Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Uganda's road network is kifuufu & will continue to be, for quite a while

CORRECTION: When I first published this post, I made I major , yet stupid, units error: reading & writing kilometres for metres. I have since corrected it. Moral: Never multitask internet arguments with actual writing you care about. 

Uganda’s national roads (as opposed to local roads) are some 20,540 kilometres. Of these, only 20% are covered with bitumen, or tarmac, as it’s more commonly known. That’s just 4,059 kilometers of tarmac. But of that 4,059, only about 2,590 kilometres are termed as class A roads, by the national roads authority. You can download the entire dataset (obtained from the Uganda National Roads Authority in December 2017) from  Data dot UG, an  open data portal run by ACME. Or you could explore it visually using the map below. 

Some might say that not every decent road, is a tarmac one. Yes, but even the national roads authority doesn’t grade any of the dirt roads as class A roads. Those only start at class B, a sort of, um, middle of the road classification. The worst is class C and that’s where 73% of our national roads network falls. 

I am a bit surprised by the state of affairs, honestly. Yes, I am a city bird and it shows. Even the ka road going by my muzigo is tarmac. But that’s not it. It’s just that, for years now, we’ve invested what I thought was a staggering proportion of the budget to infrastructural development. This expenditure, has been only second to general public administration itself, at least according to the latest data I could find from the Uganda Bureau of Standards.

Between July 2011 and June 2016, we spent seven trillion, four hundred thirty six billion on infrastructure. We spent some more in the subsequent 18 months, obviously.  Yet still, only 13% of our road network looks anything like those pictures Mr Don Wanyama like to share on Twitter. What would it take to do achieve more scale? Are we ever going to afford meaningful scale? 

I have heard that it currently costs about $683,000 construct a kilometre of road in Uganda. At that rate, if we wanted to tarmac all the roads that are currently considered Class C, we would need about 10.45 billion dollars for the job. That UGX 7.4 trillion shillings that I mentioned we spent on infrastructure over 5 years is like 2 billion dollars. 

Oba tubileke bulesi? Lemme me go and research examples of countries which achieved middle income status without roads. In the meantime, here rest my plans for a 'country home.' I have allergies, banange. 

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