President Museveni and visiting top Chinese communist party’s executive, Mr Wang Yang, on Friday launched completed sections of the 51.4km Entebbe expressway.
Mr Wang, who is chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, described the expressway as a “starting point in Uganda’s economic takeoff.”
“Travel time [on the expressway] will be cut from two hours to 40 minutes. I hope the road will give Uganda the wings to fly to industrialisation and Vision 2040,” Mr Wang said.
He said the road is part of China’s Silk Road belt project, the initiative to enhance connectivity from mainland China to Africa and Europe, launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013.
Mr Wang, the number four in the Chinese communist party’s politburo, was accompanied by senior Chinese government officials, who included vice president of Exim Bank. They arrived in Uganda from the Republic of Congo-Brazzaville on Wednesday for a three-day state visit.
President Museveni described the Entebbe expressway as an outcome of enhanced Chinese-African support, which includes bankrolling the Shs1.5 trillion expansion of Entebbe International Airport, and the Karuma and Isimba hydropower dams, with combined cost Shs6.7 trillion.
He urged China to deal with African countries, not as narrower regional economic groupings such as East African Community, Common Market for East and Southern Africa, Economic Community of West African States and Southern African Development Community, but as one trading bloc after the recent signing of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) treaty in Kigali, Rwanda in March.
Forty four African countries in March signed the CFTA treaty at the 18th African Union summit in 2012, to create a single continental market for goods and services.
The President also warned motorists that the expressway will remain a toll road in order to recover some of the project loan, now $479m.
He advised those who are unwilling to pay to stick to the old road.
Cost goes up
On the downside, the cost of construction of the 51.4km Kampala-Entebbe Expressway has shot up by an additional $3m (about (Shs11.45b) because of hindrances that included disputes over compensation of affected persons.
The original cost of the road project at its commencement in November 2012 was $476m (about Shs1.7 trillion) from China’s Export–Import (Exim) Bank.
But sources familiar with the matter said land-related issues, including disputes over approved land rates, and family disagreements on receiving money, have led to delayed handover of an encumbrance-free land to the contractor—China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), forcing them to claim extra money for idle time.
Idle time is non-productive time during which a contractor or and machines are still paid for due to work stoppage from any cause. In one such case, the roadwork stopped for almost a year at Bandwe Village as the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) engaged with a land owner who demanded Shs48b before CCCC and Unra could blast a rock sitting on his land through which the road was planned.
In the end, the road design had to be realigned to avoid the rock, and involved realignment of design, approval, and valuation of project affected persons in the new section.
Construction of the four-lane toll expressway commenced in 2012 with a completion date of July 2017, but this was deferred to May 2018. But this was a cost-free extension agreed upon by Unra and CCCC, although the section from Mpala to Entebbe Town, which is being widened, is yet to be completed.
Works and Transport minister Monica Azuba on Friday said: “The widening of this section from Mpala to Entebbe Town has been affected due to continuous delays in acquisition of land for the right of way.”
She said the completion date was revised to November 16, 2018, to allow the contractor finish construction of the section.