Swamp eats away Kampala-Jinja road

Residents and traffic police officers fill potholes on Kampala-Jinja highway last year. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • The road is the main gateway to the eastern region and the port of Mombasa, which handles most of the bulk of the country’s goods

The Kampala-Jinja highway is being eaten away by a major swamp that flows under it in Najjembe Sub-county, Buikwe District, a few kilometres after Lugazi Municipality.

The development has sparked fears that torrential rains currently being experienced in the country will cause it to cave in. That will disrupt traffic along a route that is considered the main artery of Uganda’s economy.

Dr Timothy Batuwa, the Jinja North East MP, first raised concern about the state of the road last week, accusing the Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) and the Works ministry of not doing enough to check it.

“We all know how reliant Uganda is on this road. It is our main gateway to the east and the port of Mombasa, which handles the bulk of our goods. 95 percent of our imports and exports come through it. Why is nothing being done to solve the problem?” Dr Batuwa wondered.

The Kampala-Jinja highway, a part of the Trans-African highway, is also considered a vital link to the sea port of Mombasa for two other landlocked countries, Burundi and Rwanda. It is also a crucial link to the sea for the eastern parts of the DR Congo.

A visit to the location on Thursday revealed that the swamp is slowly growing into the surface of the road and there are no guard rails.

Two red and white concrete barriers have been placed at the affected section of the road, possibly to warn motorists of the danger lurking.

Mr Allan Ssempebwa Kyobe, the media relations manager at Unra, told Sunday Monitor that works on the road have already been handed to a contractor.

“We have a programme for the maintenance of that road. The entire project is already in the hands of a contractor. We have a work plan for each section […] All those bottlenecks are going to be quickly fixed and we have already started,” Mr Ssempebwa said.

In September, Unra’s executive director, Ms Allen Kagina, while presenting its performance report for the financial year 2022/2023, named the Kampala-Jinja highway as one of the two roads that had been lined up for rehabilitation. The other is the Alwii-Nebbi road.

Not good enough

Dr Batuwa is, however, neither pleased with the pace at which the road is being worked on nor Unra’s response mechanisms. Mr Ssempebwa defended Unra, saying it always tries to make timely interventions.

“Where we have finances, we try to optimally utilise them to ensure that sections of the road network that are affected by torrential rains or those where water is pushing its way into the pavement are not cut off,” he said.

Dr Batuwa also raised questions about Unra’s capacity to monitor the country’s road network, saying the collapse of the Katonga and Ssezibwa bridges suggest either lack of either monitoring units or monitoring capacity, which Mr Ssempebwa denied.

Mr Ssempebwa said Unra has 23 road maintenance stations, which are charged with monitoring the state of the roads and making timely interventions, but added that this cannot stop damage from occurring.

“The units have actually been very helpful. There are interventions which we did before the rains and that helped save much of our road network, but nature can be very disastrous. You can never predict the degree of the damage that it will cause,” he said.

Few alternatives

The Mukono-Kyetume-Kisoga-Njeru route will be the only route to the east if the road caves in at Najjembe.

Fears around the state of the Kampala-Jinja highway, which often suffers heavy congestion, come at a time when Uganda is left with only one other alternative route to eastern Uganda—the 41 kilometre Mukono-Kyetume-Kisoga-Njeru route.

The other alternative route, the Mukono-Kayunga-Jinja, was closed to heavy traffic in October after major surface defects were detected on Ssezibwa Bridge.

In an October 7 statement, heavy traffic from Jinja to Kampala was advised to use either the Kampala-Jinja highway or the Njeru-Kisoga-Kyetume-Mukono routes.

Heavy traffic from Kayunga to Kampala was advised to use the Kyampisi-Namataba route, while that from Luweero to Kayunga was advised to use among others the Mukono-Kalagi and Mukono-Namataba-Kyampisi routes.

Back then Unra said the procurement process to identify a contractor to build a new bridge had commenced. The process has never concluded.

“We are expediting the procurement process because we need it to be done as fast as possible,” Mr Ssempebwa told this publication.