Kitgum – Kidepo Road, Kidepo Airport to boost trade, tourism in Karamoja

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Shs 450bn loan for Kitgum-Kidepo road upgrade is approved

Parliament, on Tuesday approved a government request to borrow up to Euro 110.5 million (about Shs 450 billion) from Standard Chartered Bank to finance the Kitgum-Kidepo Road upgrading project.

The 115-kilometer-long Kitgum-Kidepo Road in Northeastern Uganda serves as a vital link between the Kitgum and Kaabong districts.

The motion seeking approval was put forward by the Minister of State for Finance in charge of General Duties, Henry Musasizi, during the plenary sitting presided over by Speaker Anita Among.

Musasizi said that upgrading the road has been prioritised to promote tourism by facilitating movement of tourists visiting Kidepo Valley National Park.

“This subregion has the lowest road density of 5.9Kms of paved national roads per 1,000km2 land area,” Musasizi said.

He added that this will play a significant role in fostering the regional development of Karamoja-sub-region, which is identified as one of the most impoverished sub-regions in the country.

Karamoja-sub-region is one of the highest poverty-stricken sub regions of Uganda despite being very rich in mineral resources. Geological surveys indicate that Karamoja has over 50 different minerals, including limestone (already being mined), uranium, gold, marble, graphite, and even rare earth elements.

The Kitgum – Kidepo road upgrade has the potential to unlock the region’s economic potential, capitalize on its abundant natural resources, and uplift communities by fostering trade, investment, and broader economic integration.

Additionally, upgrading the road will not only ease movement to South Sudan and Kenya, but also improve and promote trade with the two countries.

The project will also boost tourism which is one of the best performing sectors of the Ugandan economy.

The potential of tourism remains largely unexplored, primarily attributed to insufficient tourism infrastructure, notably the inadequate road networks. Consequently, tourists often endure arduous journeys over poorly maintained gravel roads to access national parks.

KIDEPO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

The Government is in talks with the United Arab Emirates to construct Kidepo International Airport which will be Uganda’s second biggest airport after Entebbe.

The construction of Kidepo International Airport is one the government’s massive tourism growth and heritage conservation efforts to ensure the total recovery of the country’s biggest foreign earner.

The Government hopes that the airport will attract and ease movement of international arrivals.

According to the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Tom Butime, the envisioned strategy entails a significant shift in the travel logistics for international tourists. Rather than arriving at Entebbe Airport and embarking on a lengthy journey spanning hundreds of miles to reach Kidepo National Park, tourists will have the convenience of landing directly at Kidepo International Airport.

“Instead of landing at Entebbe, they [tourists] will land directly at Kidepo international airport, go to the national park, drive through Kitgum to Gulu, cross the Nile if they wish and go to Murchison Falls National Park. The tourists will then drive on tarmac to Fort portal, Kibaale, Semuliki, Rwenzori, Queen Elizabeth National Park, then to Mbarara to lake Mburo national park, and back to Kampala,” Butime said recently.

This development marks a significant step forward for Uganda’s tourism sector, which was severely impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19. The industry faced unprecedented challenges, with countries worldwide implementing total lockdowns that brought tourism to a standstill.

In the aftermath of the lockdowns being lifted, the tourism sector is showing signs of resilience, gradually rebounding to near pre COVID-19 pandemic levels.

According to the tourism industry performance report 2023, International tourist arrivals reached 1.2 million visitors in 2023, up 56.5 percent from 2022 (814,508).

Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s international tourism recovered 82.6% of the pre-pandemic levels (-17.4% versus pre-pandemic year 2019).

This means that 82.6% of international tourists that visited Uganda in 2019 have returned.

In a concerted effort to elevate the experience of foreign tourists visiting the country and to attract a greater number of international arrivals, the government has embarked on a comprehensive road rehabilitation program. This endeavor primarily focuses on enhancing the accessibility to Uganda’s prominent tourist destinations, with particular emphasis on the national parks.

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