Q&A on Roads in Uganda with Dr. Mwakali

Q & A: Dr. Jackson Mwakali on Road Infrastructure in Uganda

Faculty of Technology, Civil Engineering, Makerere University
March 20, 2008

What is your assessment of the current condition of Uganda’s urban roads? Rural roads?

You have to isolate Kampala from the rest of the urban areas. The central business district (CBD) roads are good following Chogm (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting). They did a good job resurfacing, the quality of resurfacing is good. They did careful drainage, which is very important when it comes to preservation.

What are the primary factors that account for [poor] road conditions in Uganda?

As you get outside Kampala, where drainage is poor, the roads are also bad. The main problem appears to be drainage. The pavements are done according to available standards, so I suspect drainage is the culprit. If you don’t have that [proper drainage] you have wasted time. There is also a poor maintenance culture, and you need to maintain roads – patch up potholes and cracks as soon as they appear, unblock drains, etc. Quality is also substandard, there is poor workmanship. There are two reasons for this – first, there is inadequate supervision of contractors, and second, some of the contractors are incompetent. Things go wrong in the procurement process. Supervisors get compromised, contractors tempt supervisors with money. The contracts are in the billions of shillings so a Ush 50 million bribe is just peanuts to the contractor.

What safety standards [if any] do Uganda roads fail to meet?

My own observation is that we don’t provide enough road furniture (sign posting). When signs get damaged they are not replaced. There is also inadequate marking of lanes. In many Western European countries you drive with the lights on all the time. Drivers in Uganda should also turn their lights on in the early morning and earlier in the evening. Many drivers should not be on the road because of the way they overtake, hoot, and ignore pedestrian crossings. They need to do something about the drivers, to make sure the right drivers are using the road. The boda bodas are especially bad.

What can be done to improve the quality of road construction and increase the number of skilled workers?

I think we need to use standards developed in the developed world with a bit of caution. Their roads last but ours don’t. Climate and soil could be partly responsible. We need to work on our own standards based on research and give research at universities the importance it deserves. Most research is funded by donors, but donors don’t always fund what is good for us. The incoming head of civil engineering has done research on roads, and we are currently piloting a road within Makerere campus built based on his research.
We also need to build the capacity of local contractors. We need to give them more jobs, and bias awards in favour of local contractors (both constructors and consultants). They are not earning anything and not building capacity as it is. It is extremely urgent that the proposed Local Construction Industry bill is made into law. We need to train more technicians. The current government policy to give more emphasis to the sciences is good. Most government sponsored students are sponsored to do sciences – engineering and other applied sciences. About 40 students come to do engineering – that’s not enough. A student loan scheme should be available – it’s done in Tanzania and Kenya and we think they are training more engineers as a result.
Brain drain has reached an alarming point. We are not building capacity, we are losing people. Many people are going to South Africa, the UK, and the US. It’s as if we are training for them! It’s very easy to get a work permit in these countries, and many people are taking advantage of that.
We need to make the engineering practice more attractive. Pay them well, provide them with good working conditions. We also need to regulate the engineering practice. The engineering registration board and others need to execute their mandate to the full, so that they keep out the bad ones, the pretenders. One way is to punish the errant engineers in courts and also to fight for a fair share of the cake.
Regarding the quality of road construction and cost-effectiveness of road maintenance – according to a presentation given at Makerere in 2005 by Henry Kerali of the World Bank, “For every new 1 km built, 3 km or existing roads are “lost” due to lack of maintenance. Road transport costs increase exponentially on poor roads. For each $1 diverted from road maintenance, vehicle operating costs increase by $2 to $3.”

Do you think Uganda’s current road network is sufficient to handle current and future levels of traffic/transport?

