Kampala Pothole Exhibition points at the need to adopt Chinese development Strategy

By Shemei Ndawula

In case you’ve not been paying attention, last week ushered into the Ugandan civic space a new era of online and remote protests. The satirically dubbed #KampalaPotholeExhibition; a brainchild of Ugandan cartoonist and Academic Dr Spire Ssentongo, had all the pomp and novelty of a cultural revolution with Ugandan social media enthusiasts tweeting, posting and sharing various pictures and posts about Kampala’s “endemic pothole problem”. These posts, bordering on the hilarious, concerning and shocking made the online protest viral with features even in some traditional media outlets and many of our mobile phones and computer screens were the frontlines of the protest awash with images of all natures of potholes.

Unlike the physical protests which have for long characterized the Ugandan civil agitation space with debatable results, this particular protest seems to have achieved early level success with the momentum it garnered culminating into a discussion in parliament and the President ordering the release of funds for the expeditious repair of potholes in the city.

One of the most pertinent things that stood out in the discourse is that very little foreign aid is funneled into the transport infrastructure development in Uganda. For the most part Uganda funds its own expansion, repair and upgrading of roads especially within the Kampala metropolitan area, a heavy yoke on the Ugandan taxpayer which bites even harder if you have to carry it on pothole riddled roads. Additionally, this also stunts the road construction sector because with lack of international sector benchmarks and quality controls, many roads are constructed in inefficient and unsustainable outdated ways by local engineers and the foreign engineering firms who aim to undercut their expenditure and remit higher profit margins.

This is why the Chinese development aid structure stands out as perhaps the only major infrastructure driven foreign assistance policy that focuses on building Uganda’s infrastructure portfolio to spur cross-sector development in the national economy. In the past two decades, Uganda has seen a significant increase in Chinese investment and associated diplomatic policy, with major projects including the construction of the Kampala-Entebbe Expressway, the Karuma Hydroelectric Power Station, and the Standard Gauge Railway and many other major infrastructure projects. These projects have been funded by Chinese loans and grants, and some have been actualized through Public-Private partnerships with Chinese companies which share their cutting age technology on the sites and provide the much needed employment for Ugandan workers through the local content parameters. Chinese engineers and other experts work closely with their Ugandan counterparts, sharing knowledge and expertise to help improve the quality of infrastructure projects in the country.


The diplomatic corp of the People’s Republic of China has also played a key role in the development of Uganda’s infrastructure sector with China being a major supporter of Uganda’s development agenda, and working closely with the Ugandan government to identify areas where Chinese aid and expertise can be most effective. This has included the development of a comprehensive infrastructure master plan, which outlines the key areas where investment is needed to support Uganda’s economic growth as well as linking the various economic hubs of the country with road and rail networks to kickstart this development.

An outstanding example of this would be the “Oil roads” in Western Uganda currently being constructed in the Albertine basin to facilitate the oil exploration activities that are already giving districts like Hoima facelifts and encouraging economic and social development within the region. This investment has helped to improve the quality of life for Ugandans, by providing better access to markets, healthcare, education and other multiplier effects.

Looking ahead, Uganda is well positioned to benefit from the Belt and Road project being rolled out across the African continent. This initiative, which aims to promote economic development and connectivity across Asia, Europe, and Africa, has the potential to transform Uganda’s infrastructure sector, by providing new opportunities for investment and collaboration with Chinese companies.

Chinese investment and diplomatic policy have played a critical role in the development of Uganda’s infrastructure sector, particularly in the construction of roads and other transportation infrastructure and if we are to follow its de-congestion strategy particularly by constructing more superhighways like the Entebbe Expressway and investing in alternative means of transport like the Chinese funded East African Standard Gauge Railway, the overall driving experience and road condition within Kampala will be greatly enhanced. While there is still much work to be done to address the challenges highlighted by the so-called #KampalaPotholeExhibition, the progress that has been made to date is a testament to the power of international cooperation and partnership in driving economic development and improving the lives of people around the world.

The Kampala Pothole exhibition has gone a long way to reveal the dire state of the road network within our capital and there’s a collective sigh of relief from the Citizens that expeditious action is being taken to rectify this. It is also a pat on the back for the Sino-Ugandan mutual development strategy that focuses on infrastructure development to spur economic development in the country.


Shemei Ndawula is a senior Research Fellow at the Development Watch Centre.

China-Uganda 60 years of Diplomatic Relations

China and Uganda have a long diplomatic history dating back to the post-independence era. China is among the few countries that recognized Uganda as sovereign country just days after independence. Since then, Beijing has been cooperating well with Uganda, offering Kampala support in different sectors that we cannot discuss the journey of Uganda’s socio-economic development without mentioning the role of China.

