Submitted by admin on Sun, 09/27/2020 - 08:04

HOIMA - Rugonjo trading centre has metamorphosed into a vibrant hub of business that has transformed the entire village. Located in Kabaale sub-county, Hoima district, it is no longer the dull and empty community it was a few years ago. The village is now connected to the national power grid.

Today, life has visibly improved, thanks to Hoima International Airport that is under construction by SBC (Uganda) Limited.

Some of the workers at Kabaale trading centre after work. (Photo by Hannington Mutabazi)

A tour of the village, one appreciates the change the airport project has brought.  The social life is another aspect to marvel at; residents and traders mingle freely as they go about their businesses.

The trading centre is located off Kaiso Tonya road, one of the many oil roads constructed in the Albertine Region. 

It is littered with retail shops, a couple of guesthouses and SACCOS offices among other businesses.

Locals benefiting as works at Hoima International Airport take shape

The aroma of the maize being roasted by the women on the streets helps one whit their appetite for the edible grain.

A few meters from the trading centre stands a borehole. It's complete with a shed and organized seats. Here, adults and children patiently wait for their turn to fill their jerrycans that stand colourfully in a snake-like queue.

Adults and children patiently wait for their turn to fill their jerrycans that stand colourfully in a snake-like queue. (Photo by Hannington Mutabazi)

"This borehole is a blessing. Before, we would move many miles to a well to draw water and back. It was so hectic," testified a mother of two.

However, Rugunjo is not the only village that is experiencing this transformation. Other villages such as Kabaale, Nyamasoga, and Buseruka among others are also developing because of this project.

SBC has so far drilled six boreholes for communities surrounding the airport site under their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). These are intended to help cut down on the long distances the residents usually trekked to fetch water.

Additionally, SBC has contributed handsomely to Kigaaga, Kabaale, Buseruka, Nyamasoga and Kyapaloni primary schools. The schools have been renovated and equipped with learning materials. The teachers have also benefitted from the Duke of Edinburgh's Award training.

Aside from that, Buseruka Health centre III has been furnished with beds and an ambulance for emergencies. Also, farmers continue to receive free seedlings.

Hoima counting gains

Lars Peter Jensen, the SBC area manager, affirms that Hoima district has benefitted a lot from the airport project.

Lars Peter Jensen, SBC area manager. (Photo by Hannington Mutabazi)

For example, they employ over 830 people, with 30% coming from Hoima.

"About 98% of the employees are Ugandans, 20% of them are female. We train and retrain our workers," he highlights.

Annet Kasoro, the Kabaale LC3 vice-chairperson said residents are already benefiting from the project.

"Many youths are employed there as drivers and construction workers. As a community, our schools have been renovated and boreholes constructed. Even our health centres recently got an ambulance and beds," Kasoro said.

She urged her community members to prepare to reap from the industrial park and airport by engaging in agribusiness.

Faridah Nabbanja, one of the female drivers operating a road roller. The equipment is one of the heavy machines at the construction site in Kabaale, Hoima district. (Photo by Hannnington Mutabazi)

Jackson Mulimba, one of the beneficiaries, applauds SBC for transforming his life.

"After finishing Senior Four, there was no money to continue with further education. I had lost hope for a bright future until I joined SBC," he shares.

Mulimba is among the youth from communities surrounding the airport being skilled on how to operate heavy machinery.

"They have funded my training.  I am so happy this project came to our area.  Many youths have benefitted as well," he appreciates.

Away from that, Anuragh Kalra, the SBC environment and social action plan manager, says they have a special programme to skill women employees.

Case in point, of those they employ, six are among the 208 motorized machine operators, a job that was perceived to be masculine. Similarly, other women serve as flag ladies, cooks and cleaners.

Airport is vital for oil refinery

The airport is an important infrastructure for the oil sector in Uganda. It will help facilitate the construction of the national oil refinery at Hoima and the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) to Tanga in Tanzania.

In May 2017, the Government awarded a turn-key contract to SBC to build a fully functional airport in Kabaale.

SBC is a construction company born out of a joint venture between SBI International Holdings AG (Uganda) and Colas Limited of the United Kingdom.

An aerial view of the runway under construction. (SBC photo)

The airport site is 50km away from Hoima Municipality, off Kaiso-Tonya Road in Kabaale Industrial Park. The construction commenced on April 18, 2018.

Works at 45%

According to Sharly Buchbut, the Chief Engineer, works so far are estimated at 45% completion and anticipated to be complete by February 2023.

The terminal building is going up, the 3.5km runway; taxiway and the apron are being paved.

According to Sharly Buchbut, the Chief Engineer, works so far are estimated at 45% completion and anticipated to be complete by February 2023. (Photo by Hannington Mutabazi)

The project which is worth $309m (about sh1.1 trillion) is funded by the United Kingdom Export Finance (UKEF).

Benefits of the airport to the country

Apart from it being a crucial infrastructure for the oil sector in the country, the airport comes along with more advantages. First, upon completion, Hoima International Airport will become the second airport in the country after Entebbe International Airport.

It will also employ more people in the near future.

An excavator at the construction site. (Photo by Hannington Mutabazi)

According to Jensen, 80% of the people who come to Uganda are tourists who head to the parks in Western Uganda. With the airport in place, there is more potential to attract tourists to the Western parts of Uganda.

"We have Murchison Falls National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park and many other tourist attraction sites will be easily accessed by tourists," Jensen states.

He adds that Bunyoro sub-region, which has been underdeveloped, will see a drastic change in the coming few years because of the airport.

Rollers at the construction site. (Photo by Hannington Mutabazi)

"After everything has been put together, this region will be promoted and developed," he asserts, adding: "With access to the airport, the farmers will be able to export their produce to the outside world." 

COVID-19 effect on the project

Amos Muriisa, the SBC Public Relations Officer (PRO), says that the coronavirus pandemic has negatively affected their work. For example, the site was closed down for two weeks when the lockdown was imposed.

It was only reopened after they put the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in place.

These included; mandatory social distancing, wearing of masks and putting up of handwashing facilities all over the site.