In August 2020, government tabled a Bill titled “The Inland Water Transport Bill 2020”, which is currently under scrutiny by the relevant committee. The Bill seeks to regulate the inland water transport sector by providing for; registration and licensing of vessels, safety of life and navigation, maritime security, regulation of inland ports as well as repealing the current obsolete and scattered laws that include the Vessels Registration Act Cap 356 and part XII of the Uganda Railways’ Corporation Act.
What is also important in the Bill is that it provides for the department of Maritime Administration which is responsible for registration of vessels on water bodies, registration of vessels under construction, manning of vessels by competent crew, safety of navigation, disposal of dangerous substance and pollution , sea worthiness of vessels, regulation of inland ports ,responsible for investigations and causalities.
It must be noted that whereas Uganda had some laws relating to water transport, the water transport sector has become dynamic with innovation in technology and the need to adapt to requirements of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) conventions in order to cope with international standards. It is also important to note that it is very difficult for a sector which is not regulated to attract worthy investors.
Uganda is blessed with huge water resources that out of a size of 241,038 Square kilometres, 18 per cent is covered with water. The principal lake and river system includes Lake Victoria, Lake Kyoga, Lake Albert and Lake George, together with River Kagera, and the River Nile. This provides an opportunity for use of water as a cheap mode of transport regionally and locally between various districts. Uganda is privileged with huge amounts of high value natural resources such as oil, gas, coal, copper, and uranium, among others yet it sits in a volatile great lakes region of Africa. This position makes it vulnerable hence the need to supplement land security with marine security.
Expansion of highway and railroad networks often takes more time and requires much greater investments, in comparison with waterways. Therefore, greater use of inland water transport can provide a critical economic advantage. In Uganda, the contribution of water transport to GDP is still at a very insignificant rate which makes quantification difficult. Rivers provide water for drinking and other uses and are ready-made transport routes – all of which are key requirements for flourishing urban centres. This can, therefore, help to open up access to rural areas and investment in addition to job creation.
Road congestion is reaching crisis proportions. In addition to the obvious delays, congestion exacerbates other externalities of truck transport by sinking and remaking of roads, increasing air pollution and the rate of accidents. Longer commutes can also have a negative impact on labour productivity and quality of life. Congestion also leads to higher costs of truck freight operation through driver wages and has a negative impact on manufacturing industry and the service sector by reducing the reliability and predictability of deliveries.
Safety is another advantage. Accidents on the waterways are rare, and inland water transport(IWT) has a very low injury and fatality record compared with the rail and truck transport of freight.
The use of rivers and lakes for navigation can have environmental impacts, particularly when improvements are made to facilitate navigation. It has been observed and proved through research that water vessels use much lesser fuel and emit much less in the atmosphere.
Parliamentarians are urged to consider this Bill seriously as failure to pass it will derail investment in the sector and also leave Ugandans to perish in the unregulated water transport sector. I support a proposal by the President to start a marine training school in Kamuli in attempts to follow our Tanzanian neighbours who have Dare Salam Maritime Institute and Kenyans who established a railways and harbors institute in Kisumu.
Gerald Werikhe Wanzala PhD, is the head of civic engagement and research -Africa Leadership Institute