In education sector, China continues to do a tremendous work offering training opportunities to different Ugandans at different levels. By end of 2021, Beijing had offered Ugandans hundreds of undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships and over 5000 Ugandans benefited from China’s short course training opportunities covering different key areas such as agriculture, medical care, infrastructure, information and technology among others.  China is also collaborating with African universities funding research and other learning opportunities. Makerere University’s Confucius institute is among the many examples. Aware that human capital and well-educated and skilled people are essential to facilitate development of the country, one cannot discuss development of Uganda’s education sector and human capital development without mentioning China’s contribution.

In the field of agriculture, China has been playing a key role for more than 40 years. In 1973 and 1987, China invested and established the Kibimba Rice Scheme (Now Tilda Uganda) and Doho Rice Schemes which have increased rice production and provided employment opportunities to many Ugandans. Additionally, the South to South Co-operation has boosted agriculture in Mbarara, Kabale, Amuria, Wakiso, and Budaka. Agricultural technology demonstration hubs have been established in Kabale to boost horticulture. China has also been supporting fish farming by funding the construction of the Wakawaka fish landing site and the Kajjansi Aquaculture Training and Development Centre which is a national center for aquaculture research in Uganda. This has led to increased and sustained fish production.

In 2009 under the South-South Cooperation (SSC), in coordination with United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), China launched FAO-China South-South Cooperation (FAO-China SSC) and established FAO-China Trust Fund. China invested $30 million in this program to to support agriculture in Uganda. China has since been supporting this program injecting $100 million in 2015 and 2021 for phase II and phase III respectively.

During phase II of China-FAO SSC, China sent 47 agricultural experts and technicians have to train Ugandans in the same field. During the expert’s two year stay in Uganda, they trained many Ugandans and helped to improve technologies used to in farming of various crops such as rice, foxtail millet, maize, grapes, apples and cherry tomatoes, as well as animal reproduction.

In energy sector, China’s contribution in Uganda’s energy is also visible. The Karuma dam hydropower station with capacity of 600 MW which under construction in Kiryandongo District is an example of China’s contribution in Uganda’s energy sector. The project is 85% funded by China’s Exim Bank and Uganda government is meeting the remaining 15 percent. The project is being constructed by a Chinese firm Sinohydro Corporation and is expected to be completed in June 2023. Isimba power station which became operational in 2019 was also funded by with a loan from China’s Exim Bank. Karuma and Isimba hydropower plants are identified in Uganda’s Vision 2040 as key projects to Uganda’s economic development.

In infrastructure development, China directly funded US $ 350 million for the construction of the Kampala-Entebbe express highway, which is the first express highway in Uganda. The expressway is a 51km, four-lane, dual carriage toll road linking Kampala to Entebbe airport. The stated intention of the highway was to; reduce congestion and increase the commercial viability of the Greater Kampala Metropolitan area, improve mobility and reduce travel times and vehicle operating costs, and provide better access to local facilities for communities and jobs.

The expressway has helped to improve mobility and travel times to the airport. The US $ 350 million loan will be paid in 13 years and current statistics from Uganda National Roads Authority indicate Ugandans have embraced using the road with average daily passages of 20,000 which is far higher than projected daily passage which UNRA had put at 13,000 passages.  This also means daily collections have risen which is a good sign that the road can sustain itself in terms of maintenance and paying back construction loan. Indeed, Joy Nabasa the spokesperson of Egis which was hired to maintain the road collecting the toll on behalf of UNRA recently told journalists that the number of passages is increasing daily. Last month, media reports indicated that the road toll had collected 13 billion shillings in 4 months alone.

Good road network is key in transportation of goods and services which is key for development. As two Chinese say; “Better roads lead to better life.” and “Build roads if you want to get rich” with more good road network, Uganda’s social-economic growth and match to middle-income status is a matter of time.

In health sector, China continues to play a key role in supporting Uganda’s health sector. For example, as a result of good relations between the two countries, China funded the construction of China-Uganda Friendship hospital at Naguru. The hospital offers health services to people, for instance, paediatrics, gynaecology, dental, and laboratory services.

On 10th June this year, a team of Chinese medical personnel arrived in the country and will stay in Uganda providing medical services to citizens. Since 1983, China has been sending a team of doctors and experts to help work with Ugandans in extending medical serves to Ugandans.,

In the wake of COVID-19, China has supported Uganda in the fight against the pandemic. China donated COVID-19 test kits to boost efforts against the virus. Additionally, Beijing donated up to one million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

Considering the positive contribution, the two countries have witnessed over the last 60 years, it is a living a testimony that China and Uganda are good comrades, good equal partners and good brothers always working hand shoulder to shoulder with major aim of building a community of shared future and prosperity for mankind. Considering enormous opportunities that comes with this brotherly relation should be natured by people of both countries. This to happen, as a Chinese saying goes, “amity between the people holds the key to state-to-state relations,” with the bilateral relations between our countries were elevated to the level of Comprehensive Cooperative Partnership three years ago in late June 2019, our two peoples must guard these relations jealously.

