Currently, it is very easy to conclude that maybe it is a curse that affects Jinja. How else would you explain the many missed opportunities and great plans that never materialize? The most recent pointer is the Uganda Support to Municipal Infrastructure Development (USMID) Main Street road project which has suffered from greed, politicking and pure sabotage from (surprisingly) Jinja townsmen. Don’t get it twisted; it’s taking shape but was almost abandoned altogether.
In pursuit for answers, the missed Coca-Cola Plant and what was supposed to be the University of Eastern Uganda came up as bold manifests of what could be some of the underlying problems the town has to deal with.
In the mid 1990’s, Jinja lost the proposed Coca-Cola Plant to Namanve, before it (Namanve) became an Industrial Park. For a long time now, word on the street has been that the loss was on the account of municipality leaders and politicians’ negligence.
“That loss was not out of Jinja leaders’ negligence,” intimated Deputy Head of Mission to the Uganda High Commission in New Delhi and former Jinja Municipality Mayor, Ambassador Mohammed Kezaala Baswari. “Its the terms set that were not favorable to Jinja at that time,” he added.
Most people might not remember but Jinja suffered three major economic blows in the decades of the 1970’s and 1980’s! The 1972 economic war declared in Tororo, which saw a mass expulsion of Indians, affected the whole country but Jinja was hit most. Almost all Indian industrialists expelled were based in Jinja and with the mass expulsion, Jinja’s economy sunk to deplorable levels. This was immediately followed by a mass exodus of the locals who used to work in the Indian-owned enterprises as they relocated to their villages.
After Amin was ousted, Uganda saw a couple of presidents take charge. In the 1980s, after having had Yusuf Kironde Lule and Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa’s short terms as presidents, the economy needed urgent resuscitation.
“In 1982/3, IMF (International Monetary Fund) introduced the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPS) to African countries that needed loans for stabilizing their economies, and, various conditions were set if any country was to qualify for these loans,” offered Ambassador Kezaala. “One of the conditions was scrapping of government subsidies!”
Jinja has since 1954 been the major source of electricity and as thus enjoyed subsidies on the electricity it consumed. The simple rationale here was that the cost of transporting power from Jinja to Jinja (pun intended) was almost zero compared to transporting the same electricity from Jinja to the rest of the country. This subsidy on electricity attracted huge industrial and commercial activity to base in Jinja.
With the subsidies scrapped under the new redemption plan, anyone in Jinja had to buy power at the same rate with the rest of the country. With this incentive gone, investors soon saw it infeasible investing in Jinja given that the town’s population had also reduced drastically. In essence, the town’s purchasing power had dropped and couldn’t be compared to Kampala, whose population and proximity to Entebbe, the only air gateway, presented a higher purchasing power. This situation drove away investment from Jinja to Kampala all through from 1982 to the early 2000s.
The IMF policies were the last nail in the coffin and in reaction, a section of the local community relocated to Kampala, Europe, USA and Asia in search of greener pastures. Those who couldn’t afford life in those locations went back to their ancestral villages while the rest who stayed became a dormitory population; they were unproductive as they simply slept and did not work. Jinja had become a ghost town!
“It was at this stage that the Coca Cola Plant proposal in Jinja was floated. The proposal however had some conditions to be met and Jinja was in visibly no condition to meet them as the economy was totally down,” continued Ambassador Kezaala. “The investor wasn’t supposed to be taxed yet the Municipality was obligated to extend water, sewerage, electricity and telephone facilities to the proposed area. The town couldn’t match up,” he added.
It was under these circumstances that Jinja lost the Coca Cola Plant to Namanve, which was officially opened by H.E. President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni on Monday April 2nd 2001.
University of Eastern Uganda (UEU)
Around 2003/5, H.E. President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni wrote and instructed both the Ministry of the Presidency and the Ministry of Education & Sports to establish the University of Eastern Uganda (UEU) in Jinja.
“The University of Eastern Uganda was not allegedly supposed to be in Jinja; It was supposed to be in Jinja,” recollects Ambassador Kezaala. “This was around 2003/5 when the President wrote to the Presidency and Education & Sports Ministries, and copied the Deputy Speaker of Parliament,” he adds trying to recollect the exact events and timelines.