It is not able and it is not adequate for current traffic volumes. This is very evident from traffic jams. We still don’t have sufficient road infrastructure. Roads are narrow, poorly maintained, and they are often badly designed. For example, in general, there is no provision for pedestrians. They are forced to walk on the carriageway and shoulders. Crossing of roads can be very hazardous. On Entebbe road, for example, it is so glaringly obvious that something is wrong. We need overhead bridges or tunnels. Non-motorized traffic is also a problem, as they fight for narrow roads. We can do better in our poverty I’m sure.
Also, traffic management is very poor by traffic wardens and police. They often override traffic lights where they are, they interfere and mess up the whole system. Instead they should apprehend those who jump the lights, they should be punished and receive fines. Lastly, axel load requirements are not enforced, and this is also doing a lot of damage to our roads.

In your opinion, is the annual budget for roads (this year approximately Ush 626 billion) sufficient for construction and upkeep of the road network?

There is a lot of construction that needs to be done; lots of areas are still inaccessible. But the budget doesn’t appear to be bad for this small economy. The problem is that much of it is lost to shoddy work. It is also lost to corruption, bribes and so on. Most goes to the large backlog of unmaintained roads and roads to construct.

Dr. Jackson Mwakali is a civil and structural engineer and has been the Head of the Civil Engineering Department at Makerere for over eight years. He is the first Ugandan to receive a PhD in structural engineering and is currently the Chairman of the Engineer Registration Board in Uganda, a position appointed by the Minister of Works.

Interview by Melina Platas

If Kenya has a fever what happens to Uganda?

