The minister of Finance Matia Kasaija has presented a $12m (Shs 140bn) request to parliament’s committee on the national economy to operationalise the Eco-bus project in Kampala central district.
It is proposed that special lanes will be put in place for the Eco-(sic) electric and combustion fuel-efficient buses starting at City Square in a ring road stretching to Jinja road, Nakawa, Ntinda-Bukoto, Kamwokya–Wandegeya and back to City Square.
The project dubbed Kampala City Roads Rehabilitation (KCRRP) is in line with the recently adopted National Development Plan III Integrated Transport Infrastructure Services Program whose major objective is to develop a seamless, safe, inclusive and sustainable multi-model transport system in the city.
The plan if well executed, is intended to reduce the travel lead times in the Great Kampala Metropolitan Area (GKMA) from an average 4.1 min/km to 3.5min/km.
This will be achieved by significantly investing in the rehabilitation and maintenance of the transport infrastructure. This comes at the backdrop of a city which is annoyingly congested, disorganized, heavily polluted and ultimately places a very huge cost to the ordinary traveller in terms of healthy living and the man-hours lost in grid-locked traffic jams that has come to define Kampala.
It can't be over-empathized that the overall city aesthetics and quality of life is hugely compromised by the dilapidated paved roads and sidewalks, unpaved shoulders which are all sources of the wanton mud and dust that hovers over large sections of the city.
KCCA plans to fix the problems associated with a disjointed public transport system are welcome especially now that other East African member states are already embracing the green mobility technologies. The central government and KCCA’s efforts to clean up the city also offer unique and abundant opportunities across Uganda’s nascent automotive industry value chain.
Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 global pandemic that has necessitated prolonged lockdowns by governments, it is imperative to have new thinking in the management of public affairs with special attention being directed at harnessing the available local resources to make nations self-sustaining.
The new normal going forward, will essentially entail local production of goods and services and cutting down on the country’s foreign exchange haemorrhage in imports. In his address to the Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU) e-conference last week, President Yoweri Museveni underscored the need for government to prioritize the post-Covid-19 interventions to boost the economy by supporting key nine production sectors including transport with local industry champions like Kiira Motors Corporation Ltd (KMC) taking the lead.
With Shs 400 billion, President Museveni noted the automotive industry can take off and any balance of payments support should go towards the development of local manufacturing capacity to ensure the country is competitive in terms of import-substitution and export-promotion.
The president’s vision is correct in a sense that experts have projected that the automotive industry together with the ICT sectors will be key in reviving the global economies post Covid-19. KMC has over the years demonstrated that Uganda has the capacity and capabilities to produce cars locally.
Already, two validation executive 12-meter Kayoola electric buses have been produced by the company at the UPDF’s Luwero Industries in Nakasongola. This capacity should be leveraged by KCCA when they set out to implement the Eco bus project in Kampala.
Although it is not yet clear from where KCCA intends to source their Eco buses, it is obvious that a local partnership with Kiira Motors is not only ideal but offers a lot more economies of scale.
What Ugandans need to know is that the car just like any other locally manufactured product, has many components or parts that can be sourced locally and thus offer huge opportunities to the local parts fabrication suppliers.
A car, on average has over 30,000 parts by the time it leaves the production line and this will not be any different when KMC’s much-anticipated vehicle production plant opens in Jinja next year. Uganda has abundant minerals and other natural raw materials for car production and enterprising Ugandans should be prepared to grab these economic opportunities.
Among the available minerals include copper and cobalt deposits in the border district of Kasese, gold in the areas of Mbarara, Kabale, Kisoro, Rukungiri, Kanungu, Busia, Mubende, Hoima, Karamoja, parts of West Nile and Iron ore in Mityana. Other raw materials needed for car manufacturing like lithium can be found in Kabale, Mukono, Mbale and Mubende.
Minerals like tin, zinc, kaolin, glass and sand are all locally available. The challenge now is for the government to facilitate business-minded Ugandans to benefit from these natural resources across the automotive value chain.
There is no doubt that promotion of local automotive value chain enterprises through the Buy Uganda Build Uganda (BUBU) policy will be a very important government intervention after the Covid-19 quagmire and the KCCA Eco-bus project could be a good starting point if well handled.
The writer is a media and communications consultant/trainer and advocate of the High court of Uganda