Gulu, a town in northern Uganda, is run by a municipal authority which gets most of its funding for social service provision to residents from the central government. The municipality, which considers itself the de-factor capital of northern Uganda, is clamouring for legal city status. But basic social services, such as roads, are still wanting. Moses Odokonyero spoke to Gulu Municipality’s engineer, Terence Odonga on the state of roads in his town.
Moses Odokonyero: Can you describe the type of roads that you have in Gulu Municipality?
Terence Odonga: We have three categories of roads. We have tarmac, murram and gravel. Only about 15% of our total road network is made of tarmac. Another 15% of our roads are made up of gravel. Earth road (murram) is 40%. The remaining balance is planned roads which are not yet opened. But the state of our roads is very bad although motor-able. People drive through a few potholes as they head to their homes.
MO: You say the existing roads are in a bad state. What needs to be improved in these roads?
TO: In all urban cities the ideal situation is for the roads to have tarmac because of the pressure exerted on them.
MO: So what has the municipality done to tarmac the roads?
TO: I have added 12 kilometres of tarmac roads in the last four years.
MO: But 12 kilometres in four years is not much?
TO: I know it is a short distance but at least we are moving on. The main problem has been the lack of funds. It is the cause of the slow movement in having in place roads with tarmac. And even the 12 kilometres that we have made is not first class tarmac because of the miserable funding for roads from the central government.
MO: Gulu is among the 14 municipalities in Uganda that are set to benefit from a $285m World Bank grant to improve their infrastructure. How is this going to improve the roads?
TO: That is true. [The municipality] will work on 14 roads. These will be existing roads under use but with no tarmac. We also have the Japanese Technical Cooperation that will work on water and sanitation.
MO: When will work on the roads begin?
TO: The advert calling for domestic and international firms will come out in August [this year]. The first phase of the project will take three years. The next phase will take two years. In total the road project will take a total of five years. The project will involve the construction of roads, bus parks and abattoirs but our priority in the first phase is roads. The first phase will cost around 130 billion shillings (about $50 million).
MO: What about the water and sanitation project?
TO: The Japanese Technical Cooperation (JICA), another of our partners, should have already began work now through another grant for construction of water and sanitation supplies. The work has [been] delayed because Uganda National Water and Sewage Corporation does not yet have a managing director. The World Bank says they cannot give their money if there is no one responsible for it at the corporation. The project is worth around 150 billion shillings (about $57.6 million).
MO: How will the construction of the roads benefit the residents of Gulu municipality?
TO: It will lead to an improvement of the hygiene situation. What makes the town dirty is the loose soil choking the drainage. When the drainage problem is addressed and the streets are clean people will even fear to litter the roads. The other positive development that will come with good roads is it will lead to business growth. Businesses grow when there are good facilities.
MO: What are the challenges that the engineering department is facing as it works towards improving the state of the roads?
TO: There are many and big challenges. As a municipality we do not have a good road unit. Equipment [is] also scanty. For example, we have only one grader which we got from the central government. The second challenge is money for maintaining the roads. We get only about 1 billion Ugandan shillings (about $400,000) annually for carrying out repairs. This is not enough. To do our work effectively we need about 6 billion shillings annually (about $2.4 million).
Photo: Gulu Municipality’s engineer, Terence Odonga. Credit: Stephen Okello.
This article forms part of Urban Africa’s urban reporting series.
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