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On the road to opportunity

FILE PHOTO: Kampala Flyover under construction

How national roads empower Uganda’s labour force through experiential learning and training

COMMENT | ANGELA NDAGANO | It’s 1 pm, and the Kampala Flyover Project construction site buzzes with activity. The air is filled with the sounds of clanging metal and thumping machinery. Workers in safety gear move about quickly and purposefully, like busy ants. The constant noise of power tools echoes in the air. In the distance, a traffic steward gestures traffic towards the usable side of the road. In the midst of all this organised chaos, a bridge is taking shape, bringing together not only the physical but also the hopes and dreams of a city eager for progress.

The project, a major infrastructural undertaking by the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), aims to address traffic congestion in Kampala. With it, numerous opportunities for Kampala’s workforce have come.

Grader operator, Laban Twesigeomu, is just about to take his lunch break, grateful for the project’s steady employment. “The best thing about working on such projects,” he reflects, “is that you have job security for as long as the project lasts. As long as you do your work well,” he quips, wearing a wide grin. “I’m able to save money and take care of myself.”

Joel Masereko, a mechanic, shares similar sentiments. With a genuine smile, he takes a moment to share his thoughts, “The skills you acquire from these projects are invaluable,” he continues to speak of his dreams, painting a picture of a better future for his family.

According to UNRA, the Kampala Flyover project employed 530 people on average, while creating training opportunities for 120 people. The national roads development programme employs over 20,000 staff directly.

In addition, projects such as this are a hub for indirect employment. Rahma Zawedde, who operates a juice and soda stand near the Kampala Flyover Project site, is a perfect example of the project’s reach. “Before the project started,” she explains, “I only served soda and juice to the Muslim community in this area, but now I also serve the workers on the construction site. This upsurge in sales has pushed me to re-organise my business and get a certificate from the Kampala Capital City Authority.”

The road sector is one of the largest employers in the country, providing jobs for both skilled and unskilled workers. The construction and maintenance of roads require a wide range of skills, including engineers, surveyors, drivers, mechanics, labourers, and many others. Beyond the project lifecycles, the development of a road network stimulates economic growth, creating indirect employment opportunities in industries such as transportation, tourism, and trade.

Construction projects provide experience and invaluable training opportunities to their staff. With a keen eye on the future, UNRA thoughtfully provides training to its staff aimed at equipping them with the skills and knowledge necessary to become job creators beyond their tenure with the organisation.

One such success story is that of Musinguzi Begumisa, an engineer with expertise in civil engineering, contract management, geo techniques, and materials engineering. He left UNRA to start his private consultancy firm, successfully running four companies.

Reflecting on his time at UNRA, Begumisa speaks of the organisation’s exceptional standards and invaluable exposure, afforded to him by working alongside top-notch engineers in the country. He hails the networking opportunities available to both young and experienced engineers, all working together in one place. Begumisa credited UNRA for opening the world to him and helping him acquire invaluable skills and knowledge in navigating different government systems and protocols.

“Working at UNRA was one of the biggest highlights of my career journey,” Begumisa shared. “I learned leadership skills from the top management. It positioned me to shine as a young engineer and propelled me into the professional workspace for visibility and eventual contribution to the development of my country.”

Begumisa’s story is just one of many examples of the significant impact of such training programs.

As a flag bearer for promoting local content in public procurement, the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) is leading the way in boosting Uganda’s job creation and economic growth. By prioritising local companies and suppliers, UNRA is creating more opportunities for Ugandan workers, who are more likely to be employed by local companies. This approach has already yielded impressive results, such as in the oil infrastructure project, where over 40 local contractors have been engaged to improve their capacity and capability in civil works-related tasks and to manage similar works in the future.

In fact, out of the $535 million being invested in the oil roads infrastructure project (funded by Exim Bank), local contractors have already absorbed $115.96 million over the last four years, representing 21.6% of the total investment. In addition, local consultants, alongside UNRA, supervised the works implementation.

According to a 2019/20 report by the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) in Uganda, road construction and maintenance have consistently been among the top sectors in the country in terms of employment creation. The report also notes that road construction projects, particularly those in rural areas, significantly impact local employment and income levels. Currently, nine ongoing national road Maintenance projects are directly employing 2,442 people, through labour-based activities by the communities or local contractors implementing the mechanized maintenance programmes.

Road development has a ripple effect on the economy, facilitating trade, reducing transport costs, and connecting remote areas to markets for healthcare, education and much more. This, in turn, creates more job opportunities and improves Ugandans’ living standards.

For example, according to the World Bank, transport costs in Uganda have fallen by 20% since 2010 due to the improved road network, making it easier and more affordable for businesses to transport goods across the country. The improved road network has also led to increased trade within the East African region. Today, one can drive across the country from one border in the south to another in the north in just 7 hours.

Fortunately, the government’s commitment to paving the road network has been commendable, with an average of 252km of roads being paved each year. Currently, 5,997.5km of the network is paved, with a target to increase the stock of paved roads by 2,150 kilometres to 7,500 kilometres or 37% of the national road network by June 2025. This target is expected to create even more road construction and maintenance employment opportunities.

Behind this are the stories of people like Laban, Joel, Rahma and Andrew. Some of the major beneficiaries of road development are the Ugandans who provide their labour, each with their unique capabilities, to harness the opportunities created. They serve as a reminder that every road construction project has the power to transform lives and strengthen a Nation, either by participating in the construction value chain or using the finished road.

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The author works with Uganda National Roads AuthorityCommunication Specialist

Angela Ndagano

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