District leaders, traders and the road users are optimistic that once the road is completed, the economic fortunes of the sub-region will change for the better, writes Mudangha Kolyangha & Fred Wambede
The reconstruction of Mbale-Tirinyi Road, estimated to cost Shs135b, is underway. The road, which is expected to be completed in May 2020, will boost trade, agriculture and other economic activities in the eastern region.
The road, being constructed by Dott Services, is approximately 99.3km. The company was awarded the contract in 2016 after completing rehabilitation of Mbale-Tororo-Soroti highway in 2015 at cost of Shs190b.
Also known as the “Great North Road”, the road links the north-eastern parts of Uganda, which comprises sub-regions of Bugisu, Sebei, Karamoja and the south-eastern and central parts of Uganda.
It also connects the region to South Sudan, on to the Mediterranean Sea through Libya.
But earlier last year in May, the rehabilitation stalled after the Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) terminated the contract awarded to Dott Services, for employer’s (Unra) convenience.
By the time Unra terminated the contract, the physical progress on the road was 19.09 per cent against the planned 94.46 per cent.
The contractor left the road after digging open holes to lay culverts and water channels, which made the road further impassable and prone to accidents.
As a result, the residents and traders along the stretch on several occasions protested and blockaded the road, describing it as a death-trap. On such occasions, traffic flow was paralysed and transport fares increased.
A group of area Members of Parliament led by Mr John Baptist Nambeshe (Manjiya County) also staged a demonstration over the poor state of the road.
They accused Unra of failing to maintain the road and further requested the President to intervene.
In October 26, 2017, President Museveni directed Unra executive director Allen Kagina to allow Dott Services Ltd to continue with the construction of the road. The company resumed the reconstruction on April 23.
Since then, the physical progress stands at 11.05 [per cent and a total of 21.59kms has been surfaced with Asphalt concrete and 24 box culverts have been completed.
Users speak out
This, according to Mr Sam Mulomi, the chairperson of Budaka District, one of the districts along the route, is a good start so far in the right direction.
“We were frustrated and disappointed but since they resumed, we are happy with the rate at which the works are going on and we pray that they maintain this,” he says.
He adds that the road is of great economic significance to the region, especially to women who operate small business along the road.
“This road is a catalyst for economic growth and without it, you cannot connect to some part of the country easily,” he says.
He adds that when rehabilitation is completed, it will boost more economic activities and growth of trading centres and towns along the route.
He explains that when Mbale–Lwakhakha Road is also completed, more gains will come by because traders will be in position to access the northern corridor for market.
Mbale-Lwakhakha road, which is under construction, is a short alternative route from Mombasa to South Sudan through Lwakhakha border.
Ms Jane Naula, a tomato vendor at Naboa Trading Centre in Budaka District says, they are happy as traders operating along the road because the number of customers are increasing compared to before when the works had stalled.
“We shall have more customers, especially when the road is done. This is good for our families because it’s through these small businesses that we feed and educate our children,” she says.
Mr Jerome Tawu Damba, a resident of Nyanza Village, Kamonkoli Sub-county and a trader, says the road will boost access to markets and household income.
“This road is an asset, more so if completed in time, because traders and passengers will no longer spend more hours on the road like they used to do,” he says.
Ms Ruth Nabirwe, a fruit vendor at Kamonkoli Trading Centre, says they have been facing difficulties in transporting their goods to the market, especially during the rainy seasons.
“When the road is complete, we know things will change for the better and we will forget the difficulties we have been going through,” she says.
Ms Nabirwe appealed to the district leaders to monitor the contractor such that they do not do substandard work.
“We want this road to last for long so that we don’t go through what we have been experiencing,” she says.
Another trader, Mr John Wamalero, said the road is crucial in the fight against poverty.
“This road is vital because apart from providing access to employment, social, health and education services, it will help in the fight against household poverty,” he says.
He added this will lead to economic development, which in turn will bring important social benefits to the neighbouring communities.
Mr Steven Masika, the coordinator of Makerere University Business School, Mbale Branch, says there is now value for money.
“The company [contractor] is trying to do some work but we request that they maintain,” he says.
Mr Masika also urges political leaders to desist from sabotaging the ongoing road construction.
The Kibuuku District chairperson, Mr Charles Kadyama, says whenever he sees graders and excavators bundle murrum and stone aggregates on the road, he feels happy.
“The workers are seen busy on all sections of the road. Some are working on water channels, bridges, and others graveling or tarmacking. This is what we wanted,” he says.
Mr Kadyama says after its completion, the road will ease transportation of farmers’ produce to the market.
“This road will provide a fast and safe access to the markets by farmers,” he says.
Mr Peter Okurut, the Pallisa District chairperson, urges residents to position themselves to benefit from the infrastructural development.
“The resident should position themselves because now we are going to have market for our produce,” he says.
Unra speaks out
The Unra spokesperson, Mr Mark Ssali, says the rehabilitation of the road is in line with Unra’s mission and strategic commitment of the government to improve the national road infrastructure so as to boost trade and other economic activities.
“This road is important because it has the potential to improve the national road infrastructure, which will boost the main economic activities in the region,” he says, adding that road infrastructure is the most important of all public assets in the country.
Mr Ssali says, however, that there is no land compensation expected as they are working within the already existing alignment.
Mr Damarag Dateem, an official working with Dott services, says they have so far covered 22kms out of the 99.3kms.
“The progress is so far good and we are planning to complete the road in the stipulated time,” he says.