Easier to squeeze through a needle’s eye than find a good road in Uganda?

If there are two Ugandas, the middle class urbanite Uganda and the rural poor Uganda, each starkly different from the other in terms of standards of living, then it can be said that the roads in this country are the great leveler. Just as the urbanites tweet, facebook, blog and write very articulate newspaper opinions on potholes, the rural poor are calling into their community radio stations and/or News-Hapa to voice similar lamentations about their roads. In the past two weeks since the rainy season in Northern Uganda commenced, News-Hapa has received a road related report atleast once each day. Here is a sampling of them.

Carry gumboots to Koboko and prepare for a strenuous trek district if you are planning to visit any of these local leaders; LCV chairman, Assistant Chief Administrative Officer, Coordinator of the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS), District Health Officer, Principal Personnel Officer, District Physical Planner and LC III chairman. According to a report from Muki Kiboko, a resident of Koboko town council, the road in Lipa village Mengo ward that connects to the homes of all the above seven leaders has become impassable even though the distirct has road maintenance machinery that this citizen describes as lying idle. Koboko district is in the upper most north-western corner of Uganda.

South of Koboko is Arua district from which News-Hapa has received even more bad road reports. Heavy rains have made most roads impassable,” reported Robert Emviga on the 3rd of August. This echoed Kenedy Jurua’s report the day before that. In particular, Jurua was complaining about the road from Rhino camp to Arua town. It had also been made impassable by rain. Truck that had attempted to take merchandise were stuck in the road for days. The business interruptions continue and are even wider spread according to a 12th August report from yet another resident of Arua. Steven Azueia from the Arua suburb of Wanduruka says, “Heavy rain is devastating the economy by destroying roads.”

Meanwhile, the main road that connects Arua and Adjumani, its north eastern neighbor, via the Obongi ferry , is also reported to be in pretty bad shape. Although it is a major road under the Uganda National Roads Authority, it was in such poor state that the leaders of the villages through which it runs, mobilized their citizens to repair it by hand. “LC1 of the various villages on the stretch of the road have mobilized residents and minor repairs were done,” a resident of the area told News-Hapa four days ago.

However it is not just nature that residents have a quarrel with when it comes to the issue of roads. Other undercurrents exist. “Why has the government delayed to compensate people whose land was affected by the Oraba-Vurra custom road construction,” asks Emma from Vurra in Arua. Meanwhile, Ezekiel Andega, is caught up in a cold war with his neighbours who won’t let him create a two metre access road for the village to the main road. They currently only have a narrow path to use. Frustrated, he sent News-Hapa a report saying, “some primitive people have refused me to open village road.” His neighbours distrust his motives because the road would also lead to his newly constructed house that currently can only be accessed via a rocky patch of road.

Sigh… but perhaps we all can take consolation in this one good tiding. In Ogoko subcounty of Arua, residents have long lived precariously because all they had for a bridge over a 3 metre powerful stream was a log. So hazardous was the situation that in the rainy season when the water streamed powerfully, parents kept their children out of school rather than let them venture that crossing. Well now, Ezekiel Andega reports that a culvert bridge has been built across this stream that locals call River Keleruza. Construction of the bridge started last year, was completely in the past month and it is now under use!

- Aug. 16, 2013
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