“I vividly recall leading a delegation of eminent Busoga elders who met the Minister of Education & Sports in the Parliamentary Library/Presidents Office at Parliament,” beams the Ambassador as his memory of events suddenly lights up. “In attendance was the then Deputy Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, Hon. Henry Kyemba, Hon. Kirunda Kivejinja, Mr. Isababi, Mr. Tibalira Musomesa, Mr. Gulume Richard, the late Grace Nantamu and Mzee Kadoko among others. At the time, I was the Jinja Central Division Chairman,” he adds.
From our conversation with Ambassador Kezaala, Jinja lost UEU to Tororo/Busitema because the then political leaders failed to make strategic decisions
In the subsequent deliberations and engagements with different leaders after the meeting at Parliament, where Jinja was presented with a condition to provide infrastructure for the university, one section of leaders suggested Jinja Senior Secondary School to be turned into the University of Eastern Uganda while the other section suggested Jinja Municipal Council provides land for government to construct the university from nothing.
“The pro-Jinja S.S.S group argued that Jinja S.S.S. be relocated to Naranbhai Road Primary School and the pupils of Naranbahai be distributed among the different Jinja Municipal Council Primary Schools or that the lower section of Victoria Nile School be turned into Naranbhai Road Primary School,” continues Ambassador Kezaala.
The record shows that this was heatedly and logically challenged by the group that suggested finding land for the government to construct the University.
“Their argument was, 1) that Jinja S.S.S was the only government-funded secondary school in the municipality and had continuously taken on thousands of students who couldn’t afford the private secondary schools. 2) That the Naranbhai Road Primary School facilities wouldn’t suffice to accommodate the Jinja S.S.S. numbers. 3) They questioned the purpose of the University to Busoga if Jinja S.S.S. which was meant to feed it was tampered with,” adds Ambassador Kezaala.
In essence, the latter group submitted that without a stable Jinja S.S.S., the beneficiaries of the university would be students from outside Busoga but not sons and daughters of the region.
As the leaders still squabbled with such details, the far-east leadership quietly converged and made a strategic proposal to the government; strategic that they offered the idea of turning Busitema College, an already built infrastructure, to be be turned into the UEU which was the condition set by government.
“Busoga lost because we couldn’t see the simple logic that government couldn’t settle for a more expensive idea, yet our brothers in the far-east had a less expensive idea, they offered infrastructure which was already in place,” said Ambassador Kezaala in a resigned tone.
Come to think of it, if the leaders in Jinja had been foresighted and strategic, instead of Naranbhai Road Primary School, which they argued couldn’t accommodate the Jinja S.S.S. numbers, they should have thought of another school. The majority of primary schools in Jinja were built with a capacity of not less than 4,000 pupils. If you closely looked today, very few can raise 1,000 pupils.
Churches in Europe have been turned into Mosques to accommodate the growing numbers of Muslims. In the Dutch province of Friesland, 250 of 720 existing churches have been transformed or closed. The Fatih Camii Mosque in Amsterdam once was the Saint Ignatius Church. A synagogue in The Hague was turned into the Al Aqsa Mosque. What would be so rocket-science about merging schools or two schools sharing a compound to allow a university take off?
In a win-win-situation decision, the government allowed the now Tororo-based institution, now Busitema University, to have constituent colleges at National Teachers’ College (NTC) in Kaliro, Hotel & Tourism Training Institute (HTTI) at Crested Crane Hotel and Jinja School of Nursing & Midwifery on Nalufenya Road. This was intended to cool the people of Busoga who had become furious after the university went to Tororo, yet it was our leaders’ failure to make strategic decisions.
Asked where he stood in these deliberations and squabble, Ambassador Kezaala was unapologetic. “The team I headed to the initial meeting in Kampala was for relocation of Jinja S.S.S. to Naranbhai Road Primary School and the University of Eastern Uganda sets base at present-day Jinja S.S.S. The team at Town Hall were for provision of land for government to construct from nothing.”
If there’s anything that has been pointed out when indecision by the town leadership comes up, it is these two but we can now authoritatively conclude it’s the last incident. Failure by the town leaders to make strategic decisions drove away all plans of the university in Jinja.