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Transport “the precursor to socio-economic development”

Interview - June 20, 2014
Uganda’s Minister of Works and Transportation, Eng. James Abraham Byandaala, talks to United World about the country’s essential transport infrastructure projects, helping to develop Uganda by “landlinking” the landlocked African country
ENG. JAMES ABRAHAM BYANDAALA, MINISTER OF WORKS AND TRANSPORTATION
ENG. JAMES ABRAHAM BYANDAALA | MINISTER OF WORKS AND TRANSPORTATION
Transportation infrastructure is one of the top priorities of the current administration. Please comment how the government is filling the infrastructure gap of the country.
 
Over the last 5 years, the Ugandan government has allocated a lot of money to the transport sector, which we believe is a precursor to the country’s social and economic development. 
 
The Ugandan government is trying to leverage on Uganda’s position as a land-linked country. 
 
As a land-linked country, our goal is to implement the necessary improvements in the transport sector (i.e., roads, railway, air, water, etc.). We have the 2nd largest inland freshwater lake in the world, by surface.    
 
Where has the Ministry of Works and Transportation (MWT) focused its efforts on?
 
Because of the funds, most of our efforts have been focused on road projects. 
 
However, we realized that we could not carry on the way we have because heavy cargo destroys our roads. 
 
We are working with our neighbors (Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Burundi) to build a joint standard gauge railway (SGR). 
 
Can you tell us more about this railway project?
 
There are 2 angles to this railway project. First, we have the old, narrow gauge railway, which was given as a concession to Rift Valley Railway (RVR). They did very little for the 5 years only to improve their activity over the last 3 years in terms of rail. They have done some good work from Mombasa to Nairobi, Nairobi to Malaba, and they have also done some work within Uganda.  
 
The second one is the SGR. This is where the East African (EA) countries come in. We are trying to build an SGR that would go from Mombasa up to the border of Kenya and Uganda, up to Kampala to Kasese, then off to a stop before heading off to Mirama Hills. It then goes to Kigali, and so on and so forth. 
 
An SGR would also be good from Tororo, near the Kenya-Uganda border to Gulu then Packwach. Those are the immediate ones. 
 
We also want to build a railway internally, in the Albertine Graben area, from the north coming south. Eventually, as we need more money, we need to build an internal railway from the Karamoja sub-region to the main land from Malaba to Kampala.   
 
At the moment, we are focusing on Malaba-Kampala-Kasese-Tororo- Packwach-Gulu-Nimule. This is the regional project that the partner states are working on. 
 
What kind of partnerships are you looking for, for this project?
 
Right now, we are looking for financiers and the people to do the work (eventually). 
 
We have had some discussions with the Chinese on the funding of this project (the Chairman of EXIM bank). There was an SGR from Mombasa-Kampala-Kigali-Tororo-South Sudan, which was in the range of US$10 billion. That is our focus. In fact, the Ministers of Finance (MoFs) of these countries were tasked to find other ways of getting money. They are working with the Africa50 Infrastructure Fund (A50 IF), to try and source this money from them. The moment that they get the money, we shall proceed with the preliminary designs, availing of consultancy services.
 
We can then look for private companies to build the railway and supply the rolling stock.  

Moving on to your road projects, what can you tell us about your current projects?
 
Right now, we are focusing on roads, and part of that exercise is the selection of corridors to work on. First of all, we have the regional routes (RRs). We have the Northern Corridor (NC), which moves from Mombasa to Kampala, to the border with DRC, Rwanda, and the southern and central routes in Tanzania.
 
We are also focused on routes going through areas that are agriculturally productive, the Albertine Graben area (where we have oil), the routes leading to tourist areas, and the district headquarters
 
This is a huge project. Have you encountered any funding problems?
 
Funding has been a problem. I must thank the World Bank (WB), African Development Bank (ADB), IDB and the like. 
 
People generally look into things like economic viability and the cost-benefit ratio (CBR). I think they should also include other parameters such as the stability of the country. For instance, there are some roads that are not economically viable (like that part in the North, along Karamoja), but if you do not work on them, you could cause economic instability. 
 
As a government, because we have a little bit of money now, we are building a road in Karamoja, from Moroto to Nakapiripirit and other areas. 

What is the status of the expressway project that is going to link Kampala to Entebbe?
 
We are currently building an expressway with the support of China’s EXIM Bank, amounting to US$450 million. We are hoping that it will be a toll road. Certain debates about the right of way have caused some delays. 

How are you using Lake Victoria to enhance your connectivity?

We have invested a lot in water transport. Now, we are increasing our focus in this area. We have a ferry going from Port Bell to Mwanza, which we repaired some 3 years ago. We intend to continue maintenance for this unit.  
 
