Mpondwe-Beni roadworks, security boosting business

UPDF soldiers patrol as cargo trucks park on the Mpondwe-Kasindi-Beni Road in eastern DR Congo on November 30. PHOTO/ALEX ASHABA

What you need to know:

  • Traders laud the Ugandan government for deploying soldiers and constructing the road.

The construction of an 80-kilometre road from Mpondwe -Kasindi-Beni, connecting the border of Uganda in Kasese District to Beni in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, has spurred trade in both countries.

The construction works commenced with a groundbreaking ceremony on June 16, 2021, at Kasindi and Mpondwe, attended by the presidents of Uganda and DR Congo. Dott Services Limited was contracted to carry out the construction works.

More than two years later, the road has already experienced a notable increase in traffic of cargo trucks and  new businesses.

Historically, the route between Mpondwe and Beni faced challenges, with trucks struggling to navigate the Virunga National Park due to insecurity by Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels and the poor condition of the road.

However, recent observations during a visit by this publication from Mpondwe to Beni in eastern DR Congo revealed a substantial rise in cargo trucks, commercial business on the roadside, and passengers travelling from Uganda to Beni and vice versa.

In the road construction in some sections, the contractor has completed the application of murram  and the installation of culverts, while bridges are under construction in other areas.

The Deputy Mayor of Mpondwe Lhubiriha Town Council in Kasese, Mr Yunus Kahwa Muhindo, said:“Since the commencement of the road construction, traders find it much easier to penetrate eastern DR Congo markets and market their goods in Uganda.”

“Previously, those venturing into eastern DR Congo faced significant challenges, with journeys taking up to three days to reach Beni or Kasese. Some trucks would even be burnt along the way by ADF rebels... The journey from Beni to Mpondwe is now a day’s drive,” he added.

Mr Muhindo said traders and truck drivers are safer now due to the substantial deployment of the UPDF soldiers who are providing security for both the road contractor and cargo trucks in transit.
Mr Muhindo, however, wondered  whether Kasese  traders are making much profit because the fish market was relocated to DR Congo during Covid-19 lockdown.

 “Before the transfer of the fish market, trucks loaded with fish from Sudan, Kenya, and Tanzania would park at Mpondwe, and buyers from DR Congo would come to Kasese,” he said.

Ms Moureen Muhindo, a fish monger on the Kasindi side of DR Congo,  said: “After the fish market moved to Congo, coinciding with the onset of road construction, we started attracting numerous customers from Beni and Butembo in DR Congo. They now purchase fish in large quantities.”
On good days, she can generate sales exceeding Shs300,000.

Ms Kambuzi Bin, a resident, said:”Before the road construction, our lives and businesses were paralysed due to occasional ADF rebels’ attacks. Our children couldn’t attend school, businesses suffered, and even accessing our gardens became hazardous due to the fear of rebel encounters, which could lead to violence, rape, or abduction.”

She lauded President Museveni and the army for restoring peace.
Mr Rogers Nuwagira, the road foreman overseeing the construction works, said locals and traders are already reaping from the road project.

“Although the road is not yet complete, many trucks traveling from Beni to Mpondwe are already utilising it. This has led to the emergence of numerous roadside businesses, providing locals with opportunities to tap into new avenues,” Mr Nuwagira said.

About road project

The primary objectives of the road project include enhancing bilateral relations between Uganda and DR Congo, boosting trade volume, security, and expediting regional integration.

To further enhance cross-border trade and boost local revenue, President Museveni in December last year commissioned a one-stop border post and a new border export zone in Mpondwe-Lhubiriha, Kasese District.

Mpondwe Lhubiriha Market, has also been established at the border to boost trade.