Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | Why don’t Ugandan roads last? Experts say shoddy work is the major reason, even when funds are in most cases available.
In Kampala, roads become impassable, especially after heavy downpour—no motorist wants to drive through a lake filled with brown water.
In Bududa and Manafwa in Eastern Uganda a couple of weeks ago, taxi drivers went on strike over the impassable condition of the roads in their districts.
In Limu, residents reportedly planted cassava in one of the bad roads there as a sign of disgust.
Back in Kampala, city residents are worried after the roads continue to be eaten up by potholes. Confusion looms after the City Mayor Nasser Ntege Sebaggala objected to a proposal by the Works Minister Engineer, John Nasasira, to have the city roads under control of a new team to be established in the ministry.
In July 2008, when Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) took over the road network management, it launched an operation dubbed “Operation No Potholes” in order to repair and expand the national road network.
Uganda has a road network of 10,820 kms designated as national roads, 23,000 kms designated district roads, 2,800 kms designated as urban roads and 3,000 kms of community roads, making a total of 39,620 km of all classified roads in the country. In this year’s budget speech, 1.1 trillion shillings were injected in the road sector with the intention of improving transport and business in the country.
So given all that, why is it that even after roads are completed they seem to last only a few months before cracks and potholes begin to appear?
The Roads Authority Communications Manager Dan Alinange says that the “Operation No Potholes” has been largely successful although more potholes are developing after others have been sealed.
“We have done great, although it is a continuous process as many of the roads have outlived their life span,” Alinange added.
It is estimated that to build a kilometer of first class road costs approximately 500,000 USD, a figure which could even as high as one million USD on hilly terrain.
The Roads Authority experts say it is possible to have good roads built but it is also very expensive.
Alinange claims that sometimes the degraded roads are due to shoddy work by some contractors, while in other cases, they are due to the fact that the road has outlived its lifespan. For tarmac roads there is a provision that every after seven years a new layer of tarmac should be laid over the worn out surface.
“The average life span of a road should be 15 to 20 years and it should be redone. But depending on the scarcity of funds, we have some roads being repaired constantly,” Alinange explained.
Even the lifespan of Ugandan roads dwindle, it is evident that the increasing traffic on the roads exerts more pressure on them, especially as the collapse of the railway network has shunted the country’s heavy cargo off the rails and onto the tarmac.
Alinange says it takes effort to maintain a road to last.
“If there is good drainage, then a road with that will last longer than one without any drainage system,” he said.
Other factors contributing to the reduced life span of some roads is the shoddy work and lack of competence or capacity attributed to some of the local companies contracted to do the repairs.
“Road construction is an expensive venture where one must have the capital and enough equipment to do, which many local firms do not have,” explained Alinange.
However, he commends government for setting up the authority which has supervised the construction, repair and upgrading of many roads in the country despite limited resources.
Yet an independent analysis from one of the Senior Engineers of the Uganda Institute of Professional Engineers, who preferred his name not be mentioned, differed from the upbeat stance taken by the UNRA.
On why some unqualified companies get contracts, he says there are some companies that have been there for long and know how to beat the procurement system.
“Some companies front certain qualified engineers in the tendering process and after winning the tender, they decided to do the job without the listed engineers,” he said.
The law requires that for anyone to undertake an engineering job, one must have a license right from the technicians. The consultant added that some companies are in the process of improving, although engineering activities in Uganda still have a lot to be improved on.
“What we have in Uganda today are many engineers practicing without licenses which is wrong. People should get registered immediately after they finish school and go through a mentoring program under the supervision of a registered engineer,” he added.
On what a standard road should be, the consultant says that it should have the right quantities of mixture, the right temperature when setting, as well as quantified finishing.
“You do not just get bitumen and put it on the road. You have to compact it to the required standard and get it well done,” he explained.
Asked which is the worst road network, the consultant cited the Kampala City roads as a ‘disaster’ and the worst.
“These roads are bad from their geometrical designs, accessibility by human traffic and motorcycles/bicycles. I tell you there is a disaster for Kampala City,” he added.