The Ugandan Cabinet has approved an ambitious plan to construct roads linking the country with the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Officials said the 223km road network running from the Ugandan border deep into DRC territory is aimed at boosting bilateral trade and also addressing the country’s strategic security.
“Cabinet has 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,” said Uganda government spokesperson, Ofwono Opondo on Tuesday.
He further said government would also construct another road from Bunagana in South Western district of Kisoro through Ruchuru up to Goma (89kms).
Opondo said the project “will benefit the government and people of Uganda through the economic interconnectivity that would provide improved mobility and ease of business.”
This development comes almost a year after President Museveni and his DRC counterpart, Felix Tshisekedi agreed at State House Entebbe to jointly construct roads to facilitate cross border trade.
Other roads being considered include Mpondwe-Beni road which is about 977 kilometres and Goli-Bunia road (181 Kilometres).
The volume of trade between Uganda and DR Congo was estimated at $ 531 million by July 2019, but this is largely informal.
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.
Museveni, who has in recent years spearheaded an ambitious industrialization policy to promote the manufacturing sector, is keen on expanding the regional market for goods produced in Uganda.
Some of Uganda’s major exports include coffee, tea, spices, fish, dairy, eggs, honey, sugar, confectionary, steel, sugar, cotton, cement, plastics and pharmaceuticals among others.
During the Entebbe meeting, Museveni and Tshisekedi noted “with concern the numerous trade restrictive measures and infrastructure bottlenecks, which increase the cost of doing business in the region.”
Both leaders agreed to fast-track the implementation of infrastructure projects to increase trade and investment between both countries.
According to research by Uganda Bureau of Statistics, some of the major problems faced by traders while participating in cross border trade include forced bribery, ambushes and robbery, confiscation or loss of goods to border officials and imprisonment or detention.
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.
Tshisekedi, whose government has since last year waged a protracted military operation against ADF rebels, agreed to work closely with Uganda and other countries in the region to address the issue of negative forces and other armed groups in Eastern DRC.
Ugandan Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa said joint efforts must be “strengthened to deal with the negative forces and armed groups such as ADF that terrorizes the population. We believe that neutralizing such groups and denying them sanctuary to operate, will contribute significantly in creating a peaceful environment for trade and investment to thrive.”
DRC has since expressed willingness to join East African Community.