Opinion: The tragedy of Kampala - Jinja Highway: UNRA in the Spotlight

"Coca-Cola Beverages Africa in Uganda (Century and Rwenzori Bottling Companies) and other leading manufacturers have praised Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) Executive Director Allen Kagina for works on the Kampala–Jinja Highway."

That is an excerpt from an online publication which was reporting on the ongoing road works of Kampala - Jinja Highway.

Reading these words got me to reflect on the words contained in a speech that the President of Uganda gave at the commissioning of the start of tarmacking a certain road. The function was captured by the Presidential Press Unit (PPU) and transmitted by the state television UBC.

The video clip that contained this speech was trending a few weeks back on social media, but unfortunately it doesn't indicate details of the year and the particular road that was being commissioned. However, it seems to have been in early 2000. In the clip, one can spot a number of this country's leading figures and dignataries including the late former President, Mr. Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa, former Prime Minister, Mzee Kintu Musoke, the former Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga etc..

The interesting thing from this video clip is the message that the President of Uganda was sounding out to the audience and the entire country.

He started off by expressing his unhappiness with the fact that a project that ought to have been completed several years ago was only being started after seven years. For that reason, the President was clearly very unhappy and he made it known in no uncertain terms.

Secondly, the President rebuked those that were trying to make fools of themselves in pouring thanks and praises on him for the start of the construction of the road. The President was categorical that he needed not to be thanked or anybody from government to be thanked for this road construction.

He emphasized that it was his responsibility as the head of the state to develop the country and make sure that such infrastructure like roads were built. So he echoed that it would be hollow and mockery for anyone to thank and pour praises on him for doing his job and what is expected of him.

I found those words very instructive particularly in this case of the ongoing road repairs of the Kampala - Jinja road.

The proposed Kampala-Jinja Expressway project

To borrow the President's anger, I would want to ask as to why the manufacturers Coca Cola, Pepsi and all other industrialists and business owners along the route who have been subjected to tremendous inconvenience for such a long period due to UNRA's adamant refusal to attend to the road would now come out to pour praises on the same body!

If it is not mere mockery, then there must be something terribly wrong with us Ugandans. One would have expected UNRA to be the one apologizing and probably even compensating those business entities that have been made to immensely lose businesses due to the continued poor state that the road had been in.

Surely if UNRA was not to repair this very critical transportation route to Uganda's economy as it has been the case for years, what role would UNRA be claiming to have for this country. Uganda being a landlocked country has this road as the most important route through which all the country's commodities from all corners of the country are transported to the Mombasa Port for onward export abroad. But at the same time it is also the only artery through which the country gets its imports particularly inputs for construction, processing and trade. Now if this is not known to UNRA how can we start thanking them for having left this most critical and strategic country's infrastructure to disrepair to such an extent that it has become a death trap to the users!

So why do we have to thank UNRA for doing just what they are mandated to do?

Why do we have to thank them for finally executing what they should have actually done many years ago?

This road didn't break down yesterday and UNRA didn't return just yesterday from space exploration!

The road deteriorated many years ago and had become a nightmare for everybody to the extent that travelling from Kampala to Jinja, a distance of only 80km has been taking 5-6 hours!

People dreaded any suggestion of having an appointment in either Jinja or Kampala. Tourism to the eastern part of the country has adversely been affected as no intending visitor would want to be subjected to the nauseating traffic jams and potholes pitted along the way. Whenever we go abroad or get visitors to the country, we emphasize to them that no one visiting Uganda should ever leave the country without visiting the Source of the Nile, renown globally as a national heritage site. But which visitor would want to spend hours just doing 80km to Jinja? In a way, it is this disrepair of the road that is undermining the country's publicity and pride.

Before even the country was locked down due to Covid-19, many places like Jinja and other towns of Eastern Uganda were already in a kind of self imposed lockdown. There had been a very marked decrease of human traffic to and from Kampala on this route.

The only available alternative that was being used is the Jinja - Kayunga - Gayaza route, which as a result has also become a dreadlock of traffic lately.

One gets to even think that may be because those that are responsible for repairing Uganda's roads don't have any sympathy for those of us who use the road regularly and hail from the east which can make many to believe that maybe the laissez-faire way handling the Kampala - Jinja Road is because the powers that be do not actually use this road and have never suffered the pain of being stuck in traffic jam for hours and travelling of 80kms for 5/6 hrs!

Ofcourse the Kampala - Jinja Highway isn't the only such infrastructure which UNRA had ignored for quite a long time. There are many such that require urgent attention.

Just yesterday we saw reports of the UNRA top brass inspecting the ongoing works on the Northern Bypass.

A project that ought to have been completed three years ago. We are now told that we should expect it's completion by October this year. I didn't see any report of anyone thanking UNRA for a bringing the expected completion date forward to October. It could have been next year!

One wonders, what the guys in UNRA really mean by being project managers of these national strategic infrastructure projects!

Those who have studied some form of project management know that two critical and core pillars stand out in project management: the project must be completed on time and must be completed within budget.

I don't know if this just sounds Greek to our people in UNRA! Otherwise which project that UNRA has ever undertaken or been involved in and that project however small and of whichever financial magnitude, has been completed and delivered on time and within the initially planned budget?

I know that this will sound as if going hard on UNRA, but it is high time project timelines and budgets be respected otherwise it is simply exposing the poor planning, bad budgeting and inadequate preparation that goes into these project.

Why would UNRA commission a project and give specific timelines and even indicate to the entire country how much that project will cost the tax payers, when in actual fact these are simply estimates which will be varied anytime and in any measure.


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