Officials from the Northern Corridor countries have said that the newly upgraded Mirama Hills-Kagitumba One-Stop Border Post (OSBP) will serve as a key alternative freight transport and transit, and will ease cross-border trade.
Mirama Hills-Kagitumba border post started 24-hour operations last week, following the collapse of a road section connecting Kabale town and Katuna border on the Ugandan side.
Before then, on the Rwandan side the same road had caved two weeks ago due to mudslides but was fixed and traffic went back to normal.
This is the busiest route linking Kigali to the Port of Mombasa.
Last year, the Ugandan section of the 37-kilometre Ntungamo-Mirama Hills road was upgraded to bitumen standard.
Transporters had for decades braved potholes, dust and delays due to the chaotic nature of the road-users mainly during rainy seasons.
But the upgraded road now makes the route through Mirama Hills-Kagitumba border post a safe and faster border crossing point for traders, freight transporters and passengers travelling to and from Rwanda, officials said.
Traders and transporters from Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, who met in Kigali yesterday in a workshop to discuss how they can improve the level of awareness and highlight the advantages of using the route, said that business people stand to benefit a lot if they fully utilise the Mirama Hills-Kagitumba route.
Patience Mutesi, the country director for TradeMark East Africa, which funded the upgrade of the road, described the route as fast and efficient, saying that it will ease traffic.
“We realised the need for an alternative route to ease traffic flows and increase efficiency of the border in terms of delivering quick services to businesses. The ultimate goal was to have 60 per cent of the traffic via Gatuna diverted to Kagitumba,” she remarked.
TradeMark East Africa partnered with the governments of Rwanda and Uganda to upgrade the road section, and the works cost US $24 million (approximately Rwf20.8 billion), according to Mutesi.
Dennis Karera, the Vice Chair of the East Africa Business Council, the apex body of business associations of the private sector and corporates from the region, said that the new route is timely as it will reduce time taken and cost of transportation.
“It is important to understand that what facilitates business across the region is transport. But road transport is primarily key to the business we do. This is a relief for us as business people,” he noted, adding that previous experience was awful.
“Recently, I made a trip to Katuna with a Ugandan colleague and we were surprised that there were nearly 78 trucks parked on the Ugandan side of the border. This caused delays, traffic and even posed dangers,” Karera noted.
On the other hand, Kigali-Gatuna road is on a hilly terrain with a number of sharp turns, which many say pose a lot of dangers as opposed to the upgraded Mirama Hills-Kagitumba. The Mirama Hills-Kagitumba border post can clear up to 10-15 trucks a day, and it has a cold room with a capacity of 10,000kg.
However, Byron Kinene, the chairman of Regional Lorry Drivers and Transporters Association in Uganda, suggested that given the longer distance of the Kagitumba route to Katuna, Rwandan authorities should review speed control limits as the current ones do not favour the drivers.
“The maximum speed control limit on the route to which the authorities want to divert the heavy traffic is 60km per hour, and there are some areas where it is 40km per hour. But really, there is no way a driver can be driving at 40 km/hr on a flat road,” he said.
He also called for more services along this route like banks, restaurants, accommodation facilities among others to facilitate the drivers enroute.
‘Need for continuous road network improvement’
Participants indicated that there is need for continuous improvement of transport connection infrastructure like roads leading to and from one-stop border posts to major cities and towns as this is critical in realising the region’s trade goals.
According to the 2017 Transport Observatory Report, 82 per cent of the Northern Corridor road network in Rwanda is paved and in good condition, and 18 per cent is in fair condition. However, as trade volumes increase between Rwanda and EAC, participants indicated that heavier truckloads are exported to test the infrastructure to its limit.
However, officials from the Rwanda Transport Development Agency (RTDA) highlighted that there are more rehabilitation and widening work on going on different routes including Kagitumba-Gabiro and Gabiro-Kayonza.
Jean de Dieu Uwihanganye, the state minister in charge of transport at the Ministry of Infrastructure, highlighted that the Government is continuing to invest more in expanding road network infrastructure with the idea to ease the movement of goods, services and people.