We have some internal movement on the lake, but it is totally inadequate. The government is working on mapping the lake to see the safe routes and highlight strategic places where we can build landing sites. We try to talk to those who have ships, ferries or barges that could connect us to Kisumu in Kenya, Mwanza in Tanzania, and the other parts of the lake. 
 
We are looking to build a bigger port at Bukasa. We hope that will assist us in our lake movement. We still need to invest more in this area. We see its importance. The lake could still be used further.
 
As we get more money, we will invest more in water transport. As for the other lakes, we just have ferries in different places. The problem with them is that we still have some issues keeping them operational. Ferries either move or they stay steady. We have to find a way to increase the participation of the people in paying for this transport (subsidized by government, of course). 
 
We understand that Uganda and Tanzania signed a rail agreement with the Chinese’s Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC).
 
Yes, the railway is going to run from Tanga to Arusha to Musoma to Uganda. Both Tanzania and Uganda intend to allocate funds for the construction of the port facility in Mwanabari, Tanga, Musoma and Uganda, and the railway line.      

What can you tell us about your projects in aviation?
 
As you know, we do not have a national carrier. We had one, but it was privatized. As of now, we are very reluctant as a government to go into this business because it is quite expensive. It is also very difficult to make money here. I think we have enough carriers coming into Uganda.  
 
According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), there are certain conditions that we must fulfill. We want to improve on the security of the airport. We have already contacted people in that regard. The next goal is to expand the airport (e.g., widen and lengthen the runway). These are the things that we are looking at for the Entebbe International Airport (EIA). 
 
There are other airports, as well. We have the Kasese Airport (KA), which is closer to the DRC. That is very strategic for us. We also want to build a completely different airport in the Albertine Graben area (where the oil is). We are going through some designs. We want someone to come in and conduct some feasibility studies to guide the design. 
 
We have other projects—one in Arua and the other in Naguru (which should be the regional hub for the north). We are also looking at smaller ones for the other industries.
 
We are also anxious to upgrade our flying school unit in Soroti.    
 
How would you describe your current partnerships with the US?
 
Right now, we have a contract with an American company in the area of roads. They are going to support a 100-kilometer road. 
 
There have been several American organizations that have shown interest in doing work here. There are those who have come with interest in equipment. There are those who have been here talking about the air industry. We have had some interest in railway. I think the problem has been that this is not their traditional area. I would like to encourage them to explore the opportunities in East Africa (EA).   

What general message do you have about the infrastructure development (particularly, in the transportation sector)?
 
I think they should take a step further and come over. Most of them do not know much about Africa. There is a lot of negative publicity which affects the way they see the continent. I think the best thing to do is to come. The opportunities are there. The earlier they come, the better. If you look at the EA sub-region, right from Ethiopia, you come down to Kenya to Tanzania, Uganda, and Mozambique, there is a lot of potential. The earlier you come, the better. 
 
How would you assess local capacity when it comes to these projects?
 
Unfortunately, we do not have local capacity. That is our biggest weakness. We are in the process of trying to rectify that. There is this project called “Crossroads”, funded by some European countries. We are trying to assist our local contractors.
 
We are also trying to form the Uganda Construction Industry Commission (UCIC). We have made adequate provisions for our people in our Construction Policy (CP). In terms of jobs taken, if it is consultancy, 30% must be by Ugandans; for construction, 20% should be by Ugandans. To push this, we need to further develop local capacity. 
 
We still have a long way to go. They need to employ the necessary personnel, and improve their financial capacity. We just have to build these things slowly. 
 
Technically, we have very good engineers, but they need to be trained to work as a team. Many companies are formed then break after 5 to 6 years. A majority of them are technically competent, but they do not have the technical confidence. As such, they are not that keen on making decisions. 
 
How would you describe the knowledge transfer from US companies?
 
It has yet to kick off. They have not been placing engineers there to gain that experience. I have now directed them to permanently hire at least 3 local engineers for every big project so that they can gain the experience that they need there.
 
How about your contractors?
 
For contractors, the majority of them are Chinese. We are trying to diversify. It is not easy. 
 
I know that our development partners have now gone into Output Performance Road Construction (OPRC). This means that we enter the contract, do the work, and remain there, maintaining it for the next 10 years or so. 
 
Where would you like to see more partnerships with the US in the transportation sector?
 
I would like to see more US participation in the aspect of materials (particularly, the slabs). I am hoping to get some of our local engineers to be part of the project so that they can have technical competence and confidence. 
 
What should the international audience understand about Uganda?
 
Ugandans are really friendly, and the country is beautiful. 

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