Vianney Sebayiga is a research fellow at Development Watch Centre and a Student at the Kenya School of Law.



China funded Nairobi Express 93% complete.

One of Kenya’s biggest infrastructure project, Nairobi Express is set to be completion by march next year. The announcement was made by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta while inspecting the program to assess its progress where he defended Kenya’s relationship with China describing it as “mutual benefit.”

Presiding over the last girders of Kenya’s first toll road president Kenyatta announced that construction work is now 93% complete and praised contractors- China Road and Bridge Corporation for what he described as speedy work. Kenyatta added that once completed, “the road will reduce the gridlock that people have experienced and which added to the cost of doing business in the country.”

He also thanked China for supporting construction of the Nairobi Expressway, as well as other major infrastructure projects in Kenya and and the continent. “A lot of people have told us that our relationship with China is not beneficial. To them we say come, let them see a project like this. Let them see the project we have in Lamu; let them see the one we have to reduce the cost of petroleum in Kilindini and the various projects we have done to ease the life of Kenyans.”

President Kenyatta emphasised that Kenya’s relationship with China is mutually beneficial; “Our partnership with China is one that is mutually beneficial that is based on win-win and we are very grateful to the Chinese government, to the Chinese people for the support that they continue to render not only to our country but to the rest of Africa.”

China Road and Bridge Corporation is funding the highway, with the project’s contract value pegged at $668 million. On completion, the road will stretch 27km across Nairobi, and it is meant to ease traffic flows in and out of the city centre.


Seven Years of China’s Belt and Road Initiative: How are Developing Countries Benefiting?

By Ssemanda Allawi.

In 2013 – seven years ago, Chinese president Xi Jinping gave a set of speeches where he announced the proposal of the now famous Belt Road Initiative (BRI). Xi delivered the first speech about BRI during his visit in Kazakhstan, elaborating his desire and vision of restoring the ancient silk road which offered routes from Peoples Republic of China, through Central Asia to the far Europe. In October, 2013 during his speech to Indonesian parliament, president Xi announced his maritime silk road concept to Indonesians to facilitate trade and ease movement of goods and services.

In the seven years of the project’s implementation, BRI has registered considerable achievements seeing over 29 International Organisations and over 71 countries sign or joining it. This means that more than a third of global GDP and more than two thirds of world’s population are part of the project!  This means that upon completion, the project will make the world’s largest market easy to access and traverse on both road and sea which are key in transportation and mobility of goods and services.

However, this is not without critics especially from some parts of western world with the U.S leading critics of the project with claims such as lack of transparency from Chinese authorities especially its financing while others branding the project is part of what they call China’s debt diplomacy.

However, research indicates that claims of lack of data on funding of the projects are largely wrong as a number of studies and research work  have given a clear view  of funding of this project.

Critics of China and BRI project in particular have often claimed the project is too expensive and will see developing countries fall in what they call China’s “debt diplomacy” with some western capitals branding the project Beijing’s debt trap. Many of critics have always cited Sri Lanka’s Hambantota which was leased to a Chinese firm for 99 years to help repay the country’s debts. The claims that Hambantota port was seized by China are also ambiguous considering the current state of the port if compared to how its state before the Chinese firm invested in it.

Washington has also been very critical of BRI project and generally China’s funding of infrastructure development in different parts of the world claiming that many of Beijing’s clients are  pariah states

However, some of these claims seem to be political with Washington screed of China’s growing relations with the rest of the world which they see as one way of antagonising U.S’ strategic interests. A case in point is citing Beijing’s growing relations with African state of Djibouti. In 2018, U.S’ top military commander in Africa, Marine General Thomas Waldhauser told U.S’ House Armed Services Committee that China’s state-owned China Merchants Port Holdings owning shares in Djibouti’s meant that U.S military could face “significant” consequences. Djibouti is one of many countries China considers part of its Belt Road Initiative.

In regard to Beijing’s infrastructure assistance going to undemocratic states, this is largely wrong. Most of Beijing’s borrowers are democracies with countries such as South Africa, Tanzania, Brazil, Kenya, and Tanzania. Other democratic countries that that have benefited from China’s infrastructure loans include United Kingdom (UK). China is a major investor in UK’s Hinkley Point Nuclear power plant in Somerset.

