Lukaya turns into ghost town after Katonga Bridge collapse

Lukaya Town in Kalungu District on the Kampala-Masaka highway on Wednesday. PHOTO/ MUZAFARU NSUBUGA

What you need to know:

Traders liken the current situation to the Covid-19 pandemic period where they could hardly make any sales.

Lukaya, which is usually a busy business centre on Kampala-Masaka highway, has in the past week turned into a ghost town. 

The breakdown of River Katonga Bridge has crippled many businesses in the area, especially those whose operators eke a living from selling merchandise to daily travellers.

The most affected are the roadside vendors at the popular Lukaya Road Toll Market, fishmongers in Lwera Swamp and fresh fruit dealers on the highway.

According to Ms Rosette Gyaviira, a vendor at Lukaya Road Toll Market, the current situation is similar to the Covid-19 pandemic period where they could hardly make any sales.

“The sudden collapse of the bridge[River Katonga] and subsequent closure of the highway  has cost us a lot; goods such as water melon and gonja (sweet plantain), which we had purchased   to sell to travellers, are rotting due to lack of customers,” she said in an interview on Wednesday.

River Katonga Bridge, which is a major gateway to key regional borders such as Tanzania and DR Congo, collapsed last week following devastating flash floods that swept through the area on May 11.

All motorists from Kampala connecting to Masaka are using the Mpigi- Kanoni-Sembabule-Villa Maria Road, which is 56km longer, as the Uganda National Roads Authority repairs the broken bridge.

Mr Joseph Lutaaya, who sells roasted beef (Muchomo), says most of his colleagues dealing in snacks and beverages are now living in a fear of losing their properties to money lenders and financial institutions due to failure to make daily remittances on their loans.

“Many vendors here  are low income earners whose working capital is obtained from lending institutions, after some days without earning ,majority are going to lose  their properties because they are not returning money daily to service their loans,” he said.

Ms Juliet Nakidde, a supermarket proprietor, said vendors used to book items such as bread, sugar and beverages and sell them to travellers but this is no longer the case .

“They [vendors] are all stuck because they have no clients; even me I sell to a few walk-in residents, travellers were our main clients here,” she said.

Ms Nakidde said lodge and bar owners are also badly hit because their regular clients – the long haul truckers no longer access the town.

“Even a good number of prostitutes have deserted the town and relocated to Masaka City, Mpigi and Sembabule where they can get some business at the moment,” she added

The situation is not different at Nabyewanga, another busy township located 18kms from Lukaya. Ms Madinah Namubiru, a dealer in fresh fruits and sweet potatoes, said she is no longer working .

“My stall is empty as you can see, I have no stock, when Katonga collapsed, I asked our supplier of perishables items such as water melon to stop until the situation normalises,” she explained.

Mr Joseph Wasswa Ssekitto, the general secretary of the Lukaya Road Toll Vendors Association, said desperate vendors have moved   to different townships on the diversion route, but there are no stopovers to allow passengers to buy their snacks like gonja and roasted beef.  Vendors dealing in gonja, for example, usually make weekly orders of Shs7m for gonja from farmers in DR Congo and all this stock is going to rot, according to Mr Ssekitto.

“Those[snack vendors ] who attempted to got to towns such as Sembabule and Bukomansimbi have returned after failing to get space where to put their businesses. We ask the government to extend some relief to these people, many can no longer fend for their families since they are not earning any income,” he said. 

He asked Unra to fast track emergency restoration works both at Katonga Bridge and Lwera swamp to reduce losses currently incurred by the business community in the area.

“Our market employs many people ,just imagine more than 500 youth and women waking up every day and having nothing to do,” he added. 

On Wednesday afternoon, engineers from Unra started emergency repairs on the Katonga Bridge, which are expected to last three weeks .

About Lukaya Town

Lukaya Town  is located about  30km from River Katonga Bridge. It  is popular for its roadside market that sells snacks and gonja(sweet plantain. The town also serves as  a refreshment ground for  many tired travellers from Kampala to parts of Greater Masaka, districts of western Uganda and others connecting to the Tanzania ,DR Congo and Rwanda .

By Al Mahdi Ssenkabirwa, Brian Adams Kesiime & Richard Kyanjo