Uganda gives Belgian firm contract to develop Bukasa port

A section of Lake Victoria. Government plans to construct Bukasa Inland port that borders part of Lake Victoria. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • Uganda placed adverts thrice calling Belgian firms to develop the port, but their offer price remained higher than what the country had planned to spend on the project.

Uganda has awarded a contract to a Belgian firm to reclaim land and dreg the Lake Victoria bed to pave the way for the development of Bukasa port.

The Belgian firm Coil and Coppleters NV JV, has 12 months (upto May 2025 to complete the preparatory works. The Bukasa Port, which was expected to be complete in 2019, has faced delays in procurement after lenders ring-fenced the contract to Belgian firms only, which Uganda found to be expensive.

Uganda placed adverts thrice calling Belgian firms to develop the port, but their offer price remained higher than what the country had planned to spend on the project. The last one was in 2021 and attracted two offers from Belgian construction firms specialising in dredging but both turned down the offer.

Finally, the government negotiated with a single-sourced contractor, Coil and Coppleters NV JV.

But the second phase of the project faces financing challenges as Uganda is still on the global financial market hunting for financers of the project that would unlock Lake Victoria’s $60 million trade full potential. Kenya and Tanzania have completed corresponding facilities on their sides of Lake Victoria.

In Tanzania, Mwanza, Musoma and Bukoba ports are up and running, while the Kisumu port in Kenya, was rehabilitated a few years back and is operational. Uganda’s Works and Transport Permanent Secretary Waiswa Bageya said all is not lost, as his ministry is looking at City Bank and a European Union lender to finance the completion of the project, but the Ministry of Finance will make the final call.

David Musoke Bulega, the acting Managing Director of the Uganda Railways Corporation (URC), says they plan to invest part of funds sourced from the African Development Bank Group which became effective in April this year, to revamp Port Bell to handle the growing marine transport traffic on Lake Victoria.

Also, URC vessels need to be repaired and modified to handle containers. Rolling stock compatibility could be a problem due to track gauge and interchange facilities for Standard Gauge Railway and metre gauge railway.

The delayed completion of Bukasa port coupled with limited rolling stock is holding back Uganda’s plan to grow railway share of freight and passenger markets from the current less than two percent.

The Ugandan government arranged a $300 million loan with the AfDB to upgrade the metre gauge railway.

While the traffic on the lake is picking up, Port Bell, with a 2,000-tonne capacity dry dock, lacks cargo-handling equipment, and traders and transporters complain of regular and long delays in loading and offloading of ferries due to a shortage of shunting locomotives.

The Port Bell project will have modern equipment to facilitate the loading of marine vessels to facilitate offloading of goods from Mwanza. Plans are also underway to refurbish MV Kaaawa and introduce two additional vessels to revitalise cargo transport through Port Bell.

But the region will have to wait for another year before the project is implemented as URC is still buried in paperwork before AfDB, a lending arm of the African Development Bank Group releases funds for improving rolling stock to enable URC to serve its customers efficiently and reliably.

Part of the funds will support the rehabilitation of MV Kaawa, to boost URC cargo-carrying capacity on Lake Victoria. Dry docks used for inspection and repair of marine vessels at Port Bell are also planned to be rehabilitated.

Currently, Uganda runs a struggling water transport system with dilapidated infrastructure which is inefficient and neglected. Combined, the vessels that dock at Port Bell and Jinja pier—MV Kaawa and MV Pamba for Uganda, MV Uhuru for Kenya, and MV Umoja for Tanzania have a 23,000 net tonne capacity per month, 270,000 per year, which is still low.

Experts project an efficient port like Bukasa Port will attract bigger ships and more volume of cargo estimated at 4.4 million tonnes annually.

“The dry dock at Port Bell requires rehabilitation to enable URC to repair its marine transport vessels,” according to information from the Africa Development Bank.

Under the Port Bell Project, URC will also be helped to acquire two new wagon ferries to meet traffic demand on Lake Victoria from both the Northern and Central Corridors.

Also planned is a tugboat which helps in pushing or pulling vessels as they dock or leave the harbour.