Travel chaos as floods cut off Masaka-Kampala road

Residents gathered at the flooded section of Kampala-Masaka highway at Katonga Bridge on May 11, 2023.  PHOTO/BRIAN A KESIIME

What you need to know:

  • All motorists taking the route are currently required to use the Mpigi-Villa Maria road, making the journey longer by 56km.

Public commuter taxis plying the Kampala –Masaka highway yesterday raised transport fares due to rising water levels at River Katonga Bridge, which led to a diversion of traffic on the busy highway.
Traffic on the highway was yesterday paralysed after flash floods submerged River Katonga Bridge in Mpigi District, covering a section of about 200 metres of the road.

The fast-moving flood waters also reclaimed part of the site near the bridge where the Uganda People’s Defence Forces plans to erect a multibillion army museum.
 All motorists taking the route either from Masaka side or Kampala are currently required to use the Mpigi-Kanoni- Sembabule –Villa Maria-Masaka Road, making the journey longer by 56km and costing more fuel.
“We had no option, but to raise the fares, but when water subsides at Katonga Bridge we will definitely revert to the old fares,” Mr Bosco Bukenya, the chairperson of Masaka Taxi Drivers and Conductors Association, said.

Passengers using commuter taxis from Masaka to Kampala had to pay between Shs25,000 and Shs30,000, up from Shs15,000. Those taking the Kampala-Mbarara route were charged between Shs35,000 and Shs40,000, a journey which has been costing Shs25,000.
Mr Bukenya asked the travellers to bear with the situation as the situation normalises.
“I ask my fellow taxi drivers not to risk and use the flooded road because the water has a lot of pressure, we pray that God intervenes and saves us from this harsh situation because we are already stuck with several challenges,” he added.

Some commuter taxi operators in Masaka City did not work yesterday after several passengers declined to pay the extra fee and postponed their trips.
Mr David Kizuula, a commuter taxi driver on  Mbarara –Masaka-Kampala route, said he was buying fuel of Shs180,000 for the single trip but the alternative route requires him to buy fuel of Shs250,000.
“It is beyond our own control and just pray that it doesn’t take long because we may start operating at a loss despite making a slight increase in the fares,” he said.

However, Mr Antony Kihembo, the manager of Global Coaches Limited, said the current situation will not force them to raise the fares.
“This [floods] came abruptly; we had revised our transport fares from Shs30,000 to Shs20,000 as a give back to our customers,” he said.
Tausi Bus Company, which uses the same route, had by last evening also maintained the fares from Kampala to Mbarara  at Shs20,000.
Mr Allan Ssempeebwa, the Unra spokesperson, said the diversion will remain in place until the water levels have sufficiently subsided.
“We’re hopeful that water levels will subside with time and normal traffic operations resume, we urge road users to abide by our earlier directives. However, our technical teams are on the ground to monitor the situation,” he said.

People wade through a flooded section of Kampala-Masaka highway at Katonga Bridge on May 11, 2023.  PHOTOs/BRIAN A KESIIME

Long term plans
He said Unra has a long-term plan to improve some sections of Kampala –Masaka highway such as at Lwera and Kalandazzi, which are prone to flooding. “Designs are done and only finances are pending for us to implement,” he added. Mzee Saulo Kitto, a resident of Katonga, said for the years he has lived in the area, he has never seen the river flood to such magnitude.

“Even during the late 1990s and early 2000 when many streams submerged, Katonga Bridge was not affected, traffic flow continued interrupted, but I am surprised that this time it is  a no-go area,”  he said. Heavy rain is wreaking havoc in many parts of the country where mudslides have already claimed some lives and displaced hundreds.

River Katonga burst its banks after it rained heavily on Wednesday night in Mpigi and neighbouring districts of Gomba ,Kalungu and Sembabule, where the river connects from
River Katonga flows through a number of districts, including Mubende, Kiruhura, Sembabule, Butambala, Ibanda, Bukomansimbi, Mityana, Kalungu, Gomba and Mpigi before it drains  into Lake Victoria .

Compiled by Al-Mahdi Ssenkabirwa , Coslin Nakayiira, Malik FJjingo & Antonio Kalyango