As the saying goes, when Kenya sneezes, Uganda catches a cold. So what happens to Uganda when Kenya has a fever? That frightening scenario is now playing out before the eyes of Uganda’s business community.
Mr Godfrey Hategyeka, Transport Manager for Katraco Uganda Ltd, was beeped by a mysterious number at 12:30pm on January 31. When he returned the call a stranger answered, a Kenyan who informed him that the Katraco drivers had abandoned three of their trucks in Kericho, just outside of Kisumu, and were running to safety. The trucks were bound for Nakuru to load petrol, but they never made it to their destination. A group of over 200 rioters used petrol bombs to burn the trucks, one of which had a Ugandan licence plate. Right before the trucks were burned, one of the rioters himself called Mr. Hategyeka from the driver’s phone. “Why would you want to burn the trucks?” Hategyeka asked the rioter.
“We are aware Museveni supports Kibaki,” the rioter explained, “We have heard that he is sending in troops. For that matter we are going to burn…for us we have to burn the trucks.” Most insurance companies will not cover the losses of Katraco and dozens of other affected companies, since they categorize the damage as the result of war or civil disorder.
Transport companies such as Katraco may not even be the hardest hit. Hategyeka estimated his losses to be USh 200-250 million per burnt truck, but Ugandan importers and exporters are facing even greater costs the lack of secure transportation has caused a backlog of containers at the Port of Mombasa. According to Mr Dennis Rukundo, the Operations Manager for a transport company based in Mombasa, traders are allowed 14 days to remove their goods from the port. On the fifteenth day they begin paying demurrage fees — $40 per day for a 20 foot container and $80 per day for a 40 foot container. Rukundo says the Kenyan government waived demurrage fees from December 25, 2007, to January 3, 2008, but if containers were not cleared by the 3rd, traders were required to pay the fee for the days included in the waiver and any additional days.
Many traders were unable to remove their goods from the port in January due to the lack of safe transport. While Rukundo says the congestion at the port is improving, as of last week no Ugandan registered vehicles were moving on the road for fear of being attacked and burned. The shortage of transport has also increased the cost. Previously, traders paid $3000 per truck travelling from Mombasa to Kampala. They now pay $3900 per truck and Rukundo says the cost may rise even higher. In addition, some transporters are charging up to $480 per truck in extra surcharges to cover the risk of transport.
But if traders think their costs are high now, wait until March comes. Rukundo says the Kenya Revenue Authority is increasing their port fees from $200 to $600 per truck. And that’s not all – traders will have to pay an application fee of $1000 and buy a bond of $3000 before they are even allowed to pay the $600 fee. These fees, however, only apply to trucks carrying transit cargo, not to local trucks, which means Ugandan traders are at a disadvantage.
With Kenya’s future uncertain and with rising costs at the Port of Mombasa, will Ugandans take their business to the Port of Dar es Salaam? “We tried,” explained Ssekiito, Chairman of the Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA), “The minimum cost there per container was $4000. It was not practical.” The road from the Port of Dar es Salaam to Kampala is also much longer than from Kenya’s coast, nearly 2000km compared to about 1250km from Mombasa, and can be nearly impassable at times according to Hategyeka.
As traders face high costs and risks, Ugandans will no doubt be feeling the pain in their pocketbooks, if they are lucky enough to find the goods they are looking for at all. “If you go to Nakasero market,” says Ssekiito, “you find that some of the stores are empty.” Grain, consumables, and construction materials are all harder to come by and increasing in price. Ssekiito cannot say whether the situation will get better before it gets worse. “All this will depend on the involved stakeholders, the involved politicians. If they are promising good news, the prices will automatically start coming down. Most of the problems we suffer are a result of perception…In a market structure where the forces of demand and supply are dictating the price it is hard for us to say whether they are coming down or up. It all depends on the perception.”
In the meantime, traders like Hategyeka and others are growing impatient and seeking the assistance of the government of Uganda. Katraco has appealed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for assistance in retrieving its trucks. Yet as of last week, ministry official and Head of East African Affairs, Julius Kagamba, could not guarantee the safe retrieval of the trucks. Hategyeka and others feel the government should be taking more decisive steps to protect Ugandan businesses.
As a landlocked country, Uganda is necessarily dependent on its neighbours for the import and export of goods. Unfortunately, the current crisis Ugandan businesses now face appears to be a case of placing too many eggs in one basket – the Northern Corridor. “For some time government has not minded about putting in place infrastructure for the Central Corridor,” says Ssekiito. “We even had a place provided for us at the Port of Dar es Salaam for Uganda particularly, but we didn’t use it because this [Northern Corridor] was shorter…We only forgot that you can’t take things for granted. You need to have options…Every avenue must be developed ahead of time such that we are prepared.”
A large part of this abovementioned necessary infrastructure is the road network. According to the Road Agency Formation Unit (RAFU), there are a number of projects underway to widen and improve roads throughout Uganda. Unfortunately, current funding does not allow for roads to be widened to double carriage capacity. In addition, according to Dan Alinange of RAFU, there is no coordinating body orchestrating road construction across countries in the East African community.
Kenya’s fever may have subsided in recent weeks, but Ugandan businesses will likely be in their sick beds for some time longer. Perhaps this should be a lesson in the value of preventative care. Immunization – that is, investing now in alternative routes and working together with the larger East African Community to improve infrastructure in the region — may prove far less costly than the inevitable treatment that will be required after the next outbreak of political upheaval.

