MPs and locals in Busonge Village, Bumwangu Parish in Bumufuni Sub- County, Bulambuli District push the Parliament bus after getting stuck on Busonge-Bukiyabi road on October 13, 2022. PHOTO /YAHUDU KITUNZI 


Bugisu economy in tailspin as roads, bridges collapse

What you need to know:

  • On a global scale, Uganda is not known for land/mudslides but these have intensified recently due to climate change that has led to extreme torrential downpour in the Bugisu and Rwenzori sub-regions.
  • Since the calamitous March 2010 episode that killed more than 300 and displaced another 5,000, locals in Bududa District, have in the subsequent years continued to record mudslides that usually leave a trail of deaths and destruction. 

President Museveni relishes regaling audiences with his escapades in the 1970s during the reign of terror under Idi Amin when he formed the Front for National Salvation (Fronasa)— a liberation struggle alongside his proteges like former Premier Amama Mbabazi and Internal Affairs minister Kahinda Otafiire.

One of the popular stories is about his daring escape after State Research Bureau (SRB) agents laid a dragnet in Mbale on January 30, 1973.  Two of his acolytes, Martin Mwesiga and Wunku Mpima, aka Kazimoto, were shot dead on the spot by the Uganda Army (UA) soldiers that day.

Mr Museveni escaped through the backdoor under the pitch-black sky, a tale that is captured in the President’s memoirs, ‘Sowing the Mustard Seed’, and has been corroborated by witnesses. He fled to Kampala and later to Kenya, and finally settled in Tanzania.

Had rebel Museveni been captured in Mbale, he would undoubtedly be the 12th guerrilla executed later that Saturday, on February 10, 1973 after the military tribunal —a kangaroo court— sitting at Makindye Military Barracks in Kampala charged and convicted the 11 Fronasa guerrillas of treason and one thief of aggravated robbery.

Mr Peter Musungu Wakoba, the Nandubisi “A” Village chairperson in present day Manafwa District, which was carved out of Mbale, claims to be one of those who witnessed this daring escape as a lad in the 1970s.

He says when Mr Museveni came to power, he visited this area several times and pledged to rehabilitate the roads and bridges. But these promises remain empty rhetoric.

Mr Wakoba led us to Mwikaye bridge that connects various sub-counties in Manafwa. It shares a distinct history as President Museveni relied on it to escape Amin’s dreaded secret police on foot.

This bridge was reconstructed in 1997 but has since then been washed away by the recent deluge that killed at least 29 people in the Bugisu Sub-region.

“When President Museveni came back here from Bududa in 2010, he promised us a new bridge, more primary and secondary schools, a health centre, and generally other services, which we have never received,” he revealed.

Across Nandubisi “A” Village, residents lamented about the poor service delivery.

Ms Salima Kanyago, a midwife at Bukekwa Health Centre III, said health workers and patients are unable to cross the bridge.

“The bridge has broken several times and yet we hear that funds to work on it are released but we don’t see it happen.  So, you find that patients and pregnant mothers have to go to farthest places because they cannot access the facility which is closest to them. Transport to Mbale, the nearest under the circumstances, increased from Shs10,000 to Shs20,000,” she said.

Bukewa and Bubukanza health centre IIIs were cut off due to the collapsed bridges leaving patients and health workers stranded.

When we visited the village this month, we found that local authorities had not taken action, several months after the bridge was washed away. 

Residents, however, managed to erect a makeshift timber bridge but crossing it comes with risk.
The rains that pounded Bugisu in late July washed away more than a dozen bridges in the districts of Manafwa, Bududa, Namisindwa, Sironko, Mbale and Bulambuli. 

A man pushes his motorcycle across Mwikaye bridge in Buwago  Sub-county, Manafwa District on October 10, 2022. PHOTO/YAHUDU KITUNZI

The rains caused several rivers, including Namatala, Manafwa, Nabuyonga, Solokho, and Tsutsu to burst their banks.

