Kagitumba, a hero almost forgotten

Friday February 20 2015

EAC Minister Valetine Rugwabiza studies the

EAC Minister Valetine Rugwabiza studies the workplans. PHOTO | MOSES K GAHIGI  

By MOSES K GAHIGI

Construction of one stop border post at Kagitumba is expected to bring to life business activities in the town where liberation of the country began 20 years ago.

Located 136 kilometres east of the capital Kigali in Nyagatare District, Kagitumba can be best described using a story line of an American hero who was forgotten in the Vietnam jungles only to be remembered at last and rescued by a special commando unit.

It was in this place where, 24 years ago, that the first bullet was fired beginning RPF's journey to liberate the country. On one of these hills, Gen Fred Rwigema, the hero of the liberation, was slain on the second day of the war.

Despite its monumental historical significance and being a frontier to a major neighbour Uganda and a strategic proximity to Tanzania, Kagitumba has registered slow progress over the years.

The area’s major attraction has been the Kagitumba Mirama hills border post. Up to now, the post had not developed much yet it should be a major border crossing.

It has poor infrastructure and is dying a slow death of inactivity, with many people opting for it due to its less stringent border crossing regulation especially for those lacking documentation. Unscrupulous business people also find it a safe haven for trafficking illicit substances and human beings through the porous borders.

From the liberation days, nothing much had changed at Kagitumba. Going through the border post a few years ago was a remarkably uneventful affair. The place looked desolate and quiet, not the quietness of tranquillity but rather one betraying a painful lack of business activity.

Bored border post officials could nonchalantly walk around the border post compound, with hands tucked into their pockets, while others made rounds entering the old and narrow structures, which served as the Customs offices.

Even with the occasional buses which transported people from Kigali to Kampala and back, the place looked deserted and undeveloped at least by border post standards.

Changes

Early this month, a blend of Rwandan and Asian construction workers, clad in green overalls fitted with white safety helmets descended on the border post, some making road demarcations on one of the paved surfaces while others laid concrete on one of the bridges exiting to the Uganda side. Construction at the border post is in full force.

The picture is now different. Robust construction of infrastructure is ongoing on both the Ugandan and Rwandan sides, made possible by US$10.5 million funding from TradeMark East Africa.

This has not only given face the border post a face-lift but is also transforming it into a modern cargo handling facility. The once dilapidated border post now boasts four clearing terminals, a modern inspection facility equipped with a ‘strong room’ meant to house goods suspected to have explosive elements, a cold room for perishables such as fish, fruits and vegetables among others.

The project is another step towards achieving the Single Customs Territory for the East African Community member states, which seeks to reduce time spent at the border and boost intra-regional trade while eliminating double clearance.

Hannington Namara, country director of TradeMark East Africa Rwanda chapter said the initial plan was to reduce delay by 30 per cent in total average time it takes to clear cargo at the border post, but this is expected to improve once the post becomes operational.

Efforts by stakeholders such as the Ministry for East African Community and Rwanda Revenue Authority to turn the post into a 24-hour one stop border post appear to be heading in the right direction.

Concerns

Minister for East African Community Valentine Rugwabiza, expressed a concern that while the infrastructure is nearing completion, with the launch slated for April this year, the border support services like banking, forex business, insurance, hospitality are still not available.

Apart from the state-of-the art facility, the surrounding remains the way it was before. The border post and surrounding areas do not have a single restaurant or shop and the nearest bank is in Matimba which is 10 Km from Kagitumba.

The revamped border post presents enormous business opportunities for locals, who can open business enterprises.