Uganda and Burundi are finalising plans to build a new road to promote trade and commerce and circumvent a barrier presented by Rwanda’s closure of Gatuna border in early 2019.
The new infrastructure to pass through northern Tanzania will fork out from Uganda in two fangs; Kitagate in Isingiro to Karagwe and Myotera-Mutukula to Karagwe, then merge into one thoroughfare to roll over Ngara in north-western Tanzania and link to Burundi’s Kobero Border Crossing Point.
These two routes are 360Km and 274Km, respectively, according to googlemap computations, and would take anywhere between four to six-and-half hours to drive, comparable to seven-and-half hours drive on the 348 kilometres from Gatuna to Bujumbura.
However, the drive from Kobero to Burundi’s Bujumbura capital could take an additional 4 hours.
Uganda’s trade with Rwanda and Burundi, which is more inland, has plummeted since Kigali closed the busier Gatuna border, initially citing construction of a one-stop customs point, and later blaming arrests of Rwandan citizens in Uganda.
Kampala counter-accused Rwanda of infiltration and espionage and President Museveni tapped Ambassador Adonia Ayebare, Uganda’s permanent representative to the United Nations in New York, to lead the diplomacy to resolve the stand-off.
Details of the new road project were agreed upon during a meeting between President Museveni and his Burundian counterpart Évariste Ndayishimiye during the latter’s May13-14 state visit, a day after he attended his host’s inauguration on May 12.
The ministers and top technocrats superintending the works and roads sectors in Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi are scheduled to meet on June 20, according to Uganda’s Minister of State for Works Joy Kabatsi.
Following the May 13 meeting with his Burundian counterpart, President Museveni said: “We talked about the road form Kikagate-Morongo-Isingiro inside Tanzania-Keisho –to Kayanga. That road is an old marram road if it is upgraded and “murrumed” properly people can use it from the Mbarara side.”
He added: “The road from Mutukula-Kyaka-Kayanga-Ngara is there because Tanzanians have tarmacked from Mutukula-Kyaka to Kayanga, so we can travel directly to Burundi. On our side, I want you to look at from Morongo to Kayanga. We can also incorporate some security fields.”
News of the development follows another offer by Uganda to upgrade hundreds of kilometres of dirt roads in eastern DR Congo, a significant trading partner in the region, to bitumen – smoothening a western frontier for commerce.
President Museveni mid-this month said an improved road connection, in addition to direct Uganda Airlines flights to Bujumbura, with Burundi would improve trade in agricultural products and natural resources.
Highly-placed sources said Mr Museveni and Mr Ndayishimiye meeting tasked Gen Katumba Wamala, Uganda’s Works minister, until the May 12 dissolution of government, to expedite the three-country project.
President Museveni, who was sworn-in for a sixth elective term a week ago, is yet to name his new ministers to fully constitute the Executive and government.
In that context, Gen Katumba, who said during an interview yesterday that he was speaking as a private citizen, confirmed the project under which each state will bankroll construction of the portion of the road passing through its territory.
“The road from Masaka to Mutukula is terrible and needs to be reconstructed. The road from Kikagate is bad, then you have to make those roads as first-class so that we can connect through Tanzania to Burundi,” Gen Wamala said.
He added: “Government will construct the roads, which connect to Burundi through Tanzania, our roads. Tanzania will do their own road. Uganda, we have to make sure that the roads which connect Uganda to Burundi through Tanzania are very good. The road from Masaka to Mutukula must be very good. The road from the border Kitagate must be very good.”
According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Sam Kutesa, exports from Uganda to Burundi, mainly iron and steel products, maize, tobacco, and vegetable oils, increased from $40 million (Shs141.4b) to $59 million (Shs208.6b), but he did not specify the period.