PHOTOS: Ntungamo-Mirama Hills Road to boost intra-regional trade

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L-R: Bosco Rusagara, the Director of Infrastructure and Transport at the East Africa Business Council, TMEA Rwanda Country Director Patience Mutesi and Moses Sabiiti, TMEA Uganda Country Director talking to journalists about the value of the newly constructed Ntungamo-Mirama Hills Road. / Nadege Imbabazi

Over 10 years ago, Mirama Hills border post was the busiest entry and exit route from Rwanda to Uganda compared to Gatuna or even Cyanika border posts.

Eugene Habumuremyi, who sells refreshments at Kagitumba Border, is one of many who reside along Kagitumba-Mirama Hills and testifies that dozens of trucks as well as buses would cross the border on a daily basis and benefited locals economically.

His business now is “very slow” because just four buses use the route every day and a “not more than 2 cargo trucks” pass through the border in weeks.

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The newly constructed Mirama Hills-Ntungamo road is expected to boost traffic flow and  trade between Rwanda and Uganda. / Nadege Imbabazi

For residents of Matimba town in Nyagatare District through the small town of Kabarore in Gatsibo district, they will tell you how business was booming back when the border was busy.

Same thing will be told of residents of Sofia (Mirama Hills) through Ruhama or Kitwe towns in Ntungamo District on the Ugandan side. But things have since become slow.

When the road connecting Kabale to Gatuna was redeveloped, it dealt a huge blow to businesses along Kagitumba-Mirama Hills corridor—and it is yet to recover from that setback even after the establishment of One Stop Border Post. The Reason, truck and Bus drivers say, was the poor road that connected this particular border post to Ntungamo.

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Kagitumba-Mirama Hills One Stop Border Post has lied dormant since completion in December 2015 because of rod road network. / Nadege Imbabazi

From Mirama Hills to Ntungamo, It was a dirt road, with several users rendering the route “impassable”—hence the reason why traffic turned to Kabale-Gatuna route for “safety”.

Bosco Rusagara, the Director of Infrastructure and Transport at the East Africa Business Council, is one person who appears to have seen the change of fate on Kagitumba-Mirama Hills border post over the years.

He says that since that switch to Gatuna, several businesses along the Eastern province route connecting to Kagitumba border have “died” literally.

“Back then, there was a balanced traffic flow between Gatuna border and Kagituma border. But, since the road from Mirama Hills to Ntungamo town (In Uganda) was quite tough for users, they switched to a well-paved Kabale route leading to Gatuna and businesses in this area died,” Rusagara accounts. 

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Movement of people and goods between Uganda and Rwanda will increase with traffic due to new infrastructure along Kagitumba-Mirama Hills One Stop Border Post. / Nadege Imbabazi

Even when the new One-Stop Border Post (OSBP) facility at Kagitumba at the Rwanda-Uganda border was inaugurated in December 2015, the route struggled to pick its “lost glory” simply because the one part of the road was not in good state according to Mose Sabiiti, TradeMark East Africa-Uganda Country Director.

This explains why TradeMark East Africa (operating in Uganda and Rwanda) embarked on a project to fund the redevelopment of  the 37 km Ntungamo - Mirama Hills Road together with the government of Uganda.  

“The poor state of Mirama—Ntungamo route has rendered this state of the art One stop border post dormant and that is the reason we had to come in and support the redevelopment of this road to facilitate increased traffic flow on this part of our two East African countries,” Sabiiti told Sunday Times.

He added that the project was jointly funded at a tune of $40 million with the Uganda government contributing 50 percent while the remaining 50 percent provided by Trademark East Africa (TMEA) and Department for International Development (DFID)—a United Kingdom government agency.

Patience Mutesi said the completion of Ntungamo-Mirama Hills road will reduce the cost of doing business along the Northern Corridor since there will be easy connectivity from Mombasa to Kigali.

“This is a significant project for the governments of Uganda and Rwanda because it’s a key road along the Northern Corridor. A lot of goods that come to Rwanda and Burundi and some other parts of this region go through this route.

So far, we have three main border posts connecting Rwanda and Uganda. We have Kagitumba, Gatuna and Cyanika. But this (Kagitumba) is one of the most significant among the three because of its flat terrain of the area and One Stop Border Post facility it has,” Mutesi said.

Being a key road along the Northern Corridor, Mutesi says, the traffic will multiply in the near future with the revamped infrastructure—consequently improving intra-regional trade.

“Rwanda is interested in the Ugandan road because a lot of traffic which will be using this route will be serving Rwanda and exporters will have an opportunity to transport their goods through this modern One-Stop Border post hence less time spent clearing and reduced cost on transportation.

“On the imports as well, the faster it is for goods to come from Uganda to Rwanda the cheaper they become and consumers will be able to get goods at a lower price,” Mutesi explains.
 
Drivers’ concerns

With the new road and improved One-Stop Border facility, trucks and bus drivers are upbeat that mobility of goods and people along Kagitumba-Mirama Hills route will become seamless.

However, they ask governments of Rwanda and Uganda to ensure that the border is 24-hour operational and also establish facilities for clearing agents.

Yunus Kiggundu, National Chairman of Uganda’s United Bus Driver Association told Sunday Times that drivers were previously worried about the state of the road, opting to divert to the mountainous route through South-Western Uganda and Northern Rwanda.

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Yunus Kiggundu, Chairman of United Bus Drivers Association (Uganda) says more inter-state buses will now divert to Kagitumba border due to improved road network. / Nadege Imbabazi

But, he says, with new infrastructure along Kagitumba-Mirama Hills border, the majority of drivers will now switch to the new route which is fairly flat and more comfortable.

“This new road is a relief to bus drivers of inter-state buses that connect Uganda to Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo.  We have been enduring the mountainous route but with this new road, it will reduce the fatigue on some drivers who will opt to use Mirama Hills-Kagitumba route,” Kiggundu said.

“Such facilities are testament that Uganda and Rwanda want the socio-economic development of their people”.  

Gabriel Ngabirano of Trinity Bus Company said: “With these facilities, it’s high time both governments urged their immigration agencies to start working 24 hours.

“Usually by 10 pm, you won’t find any immigration officers at the border and this becomes difficult for transporters hence why we use Gatuna route even when we know that the border facilities here are cleaner and modern.” he said. 

Ngabirano added that financial services, such as Banks as well as social amenities including hotels will go a long way in boosting the growth of Kagitumba-Mirama Hills border post.

William Babigumira, in charge of Single Project Implementation Unit at Private Sector Federation (PSF) told Sunday Times that discussions are ongoing on the Rwandan side to establish favorable traffic procedures along Kagitumba route to facilitate seamless transportation.

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He also says that they would work with the private and public sector players to promote the border post because it has “good capacity” and efficient infrastructure.

Thanks to the new road, the Ntungamo-Mirama Hills route offers shorter and less difficult connectivity from Kigali to Kampala. While inspecting the progress of the road, it took us 34 minutes from Mirama Hills to Ntungamo town compared to one hour and 47 minutes it used to take, according to local drivers.

According to TMEA’s Mutesi, the establishment of OSBP has significantly reduced the time traders used to spend at the border by 25 per cent from five hours to three hours and45 minutes and this is a great achievement for the business community.

It now takes maximum 5 minutes for a passenger to be cleared to enter another country under one roof of OSBP.

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