Oil sparks roads upgrade
With Uganda poised to commence the development of its oil and gas resources, government is working emphatically to improve its road infrastructure to accommodate the massive influx of cargo into the country.
Last week, the junior Minister for Works and Transport, John Byabagambi, told delegates at the Uganda Mining and Energy Conference in Kampala that several roads in the oil-rich Albertine Region have either been repaired or resurfaced since 2007, while others are still under construction.
“We have worked on a lot of roads connecting to the Albertine basin,” he said,
“The Fort Portal-Bundibugyo-Semliki road is ninety percent complete. We have already advertised the Masindi-Kigumba-Hoima-Kabwoya road (135 Km) and we are putting up a bid very soon with funding from World Bank for the Kabwoya-Kyenjojo road,” he added.
In a phone interview with Oil in Uganda, the Head of Corporate Communications at the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), Dan Alinange, revealed that UNRA plans to upgrade up to 500 Km of road in the Albertine Region to tarmac.
In addition to the Kampala-Busunju-Hoima road which was completed in 2009, the other roads that will be upgraded are Kyenjojo-Hoima-Masindi-Kigumba (238 Km), Masindi-Bukakata (under design) and the Hoima-Wanseko (111 Km).
Beyond the Albertine
The country’s major highways and bridges, particularly those leading to border crossing points on the Kenya and Tanzania borders, will also need reinforcing.
Many industry players have expressed concern about the capacity of Uganda’s roads to transport the massive cargo that will be needed to set up oil infrastructure in the country.
According to Tullow Uganda’s General Manager, Jimmy Mugerwa, about 850,000 tonnes of cargo will be moved into the region from the coast to kick start oil production.
A senior manager in a major international logistics company that ships oil and gas rigs around the world told Oil in Uganda last year that Uganda’s roads and highway bridges were utterly inadequate to support such volume and weight.
Mr. Alinange agrees, but downplays the gravity of the problem.
“Of course some of these roads are weak,” he says. “But this does not mean they are too weak to support cargo, they have always been used to carry heavy loads successfully,” he argues. “For now, all the existing roads are good enough to transport heavy loads.”
He adds that of the more than 400 bridges in the country, only about 20 of them are big enough. “We are upgrading and renovating the big bridges and we are planning to re-build the Jinja bridge on the River Nile.”
Water and air alternative
Water and air transport is also being looked at as a viable alternative and plans are underway to set up the necessary facilities.
“Air transport is one of our major concerns in growing the transport sector in the oil region. We have just signed an agreement with a private developer to expand the Kabaale airfield (Hoima District) starting next year,” revealed Byabagambi.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Public Affairs Manager, Igne Igundura told Oil in Uganda that studies were underway to establish the viability of upgrading the airfield to an airport.
“An inter-sectoral team is studying the location and the cost effectiveness of having another airport in that area and the possible commercialisation of the airport to serve other sectors like agriculture and tourism besides oil,” he said.
“The study will establish how viable it is, whether a runway can fit in this space and to find out if it will be self-sustaining,” he added.
Water transport is also being considered as a cheaper and quicker alternative to ground transport.
According to UNRA, there are plans to rebuild the defunct Butiaba port on Lake Albert.
Currently, there are five ferries operating in the country; four on Lake Victoria and one on Lake Albert connecting Wanseko (Buliisa) and Panyimur (Nebbi) fishing villages.
Some private players have also been attracted by the lucrative water transport industry and are currently transporting huge cargo for some of the service companies in the Albertine Region across Lake Albert.
According to Igor Markov, of the Semliki Rift Trading Company that operates a cargo boat on the lake, water transport is both cheaper and less risky.
“To connect from Wanseko to Panyimur in West Nile, it takes one and a half hours and 100 litres of fuel. Trucks take about two days on the road (for the same distance) and consume more fuel,” he notes.
Markov further observes that Lake Albert is particularly suitable for cargo vessels because it is has a uniform depth all along, ranging between 40 and 85 metres.
“Last year, we crossed tens of earth moving equipment, graders and bull dozers between Panyimur and Wanseko,” he said.
He encouraged government and the private sector to build landing sites that can accommodate bigger vessels and heavier cargo.
Report by FN