Work has begun on a Ugandan plan to build 223km of roads in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to improve trade between the two countries.
The $330m “Regional Connectivity Roads Project” will be carried out by a Ugandan construction company called Dott Services. The Kampala-based company is an infrastructure specialist that has carried out schemes in Egypt, Kuwait, Tanzania, France and the UK.
The aim is to build three roads to improve communications between Uganda and the eastern DRC cities of Beni, Goma and Butembo, Reuters reports. Each government will contribute 20% of the cost, and the remainder will be raised by Dott.
Altogether, Uganda and the DRC plan to build or upgrade some 1,182km of road. The priorities will be an 80km highway between Mpondwe in Uganda and Beni, an 89km route between Bunagana and Goma and a 54km road between Beni and Butembo. A ceremony was held in Mpondwe in June to inaugurate the project (see further reading).
Reuters notes that Uganda is keen to increase its exports to eastern Congo which has long suffered from war and insurgency and has to import a wide range of goods, from textiles and construction materials to food and drink.
As recently as 2016, Beni was the site of a massacre that killed between 75 and 101 people, which was thought to have been carried out by Ugandan rebel group the Allied Democratic Forces. This was part of a series of attacks that have left more than 700 dead since October 2014.
An increase in Congolese trade would also help Uganda make up for revenue lost after Rwanda closed its common border more than two years ago.
The construction sites were handed over to Dott in a ceremony in Goma. Speaking at the event, General Katumba Wamala, Uganda’s minister of works and transport, said the company must stick to the construction schedule.
According to Ugandan news website Eagle Online, he said: “It is my pleasure and honour to be here and witness the site handover for this regional roads project that marks the start of the construction of three roads that connect Uganda to the DRC … I would like to call upon the contractor and consultant to be mindful of the project specifications and timelines and ensure adherence to the requirements of our two governments.”
He also appealed to Congolese citizens to support the projects, and not to steal machinery or fuel.
Lieutenant General Ndima Kongba Constant, the governor of DRC province of North Kivu, added: “When the contractor is hungry, give him food. When he is thirsty, give him water. When he needs a room, and give him a bed to sleep on. This is because they have come to not only to build roads but also to improve our livelihoods.”
The project was agreed in November 2019, during a state visit to Uganda by DRC president Felix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo.