Bundibugyo — Economic experts argued Uganda's poor road network is one of the major bottlenecks to unlocking Uganda's economic potential, while China's engagement in the road construction is conductive to unleash the economic drive.
Road transport is by far the most dominant mode of transport in this east African country, carrying over 95 percent of passenger and freight traffic. The national roads currently make up about 25 percent of the road network but carry over 80 percent of the total road traffic.
They also provide vital transport corridors to the land-locked countries of Rwanda and Burundi to parts of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan to the Indian Ocean.
However, according to statistics by the Uganda National Road's Authority (UNRA), the country's body charged with overseeing road construction, out of the 20,000 km of the national roads, only 15 percent (2,914km) is paved or tarmac.
Experts said if this poor road infrastructure is addressed, Uganda's economic potential, owing to its geographical centrality on the African continent, can be unlocked, boosting both intra- regional trade and domestic trade.
According to the country's national budget for the financial year 2012-2013, there are over 40 priority roads that are critical to the economic development of the country.
China like elsewhere on the continent has come in to help unlock this potential.
"According to a Chinese saying, people who want to be rich should build a road first. Chinese companies are playing an important role in the infrastructure development of Uganda," Zhao Yali, Chinese ambassador to Uganda, told Xinhua in an interview on Sept. 21.
In June this year, the Asian country delivered the first batch of road equipment to the Ugandan government as part of a 40-year soft loan of about 106 million U.S. dollars to boost the country's road transport.
While receiving the equipment that will be distributed to the various local governments in the country, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said the equipment will help in the construction of major roads.
The equipment included 159 graders, 257 tipper trucks, 12 wheel loaders, six dozers, seven excavators and two low loaders.
Zhao said the next batch of the equipment will be delivered in a few months.
He said zonal service centers have been set up in several parts of the country to do the routine service of the machines.
"In order to make sure the equipment works well, China FAW Group will set up these centers in Kampala and five other stations in the main towns to train local technicians, and also provide maintenance services," Zhao said during the handover of the equipment.
Construction of a 350-million-U.S.-dollar Chinese-funded Kampala-Entebbe Expressway is expected to start soon as the government, the contractor China Communications Construction Company. Ltd (CCCC) and other stakeholders are going through the final procedural stages.
The funds to construct the 37 km road is from a preferential loan from China Export and Import Bank.
The road, which is the second of its kind in eastern Africa after the one in Ethiopia, still constructed by the Chinese, will be linking the capital Kampala to Entebbe International Airport, the country's main gateway to the rest of the world.
"The total length of the main road is about 37 km and the spur road from Kajansi to Munyonyo is about 13 km. The road is a standard expressway. We used Chinese specifications and standard. It is four lanes double way," said Zhang Weidong, Project Manager of the Kampala-Entebbe Expressway Project.
Construction of the road will take five years and CCCC has given a guarantee of six years.
"This road will play a very important role in Uganda's development particularly in tourism and will ease the traffic pressure," said Zhao.
Another major road linking the western Ugandan town of Fort Portal to Ntoroko, Bundibugyo and then Uganda-eastern DRC common border is being upgraded by a Chinese construction firm Chongqing International Construction Corporation.
The money being used to construct the 103.6 km road is a loan from the African Development Bank to the Ugandan government.
The road traverses land with the high potential for agricultural production of bananas, cassava, cocoa, palm oil and natural resources such as oil reserves which recent studies and drilling have confirmed to be economically viable to exploit in the region.
The upgrading of the road to bitumen standard is considered to be important, not only in terms of completing the national paved road circuit, but also for international transit traffic to the DRC, in addition to providing another important access to Uganda's section of the great western rift valley.
The upgrading of the access to Semliki national park with its Sempaya hot springs is expected to boost the country's primary tourist destination where the Kabalega falls, the Lake Albert, Edward and George and the plains contrast with numerous crater lakes, lofty and scenic mountains while Central African forests merge with East African grasslands to support an array of wildlife including various types of birds, the famous tree climbing lions and endangered mountain gorillas.
The road will be constructed to six meter carriageway, with 1.5 meter shoulders on each side of the road in flat terrain, and reduced shoulder width of 0.5 m in mountainous areas. In selected areas a 1.2/1.5m wide foot-paths (side-walks) will be provided for pedestrians.
Other Chinese road construction firms are involved in various projects across the country.
Besides from improving Uganda's road network, the projects employ thousands of Ugandans and put money back into the government through taxes.
There is also knowledge transfer as the Chinese engineers train the locals on new techniques of road construction.