Plan to live in Jinja after its rebirth

The new Jinja Bridge is ne of the tourist attractions in Jinja Town in Eastern Uganda. Photos by Tony Mushoborozi

What you need to know:

When Jinja’s rebirth comes, which should be in the near future, it is those who invest in the property market today that will win the day. The days of Kampala as a desirable place to live are coming to an end because of the unregulated property market. Jinja is the next big thing.

When the new cable suspension bridge opened on October 17, last year at the source of the Nile, it was nothing short of a major facelift for Jinja Town, eastern Uganda. The opening event for the new Source of the Nile Bridge was intimately covered by this newspaper and all the other traditional media houses. Images of the finished bridge were heavily circulated. There was an unmistakable buzz on social media. Never before had a piece of steel and concrete made more news in Uganda. It was a new day for this historic town.

Historically, Jinja town has always pulled people to itself because of endless reasons.

To start with, the longest river in the world and the largest lake in Africa are both to be found here. That is a status of spiritual proportions. Secondly, before the arrival of the disruptive forces of colonialism, Jinja was the mother of all fishing villages.

As Kampala slowly turns into an unplanned city due to the unregulated property boom, it may soon be wise to find the next big town to move to. Kampala is projected to be home to 10 million people by 2030. You can bet the worst of Kampala is yet to come. The future belongs to another city other than Kampala.

The future boom
Jinja is the second biggest town in Uganda. It happens to be only 50 miles East of Kampala, which means moving here may be a very viable option to consider for anyone who loves urban living but can no longer feel at home in Kampala.

When that time comes, Jinja could be finally be inundated with the crucial human resource that it needs to be reborn. Even if you are lucky to live in a comfortable part of Kampala, investing in Jinja’s property market today is good foresightedness.

Cost of land
Land prices in Jinja are much lower compared to prices in Kampala, yet you get the same value for money. For instance, an acre of Industrial land just outside the town goes for Shs60m.

Standard residential plots range from as low as Shs10m. Those with a view of the lake are as cheap as Shs18m in some areas. There is an acre in a centre of Jinja town priced at just Shs900m.

All this information is on property markets online. One trader showed me a 6-bedroom house in Bugembe, sitting on a plot measuring 50ft by 110ft, with a view of the lake was priced Shs180m by one property trader.
We would all do ourselves a favour and take Jinja town more seriously. The investors of today will be tomorrow’s tycoons in Jinja City.

The rock history
Jinja was a fishing village where major trade routes converged. One of the very few places in the land where the merchants of old could safely cross the mighty waters of the Nile was located here.

There were large, exposed, flat rocks on either bank of the river, just a few metres away from where the Nile leaves the lake.

These rocks not only helped reduce the speed of the water, but also acted as harbours for canoes to dock and aid people to cross.

It was these rocks that gave it the name Jinja. It is a variation of the Luganda word Ejjinja which means “rock”.
The rocks would later disappear under the water after the construction of the Owen Falls Dam. Luckily, there was no more need for them as far as transport was concerned. A bridge had been erected above the new dam.

Decades before the dam was built, in 1907, the colonial government had turned Jinja into a town.

Soon after that, some of the most modern buildings to ever be built in Uganda were erected in Jinja town. This pulled more people into Jinja for tourism, economic and administrative reason. One can only imagine the throngs of local tourists and thrill seekers that this new development must have caused at the time. Some of those buildings, built as early as as the 1920s are still standing to date.

In the decades that followed, Jinja became the nation’s industrial hub and pulled even more people in. In 1948, Jinja’s special checkered urban plan was drawn by Ernst May, the same architect who planned Kampala city.

Hydro power
A hydro power dam was erected here in 1954 and brought new life to the town. Every Ugandan who marvelled at the novel idea that was electricity heard about Jinja.

The town enjoyed the financial benefits of its renown name, so much so that up until the early 1970s, it was a major commercial centre for much of East Africa.

However, in 1972, the foreigners were expelled from the country by a president who strongly believed that they had been aided unfairly by the colonial government to progress at the expense of the locals. Sadly, he hadn’t thought the whole idea through.

These foreigners happened to be the life of the town and their departure caused Jinja to suffer a near-fatal heart attach. Today, close to 50 years later, Jinja is still struggling to get back on her feet.

The new bridge is one of the greatest news to ever come out of Jinja since the opening of Owen Falls Dam. The source of the Nile bridge is a brand new reason to travel to Jinja town for fun and merrymaking.

Once again, people will sojourn here for the sole reason of marvelling at the wonders of human ingenuity. Such is the organic way in which Jinja has always invited people to live a modern, urban life.

The rebirth
The spark needed for the rebirth could be giving it city status. If there was one town worthy of a city status, this is it. Jinja is a very well organised town with an endless flow of revenue, mostly from tourism.

There is a large number of expatriates living here. That means there are modern amenities that have pulled these people here. There is good accommodation all around the town, both for tourists and people who want to live here. Good quality coffee houses and recreation centers make Jinja quite desirable. Even the dormant factories are showing signs of regeneration.