By Caroline Kainomugisha
Lake Victoria is the second largest freshwater lake in the world measuring 69,500 km2. It joins Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.
One can argue that it is the greatest shared asset among the three East African Community member states.
It is just one of the many water bodies we are privileged to have as Ugandans, others include, River Nile, Lake Kyoga, Lake Albert, Lake Edward, Lake George to mention but a few.
Inland water transport is prized for being cheap, environmentally safe, efficient and adequate. The EAC, especially Uganda, needs to harness the great potential of Lake Victoria and other water bodies as a source of growth and poverty reduction, in agriculture, trade and investment and Inland water transport through efficient utilization of low cost water transport to create access to internal and external markets.
According to the World Bank, just the catchment area of Lake Victoria, defined by areas within 100 km from the Lake, holds a population of around 35 million people with an approximate Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of USD 30 billion, equivalent to 40 percent of the total GDP from all EAC member states.
Do note, this is only 100km of geographical areas depending on the lake for economic activity and then imagine the potential accrued GDP from proper utilization of Lake Victoria and other water bodies in Uganda for inland regional cargo trade and public and private passenger transport.
This is why our Government, through the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) and the Ministry of Works and Transport have embarked on reviving and improving inland water transport.
As such, UNRA is currently operating a series of ferries. Currently, UNRA operates 12 ferries namely; Sigulu ferry, Lopiro ferry, Kyoga ferry, Kiyinda ferry, Masindi port ferry, Nakiwogo ferry, and Albert Nile 1 ferry among others which are free public transport facilities.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Works and Transport is currently implementing, the Lake Victoria Maritime Communications and Transport Project which is aimed at establishing a maritime communications system for safety on Lake Victoria, including the implementation of a maritime safety coordination centre, search and rescue centers on the Lake, and produce a maritime transport strategy for the EAC.
Currently, Uganda operates only two inland ports; Port-Bell and Jinja pier. Trade on mainly Port-bell, collapsed in 2005 and trade dropped to an all-time low of about 10,000 tons of cargo annually.
However, after the revival of trade due to repairs and procurement of MV Kaawa and MV Umoja respectively in 2018, Uganda registered a total of 66,255.33 tons during financial year 2018/19 with, imports amounting to 42,333 tons and exports to the tune of 23,922 tons through Mwanza, Tanzania.
The main products in transit being fuel products and treated electric poles. It was then anticipated that the traffic potential is at least 1 million tons a year for 2020 rising to 2 million tons by 2021.
Also, in 2018, Ministry of Works and Transport in support with the World Bank developed a master plan for the rehabilitation of Port-Bell and today, Port-Bell has been expanded to an area of 4.67 hectares, has new cargo handling equipment, a new bridge for catamaran ferries, a warehouse and customs offices among other upgrades.
The actual gold mine in harnessing maritime transport actually falls in the hands of the private sector. Lake Victoria alone has 985 islands with over 200 islands in Uganda.
Amos Wekesa, a mogul in the tourism industry, owner of Great lakes Safaris and Uganda lodges ltd, recently made a case for upcoming exquisite private transport companies like Nyanza waterways and Brovad sands on twitter.
In the thread, he narrated how the two are changing the landscape of private water transport.
I happened to use a boat on Lake Victoria last week, and it was the only boat on the shore at the time, I had no options to choose from. So, the market remains largely untapped by the private sector and yet it is a necessary forward linkage to growth in the tourism sector.
The benefits range from an increase in disposable incomes, taxable incomes for domestic resource mobilization to increased GDP from both the tourism and transport sector.
This calls for strong Private Public Partnerships (PPPs) to harness the true potential of water bodies in Uganda.
The writer is a Communications officer, Ministry of ICT & National Guidance.