Herman Asiimwe, a foreman at the brick-making yard, answers questions during an interview at Entebbe International Airport in Entebbe, Uganda, on Oct. 6, 2021. On the tarmac at Uganda's Entebbe International Airport on the shores of Lake Victoria, Chinese technicians and their Ugandan counterparts put final touches on the aprons as planes fly in and out. The 70-year-old airport, opened in 1951 by the British colonial masters, refurbished in the early 1970s and now under upgrading and expansion works financed by China, is Uganda's major gateway to the world. (Xinhua/Zhang Gaiping)
by Ronald Ssekandi
ENTEBBE, Uganda, Oct. 15 (Xinhua) -- On the tarmac at Uganda's Entebbe International Airport on the shores of Lake Victoria, Chinese technicians and their Ugandan counterparts put final touches on the aprons as planes fly in and out.
The 70-year-old airport, opened in 1951 by the British colonial masters, refurbished in the early 1970s and now under upgrading and expansion works financed by China, is Uganda's major gateway to the world.
Under the Belt and Road Initiative, construction works started in May 2016 after Uganda acquired a 200-million-U.S. dollar loan from the Export-Import Bank of China (China EximBank).
The project is scheduled to be implemented in two phases, said China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), which was contracted to design, construct and manage the project.
The first phase, with three-quarters finished, involves construction of a new passenger terminal, a new cargo complex, and upgrade of two runways and their associated taxiways, rehabilitation and overlay of three aprons.
"For the new cargo building, it is about 10,000 square-meters and when it is finished, it can handle 100,000 tons of cargo per year; for the new passenger terminal building, it is about 20,000 square-meters (and) can handle 3 million passengers per year," Li Qinpu, CCCC project manager told Xinhua in a recent interview.
"When this airport is finished, it will become a modern airport in Uganda and East Africa. This airport will become a landmark," Li added.
The airport is connected to the 49.56 km-Entebbe-Kampala expressway, which links the capital Kampala. The construction of the four-lane dual carriageway was also financed by the China EximBank.
Ayub Sooma, director for airports and aviation security at Uganda Civil Aviation Authority, told Xinhua that all the infrastructure development aims at fast-tracking the country's economic development.
"This improvement will attract further more traffic at Entebbe International Airport and the government has deliberately brought in Uganda Airlines (national carrier). Uganda Airlines is able to bring in a lot of transit passengers through Entebbe. So this is a critical facility that is going to play a key role in our economy," Sooma said.
Shortly after COVID-19 hit the country in March 2020, government imposed a lockdown and closed the airport, suspending incoming and outgoing flights except those concerning humanitarian aid.
Countries worldwide were also imposing lockdowns as they grappled to contain the pandemic, which have great impact on the manufacture and supply of materials for construction.
"Generally, it slowed down the progress of work," Sooma said.
He said as countries continue to ease the lockdown measures, the supply of construction materials has improved and the project is back on course.
Sooma said the success of the expansion and upgrade project will not only enhance bilateral relations, but also people-to-people ties.
Li said at the peak of the construction, there were over 900 local employees and 80 Chinese workers, who have a lot of skill sharing and exchanges.
Mugisha Moses Atuhire, a local employee, was one of the local workers who have learnt a lot in training provided by Chinese engineers and technicians.
Atuhire said being on the project has exposed him to many construction techniques that he did not know before.
Herman Asiimwe joined the CCCC as a casual laborer, but he has since risen through the ranks to the level of a foreman at the brick-making yard.
"When I got involved in the work, I got to learn so many things, like molding bricks, operating machines, management of other workers," Asiimwe said.
"After learning, I also started teaching others ... how to operate machines," he added. Enditem