Ugandan lawmakers have rejected a government proposal to fund the construction of 200 kilometers (124 miles) of roads in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
In a bizarre arrangement, Uganda’s Transport and Works Minister Gen. Edward Katumba Wamala announced last week that the government of President Yoweri Museveni will meet up to 20% of road construction projects in Eastern Congo, an equivalent of $66.9 million.
A government spokesman further told this website that a meeting of Cabinet had authorized the surfacing or upgrading of the road from the border to Congo’s town of Beni as well as the road from the border post of Bunagana to the city of Goma.
“Cabinet has approved the construction and upgrading of the national road from Kasindi section (border) to Beni (80kms) and the integration of the Beni-Butembo Axis (54 km) to the national road,” said Uganda government spokesperson, Ofwono Opondo on September 29.
Uganda is struggling to fund the expansion of road networks within it’s borders and largely relies on loans from development partners especially China. The news has been received with shock across the country.
“There is always a first time for everything,” Minister Wamala told the country, adding that: “This is a joint project between the two countries and there is a very good reason for that.”
However, a parliamentary Budget Committee has rejected the plan. MPs raised the objections during a meeting with the minister of state for Planning, David Bahati. The Minister, together with Wamala had appeared before the committee to defend a supplementary budget worth Uganda Shillings 3.4 trillion.
About Shs 200billion in that budget is earmarked as for the bilateral road project.
He told lawmakers that regional interconnectivity projects also need to be prioritized since they promote trade, security and cooperation.
He said the project was a resolution of a bilateral agreement between the two presidents – Felix Tshisekedi of the DRC and Yoweri Museveni and a sign of warm relations between the countries.
Wamala described the project as a game changer in terms of trade and security. He said he will hand over to the committee for consideration the draft inter-governmental agreement and the draft project development agreement which are yet to be signed pending approval of funds by parliament.
Opposition MP Cecilia Ogwal protested the governments plan, saying that despite the economic value of the roads in the DRC, all the outstanding urgent roads in Uganda need to be fixed before embarking on the regional infrastructural project.
Uganda’s decision to cooperate with Congo comes amid a standoff with neighboring Rwanda, once a major export destination for grains and other produce.
Rwanda’s government closed a busy border crossing with Uganda in February 2019 in what Uganda describes as a trade embargo. Rwanda’s government ordered its citizens not to travel to Uganda, asserting that Rwandan citizens were not safe across the border.
Rwandan authorities also accused Uganda’s government of backing rebels opposed to President Paul Kagame. Ugandan officials in turn accused Rwandan state agents of operating unlawfully in Uganda, including in alleged abductions of citizens wanted back home.