other to Mirama border post of Rwanda. This intersection would get waterlogged during the rainy season that vehicles would sink, killing people.
How road got fixed
In 2014, the situation was so dire that the natives went on a rampage and planted banana trees in the middle of the impassable road, and could not be appeased until they had a meeting with Janet Museveni who was the area MP. The government then engaged a Chinese company to upgrade it from murram to bitumen standard.
Today, the work is nearly complete and everyone is happy about the development, from the locals who got manual jobs on the road to the businessmen that use the road to transport produce such as beans and maize and bales of second-hand clothes to Rwanda and from Tanzania.
Now, even buses from Kigali to Kampala and back ply this road which is shorter than Ntungamo-Kabale-Katuna-Kigali route. Whereas it used to take over two hours from Ntungamo to Kigali on this road, now it takes close 30 minutes for big trucks and less than 20 minutes for the small cars.
Before heading back to Kampala, we drove from Ntungamo to Mirama border post in 21 minutes. Our driver sometimes sped but we love our lives more than adrenaline rush.
How long this road will last before it needs to be repaired will confirm whether the Zhongmei road engineers did a good job.
Did you know?
• The Ntungamo–Mirama Hills Road is a road in the Western Region of Uganda, connecting the towns of Ntungamo and Mirama Hills, both in Ntungamo District.
• President Yoweri Museveni officially commissioned the construction of the 37 km Ntungamo-Mirama Hills road.
• TradeMark East Africa and government of Uganda jointly funded construction of the $22 million road
• The Mirama Hills road route offers a shorter and less difficult route to Rwanda than passing through the Katuna/Gatuna border post.