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Jinja-Bugiri highway: A dusty road to the future?

By Vision Reporter

Added 11th December 2006 03:00 AM

Every time it rains, the potholes on Jinja-Bugiri road become small water ponds with frogs and mosquitoes. The blocked drainage channels causes flooding in neighbouring places.

Every time it rains, the potholes on Jinja-Bugiri road become small water ponds with frogs and mosquitoes. The blocked drainage channels causes flooding in neighbouring places.

By George Bita

Every time it rains, the potholes on Jinja-Bugiri road become small water ponds with frogs and mosquitoes. The blocked drainage channels causes flooding in neighbouring places.

However, the flooding rarely lasts for long because the busy nature of the road ensures that the water dries up quickly to give way to dust once again.

This has been the state of affairs on the Jinja-Bugiri highway since Basil Read Bouygues, a Belgian-South Africa company, abandoned work on the 73km road in 2004.

Much of the tarmac, which had been laid, has been dug up, leaving a murram stretch covering much of the busy road, part of the Trans-African highway stretching from Mombasa, Kenya to Lagos in Nigeria.

Thomas Kiiza, a resident of Bulanga trading centre, says the dust from the road has become a menace to road users and residents.

“There is dust everywhere. The dust on the road has also contributed to several motor accidents on the route. Motorists drive recklessly oblivious of which side of the road to keep on. In fact, there are no demarcated lanes, which leaves drives to decide for themselves which side to keep” Kiiza says.

Awali Sseguya, a taxi driver on the road, says, “Apart from irritating us, the dust hangs for long periods in the air, requiring the use of headlamps to warn on-coming traffic.”

Sseguya adds that they also drive very fast to avoid being overtaken which means travelling in a dust cloud formed by vehicles in front.
Sseguya says there has been a lot of inconvenience to road users with many vehicles getting damaged within a short time on the road.

“We keep on servicing our vehicles and repairing worn out shock absorbers, air conditioning units and broken windshields. On average, service of an omnibus now costs sh2.5m per year yet previously it cost about sh1.5m,” Sseguya says.

Aziz Hussein, a truck driver in the border town of Busia says the losses incurred on the route between Jinja and Bugiri towns may amount to about sh2b per annum in terms of damaged property in transit.

Hussein says the uneven road surface has led to damage of merchandise like refrigerators, computers, television sets and perishables like tomatoes.

Assessments from Mayuge, Iganga, Bugiri, Tororo, Mbale and Busia indicate that each district loses approximately sh15m in revenue per month. This figure covers money spent on repairing vehicles and delays on delivery of essential commodities as a result of the bad road.

Abdullah Balunywa, the LC3 chairman of Bulamagi in Iganga, says about 100 market vendors who move from Iganga to work in Jinja Market waste a lot of time on the road and end up losing revenue.

“Before 2004, it was a 30-minute drive from Iganga to Jinja, but it now takes about two hours,” Balunywa adds.

Daniel Okello, a businessman in Busia, says the traders, especially those dealing in fresh foods, make a lot of losses because of the bad road.

“Last month, I lost sh2m worth of watermelon bound for Nairobi. The truck’s hind tyres burst after hitting potholes near Bugiri town in the evening and by the next day the fruits were beginning to rot,” Okello says.

However, all this is bound to change after a Nigerian firm, Reynolds Construction Company (RCC) was contracted in a joint venture with Sonitra (Ghana) Limited to re-surface the road by December 2008 with a sh11.4b funding from the European Union.

On June 22, finance minister Ezra Suruma signed the contract with Boaz Ferench of RCC and the work began on August 18.

John Nasasira, the Minister of Works, re-launched the reconstruction at Bugembe, in Jinja. Nasasira said, “We hired a contractor in 2004 and expected work to be completed by July 2006. However, the contractor wanted $9m more and extra time.

When we refused, he left.”
However, for the residents, it seems time has not yet come to celebrate. Already some people are skeptical about whether RCC will beat the December 2008 deadline.

Nicholas Obbo, the RCC general foreman, says the last months have been spent on bush clearing, constructing culverts and crushing rocks to generate enough small stones, which will be used for setting the tarmac.

Obbo explains that a labour force of over 1,000 will be needed, although currently they have only 50 labourers undertaking emergency repairs plus crushing rocks in Idudi, Iganga.

He also says the they have faced a problem of tribalism, where the Basoga are complaining that they are not given jobs to work on the road. “They recently ganged up in Magamaga and wanted to beat up a RCC staff member alleging that he was recruiting mostly non-Basoga,” Obbo says.

He says the rainy season has also created a major challenge for them, especially in putting up culverts on sections of the road passing through flooded wetlands.

“When the place is flooded you have no alternative, but to wait for the level of the water to recede before attempting to work again,” Obbo says. So the waiting may just have begun.

Jinja-Bugiri highway: A dusty road to the future?

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