Bukwo’s poor roads cripple businesses

Wednesday June 26 2013

During the rainy season, vehicles get stuck at Kapchorwa-Suam road. Sometimes traders use donkeys to transport produce. PHOTO BY EDGAR BATTE.

During the rainy season, vehicles get stuck at Kapchorwa-Suam road. Sometimes traders use donkeys to transport produce. PHOTO BY EDGAR BATTE. 

By Edgar R. Batte & Allan Chekwech

Counting losses.

If it will not be muddy, slippery and scary, then the journey will be a dusty and tiresome affair. That is what the road from Kapchorwa District to Suam in Bukwo District will be like the next time you may consider travelling there – at least for now.
Snaking 77km from Bukwo’s mother district Kapchorwa in eastern Uganda, the Kapchorwa – Suam road, terrible as it is, has condemned Bukwo to isolation because of its inaccessibility.

For a moment, while on the road on the rainy season, you might not be sure whether the car will sway off the road or not; let alone reach your destination. The journey to Bukwo from Kapchorwa that should take ideally one-and-half hours, takes at least five hours and on a very bad day, it may take 24 hours.

Other motorists spend nights in their cars. The road will not give way to your four-wheel-drive car. It can send it rolling down the hills and it might as well crush and kill you.

The road might have affected Bukwo residents directly, but it could also have affected the rest of Uganda indirectly – and painfully. Why? Well, to answer that question, you may want to learn about the area’s agricultural and tourism potential.

The district agriculture officer, Mr Francis Epido, says the district alone produces 60,000 metric tonnes of maize, 25,000 metric tonnes of beans and 6,400 tonnes of wheat and barley every year. However, these crops never make it to the market, thus a major food basket shut out due to impassable roads.

Ms Joweriah Cherukut, a farmer in Bukwo, says when the roads are bad, they use donkeys as an alternative. However, the animals cannot travel long distances and at the same time carry little produce.

Kongasis MP Neslon Sabila says residents have resorted to selling their produce to the Kenyan market, which is a disservice to Ugandans. He adds that a kilogramme of unprocessed wheat costs Shs800 yet processed wheat would be sold at more than Shs3,000.

Mr Emmanuel Siya, a resident of Bukwo, says a better road would help many unemployed youth explore opportunities. “Government has delayed the tarmacking of the road. Being a link to Kenya, it would increase trade and provide more employment opportunities. The area is a food basket and efforts made on the road will improve the economy,” he says.

On a recent visit to the district, First Lady Janet Museveni commended residents for working hard and growing enough food amid the infrastructural challenges and limited capital.

The First Lady, like the Bukwo LC5 boss, Mr Wilson Salimo Manjara, was optimistic that the district will be able to construct many roads using the Road Unit it recently received. However, that would just be handling the craft of the problem – the root of the bad road starts from outside Kapchorwa.

The former Kongasis MP, Mr Johnson Bartile Toskin, says he is disappointed that the road, which should be a priority, has been ignored although promises keep streaming in. The district, with an estimated population of 83,000 people as of 2012, also has a very low investment attraction capacity.

Mr Sabila says financial institutions are shy on investing in the area because of its inaccessibility, an issue Mr Solomon Ssonko, the chief administrative officer, echoes. “Many investors have come here and promised to come back. We waited for them but they never returned and we understood why. They could not stand the state of our bad roads,” Mr Ssonko says.

So who cares if banks do not invest in Bukwo? Wait, the pain is piercing; all civil servants, including poorly paid teachers and police officers, have to travel 77 kilometres to Kapchorwa to access bank services.

Mr Sabila says a teacher can spend a week on the road depending on how long the bank processes the salaries given the queues there. But that is not all. Some people are said to spend most of the money to get accommodation in Kapchorwa and on their way back – the burden is that heavy!

The health sector is equally affected. District officials indicate that because the only hospital in the district is incomplete, patients die on their way to seek better facilities either in Kapchorwa or Kitale in Kenya because the distance is long.
When you go to Bukwo, be sure to use only MTN and Airtel telephone networks. The rest are not available.

The district also lacks electricity as residents depend on wood, which depletes forests.
Residents only watch Kenyan television stations because the Ugandan networks are inaccessible at the hilly area while local newspapers reach there days later. Bukwo, isolated as it is, also boasts of a rich tourism capacity. The beautiful hills, forests and natural features provide great view but are hampered by bad roads.

Mr Sabila says the district is also rich in minerals, with a rock capable of supplying limestone to the rest of Uganda spanning from Kabei, Riwo, Kortek, Chepkwasta, Tulel, Kamet to Chesower sub-counties.

The MP is optimistic that the place can provide raw materials for cement factories and traces of gold in Kamet and Chebinyiny. But, the government is not oblivious to the state of roads.

When Uganda’s Deputy Ambassador to Russia, Dr Sam Sakajja, passed on in December 2011, the government in early January 2012 airlifted his body to his ancestral home in Amanang for burial after the roads were said to be in a sorry state.

Earlier, at the requiem mass in Kampala, the Works and Transport minister, Mr Abraham Byandala, said: “I would like to apologise for the poor state of road network in Bukwo and other parts of the country. It is our office tasked with that and we are waiting for funds. Hopefully, this or the coming financial year, we shall work on that road.” But more than a year later, the government can only promise to work on the road.

In the 2013/14 Budget speech, the Finance minister, Ms Maria Kiwanuka, said under the new government initiative of Contractor Facilitated Financing, the Kapchorwa – Suam road was among the 20 roads under procurement.

The road works would start in April 2014 and the project would last 36 months.
More than Shs10 billion is needed for the road. But that would not be received in good faith by residents of Bukwo, who gave the NRM more than 90 per cent of the vote in the 2011 General Election.

Mr Sabila says his telephone kept buzzing with residents demanding a layman’s explanation of what the budget said about their road.

During the celebrations to mark 26 years in power of NRM’s on January 26 last year, President Museveni, ironically with Bukwo Woman MP Evelyn Tete Chelangat translating his speech, said money was not like murrum and could not be easily got, therefore locals needed patience.

Sabiny youth, many of them on social media, said the President had insulted them. From then on, a forum, Sabiny Friends, on facebook was created to discuss bad roads. Until that road is tarmacked, Bukwo residents will not sleep; their political, agricultural and investment beds will for now be thorny and that which pricks painfully.