From one point to the next, moving the Nyege Nyege urge

Some revellers enjoyed the party and forgot about the transport they had booked. PHOTOS | ANDREW KAGGWA

What you need to know:

  • The tricky transport situation. Revellers were from different parts of the country; some needed collective transport means such as  buses, others demanded private means, yet there were those at different parts of the country who could car pool to Nyege Nyege, writes Andrew Kaggwa.

There are many things to talk about the Nyege Nyege International Festival 2022. From business that thrived, the lives impacted, opportunities created to basics such as food and music.

Yet if there is one thing that got many people thinking the day the festival was announced, it was how to access the venue, Itanda Falls in Jinja City.  

About 50 minutes off the Jinja-Iganga Highway, Itanda Falls is located in an expanse civilisation has still eluded. Even with electricity lines erected, most of the area is in the dark.

Far off

On the opening day of the festival, the activity grounds had for a bigger part of the day caused excitement among locals, especially the youth could not be contained.

“On average, about three cars go through here a month and today, they may have seen about a hundred and more,” said my driver Alex Katali, before revealing he grew up in the area.

Singer Cindy Sanyu entertains revellers during the festival.

I had caught up with Katali on day one, when I was looking for an affordable meal in Jinja City whose prices had been doubled.

I found his assertion of three cars a month a bit outrageous, considering Itanda Falls is some sort of recreation centre,  at least tourists come by,  weekly.

“Tourists do not come to Itanda as much, many go to other exciting sites that are easily accessible; this one is far and the road is bad,” he said.

That day, some locals were out staring, while children were cheering cars that passed by.

For many people coming for the festival, moving from one car to another and negotiating their own fare would have been even more difficult.

That is where technology-enabled transport solutions came in handy.

At least for many years, Ugandans know SafeBoda, Uber, and Taxify or Bolt. Even when many of these services were mainly in Kampala, Jinja specifically has been actively involved in different transport innovations.

Moving people

For instance during Nyege Nyege in 2019, the festival had partnered with a motor bike phone application to ease transport for those that would be travelling to Jinja for accommodation and quick errands.

The people behind the innovation had also created another app that allowed one to book buses en route to a tourist attraction in Jinja. However, none of these innovations seemed to see the end of the pandemic and with the festival moving almost an hour into the Jinja countryside, it is easy to believe the startup was shorthanded.

In 2022, with most of the revellers unaware of the venue, a transport partner was a vital addition to the festival. Revellers were from different parts of the country, thus transportation had to be handled differently.

Some needed collective means such as buses, others required private transport means, yet there were those in different parts of the country such as Gulu, Mubende and Masaka that had to be catered to as well. The last group were those who used water transport various times during the festival.

Treepz, a transport company was the festival’s official transport partner. The company then mobilised other partners including Safe Boda, 707 Safari and Safari Share to create memories for the revelers, to and from Itanda.

A reveller had to visit a website the company had created for the event to schedule their trips to Itanda and those who had not camped would also schedule their journeys between the festival grounds to their accommodation facilities.

Beatrice Birimuye, deputy country manager Treepz  previously worked with Bayimba International Festival and Nyege Nyege in 2017 and 2018, as  a supplier of  tents and mattresses. 

After the gains and losses from her previous stints, Birimuye knows the pros and cons at festival grounds. She knows how unpredictable revellers are and, thus was ready for it all.

For people going for the festival on Thursday, the main meeting point was at the National Theatre in Kampala while in Jinja, it was at a petrol station on Jinja-Iganga roundabout. 

Bringing artistes

There are those they were picking from Entebbe Airport to the festival grounds.

“By the time the festival started, we had been working and collecting people here for the festival for more than two weeks. Some were artistes that wanted to record at the Nyege Nyege Studio, collaborate with artistes here before their showcase,” she says adding, that others were festival revellers that had chosen to show up early enough to tour and later come for the festival. 

On the first day of the festival, 17 coasters left the National Theatre to Itanda Falls; all together, there were 510 people and 224 people from Jinja City to Itanda.

“The number of course doubled on Friday, more people showed up,” Birimuye says.

There are various ways their company was dealing with partners to bring people to the festival. With Safari Share, the service that allows people to share their empty car  seats with people taking the same direction or  going to the same destination, was connecting people from various areas where Treepz did not have meeting points. 

Ernest Okot, the founder of Safari Share, says by Saturday morning, 66 seats had been occupied by people from as far as Gulu for the festival.

Throughout the festival, the transport platform was teaching people about their service and how they could probably make a few bucks off their cars by ‘hiring’ out an empty seat or two in their car.

“One of the reasons we came up with our initiative was to play our part in decongesting the city,”  Okot says adding, “Many times cars get stuck in traffic and most of them have only an occupant.”

Okot however, notes that their target was the departure because then, there would be urgency.

Tech rides

Mobile transport applications such as Safari Share are some of those that have  steadily grown and make movement and experiences easier. Treepz for instance launched across three African countries three years ago, but then there was almost two years of those when business  stalled because of Covid-19. In Uganda, the company is only 10 months old. Across the three markets, the platform has booked and made possible at least two million trips.

Birimuye says most of these trips were meant to be scheduled through a website they had created for the festival but only travellers from other countries utilised  and schedule their movement and booked in time.

“Most Ugandans would simply show up when they felt like leaving for Jinja and would start demanding for rides,” she recalls.

Such people disorganised prior planned rides, but they were not the only ones, some people that had scheduled and booked rides earlier too partied and forgot about them.

“By the time cars were available, most of them were having fun and then, would show up at once overwhelming everyone,” she says.

Some forgot to leave and showed up as late as 6.30am, looking for rides to take them to Jinja to sleep.

On Saturday, about 300 people used the platform to leave Kampala for Itanda, it was the final day they had vans in Kampala, “We don’t believe there will be many Ugandans leaving Kampala for Itanda on Sunday.”

The downside of transport

Indeed, most Ugandans come for the festival on Friday through to Saturday and start leaving on Sunday. 

On Sunday morning, inquiries about Kampala bound trips started as early as 7am, the vans too were ready but as it had been through the festival, there were Ugandans that wanted to leave at will, with or without booking.

On the final day of the festival, the group dealt with so much ranging from Ugandans that never booked in time, an abrupt Rebecca Kadaga visit to the festival that got many of their prior parked vans displaced to a parking space anomaly.  Regardless of the planned rides, for revellers, what mattered was getting home and for a place such as Itanda where cars are said to be a rare occurrence, assistance was vital.

Quick take

Nyege Nyege is now held annually at Itanda Falls. Experience, a unique, culturally significant and iconic venue facing the majestic Itanda Falls on the Nile river. One of the most breathtaking natural spots in East Africa and a site of great cultural importance for the Busoga people. The site features spacious, secure grounds wrapped around the Nile offering 180 views of the river from every vantage point and incredible Sunset vistas.

Transport:  Itanda Falls  is 113km from Kampala,  approximately a  two-and-half hour drive. There were two different routes to the festival from Kampala.

Kampala-Jinja Highway, crossing over the new Jinja Nile bridge upto the first Jinja Roundabout (Amber Court roundabout) and taking the first exit onto the Jinja – Bundondo Road direct to Itanda Falls.

The alternative: You could also use the Kampala – Gayaza Road to Kayunga and then cross the River Nile via the newly constructed Isimba Dam bridge. From there it is a signposted 45 minute drive to Itanda Falls/ Nyege Nyege Festival.