Melina Platas
The Independent

Bush in Africa

Uganda’s absence on President Bush’s itinerary last month came as a shock to few. While the U.S. president’s first trip to Africa in 2003 highlighted his commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS, primarily through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), his most recent trip appeared to serve to highlight a wider array of his programs, particularly the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The MCC, established in 2004, provides grants to countries with the goal of reducing poverty by promoting good governance and economic growth. Uganda was widely heralded a “success story” in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and an example of the success of PEPFAR, but it has been less of an example for the MCC.
The MCC, for which Bush has requested $2.22 billion in the 2009 budget, is operating in several African countries, including four of the five countries Bush visited on his most recent visit. Benin, Tanzania, and Ghana already hold MCC compacts, for which Uganda has not yet qualified. Uganda signed an agreement for a two-year, $10.4 million MCC Threshold Program last March, focusing primarily on decreasing public-sector corruption. The MCC also issues a scorecard that is a major factor in determining if a country is awarded a compact. Uganda received a failing score on two out of the 17 measures – Political Rights and Girl’s Primary Education Completion. Uganda will likely become eligible for a much larger grant through an MCC compact only if the threshold program is successful and if improvement is seen in the two failing indicators. Liberia is the one country on Bush’s itinerary that does not hold either an MCC threshold or compact agreement. It is, however, also the only African nation that has offered to host Africa Command (AFRICOM), a body headed by the US Department of Defense and currently based in Germany.
While in Tanzania, Presidents Bush and Kikwete signed a compact for the largest project in the history of the MCC, nearly $700 million over five years to improve rural roads and the Mafia Island airport. Another major deal was made in Rwanda, where President Bush and President Kagame signed the United States-Rwanda Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), which provides legal protections for American and Rwandan investors. It has been nearly ten years since the U.S. last signed such a treaty with an African nation. According to President Bush, “It reflects our shared commitment to systems of fair and open investment. It will bring more capital to Rwanda’s dynamic and growing economy.”
The trip was also an opportunity to announce the addition of five investment funds, mobilizing $875 in capital by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). Other involvement on the continent by the Bush administration includes securing the international agreement on the Multilateral Debt Initiative, which has reduced $34 billion in debt to African countries; extending of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA); the Africa Education Initiative (AEI), which provides $600 million to increase access to basic education; and the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), which provides $1.2 billion to reduce malaria deaths by 50 percent in 15 African countries.
Though Uganda is no longer the poster-child for U.S. development projects (or good governance) in Africa, the shifting nature of U.S. interests on the continent may mean that the country remains a significant player, corruption scandals and poor governance ratings notwithstanding. In public the U.S.’s strategic interest in Africa often takes a backseat to self-congratulation on American contributions to humanitarian causes. This was perhaps most obvious in Bush’s Washington send-off speech, “I’m going to witness the generosity of the American people firsthand,” he said, “It will give me a chance to remind our fellow citizens about what a compassionate people we are.” Although this is undoubtedly the pat-on-the-back some Americans want to hear, cutting through the compassionate conservative pontificating also reveals the increasing emphasis of US involvement in Africa for the purposes of American national security.
“We’re treating African leaders as equal partners,” Bush stated upon his return to the US. “We expect them to fight corruption, and invest in the health and education of their people, and pursue market-based economic policies. This mission serves our security interests – people who live in chaos and despair are more likely to fall under the sway of violent ideologies.” The transition away from primarily humanitarian-based assistance may be likely in the coming years. A 2007 independent task force report, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, stated that under a “business-as-usual” approach to US-African relations, “The ability of Africa to resist terrorist infiltration and extremist appeals will be weak; stability and corruption in the energy-producing states will be a cause for public concern, as well as a threat to predictable production; and U.S. influence will decline.”
If the U.S. does indeed move away from primarily humanitarian involvement and adopt a new approach to U.S.-African affairs how will Uganda be affected? If the government of Uganda continues to be viewed internationally as increasingly undemocratic, it is unlikely the incoming U.S. President will be eager to make high profile visits to the country, but more tacit relationships may remain. However, if the U.S. can find a more reliable regional partner, Washington-Kampala relations may be more seriously compromised in the days to come.

Melina Platas
The Independent

So you think you can tell a Muganda from a Munyoro?

