The Kigali bound bus cruising at 100km/ph screeches to a halt, and thereafter, proceeds at a snail’s pace. Kafero weaves his way along the pot hole riddled road in a zigzag manner.
As he struggles to maneuver, his feet tire from the constant movement of changing from the breaks to the clutch then the accelerator and back to the breaks. He makes a brief stop to give on coming traffic way, before continuining this endless charade of ‘avoiding –the-pothole.
Kafero’s frustration is evident. Beads of sweat flow down his forehead. A single swipe with the back of his sleeve deals with it. He wishes that the remedy for the pathetic state of the roads could be as easy to deal with.
In his ten year career as a bus driver, he had never seen the Ntugamo-Mbarara road become this impassable. The poor state of part of the 1,659km northern corridor is making business in the East Africa Community expensive. The corridor serves Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Congo.
It is also linked to northern Tanzania, Southern Sudan and Ethiopia. Transporters describe part of the road ‘as pathetic’ “You have to drive cautiously and drive at a very slowly,” said John Bosco Mugisha, a truck driver a Clearing and Forwarding company in Uganda.
But he gives credit where it is due and states that the roads in Rwanda were still fairly okay. He, however hastens to add that the section after the Gatuna border is breaking down and narrow and government is resurfacing it.
According to Mugisha, the poor state of the road has cost implications since after every trip his truck must be serviced in the garage. He also said trucks spend a lot of time on the road and the borders. With the poor state of the roads, drivers say trucks that used to make a minimum of four trips a week currently make two.
“Generally, the roads are in a very poor state as you drive along the Northern Corridor. The road from Mombasa to Nairobi which is about 600 miles is currently under repair, with too many diversions and about 50 kilometers before reaching Nairobi, the road is riddled with deep potholes.
Mugisha also cited the roads between Nakuru-Eldoret, Eldoret – Malaba and Mbarara –Ntugamo as some of the worst along the Northern corridor.
The other problem is the parking yard at the Uganda border, the yard has very big potholes and can take one about two days to remove their vehicle.
But a Uganda government official says roads along Northern Corridor have generally improved following the completion of various road rehabilitation projects.
John Byabagambi, the Ugandan State Minister for Roads and Transport, says that the general state of roads in the region is still poor. The region spends billions on road rehabilitation annually.
It is estimated that 50 per cent of the Northern corridor is passable. But the good news is that the Northern corridor is now under rehabilitation.
He said that to facilitate business, the government of Uganda had now embarked on rehabilitation of roads specifically along the Northern corridor.
He noted that repairing the roads in the region is a matter of urgency because it not only reduces costs of doing business in the region but also improve the region’s competitiveness as a business hub.
“In two to three years we are sure that we shall have smooth roads along the Northern corridor. The main problems leading to this situation are two: under funding for the transport sector and bureaucratic systems. Under funding for infrastructure has led to the current poor state of the roads because it has been difficult to fix and repair the roads in time,” he observed.
Byabagambi also explained that the poor state of roads contributes to high costs that are ultimately pushed to the final consumers. He also noted that the poor state of the roads slows down economic growth and development in region.
“Poor roads push up the costs for doing business because it becomes expensive to maintain vehicles and it wastes a lot of time. Instead of a truck taking a week to reach Kigali from Mombasa, poor roads can push it up to three months. A lot of time is also wasted yet time is money for a business man.
Potholes make trucks consume more oil and fuel and lately, prices of fuel have become high and all these costs are reflected in the final cost of the product. The poor state of the roads is costing us billions.
On the state of roads along the corridor, Kassim Omar, Vice President of the Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that the current state of the roads was ‘pathetic.’
However Michael Odongo, Chief Materials Engineer with Uganda’s Ministry of Works and Transport defended that, there is progress on construction and maintenance of the road. He explained that 60 percent of the work is about to be completed.
With 70 percent of imports and exports from the region being transported by road, the Northern Corridor is believed to be vital to the economies of the Great Lakes countries and Southern Sudan.
Odongo said that some damaged sections of the roads are under rehabilitation and that they had got more funding from the European Union (EU) while other parts are in good conditions. He was optimistic that construction will be completed in the next three years.