Government has defended the move to construct a road in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), saying it will boost trade between the two neighbouring countries.
Sections of the public and Parliament have condemned government’s move to spend Shs200b on constructing 223km of roads in the DRC, saying the Kampala government should concentrate on first bettering its own road network.
Cabinet recently approved the construction and upgrading of the national road from Kasindi section (border) to Beni (80kms) and the integration of the Beni-Butembo Axis (54 kms) to national road and another from Bunagana in South Western district of Kisoro through Ruchuru up to Goma (89kms).
But the Minister for Works General Katumba Wamala, told journalists on Tuesday that the road construction will boost trade between Uganda and the DRC but also enhance security.
The Minister restated their intention to involve Uganda in more road projects outside of the country so as to ensure trade and development and bilateral cooperation among others.
He says that a project they are currently looking at which is yet to mature is the participation of Uganda in the road that will link Uganda through South Sudan to Ethiopia.
Katumba, however, emphasized that the proposal was still at concept note level. He says the arrangement is being promoted at the regional effort for the states that link to each other.
The construction of 223km of roads in the DRC follows a bilateral agreement between Uganda and the DRC to implement strategic infrastructure projects. This amount is Uganda’s contribution of 20% of the roads project.
The total project cost is USD 334.5 million, therefore, Uganda’s contribution amounts to USD 66.9 million (254 billion Shillings ).
Uganda’s exports to DRC as of 2018 totaled to USD 533 million and this is expected to more than double once the road has been constructed.
Uganda last year decided to focus on the DRC market after Rwanda closed its borders to Ugandan goods and stopped Rwandans from visiting Uganda.
Uganda’s trade with Rwanda was worth $200m.
The closure of the border by Rwandan authorities saw Ugandan manufacturers lose millions of dollars, compelling Kampala to look elsewhere for market.
The Beni-Butembo Axis where the new roads will be constructed is known as the ‘death triangle’ for providing refuge to militants especially the Ugandan rebel movement, Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
The ADF have in recent years stepped up their military activities near the Ugandan border, killing civilians and UN peacekeepers.
Routing the rebel movements would be a major requirement for the successful implementation of the infrastructure project.
Still, tarmac roads are necessary in Eastern Congo to allow DRC security forces quickly respond to emergencies and even realize state presence.
Poor roads continue to undermine efforts to develop the area, creating a fertile ground for rebel movements to recruit and terrorize the region.