Tribalism is the hot topic of the day, from who has which land rights to who controls the budget. Is Museveni favoring Westerners? Have Northerners or Easterners been left with mere crumbs of the national cake? One’s ethnicity may play a role in determining one’s opportunities for advancement or economic prosperity, but do you really know who is from where and belongs to which tribe?
It is often assumed, both on the street and in the Ivory Towers of academia, that ethnicity is clear-cut and ethnic groups are easily identifiable. But how true is this assumption? If you see a man on the street, with how much certainty could you guess which “tribe” or ethnic group he is from? What if he spoke a sentence in Luganda? A sentence in his native tongue? Told you his family name? Would you be able to correctly identify the part of the country from which he originated? If he were pretending to be from another group, would you be able to call his bluff? These are precisely the sorts of questions a team of political scientists from universities across the U.S. set out to answer here in Kampala in 2005.
The study, carried out by Professors James Habyarimana, Macartan Humphreys, Daniel Posner, and Jeremy Weinstein, involved 300 subjects from the Mulago-Kyebando area of Kampala. The demographic distribution of the subjects roughly mirrored the distribution found in the population of Mulago-Kyebando, with the largest groups represented being the Baganda, Banyankole, and Bafumira. Subjects participating in the study were shown either a photo or a video of another subject and provided with varying levels of information about the person. At the lowest level of information, only a headshot was provided; at the highest level, the person greeted the camera in their primary language and also revealed their family name. The subject then tried to correctly identify the ethnic group from the individual came. In some cases, the subjects being filmed were asked to pretend to “pass” as a member of another group.
What were the results? It seems identifying one’s tribe may not be as simple as it seems. On the whole, subjects from a given ethnic group would miscategorize someone from their same ethnic group 33 percent of the time. They would miscategorize someone from a different group 65 percent of the time. Additionally, those from certain groups, such as the Baganda, were nearly always correctly identified while others, such as the Bakiga, were frequently confused with another group (namely the Banyankole in this case). There were varying levels of the extent of errors of exclusion across groups, with Baganda subjects failing to identify fellow Baganda 30 percent of the time, while Banyarwanda failed to recognize fellow Banyarwanda 76 percent of the time. There were also significant errors of inclusion – Banyankole subjects thought Bakiga were actually fellow Banyankole 44 percent of the time, and Baganda subjects thought Bunyoro were fellow Baganda 35 percent of the time.
The authors note that the variation of people in ability to correctly identify or “pass” as someone from a different ethnic group “has substantive implications for collective action within and between groups. It suggests one reason why collective action may be easier for some ethnic groups than for others. If identifiability is imperfect, then the ability of groups to police their members will be weakened and the advantage that ethnic groups have for collective action…will disappear.” Could this partly explain why some groups have coalesced and succeeded in promoting their own interests while others have failed?
In any case, the study calls into question the meaning of ethnicity. What role does ethnicity or “tribalism” play in society if one cannot reliably identify the ethnic background of others? What does it mean for a society if some groups can more readily identify their own members than can other groups? Could the failure of minority groups to identify co-ethnics place them at an even greater disadvantage than they already face by limiting their possibilities for collective action? The answers to these questions, while elusive, may prove enlightening in explaining the development and predicting the future of Ugandan society. In the meantime, think twice before you are sure you can tell a Muganda from a Munyoro.

