Chinese-built Uganda road transforms lives, boosts economy

An aerial drone photo taken on May 12, 2024 shows a section of a Chinese-built road inside Murchison Falls National Park in northwest Uganda. (Photo by Hajarah Nalwadda/Xinhua)

MASINDI, Uganda | Xinhua | For 83-year-old Yosam Kagolo, travelling on the newly paved road to nearby towns is more than just a convenience. It is a symbol of progress and opportunity.

Kagolo, a seasoned trader in the Ngwedo trading center of Buliisa district in rural midwestern Uganda, vividly remembers the challenges before the Chinese built the 159-km road through his community.

“The road is good. We easily transport our goods to neighboring towns within a short time, unlike before, when the situation was bad, especially during the rainy season,” he said, reflecting on the 67 years he’s spent navigating the local trade routes.

“We used to take a whole day traveling to Hoima, and vehicles used to get stuck on the road,” Kagolo said, referring to a town about 90 km south of Buliisa, which can now be reached in less than two hours.

The 217.9-million-U.S.-dollar Masindi-Park Junction and Tangi Junction-Paraa-Buliisa road project, funded by the China Export-Import Bank and built by China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), is not just a ribbon of asphalt. It is a lifeline connecting communities and catalyzing growth.

As 70 percent of the road winds through the vast Murchison Falls National Park, where canopies of Budongo Forest cast cool shadows upon the tarmac, it serves as a conduit for both commerce and conservation. Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) officials emphasize the meticulous planning behind its construction, ensuring minimal disruption to wildlife habitats and migratory routes.

“We want this road to exist with wildlife,” said Raymond Kato, an ecology officer at the UWA. “Before the road was made, we had to make an assessment and see where the animals will cross from. We provided animal crossing points,” he said, adding that the width of the road through the park was kept narrow to minimize land use, “so that we don’t cut a lot of trees.”

Xiong Pailiang, project manager at the CCCC, emphasized the contractor’s adherence to “green development” principles. “Through energy conservation, green supply chains, and innovative technologies, we aim to mitigate our construction’s ecological footprint,” Xiong said.

The road also holds strategic importance for Uganda’s tourism sector and its burgeoning oil industry. Jimmy Ochen, who has worked as a tour guide in the Murchison Falls National Park for the last eight years, said the road cuts travel time and improves the tourist experience.

Gone are the days of bone-jarring journeys; now visitors arrive refreshed and ready to explore, he said

A car passes by a speed sensor on a section of a Chinese-built road inside Murchison Falls National Park in northwest Uganda, on May 11, 2024. (Photo by Hajarah Nalwadda/Xinhua)

By facilitating access to Uganda’s oil-rich Albertine Graben, the road is set to become a vital artery for the East African country’s energy sector.

Since the main construction of the road was completed in May 2022, it has already been used to transport heavy equipment to the oilfields. Uganda has so far discovered 6.5 billion barrels of oil in the western region, of which 1.4 billion barrels are commercially viable, according to the country’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development.

The central bank of Uganda predicts that the oil sector will significantly fast-track the country’s development, contributing to 30 percent of its gross domestic product.

However, the road’s greatest legacy may be its human impact. During construction, over 800 locals were directly employed, receiving training and skills that continue to uplift communities long after the project’s completion. ■

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