Residents ask Museveni to fulfill roadwork pledges

A man carries a journalist across a flooded section of Mbale-Butaleja road at Nakwasi bridge in  Butaleja Town Council, Butaleja District on April 4. The road is part of Nabumali-Butaleja-Namutumba road, one of the roads that residents and leaders say President Museveni has been promising to tarmac for years. PHOTO/YAHUDU KITUNZI

What you need to know:

  • Leaders say since 1993, the Presidents has promised to tarmac Busolwe-Nagongera-Tororo and Nabumali-Butaleja-Namutumba roads, but nothing has materialised.

Leaders and residents in Butaleja have urged President Museveni to fulfill pledges he made to the district to repair some of the roads in poor condition.

According to leaders in the district, Mr Museveni has on several occasions during campaigns promised to tarmac Busolwe-Nagongera-Tororo (44km), which connects the districts of Tororo and Butaleja, and Nabumali-Butaleja-Namutumba (90km), which connects the districts of Mbale, Butaleja, and Namutumba.
The two roads are filled with potholes and dust. 

The leaders and residents, however, say the pledges, some of which were made as far back as 1993 when Butaleja was still a county known as Bunyole in Tororo District, have never been fulfilled.

However, the Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) and Bunyole East MP Yusuf Mutembuli say plans are underway to construct the roads, adding that the Ministry of Finance is currently discussing funding with the contractor.

Not happy
According to the authorities, the delay to fix the roads is holding back the district’s economic growth as it hampers trade.

Mr Usher Wilson Owere, the chairman of the National Organisation of Trade Unions (Notu), said if tarmacked, the two roads will uplift the standards of the community both socially and economically.

“If the roads are tarmacked, it will improve business activities in the district and other surrounding areas. The youth are missing out on the money economy because of lack of infrastructure development,” he said.   

“I reminded President Museveni on May 1, 2022 during my speech on Labour Day at Kololo that we have been patient patriotic Ugandans, but we can’t wait anymore,” he added.

Mr Michael Okongo Choki, the councillor of Mwello Sub-county in Tororo District, said the underdevelopment of West Budama and Butaleja is due to the poor road networks that scare away investors. 

“The local population can’t find their way to lucrative markets because of the bad roads. The tarmacking of this road will open West Budama to the outside world,”he said. 

Mr Job Mageni, a resident, said the sorry state of  roads has made it difficult to transport goods, especially those that are perishable, leading to traders and farmers making losses.

Mr David Mulabi, a former Bunyole East Parliamentary aspirant, said Butaleja has a population of less than 0.5 percent and produces an estimated 15 percent of national rice output. 

“So, it is highly productive, and calls for good roads to transport the produce to the market for win-win outcomes for the farmers and final consumers,” Mr Mulabi, who is also the community development expert, said.

He added that according to the 2020 poverty maps, Butaleja is one of the regions in the country with the highest number of poor people.

Mr Steven Masiga, the spokesperson of Inzu Yamasaba, the Bugisu Cultural Institution, said: “In order to help the farmers in three sub-regions of  Bugisu, Busoga and Bukedi, the pledge on Butaleja- Namutamba roads should be fulfilled immediately.”

He added that good road networks will help reduce maternal mortality rates.
Mr James Wire, an agribusiness consultant, said the road not only serves a great economic need for the Bukedi hinterland but also facilitates trade at both a local and international level. 

He said if constructed, the road will improve access to markets for the different good the area has to offer. 
“It will help to graduate our communities from working for the stomach to them becoming commercial farmers,” he said. 

According to a 2017 United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded research, Butaleja’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is bigger than many other districts such as Bundibugyo, Amolatar, Budaka, Moroto, Kapchorwa, Moyo, Kagadi and Katakwi

Presidential pledges
According to the district leaders, in 1994, the President held a rally at Butaleja Technical Institute ahead of the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections where he promised to tarmac the two major roads. But this has never happened.

Mr Higenyi Kemba, a former Bunyole East Parliamentary aspirant, said in 1996, then Vice President Dr Speciosa Kazibwe launched the work on roads in Busolwe town in the run-up to the presidential elections.

He, however, says this was a ploy to appease the community which had threatened not to vote for Mr Museveni, adding that nothing was done after the launch. 

“The people of Bunyole county then, had threatened not to vote for candidate Museveni but they were softened by that action,” Mr Higenyi said.

While campaigning in Butaleja in 2011, Mr Museveni again promised to tarmac the roads. 

Similar pledges were made twice in 2012; once while meeting political, opinion and community leaders led by former Butaleja District chairperson Joseph Muyonjo in Rwakitura, Kiruhura District, and again during campaigns for the district Woman MP by-election.

In 2016, Mr Museveni repeated the same promise of tarmacking Butaleja roads while on his campaign trail.
In the 2021-2026 National Resistance Movement (NRM) manifesto, Mr Museveni pledged to tarmac the two roads again. 

Efforts to get a comment from NRM Communications Director Emmanuel Dombo were futile by press time as his known phone number was unreachable.

But on X, Mr Dombo posted that the government has an outstanding pledge to tarmac Namutumba-Butaleja-Nabumali road. 

“But because the bigger part of the district is a swamp, the tarmacking of that road will not stop the flooding elsewhere,” he said.

He added: “The tarmac road will be constructed, but it is not a panacea for development. There are many areas in Uganda with tarmac roads, yet they are still wallowing in poverty.”

Ms Scovia Hasahya, a resident, said now that their support for NRM has not been rewarded with improved services, they will support the Opposition instead. 

“Our district is neglected by the government, and they are just playing on our minds by promising us hot air every election. Our roads and hospitals are in poor condition, and nothing has been done,” Ms Hasahya said.

Last week a section of residents and local leaders in both Tororo and Butaleja districts launched the “No tarmac, no votes campaign for NRM” campaign on social media. 

Led by Mr Nicholas Ofwono, the district councillor representing Kisoko Sub- County, and his Katajula Sub-county counterpart, Mr Eddy Obella, the residents say the number of votes the National NRM will get in 2026 will be determined by the number of pledges the party has fulfilled and that the precursor will be the tarmacking of roads. 

“The roads will be a tool to foster development in our area. We need a tarmac road as soon as possible,”Mr Obella said.

In 2022, Unra named 22 roads in different parts of the country including Nabumali-Butaleja-Namutumba and Busolwe-Nagongera roads to be tarmacked. 

Nabumali-Butaleja-Namutumba, which is under Uganda National Road Authority (Unra), is prone to flooding.
Just last week, road users were left stranded when floods cut off a section of the road between Mbale and Butaleja. 

The floods were triggered by the heavy rain that has been pounding the area for days, causing both Nakwasi and Manafwa rivers to burst their banks and flood neighbouring communities.

Unra speaks out 

The Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) spokesperson, Mr Allan Ssempebwa, said government prioritised the construction of the roads and the President issued a directive to this effect. 

“There’s hope that roads are about to be worked on. We’re now waiting for confirmation of funding from the Finance ministry before we can kick off with the implementation of the project. That’s what is being discussed now,” Mr Ssempebwa said. 

He said the government identified PowerChina International Group Ltd to work on the affected roads.
Mr Yusuf Mutembuli, Bunyole East MP, confirmed this, saying Ministry of Finance is discussing finances with the contractor.