Changing fortunes of Bundibugyo District

Tuesday June 17 2014

A section of the recently completed Frot Portal - Bundibugyo road. The 79-kilometre

A section of the recently completed Frot Portal - Bundibugyo road. The 79-kilometre road is likely to improve trade and creating new trade opportunities especially in DR Congo. Photo by Felix Basiime 

By Felix Basiime & Ruth Katusabe

Five years ago, one would need more than three hours to drive through the bumpy and narrow 79-kilometre road from Fort Portal to connect to Bundibugyo Town.
However, a newly completed road was recently handed over to the government and it builds new hope in terms of improved livelihood for the people of Bundibugyo.
The road cuts through Semuliki Valley after Karugutu, taking one just half an hour to reach Bundibugyo Town.

Bundibugyo borders DR Congo to the west and shares borders with Ntoroko District to the north and Kabarole District to the East and Southeast.

The district also shares geographic boundaries, including Semliki River to the west, Rwenzori Mountains to the east and Lake Albert to the North.

It is relatively isolated from the rest of Uganda, as it is the only district that lies west of the Rwenzori Mountains.
Though it is still a part of the Nile Basin, it is ecologically and culturally part of Central Africa.

Its people and customs are more similar to those of eastern DR Congo than the rest of Uganda, despite being politically in East Africa.
Recently, President Museveni witnessed the installation of a cultural leader for the people of Bundibugyo.

The improvement in the road network has boosted the district’s cocoa industry, which is the biggest cash crop in the area.
Cocoa farmers in the district currently receive more than Shs90b annually compared to Shs4b received in 2005, according to the district planner, Mr Charles Mwesige.


Improved road network
This, according to analysts, has been a result of an improved road network that has helped farmers to access new markets, especially for farmers in rural areas.

“Farmers can now sell cocoa to the highest bidder. A kilogramme of dry cocoa now costs Shs6,000 compared to Shs2,000 in 2007,” Mr Jolly Tibemanya, the district chairman, says.

The Fort Portal-Bundibugyo–Lamia road network which was completed in 2013, has eased communication to the rest of the country, with fairs substantially reducing and transportation of commodities made more affordable.

“A bag of cement used to cost Shs31,000 in 2009 but it currently costs Shs27,500,” says the Rev Geoffrey Kyomuhendo, a resident.

Additionally the extension of power from Fort Portal about three years ago, has made to Bundibugyo Town a hub of activities including small-scale industries.

“Extension of power has improved people’s livelihood. Small-scale industries are mushrooming across the district and a substantial reduction in unemployment in the district will soon be realised,” says Mr Tibemanya.

In 2010, the government curved off a section of the northern part of Bunduibugyo District to form Ntoroko District.

Thousands of people in Bunduibugyo have been displaced with others killed as a result of the ADF insurgency that started in the late 1990s.

The ADF, although has been fought by the UPDF, continue to be a security threat to residents conducting horrific attacks in flash points of Bwindi Impenetrable Forests.

On April 7, 1999, ADF rebels attacked parts of the district killing 11 civilians and looting property worth millions of shillings.

However, according to Mr Tibemanya, the problem of insecurity remains minimal.
And this, he says, has boosted growth in the district supported by improved infrastructure and tourism.

“Bundibugyo has great tourism potential. The main attractions are the rift valley, the forests and the Semuliki National Park, Mountain Rwenzori National Park and Semuliki Game Reserve” says Mr Tibemanya.

Bundibugyo also is home to a range of animal and bird species as well as a range of butterflies, hot springs and a diverse cultural heritage [pygmies].

“The hot springs at Sempaya have a long and exciting history. For long water from the springs has been used as medicine and continues to attract both foreign and local visitors” says Mr Charles Mwesige, the district planner.

Community empowerment
Through SNV in partnership with Unicef and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands, the district has supported community empowerment programmes in a bid to provide sustainable rural development solutions.

On health, in the last five years, the number of malaria cases have dropped as more than 182,000 mosquito nets have been distributed to households supported by Health Ministry.

The support and treatment for HIV/Aids patients has improved after Bundibugyo Hospital received a CD4 count machine with support from Baylor College of Medicine.

Safe water coverage has also improved as more safe water sources (gravity flow schemes, protected springs and boreholes) have been constructed across all sub-counties in the district.

In the education sector, Save the Children International and World Vision have been instrumental in improving the sector through constructing staff quarters and classrooms in different parts of the district.

Minister's take: Politics aside, lets use government utilities profitably

This newspaper recently ran a picture of a newly-constructed road that connects Uganda to the DR Congo through Bundibugyo District.

In the picture, goats had turned the road – world class facility – into a resting place. This is one of the many roads promised and constructed by the government to improve trade and people’s livelihood.

It is a pity that traders and other investors are not taking advantage of such facilities to exploit the warm trade relationship between government and DR Congo. It seems people hardly know that this tamarc road exists and should therefore be used.

Often times government comes under pressure from community members and other players apparently for not connecting such places at the periphery like Bundibugyo to the national road network. But after connection, the roads lie idle as critics look for excuses. In this same district, we have extended the national power grid but not even a single factory has been set up.

This place is well known for cocoa production. But with electricity readily available, shouldn’t investors think of exploiting the opportunity to set up factories or at least add value to the cocoa beans before they are exported?

It is time for the investors to spread out to such districts like Bundibugyo which are rich in international agricultural products and set up processing plants.
As government, we are ready to provide essential needs to ensure that investors are quickly helped to establish themselves such that they can provide employment opportunities to the local population.

Available statistics indicate that last year alone Uganda exported about 17,000 tonnes of cocoa beans worth more than $50m (about Shs133b). Most of these beans came from Bundibugyo.
If we were able to add value, how much more could we have fetched? May be more than double.

Bundibugyo, which is located in the Mount Rwenzoris is also home for a number of tourist attractions. Places like Sempaya hotsprings, Ngithe falls and the Mount Rwenzori National Park are now easier to access compared to five years ago when the road from Fort Portal to Bundibugyo was still murram.

Those who want to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the mountain, bird watching and having a feel of the hotsprings can reach the area after a four-hour drive.

When we talk about tourism, it is not limited to foreigners. Ugandans should also be able to tour their own country to be able to market it better.

Tour and travel agencies should take advantage of the road connecting to Bundibugyo to market the attractions in the area, bring more tourists to earn an extra shilling.

People in other areas could say their roads have not been worked on or they have not been connected to the national grid. However, the government has rolled out a fast-moving programme that will enable all Ugandans to access good roads and electricity as soon as possible.

Ms Rose Namayanja, Information minister