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Chinese footprints

By Fredrick Mugira (People's Daily Online)

09:46, April 27, 2013

One of the newly acquired Chinese graders grading road in Sheema district of Uganda.(Photo/ People's Daily Online)

In June 2012, China provided road equipment to the Ugandan government worth US$106 million U.S. dollars. The 159 graders, 257 tipper trucks, 12 wheel loaders, six dozers, seven excavators and two low loaders were the first batch of a 40-year soft loan, to be repaid within 40 years, with a 10-year grace period. The equipment is helping 111 districts and 22 municipalities to fix roads in the rural areas faster, as Fredrick Mugira found out in the rural district of Sheema.

Karera is a small village in Sheema district, 400 kilometers south of Uganda’s capital Kampala. Flavia Nalongo is a famous woman in Karera. She is a farmer and jack of all jobs in the village. Yet it is not her activities that make her well-known. It is rather because of her ability to ride a bicycle.

Everyone in her village knows the story of how Flavia carries bunches of bananas on her bicycle through rough roads for sell in far off markets.

I met Flavia in Karera after a very long day of travelling on rough roads. And of course packed way too many people in the taxi.

I thought five adults excluding the driver was rough for a small saloon taxi with permanently locked behind glass windows. But we picked three more including a woman on our way.

We drove from Nyakabirizi in Bushenyi. Climbed steep rocky hills. Meandered around them, slopped and then climbed again. Buhweju district! We arrived.

Then we drove back using another rough road. Three people in front and five behind. Jam-packed with the driver and two other adults in the front seat. I had a front seat view of the road full of gullies. We hurtled down the hills so fast that even the driver nearly lost control of the taxi at one time.

I had travelled to the mountainous district of Buhweju district to trace for Chinese footprints. I am talking about the Chinese road construction machines distributed to all districts in Uganda in June 2012.

Yes, they were there but not in use. Just packed. Reason? Buhweju is a hilly and rocky district. The machines are meant for light grading. They can’t blast those rocks. So I decided to go to the neighboring district of Sheema. This is where I found the famous Flavia Nalongo riding a bicycle with three bunches of bananas on the carrier.

She had beads of sweat formed on her forehead. Nether-the- less, a faint smile played on her face as she stopped to greet me, with her bicycle learning against her backsides. Her blouse was soaked with sweat. My interruption helped her take a short break.

The reason several beads of sweat formed on Flavia’s face was not the heavy load she was carrying. It was rather the rough Kabwohe- Kitagata road she was riding on. “All I need to carry out my business easily are good roads,” she said as her smile broadened.

“Farmers are not able to sell their produce directly to buyers because potential buyers fear coming to villages due to bad roads. We now end up being cheated by middle men who buy from us cheaply,” Flavia further narrated as she glanced at me with the corner of her yes while pushing her bicycle casually and I walked alongside her.

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