Melina Platas
The Independent

Kenya as an example

“For all its flaws, an example to others,” announced the headline on Kenya in a December 2007 issue of The Economist. Less than two months later, the Kenya it depicted as “a haven of stability and prosperity in eastern Africa,” no longer exists. In its place is a country where ethnic conflict has taken on a life of its own, with violence increasingly detached from the political strife with which it began. The speed at which Kenya’s social fiber has come unraveled has both Kenyans and the international community scrambling to de-escalate tensions that have become primarily ethnic in nature.
As we are inundated with images of men sharpening pangas in the street, of the bloody limbs they have hacked, of bodies strewn about, we are reminded of recent ethnic conflicts such as that of Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia. What explains this so-called ethnic violence, what are its ramifications, and what can be done to prevent it? On the face of it, defining ethnic violence seems fairly straightforward – it is violence that occurs between ethnic groups. What is less clear is explaining how and why these ethnic groups come to be defined as such and where and when violence will occur.
In some cases, ethnic groups are fabricated for political purposes, as was arguably the case in Rwanda during and post-colonialism. In others, like Kenya, groups of people are in fact distinct. But the cohabitation of culturally distinct peoples is not a necessary and sufficient condition for ethnic conflict. Observers often argue is that historical animosity or “ancient hatreds” explains violence between ethnic groups. Such primordial explanations, however, have little predictive power. Furthermore, they do not explain how or when people choose to organize themselves according to ethnicity as opposed to another aspect of their identity.
In Kenya, as in many countries, ethnicity has been used in recent history for political and economic leverage. Under presidents Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki, certain groups were favored in the distribution of the national cake. Professors of Economics Paul Collier of Oxford and Stephen O’Connell of Swarthmore College cite Moi’s Kenya as a classic example of ethno-regional redistribution. Under Moi, the telecommunication and other industries were used for the economic benefit of the Kalenjin, the core of Moi’s political base. Kibaki, for his part, appointed members of the Kikuyu, Meru, and Embu ethnic groups to top ministerial positions within the ministries of finance, justice, and internal security. Despite Kenya’s impressive economic growth under Kibaki, many non-Kikuyu feel the Kibaki government has favored its Kikuyu political base.
Even given this history, however, one could not have predicted with any certainty when or where ethnic conflict would occur in Kenya. It is not the existence of distinct ethnic groups as such that results in ethnic violence. It is, I would argue, politicians or elites’ manipulation of these ethnicities to wield political power that has the potential to throw a stable country into genocidal chaos. It appears that Kibaki and Odinga used ethnicity as a political tool, one that has caused a domino effect over which they now have little control.
While violence began primarily as a means to express legitimate anger over a fraudulent election, there are now other factors also at play, including opportunistic thuggery. Stanford University professors James Fearon and David Laitin explain that if thugs or gangs engage in ethnic violence with ulterior motives unrelated or only indirectly related to ethnicity, such as looting or land grabbing, “processes begin that leave moderates in the group little choice but to follow a similar path. By initiating tit-for-tat sequences, thugs bring about the construction of more antagonistic group identities, making it rational to fear the other group and see its members as dangerous threats.” It is in this way, perhaps, that Kenya has now spiraled widely out of control. The looting and gang violence have now created a legitimate threat to the Kikuyu, who have responded violently in kind. In short order thousands of ordinary Kenyans are fleeing for their lives. How then to stop Kenya from slipping further down the path toward its own destruction – social, economic, and political?
Unfortunately, the more time that passes means not only more loss of life, but also more difficulty in returning to normalcy. Lehigh University professor Chaim Kaufmann argues that, “in ethnic wars both hypernationalist mobilization rhetoric and real atrocities harden ethnic identities to the point that cross-ethnic political appeals are unlikely to be made and even less likely to be heard…restoring civil politics in multi-ethnic states shattered by war is impossible because the war itself destroys the possibilities for ethnic cooperation.” Kenya is has not yet reached this point of no return, but it is drawing closer by the day.
It is crucial that both Kibaki and Odinga openly criticize and actively prevent further ethnic violence from occurring. In addition, both men must reach across ethnic lines and avoid the further polarization of a country already deeply fractured. Without the mutual commitment of Kibaki and Odinga to stabilize the country first and foremost, neither man can hope to run the state. Odinga’s promise of federalism, or majimbo, may be useful in easing tensions between the Kikuyu and Kenya’s historically less fortunate groups, but only if the Kikuyu are not alienated in the process.
The Kenya of today is not the Rwanda of yesterday – it does not appear ethnic violence was either orchestrated or inevitable. Nevertheless, the country has reached a critical juncture, and with each passing day of violence, a resolution becomes increasingly difficult and the societal wounds deeper. The December Economist headline remains the same, though Kenya has changed. Not only despite its flaws, but because of its flaws, Kenya should be an example to its neighbors and others around the world. Ethnicity as a political tool has a mind and heart of its own. To wield this tool, despite potential pay-offs, is to gamble with the stability of a country and the lives its citizens. Those who have taken and who continue take this gamble must be prepared to take responsibility for its consequences.

Melina Platas
The Independent