We visited a few villages in the districts of Mbale, Namisindwa, and Manafwa where residents shared frustration.

Some residents are completely cut off and have to navigate dicey hills or trek long distances to access basic services. School-going children often take risky journeys while others have abandoned school. 

At some crossing points, school-going children have to part with Shs1,000 to pay helpers to cross these bridges. But with the biting poverty, parents have to make the hard choice.

The local government system, one of the most ambitious forms of devolution of power among the developing countries that was supposed to take services closer to the people has not helped much either. 

The local authorities we talked to appealed to the central government, Ministry of Works and Uganda Road Fund in Kampala, to urgently come to their rescue.

One of the criticisms against decentralisation 25 years after it was first rolled out, is that the quality of public service delivery remains less than desirable as some district local governments are too poor to generate revenue. 

The inefficient decentralised system usually comes to a shuddering halt as the meagre resources are wiped off by corrupt officials.

In many areas where service delivery has remained perennially pitiable, locals have been told that it is as a result of voting for the Opposition. However, in the three districts we visited, President Museveni has been elected with a majority in all the elections since 1996.

The breakdown in transport has impeded other social services, including healthcare, education and transportation of agricultural produce. 

Manafwa authorities are seeking at least Shs500m to rehabilitate the bridges. 
According to one district report seen by Daily Monitor newspaper, several bridges, including Mwikaye on Mwikaye-Bukewa road, Tembelela on Ikaali-Nambale road, Khamitsaru on Butiru-Sisuni-Ikaali road, Namweke on Butiru-sisuni road and Saamba on Lwanjusi-Mwarake road, were destroyed.

According to the report, affected roads connect some communities to Bukewa Health Centre, Bududa hospital and Mbale City. 

The report indicates that other roads connecting residents to Buwaya main market which is one of the biggest in the district, were also damaged.

The district road engineer, Mr Anthony Khaukha, said they received less than Shs200m in the last financial year for road repairs against a road network of 206km.

“As a district, we don’t have money to work on those roads and bridges. For instance, Mwikaye bridge was constructed by the Ministry of Works and Transport. It was also poorly constructed,” Mr Khaukha said.

Villages brought to standstill
The chairperson of Butiru Town Council in Manafwa, Mr Julius Musungu, cited the 8.1km Butiru-Salosalo road that connects Manafwa to Tororo District that was destroyed and has been cut off for three years without intervention from government.

“We no longer have business on this road and it has affected our local revenue. Most of the roads in the district are in a sorry state,” Mr Musungu said, adding: “People no longer access healthcare, and education. Even if the government is pushing the Parish Development Model but cannot fix roads; how will people’s lives be changed? How will they boost productivity if they cannot take produce from Tororo into Kenya?”

PANORAMA: Despair as damaged roads bring Bugisu business to standstill

The chairperson of Lwanjusi Subcounty in Manafwa, Mr Daniel Eliwa, said the roads that connect Manafwa, Namisindwa and Tororo were cut off paralysing businesses.

Some officials blame the recurrent collapse of bridges and roads on shoddy works. 
Last year, officials in Bugisu were arrested over alleged corruption in regard to the theft of colossal sums meant for bridges and roads.

For instance, in Sironko, officials spent Shs74 million to repair a bridge with wood.
 The Namisindwa deputy RDC, Ms Juliet Namara, said majority of the rural roads in her area are impassable.

“Service delivery is extremely poor as a result,” Ms Namara admitted. 

“District engineers are sketchy. Officials are not cooperating, contractors are never on the ground ---- so you find there is a lot of embezzlement in the engineering department which is partly to blame,” she said.
A spitting distance away in Bulambuli, bridges in Bulunganya, Bulago, Bumasobo, Simu, Nabitulu, and Sooti sub-counties and Buyaga Town Council were washed away early last week. At least one person was killed.

