Recently government of Uganda passed a budget of Shs220Bn to construct roads in Democratic Republic of Congo. The government claims that this is meant to boost trade between the two countries and providing market for our goods.
Whereas this sounds convincingly good, there is more than what meets the eye. The last time I checked, Uganda was being demanded USD10 billon by Democratic Republic of Congo after the International Court of Justice condemned the Ugandan government officials for plundering its resources in one of Museveni’s military adventures in the mineral rich country.
DRC being one of the most endowed countries on the planet, has lived a grasshopper like life where every animal, bird, reptile etc wants to feast on it. Many countries or individuals with interest in depleting its resources have hidden behind issues like peace, trade, stability, democracy etc when they are actually advancing their own interests of looting it at the expense of Congolese people!
The possibility that some mafias in the Ugandan government could want to use this road to extend their sucking proboscis into the DRC resources cannot be wished away, after all when you dine with the devil, you use a long hand.
I seem not to have seen this road anywhere near our National Development Plan neither has it been in our plan to construct many other roads out of Uganda.
The standard gauge railway which would have a great impact has for decades remained a nightmare on paper, it would even be more relevant given that we even have petroleum with us here!
Speculations aside, let’s examine the economic importance of this road to the common man. Currently Uganda has 146000 Km of road network, these include National roads, District roads and community access roads.
Of all these roads, only 4551 (3%) are paved (tarmacked). Of the 4500kms of paved roads, 330kms are in Kampala, while a big chunk is in Wakiso district, Mukono and other urban centres, this means that we have less than 3500kms of paved roads in the countryside.
The challenge of unpaved roads is that they take a lot of resources to maintain yet they get damaged in a short time. Unfortunately many of our marram roads across the country are in a sorry state.
For example, it will cost one Shs25000 in public transport from Kampala to Kamwenge but it will take the same amount for one to move from Kamwenge town to his village even when the distance is less than 50kms!
It will take one Shs20,000 from Kampala to Mbale, but it will take more or similar money from Mbale to Busamaga hills, it will take Shs30,000 from Kampala to Kisoro but could take more money from Kisoro to Busanza, Nyarusiza or such other places!
The same story can apply to Zombo, Nakapipiriti, Kapchorwa, Ngora, Nwoya, Kakumiro or Rakai!
So if you work on national roads and ignore community access roads you save less in terms of resources but also create less impact on the economic development of the population.
Roads are meant to ease transport so that Uganda being an agricultural country, farmers can have their produce access market, but also help manufacturers and traders to have their products reach consumers easily.
As a result of a poor road network connecting local people who are the producers to the markets, high cost of fuel leading to high transport costs, high taxes and above all high cost of power, there has been a huge gap between the cost of a product between a producer (farmer or manufacturer) and the consumer (ordinary Ugandan).
The farmer is double cheated, for example in Kamwenge a farmer sells a kilo of maize at Shs500 and buys a kilo of Posho at Shs2500, a farmer in Kagadi or Iganga will sell a kilo of rice at Shs1500 and buy a kilo of processed rice at Shs3500. The farmer is overcharged because of high cost of transport as a result of both fuel and high taxes and poor roads will buy daily commodities like plastics, clothes, automobiles etc exorbitantly. This means that he earns less from his sweat and pays much for what he consumes.
So when you see a bunch of Matooke in Nakasero at Shs40,000 you may think farmers have gained yet in Isingiro farmers sell Matooke at as low as Shs3000. Much of the profits go to the middle man while the peasant who unfortunately votes NRM ends up losing out.
This explains why despite farming employing 70% of the population, it contributes less than 25% on the national GDP; it’s simply because nothing much has been done to exploit the potential in this sector.
So government constructing roads in the DRC for purportedly boosting trade when the local road network is in a sorry state is not only a tactical blunder but also another mess.
As the Alliance for National Transformation, we believe that the biggest investment should be put in our population. This can be done by empowering them by giving them information and support to improve themselves in their areas of operation like agriculture. This helps them not only to improve the quantity of what they produce but also the quality.
By helping Ugandans transform to mechanized agriculture, training them on how to harvest and store their produce to maintain quality, supporting them to do value addition on what they produce so as to earn big but also reduce the perishability is the best way we can develop our country.
Why should a 21st century farmer in Isingiro have to carry the Matooke to Kampala or a cattle keeper in Teso transport a cow with its dung and horns to Kampala, yet some residues would remain in Teso as manure? Much of the garbage that makes Kampala stink should have remained in villages actually!
By working on the local road network we are able to help farmers access both local, national and regional markets. By helping farmers to form cooperatives, we are able to increase their bargaining capacity. By having agricultural loans at low interest rates that can be accessed by people through local banks and village saving groups, we are able to uplift the standard of every Ugandan. This is the focus of Alliance for National Transformation.
So whereas the construction of roads in DRC wouldn’t be a bad idea, it’s like paying for the neighbour’s children school fees when yours are at home seated. First things first, the people of Uganda ought to be put first, that’s why the Alliance for National Transformation slogan is People First a New Future!
By George Muhimbise
The writer is a member of the Alliance For National Transformation Publicity team