Therefore, despite critics of BRI, it can be argued that the project so far is a success. Indeed, in 2019, a study by World Bank entitled; “Belt and Road Economics: Opportunities and Risks of Transport Corridors” analysed transportation projects along the BRI routes and concluded that benefits to recipient countries and the entire world would benefit from the project. In Kenya for example, as a result of Belt Road Initiative project, the country built a 470 km railway line from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi to the coastal city of Mombasa which shortened travel time from 10 hours to five, created over 46,000 jobs and helped the country’s GDP by 1.5%.

Despite the study reporting more cases of policy impediments than infrastructure impediments – such as customs delays, bureaucracy, red tape, imports tariffs and corruption which increase trade costs, the study is a proof that BRI will play a significant role toward both social and economic development of the world.

From the above and findings of this study, it is evident that improving investment climate is a key complementary when it comes to supporting and investing in infrastructure sector. This can be realised through deep trade agreements such as the proposed Africa Continental Free Trade (AfCFTA). On Global scale, agreements such as BRI, AfCFTA and the recently reached trade liberalisation agreement between China and ASEAN, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand and Japan can help to eliminate tariffs which sometimes are barriers of trade.

Therefore, critics of infrastructure development should not look at infrastructural development in lenses of competition but rather putting in place facilities to aid trade. In particular, those criticising BRI branding the project a debt trap or debt diplomacy should reconsider their exaggerated claims. For example, countries that do borrow funds from China have also on many occasions borrowed from the so-called traditional donors or World Bank, IMF as well as other private bond holders. This means these countries diversify their sources of finances and thinking that they are beholden to China is ignoring key and glaring facts.

However, whereas it is very hard to present facts of the so-called debt diplomacy, there are genuine concerns when it comes to debt sustainability especially to African countries. However, these concerns should not only be tied to borrowing from China but rather all relevant lenders. This is because, unlike domestic debt, foreign debt has to be serviced using exports and this way, there are clear limits that point at how much borrowing developing or poor countries may take and continue to thrive.

In addition, the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on global economies feared to cause recession has should serve as a warning that many developing countries may find it hard to sustain their debts. Almost all countries that were projected to continue with a positive economic growth curve before covid-19 now are IMF analysis shows these countries projections were negatively impacted by covid-19 which has caused negative impact on countries exports and affected their GDP growth and hence, raising questions if these countries can sustain their debts. Indeed, many of China’s clients in Africa are in debt distress.

Early this year, China joined G20 in offering developing countries debt relief as a way of helping countries affected by Covid-19 pandemic recover. Among countries to benefit from this plan include 40 from sub-Saharan region. Despite this effort, debt moratorium alone may not be a magic bullet for Africa and other developing countries. Debt restructuring or write-downs. The challenge is that such arrangements often are done through the Paris Club of which China is not a member. However, if China wants to write-down debts on some African countries and developing countries in general, it can since it has done it before

On the other hand, the US announced a new development finance institution, also known as U.S. Development Finance Corporation (USDFC) to compete with China in offering infrastructure funding to development countries.  Though this is a positive development, this initiate alone will not bring swiping changes. Most of developing countries prefer to use Chinese funding when it comes to infrastructure funding. Though they may look generous, traditional funders and their multinational banks prefer to fund sectors such as administration, social services and the so-called democracy promotion instead of funding the much-needed infrastructure programs. For example, at first 70% of World Bank’s funding went to infrastructure but has been reducing to recently 30% despite huge funding gaps in infrastructure sectors in developing countries.

It is important to note that developing countries are still faced with shortage of funding especially in infrastructure projects which are key for development. A study by World Bank and McKinsey Global Institute found that funding for infrastructure projects such as transport and electricity is lacking, noting that to ensure a socially inclusive development by 2030, there is need to spend more than $3.3 trillions annually of which 60% of this must go to developing countries in Africa. African Development Bank (ADB) on the other hand estimates that to meet demands of their growing population, replace aging infrastructure, African countries must spend between $130-$170 billion annually on infrastructure. Also, a 2017 study by World Bank “Why We Ned to Close the Infrastructure Gap in Sub-Saharan Africa” suggested that if these countries reduce funding gaps for infrastructure, the region’s GDP per capital will grow by 1.7% and hence. All the above shows that any infrastructure assistance to developing countries should not be underestimated and hence, the view that BRI project is a positive initiate for developing countries world over.

In conclusion therefore, as studies have indicated, BRI project has more benefits if compared with challenges it may bring. Instead of critiquing the project largely to Geo and Global politics, China’s critics especially the U.S should back the project and where possible embrace and support new trade agreements such as AfCFTA to improve trade and investment climate in developing countries than only negatively criticising funders that fund developing countries projects. Also, the U.S may champion calls to reform the The Bretton Woods institutions and offer attractive alternative funding to developing countries, reduce their anti-China rhetoric and instead participate with China whenever there are efforts to offer debt relief.


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