The deluge also brought several schools to a grinding halt including Buwagogo, Shukhuyu, Shiyamukunga, Bukewa, Weswa, Buwabale, and Busekalele primary schools as well as Buwagogo and Weswa secondary schools.

Emma Wakoba, a student of Buwagogo Seed Secondary School, said the bridges have contributed to the raise in the number of school dropouts.

“Many of our colleagues who cannot afford to pay the money for crossing have dropped out of schools. We miss lessons due to impassable roads,” Wakoba said.

The Bulambuli District Chairperson, Ms Annet Nandudu, said they are seeking intervention from the Office of Prime Minister (OPM) through the department of Disaster Preparedness.

The heavy rain that have pounded Mt Elgon Sub-region during the last three months have also destroyed crops such as rice, potatoes, cassava, beans and livestock.

Ms Harriet Kakai, a resident of Bumbo Town Council in Namisindwa, said the cost of transporting produce to the market has risen because motorists use longer routes.
Many schools have also been closed. The district inspector of schools report, which was released last month, puts the current classroom to learners’ ratio at 1:110, yet the standard is 1:53.

“It should also be noted that the worst facilities across the district is poor latrine coverage in all schools apart from Magale Girls Primary School,” the report reads in part.

The report indicates that the latrine stance to learners’ ratio stands at 1:140 yet the standard is 1:40.
Namisindwa District which became operational on July 1, 2017, has 96 government-aided primary schools.

More helplessness 

The Namisindwa District Education Committee chairperson, Mr Alex Molokoyi, blamed the appalling state of affairs to the shortage of funds. 

During the Financial Year 2021/2022, the district received Shs1b for the education department but the big chunk of this vote was spent on wages.

The rationale of decentralisation is meant to bring service delivery closer to the grassroots, which can serve as a catalyst for economic growth. But the multiplicity of districts has created an exponential raise in the recurrent expenditure to cater for wages of a bloated public administration, leaving new entities with barely any funds to improve the tangible aspects of service delivery such as hospitals and road construction.

Butiru-Bukaweka road that connects Manafwa to Tororo districts. PHOTO/YAHUDU KITUNZI

In Bugisu, the spectre of natural disasters, continues to haunt the sub-region. 

A risk profile by the OPM’s National Emergency Coordination and Operations Centre (NECOC) details that several districts are unfit for human settlement owing to the susceptibility of natural disasters such as landslides as a result of environmental degradation, murram excavation, quarrying, sand mining, river bank encroachment, and over cultivation on steep slopes.

For instance, 70 percent of Bududa is uninhabitable as is the surrounding districts, a fact that government officials routinely admit but cite budgetary constraints to take long term action such as the relocation of the most-at-risk populations.  
But even short-term interventions are underfunded and are often driven by knee-jerk reactions.                  

A May 2019 Ministry of Finance budget monitoring and accountability report details that government through the second National Development Plan (2015/2016 – 2019/2020), prioritised reduction on the impact of natural disasters and emergencies though among others, developing a disaster risk and vulnerability profile map of the country, and coordinating regular disaster vulnerability assessments at community level, and coordinating timely responses to disasters and emergencies.

However, the plan has been beset by challenges, including lack of laws to govern disaster risk reduction, management, failure to operationalise the Contingency Fund for emergencies after the enactment of the Public Finance Management Act in 2015, lack of funding for local governments towards disaster management and preparedness, and government continuously spending heavily on managing and responding to disaster as opposed to managing and reducing disaster risk.

According to NECOC’s disaster risk profiling for the country, many sub-regions are prone to a myriad of climate-related risks. In the eastern region, the highland areas around Mt Elgon, including Bududa, Mbale, Kween, Manafwa, Sironko, Namisindwa and Bukwo districts will continue to be ravaged by land/mudslides while the lowlands of Namayingo, Namutumba, and Pallisa will experience intermittent flash floods and droughts.