“Sebo tugyende n’aka Buhweju”, “Boss nkutware Buhweju”, are some of the welcoming statements by boda boda cyclists when one alights at the Buhweju District stage in Bwizibwera Trading Centre, Kashari, Mbarara District. The cyclists are asking whether they can ride you to Buhweju, one of the districts in western Uganda that has no commuter taxis.
From Bwizibwera Trading Centre to Nsiika Town Council, the Buhweju District is a distance of 18kms and 50kms from Mbarara Town.
The difficulty in accessing Buhweju is largely blamed on the mountainous terrain that makes construction and maintenance of roads difficult. Travellers therefore, have to brave dust, sunshine and rain on motorcycles.
And this is the scenario I faced on my recent sojourn to Buhweju on September 9. At the stage, I asked the cyclists whether any of them hailed from Buhweju and three of them indicated it is their home district. I settle for Edgar Byaruhanga mainly because he looked mature.
The fare for my journey was Shs10,000 and I was told it is standard fare. “The roads are tough as you will see for yourself, so we can’t charge less than Shs10,000, especially for those going to the district (headquarters),” Byaruhanga told me.
Covered in jackets from protection from dust, we soon hit the dusty Bwizibwera-Bucuro-Nyakambu road. Two kilometres into your ride and your eyes will encounter the giant and imposing hills of Rugongo and Kibingo in the horizon on the Buhweju-Mbarara district boundary. After more 5kms I told my rider to slow down because I wanted to explore and take photographs.
On his advice, we use the road going through Karungu instead of Bisya Sub-county. On we went through Kyesika, Katara and Rwankondo villages. Here the roads are narrow, have protruding stones and near crumbling culverts. It is obvious that when the rains start they are impassable.
Karungu is heavily populated, has expansive banana groves, eucalyptus and pine woodlots. Majority dwellers have small semi-permanent houses. In Kyesiga we find two men, a woman and child brewing Waragi (local brew) using a black drum and two jerrycans.
“Selling waragi is the major source of income for most people here,” one of the men I found smoking tells me. Later in the day I learn from the district vice chairman Rodgers Bishanga that waragi brewing permit and slaughter fees are the major sources of local revenue for the district whose budget this financial year (2016/17) is Shs8 billion. Local revenue constitutes only 4 per cent of this money.
From Nyakishojwa and Musaana villages we head to Nsiika Town Council. At Musaana, about 5kms to the main town is a 500metres steep and rugged section. Here the rider must negotiate the spot with his feet on ground for stability lest it overturns. The steepness forces one to ascend on a snail pace.
The district offices are deserted when we arrive at 12pm. I hang around so as to chance on someone to ask.
My impression is that the workers are in meeting somewhere, but sadly it is not the case. But there’s one office open. In it I find Melex Musinguzi, the secretary for works.
He tells me the district chairman and the Resident District Commissioner are in Kampala for a meeting but calls the district vice chairman and Rwengywe Sub-county councillor Bishanga Rwoozi who we learn is out for lunch. But Bishanga soon returns to his and we talk about the many challenges and opportunities in this area.
“What caused Buhweju to lag behind is the tag of ‘Bushenyi is model district’. People used to look at the tarmacked road from Mbarara-Kabwohe-Bushenyi. They never knew that there are areas of Bushenyi such as Buhweju that are similar to Karamoja,” he said.
“They used to look at good farmslands and schools, hospitals and the rich people around nearby roads and conclude that Bushenyi is doing very well.
They would not penetrate deeper, that’s how Buhweju remained behind. I don’t know where we would be if we hadn’t been granted district status,” he added.
However, not much has changed in the six years Buhweju has been a district except power extension. And even then only few people can afford it.
There is less interaction with people from the neigbouring districts because there is no tarmacked road and travel is very expensive.
Due to the rough terrain, travelling from Nsiika to the neigbouring Bihanga Sub-county costs Shs30,000.
Telephone services, health and education are dysfunctional. Out of 56 government-aided primary schools, only nine have substantive head teachers. The district has only one health centre IV and seven health centre IIs. There is no single government employed medical doctor.
In areas such as Nyakishana Sub-county, patients walk for 23kms to reach the nearest government health facility, and at times they find no health worker there.
The reason the administration staff are off is because most of them don’t reside in the district because of poor communication. Those that endeavour to report for work leave early.
In 1964, JC Doornkamp, a lecturer at Makerere University then, wrote: “Of all the counties in Ankole, Buhweju is the most Isolated. This is true in both physical and human sense…all major route ways skirt Buhweju, none passes through it…In a sense, Buhweju does not lead anywhere, and unlike some of its neighbouring areas, it does not receive any stimulus for development as a result of passing trade. For example, no bus enters Buhweju.”
Despite inaccessibility, Buhweju is endowed with a beautiful scenery. The ridges, rocks, plateaus, V and U shaped valleys are a marvel.
The imposing hills can be seen from as far as Kiruhura District. The area has cool climate due to the high altitude and receives a lot of rainfall though some hills and plateaus are scantily wooded and have thin vegetation cover. But at the time of writing this article the area is dry, like most parts of the country.
Part of Imaramagambo and Kasyoha-Kitomi forest cover the western notch of the district. Writing in Buhweju Digest in 2014, Lt Col Barigye Bahoku, who was born and raised in Bisya Sub-county noted: “The hilly terrain similar to that of greater Rwenzori Region and the Rift Valley attributes afford the district a unique climate, relief and vegetation. As a result, the district experiences high amounts of rainfall and temperatures as high as 25C.
Malaria causing mosquitoes would not survive, and the disease that afflicts many parts of Africa, was rare. I got my first bout of malaria when I joined secondary school in Kampala.”